McCain struggles to explain support for bailout

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DENVER (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who insists he would veto any pork barrel bills to come across his desk as president, is struggling to explain his vote for the revised financial bailout plan that contained a number of those pet projects.

In an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program Thursday, McCain said the extra sweeteners added to the financial bailout bill that passed Wednesday night in the Senate are "just the way the system is working in Washington, and the reason why it's got to be fixed and it's got to be changed."

McCain has made a career of railing against the concept of pork barrel projects, which are special funding requests that lawmakers tuck into larger bills, to benefit their own districts or states. He even agreed with his interviewer that those types of projects are contributing to the nation's financial crisis, and said "this bill is putting us on the brink of disaster."

Later in the day, he predicted the resurrected financial bailout bill will pass the House on its second try, but said the $700 billion rescue plan is still just a bandage and not a cure.

On the eve of the make-or-break second vote for the bailout package, McCain spoke to several hundred women voters at a town hall meeting in Denver. The night before, he voted for the revised bailout in the Senate.

"It's like a tourniquet - it will stop the bleeding, then we have to set about fixing the way we do business in Washington, D.C.," he said.

As President Bush and congressional leaders lobbied hard for the bill's passage on Thursday, McCain was also making calls to try and win over skeptics, his campaign said.

But he surprised some by not speaking about it on the floor of the Senate as the vote went down Wednesday; just a week earlier he announced he was suspending his campaign to rush to Washington to deal with the financial crisis.

The economy was a top concern for many in the audience at his town hall meeting Thursday evening. Questioners, all of them women, asked him about affording college, health care, jobs and keeping small businesses afloat.

McCain seized the opportunity to attack Democrat Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, seeking to portray them as taxers and spenders whose policies will cause the country to hemorrhage jobs.

"This is about the Obama-Biden team that will kill jobs with higher taxes and the McCain-Palin team that's going to cut the second highest business tax in the world and create more jobs," McCain said.

While campaigning in Michigan earlier in the day, Obama hammered McCain on the same point, saying he's out of touch and doesn't understand the concerns of struggling Americans. Both candidates were focused on jobs ahead of the government's unemployment report due out Friday.

"Nine straight months of job loss," Obama said. "Yet, just the other week, John McCain said the fundamentals of the economy are strong. Well, I don't know what yardstick Sen. McCain uses, but where I come from, there's nothing more fundamental than a job."

Despite the focus on mostly economic issues at McCain's town hall meeting, the Republican candidate remarked that the gathering was "one of the more impactful and emotional town hall meetings I've ever had - maybe it's because it's a women's town hall meeting."

An Associated Press-GfK poll this week found that Obama has a big advantage among female likely voters, who support him 52 percent to McCain's 34 percent.

And in fact it was the women on Thursday who were urging McCain to toughen up. One audience member asked when he plans to "take the gloves off" against Obama.

The question drew a standing ovation and raucous cheers from the crowd.

Looking ahead to his next debate with Obama, a town hall style format, McCain said: "How about Tuesday night?"

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