WASHINGTON — Republican John McCain said Tuesday that Democrat Barack Obama is bad for business as the presidential rivals appealed to voters worried about lost jobs, rising gas prices and other economic woes.
One day after Obama hammered him on the economy, McCain told small business owners the presumed Democratic nominee's economic proposals would hand them higher taxes and steeper overhead costs. He also criticized Obama for pledging to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which is credited for record exports by Republicans but blamed for job losses by many Democrats.
"You work hard in small businesses to grow and create new jobs and opportunities for others," McCain told a Washington gathering of the National Federation of Independent Business. "The federal government shouldn't make your work any harder."
Obama, speaking later to reporters in St. Louis, Mo., defended his proposals and called McCain's remarks misleading. He said he would eliminate the capital gains tax "for the small businesses and startups that are the backbone of our economy." His income tax plans, Obama said, would cut taxes for 95 percent of U.S. workers, while rolling back the Bush administration's tax reductions for the highest-earning 5 percent.
McCain "wants to add $300 billion more in tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and for the wealthiest Americans, and he hasn't even explained how he'd pay for it," Obama said.
Economic issues have taken center stage in the presidential race, with many Americans staggered by gasoline prices exceeding $4 a gallon.
McCain said small businesses would bear the brunt of Obama's proposed tax increases. He called for phasing out the alternative minimum tax and allowing businesses to write off some new investments.
Video: McCain in exclusive interview "I don't want to send any more of your earnings to the government," the Arizona senator said.
The Arizona senator has been shoring up his anti-tax credentials, pushing to extend President Bush's tax cuts, which are set to expire beginning in 2010. Some party conservatives remain suspicious of McCain because he originally opposed the Bush tax cuts, arguing the cuts favored the wealthy and that there should be no tax cuts until the Iraq war costs were known. Now he argues that allowing the tax cuts to expire would amount to raising taxes, which he opposes.
The candidate, who was introduced by eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman, was briefly interrupted by three protesters who yelled that war is bad for small business. The protesters were booed and escorted from the room, and McCain used the interruptions to call for civil debate in the campaign.
Video: Obama advocates for second stimulus plan Obama, who spoke with reporters after touring a St. Louis hospital, differs with McCain on how best to control health care costs. McCain would eliminate the tax subsidy for employer-based insurance and give individuals a tax break to offset the cost of buying their own insurance.
"I believe that the best way to help small businesses and employers afford health care is not to increase government control of health care but to bring the rising cost of care under control and give people the option of having personal, portable health insurance," McCain told the NFIB group. Workers would be able to keep their insurance "even when they move or change jobs," he said.
Obama said the McCain plan would help only the wealthy.
"He's offering a tax cut that won't ensure that health care is affordable for hardworking families who need help most," Obama said. "And his plan could actually put your coverage at risk by undermining the employer-based system that most Americans depend on."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.