The biggest Reagan tax cut passed in 1981. John McCain was elected to Congress in 1982. McCain did vote for the Tax Reform Act of 1986. So did Dick Gephardt and Bill Bradley. He also voted for Gramm-Rudman and against the tax hikes of 1990 and 1993. That said, McCain’s conservative record of the 1980s and the first half of the ’90s is no defense of his more recent record.
If McCain’s tobacco deal had passed Congress in 1998, it would have resulted in a net tax increase. (He, sounding like another candidate, has referred to it as a fee increase.) McCain voted against the (puny) Bush tax cuts, using the same logic as its Democratic opponents. He voted against the the repeal of the death tax. He voted for amendments that would prevent any reduction in the top income tax rate until the enactment of a prescription drug benefit. He was open to lifting the payroll tax cap. The last major tax cut he voted for was a reduction in the capital gains tax over a decade ago. And that’s without even touching his regulatory record, which shows a penchant for activist government as long as it doesn’t waste money.
I don’t say this to read McCain out of the party. But I don’t see where any of the candidates currently leading in the early-state polling can claim an overwhelming advantage on fiscal conservatism. I’m certainly skeptical that any could meet James’s test. (Not just this James, but this one.)