CINCINNATI, OHIO — A week after each candidate’s tax plan took center stage at the third presidential debate, the candidates continued to spar over Barack Obama’s comment that his plan would “spread the wealth around.”
At a Wednesday press conference in Richmond, Va., Obama gave his most extensive defense yet of his tax plan, pushing back against criticism that his economic philosophy amounted to socialism.
Republicans, said the Illinois senator, were trying to “fabricate an argument." When McCain first opposed President Bush’s tax cuts, noted Obama, the Republican nominee described them as irresponsibly targeted.
“Was John McCain a socialist back in 2000?” Obama asked. “Cause all I’m trying to do is reverse those so we can give relief to people who really need help.”
When asked whether his comments provided Republicans with an opening for attack, Obama said he had not.
“They have been trying to throw whatever they can up against the wall to see what sticks,” he said, “and this is their latest version.”
Obama held two rallies in Virginia, a state where he leads McCain in the polls but one that has not voted for a Democratic nominee since 1964. After a rally that drew 20,000 people to a Richmond coliseum, Obama flew to Leesburg, where he addressed a crowd of 35,000 at a park.
On the stump, Obama continued his attack on McCain, saying that wealthy Americans like himself don’t need a tax cut.
“I do want to roll back the Bush tax cuts for people like me,” said Obama, who became wealthy from his best-selling books. “I don’t need a tax cut.”
Last weekend, Obama’s economic plans gained support from a new ally: former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell.
"Taxes are always a redistribution of money," the retired general told reporters on Sunday after endorsing the Democratic candidate. “Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to the ones who pay it. In roads, in airports, in hospitals, in schools, and taxes are necessary for the common good.”
But in a series of three events on Wednesday, McCain and his running-mate, Sarah Palin, continued to argue that their opponent is hiding his real agenda.
As evidence of the Democratic nominee’s plans, McCain cited a section of Obama’s second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” at a morning event in Goffstown, N.H.
“He writes of, quote, the need for ‘labor laws and tax laws that restore some balance to the distribution of the nation’s wealth.’ He’s talked elsewhere about how, in our day, ‘the distribution of wealth is even more skewed, and levels of inequity are now higher,’” he told the crowd of roughly 2,000.
“Whatever the right word is for that way of thinking,” McCain said. A voice from the crowd shouted an answer: “Socialism!”
McCain’s focus on Obama’s intentions has, over the past few days, been accompanied by an argument that Obama is concealing the true costs of his tax plan for middle-class Americans.The Arizona senator has also questioned Obama’s ability to cut taxes for 95 percent of all Americans, hitting him particularly hard for awarding tax credits to low-income families that pay no taxes.
“How do you reduce the number zero?” wondered McCain at a Green, Ohio rally. “Since you can’t reduce taxes for those who pay zero, he’ll write them all checks for tax credits.”
Obama says he’ll only raise taxes on families making more than $250,000 in annual income.
But the only way to pay for those credits and trillions of dollars in new federal spending, according to McCain, is by raising taxes on families making far less.
“Does anyone seriously believe that these trillions of dollars are going to come from only the very highest income earners?” asked McCain.
It’s a fear that was mentioned by the now-infamous Joe the Plumber, the Ohio resident who questioned Obama about his economic plans at an event several weeks ago.
Palin gave the country’s most famous plumber credit for raising the question.
In Ohio, Palin urged the crowd to identify with what she described as Joe Wurzelbacher’s belief in American entrepreneurs.
“You, too, you’re Joe the Plumber too. Knowing there are a lot of representatives of Joe the Plumber here, it doesn’t sound like many of you will be supporting Barack the Wealth Spreader in this election,” she said.
Obama put his own new twist on the Joe the Plumber story, saying McCain wouldn’t protect the blue-collar worker but rather “Joe the Hedge Fund Manager.”
“Don’t be fooled, I had a nice conversation the other day with Joe the Plumber,” Obama said Wednesday, subtly disputing charges that he’s been attacking Wurzelbacher.
“Joe’s cool. I got no problems with Joe. All I want to do is give Joe a tax cut. But let’s be clear who Sen. McCain is fighting for,” said Obama. “John McCain likes to talk about Joe the plumber but he’s in cahoots with Joe the CEO.”
Carrie Budoff Brown contributed reporting from Richmond and Leesburg, Va.