WASHINGTON — Republican John McCain said Sunday that cutting taxes and stimulating the economy are more important than balancing the budget, and accused both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama of supporting tax hikes that would worsen the impact of a recession.
"The goal right now is to get the economy going again," the GOP presidential nominee-in-waiting said on ABC's "This Week," adding that he would put the country "on a path to a balanced budget" by attacking wasteful spending.
McCain conceded it was probably a mistake to seek and accept the endorsement of televangelist John Hagee, who has referred to the Roman Catholic Church as "the great whore" and called it a "false cult system."
The Arizona senator said he had condemned Hagee's remarks about Catholics, and said it was different than the way Obama has responded to questions about his own relationship with William Ayers, a 1960s-era radical who in an interview published on Sept. 11, 2001, said he didn't regret bombing government buildings.
"How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings which could have or did kill innocent people?" McCain asked, calling Ayers an "unrepentant terrorist."
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, in response, said McCain had "stooped to the same smear politics and low road that he denounced in 2000" by commenting on Ayers.
McCain appeared on the talk show as the Democratic National Committee announced it would begin running an ad Tuesday on national cable networks tweaking McCain on the economy. The ad, released to reporters Sunday, shows McCain saying the country overall is "better off" than it was eight years ago, and ends by asking viewers, "Do you feel better off?"
The Republican National Committee said the ad is misleading.
Responding Sunday, McCain brushed off Democratic assertions that he is out of touch on the economy and reiterated a pledge to cut taxes even if it means running up deficits. Turning the tables on Clinton and Obama, he said they are the misguided ones for proposing tax increases during a recession.
Both Clinton and Obama support higher taxes for people earning more than $200,000 a year. Obama also has said he wants a capital gains tax higher than the current 15 percent.
"They are out of touch when they want to raise taxes at the worst possible time when we're in a recession," said McCain, who has been under constant criticism from Democrats for saying the economy isn't his best subject.
McCain said he has a solid economic plan, centered on extending Bush administration tax cuts he once opposed. Clinton and Obama would reverse those tax cuts.
Blaming federal spending for the economic troubles, McCain pledged to "scrub every agency of government" of wasteful expenditures and close loopholes.
"Is there any American that doesn't believe that there's tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars that can be saved?" he said. "Americans know that. That's why they're fed up."
McCain also said he would not hold off on tax cuts if Congress didn't approve his spending cuts and declined to make a pledge to balance the budget by the end of his first term in office. "When economies are rough, then you've got to reduce the tax burden on people," McCain said.