Romney says McCain flip-flops, too

SUMMARY: Accused of being a flip-flopper, Gov. Mitt Romney says Sen. John McCain has pulled his own switcheroo on Bush's tax cuts, ethanol and whether to overturn Roe v Wade. Romney is right that McCain switched on the tax cuts and has shifted his tone on ethanol subsidies. But there's less evidence to support Romney's attack about the abortion case.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Romney defended himself against charges that his changed positons on abortion and gay rights are signs of flip-flopping. Romney considers both changes -- he once favored abortion rights but now opposes them and once supported gay rights but now opposes them -- to be principled changes of heart.

To bolster his case, Romney singled out Sen. John McCain as another politician who has revised his view of things over time.

"Senator McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts. Now he's for them. He was opposed to ethanol. Now he's for it. He said he was opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade. Now he's for overturning Roe v. Wade," Romney said, adding: "That suggests that he has learned from experience."

Romney is right that McCain has changed his positions on the tax cuts. McCain has changed the way he speaks about ethanol. McCain's position on Roe v. Wade, has not changed with the exception of one statement McCain made in 1999, which he recanted soon after.

In 2001, President Bush promoted tax cuts as a way to return money to citizens because the federal government was running a surplus. In 2003, Bush promoted the extension of some of those tax cuts as a necessary economic stimulus after the terrorist attack of September 11.

The legislation passed both times, but McCain crossed party lines to vote with the losing minority Democrats. McCain opposed the tax cuts in 2001 on the grounds that the tax breaks didn't do enough for the middle class, and because of a need for increased defense spending. He opposed them in 2003 because he said the country shouldn't cut taxes in a time of war.

But in 2006, he rejoined the Republican majority to support extension of the tax cuts. He told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" that he supported extending the tax cuts this time "Because you would then be increasing taxes on the American people who have made their family planning based on the tax cuts today."

On ethanol, McCain has maintained a long-standing opposition to subsidies for the alternative fuel and that hasn't changed. But the way he talks about ethanol has changed significantly. In 1999, he told an audience in Iowa, where corn-based ethanol is popular: "I'm here to tell you the things you don't want to hear as well as the things you want to hear. One of those things is ethanol. Ethanol is not worth it. It does not help the consumers. … Those ethanol subsidies should be phased out. And everybody here on this stage, if it wasn't for the fact that Iowa is the first caucus state, would share my view that we don't need ethanol subsidies."

This year, McCain started to speak more favorably of ethanol and admitted it was a position change. He told Tim Russert on "Meet the Press": "It makes a lot of sense. We are dependent on foreign oil too much. We have a situation where greenhouse gases has now become--emissions has become a vital issue. I am for sugarcane, biofuels, switch grass, and corn-based ethanol because of our need for independence on foreign oil. … I have adjusted to the realities of the world we live in today, and if I don't adjust to those realities, then I would be stuck in the past."

The Roe v. Wade charge against McCain seems to be the result of a verbal lapse eight years ago by the notably anti-abortion McCain. McCain had answered written questionnaires saying he opposed Roe v. Wade, but when the San Francisco Chronicle and CNN asked him about it in late 1999, McCain said, "I'd love to see a point where it (the court ruling) is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short-term, or even the long-term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations." McCain aides almost immediately started backpedaling from McCain's words, noting that McCain misspoke when he used the phrase "even in the long term." McCain said in an interview a few months later, "I clearly misspoke there. I'm a person who's made mistakes in this campaign, and I'll continue to make mistakes. My voting record is clear, of 17 years of pro-life. I continue to hold that position, and I … continue to believe that Roe vs. Wade was a very flawed decision, as in the opinion of most experts."

In South Carolina this year, McCain said, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."

Updated: This post has been updated to correct the reasons McCain gave at the time for opposing tax cuts in 2001. Our initial posting attributed his reasons to statements he made later about fiscal restraint.