PITTSBURGH (AP) -- John McCain wants the federal government to free people from paying gasoline taxes this summer and ensure that college students can secure loans this fall, a pair of proposals aimed at stemming pain from the country's troubled economy.
At the same time, the certain Republican presidential nominee says Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton would impose the single largest tax increase since World War II by allowing tax cuts pushed to passage by President Bush to expire.
"Both promise big 'change.' And a trillion dollars in new taxes over the next decade would certainly fit that description," McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday. "All these tax increases are the fine print under the slogan of 'hope:' They're going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars per year - and they have the audacity to hope you don't mind."
That was a play on the title of an Obama book.
McCain twice voted against the very tax cuts he now supports; he says failing to extend them would amount to tax increases for millions of people.
The four-term Arizona senator was presenting his proposals - and blistering his Democratic rivals - in a wide-ranging economic speech at Carnegie Mellon University.
It's part of an ongoing effort to counter the notion - fueled by his own previous comments - that he's not as strong on the economy as he is on other issues. He's also seeking to fend off criticism from Democrats, including Obama and Clinton, that his small-government, free-market stances don't mesh with people feeling the pinch - particularly those hurting now.
His speech comes a day after he said he believes the country has already entered a recession, a label the Bush administration has resisted even as a credit crisis, a housing slump, soaring energy costs and rising layoffs combined to soften the economy.
It also comes the same morning as the Labor Department reported another worrisome sign for the economy: Inflation at the wholesale level soared in March at nearly triple the rate that had been expected as the costs of energy and food both climbed rapidly.
To help people weather the downturn immediately, McCain was calling for Congress to institute a "gas-tax holiday" by suspending the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. He also renewed his call for the United States to stop adding to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and thus lessen to some extent the worldwide demand for oil.
Combined, he said, the two proposals would reduce gas prices, which would have a trickle-down effect and "help to spread relief across the American economy."
Addressing the feared fallout of the ongoing credit crunch, McCain also said the Education Department should work with the country's governors to make sure that each state's guarantee agency - nonprofits that traditionally back student loans issued by banks - has both the means and the manpower to be the lender-of-last-resort for student loans.
Lawmakers, students and financial experts are worried that the credit crisis might make it more difficult for students and their families to find loans. Nearly two dozen lenders have dropped out of the federally backed student loan program.
Among other proposals, McCain said he would:
-Raise the tax exemption for each dependent child from $3,500 to $7,000.
-Require more affluent people - couples making more than $160,000 - enrolled in Medicare to pay a higher premium for their prescription drugs than less-wealthy people.
-Offer people the option of choosing a simpler tax system with two tax rates and a standard deduction instead of sticking with the current system.
-Suspend for one year all increases in discretionary spending for agencies other than those that cover the military and veterans while launching an expansive review of the effectiveness of federal program.
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