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The New Hyde Park Project

By Juliet Eilperin
Since Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) are so busy beating up on each other, somebody has to do opposition research on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) nowadays. That would the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which Friday morning unveiled the first installment of its "Hyde Park Project."

The center's president, John Podesta, said his think tank has been working for months to come up with a way to "both defend progressive ideas and also provide an informed critique of where conservatives are going in the wrong direction" during this presidential year. It just happens, he added, that McCain is already the presumptive GOP nominee while Democrats have yet to wrap up their race.

During a breakfast with reporters a quartet of CAP fellows -- Robert Gordon, Peter Harbage, James Kvaal, Jeanne Lambrew -- provided a detailed analysis of McCain's tax and health care proposals. They didn't like them.

McCain's tax plan, Gordon and Kvaal said, would cost more than $2 trillion over the next decade, delivering 58 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of taxpayers and just 4 percent to the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers.

"Once you get beyond the headlines, you have a really unappealing plan," Gordon said, adding that there is no way McCain can cut government spending enough to compensate for the cuts' cost to the Treasury. "You have tax breaks for Exxon, for corporations and millionaires."

Lambrew and Harbage questioned whether McCain's health care agenda would increase Americans' access to insurance, arguing it resembles President Bush's approach to providing health instance and would actually undermine individuals' ability to obtain high-quality coverage.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's senior policy adviser, said it was unfair to judge McCain's health care plan by Bush's record because McCain is offering a refundable tax credit, which is more progressive. On the question of tax cuts Gordon and Kvaal had a point, he conceded, though he added voters should wait until the senator fleshes out his tax proposal before passing judgment.

"It will make deficits expand up front, no question," Holtz-Eakin said, adding that helping corporations ultimately helps workers because it ensures their employer remains internationally competitive. "That place has to be economically viable, otherwise they have a problem."

Beyond just ribbing McCain, the Hyde Park Project -- which will address national security and climate change in the months to come along with health care and economics -- has an added bonus for Democratic wonks. Noting that Gordon, Harbage and Kvaal and the center's spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri had all worked on John Edwards' presidential campaigns in either 2004, 2008 or both, Podesta noted in an interview, laughing, "Besides, all these Edwards people need someplace to work."

And while some might wonder whether the progressive think tank is paying homage to Obama by invoking his neighborhood's name, Palmieri assures The Trail this is not the case.

"'Hyde Park Project' is secret code referring to the great progressive traditions of FDR's policies and of speaking out at London's Hyde Park's speakers' corner," she wrote in an e-mail. "We know that Obama is from Hyde Park, but it is not meant to be a reference to him. Plus, I think he plans to move to Lafayette Park."

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 21, 2008; 6:47 PM ET
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