By Msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/13/2008 1:14:45 PM ET 2008-07-13T17:14:45

Though there are still 113 days until November’s presidential election, a palpable sense of urgency descended upon Sunday’s “Meet the Press”, as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Carly Fiorina laid out their candidate’s positions on the economy, the war in Iraq as well as the gaffes of fellow campaign surrogates.

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Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican National Committee Victory Chair Fiorina offered a pointed dismissal of McCain economic advisor Phil Gramm’s controversial remarks surrounding the economy. Calling the current economic climate a “mental recession” for what has become “a nation of whiners,” Graham was quickly dismissed by the candidate. Fiorina said little to suggest the campaign was easing its view of Graham’s comments.  Pressed by moderator Tom Brokaw to outline Gramm’s future with the campaign and possible administration, Fiorina conceded, “I don’t think [Phil] Gramm will be speaking any longer for John McCain.”

Shifting to the candidates’ plans for the economy, Brokaw took issue with the true economic feasibility of both plans. Citing McCain’s plans to cut taxes while managing two wars and a potential housing crisis, Brokaw expressed doubt over whether such a plan could be accomplished even without balancing the budget. Fiorina countered that the past eight years of expanded federal spending could be cut back significantly, and that small gains in growth were plausible.  She also asserted that McCain was committed to troop reductions in Iraq, and that the subsequent savings would also be put toward reducing the federal deficit.

For Obama, Brokaw cited economists who doubt the feasibility of covering the costs of his ambitious programs. Sen. McCaskill claimed that Obama’s plan took middle-class concerns into account, and that repealing tax benefits on big business and the “mega-wealthy” would compensate.  Drawing the attention off her own candidate’s plan, and playing down the effect of budget reduction, she claimed, “If anybody believes that John McCain can balance the budget on his plan now, I’ve got a meeting they need to have with the Tooth Fairy.”

Both McCaskill and Fiorina worked to push forth the perception that their candidate was firm, judicious and consistent. Brokaw and Fiorina shared a tense exchange about whether McCain was blasé on the economic outlook in January. At the beginning of the year, the candidate was quoted as saying that the economy would take care of itself.  “Look, I’ve been around long enough to know that you can make a sound bite say anything you want,” said Fiorina. “We didn’t just make that up,” Brokaw replied.

On Iraq, Brokaw prodded at the recent broad statements by Obama that seemed to backpeddle on a promise to have troops out of Iraq in 16 months. Brokaw noted that the two statements were contradictory to the point that it “confused some of his most ardent supporters.”  McCaskill, leaving the ideological door ajar, argued that Obama would seek to be out by 16 months, but that “a goal is a goal” and not necessarily a promise.  “Obama wants to be reasonable,” she argued.  He wants “to be the opposite of how we went in…but it would be irresponsible for a commander-in-chief to set [a deadline] in stone.”

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