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McCain Outlines Economic Plans

John McCain learns where bathtubs come from in Florida. (Reuters).

By Juliet Eilperin
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Surrounded by some of central Florida's most prominent business leaders -- as well as plenty of half-finished bathtubs -- Sen. John McCain (R-Fla.) said his plan to cut taxes, federal spending and government regulation would help keep America from slipping into a recession.

"I don't think anything in life is inevitable. I don't think anything is engraved in golden tablets," McCain said during an economic round table campaign event in the warehouse of Baker Manufacturing, an Orlando-based company that produces whirlpool baths as well as ordinary tubs. He added the U.S. could avoid "the worst aspects" of an economic downturn if it moved quickly to cut the corporate tax while making the research and development tax credit permanent.

The roundtable, which McCain said he agreed to after telling his staff he did not want to know the questions in advance, highlighted the extent to which both current events and Florida's more diverse population is now driving the GOP primary. Area business leaders asked specific questions about how McCain would handle issues ranging from the mortgage crisis to rising oil prices and America's health care system, but they also asked him about how he would rehabilitate America's image abroad and deal with parochial matters such as catastrophic insurance.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who moderated the roundtable, repeatedly praised McCain as being best equipped to lead on the economic front. "John McCain is a man who understands what the role of government should be, and what the role of government should not be," she said.

McCain, for his part, largely outlined traditional Republican priorities such as cutting taxes. While Kevin Madden, a spokesman for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, questioned today whether McCain would follow through on his pledge to make Bush's tax cuts permanent in light of his past opposition, McCain said he wants them to endure, because letting them expire would amount to a tax increase on Americans.

But McCain also veered away from the party line at points, saying he would work actively to promote the development of environmentally-friendly technologies, noting that Orange County mayor Richard Crotty had made that a priority of his administration. Crotty endorsed McCain for president today, and sat by his side during the roundtable.

"I believe the future of this economy is going to be based on our embrace of green technology to a large degree, and a lot of this is happening here," McCain said.

And while the senator praised Bush for cutting taxes in the past, he also implicitly criticized the president's foreign policy approach when John Bultema III, president of the Fifth Third Bank in central Florida, asked him what he would do to improve America's image abroad.

"Our image in the world has, to some extent, suffered because of the war in Iraq," he said, adding that if elected he would announce the U.S would not engage in torture, would close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay and would engage more actively in climate talks as long as China and India agreed to emissions cuts. "Frankly I would also be a lot more humble."

McCain, whose opposition to national catastrophic insurance has stirred controversy here and inspired attacks by his opponents, said he would support overhauling the Federal Emergency Management Administration in a way that would make the agency team up with private companies that specialize in rapid shipments. "FEMA is broken and needs to be fixed," he told reporters.

In an interview after the roundtable, McCain said that while Florida contains a broader electorate than some other early-voting states, it also varies dramatically by region. While politicians and business leaders are now embracing environmentally-friendly technology in central Florida, he said residents in Fort Walton Beach are more worried about keeping their local Air Force base up and running.

"It's not only a broader electorate, it's a very different electorate in different parts of the state," he said. "You've got to be able to understand the priorities in different parts of the state, and address those concerns. I don't think that's pandering."

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 23, 2008; 4:29 PM ET
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