Washington Matters


McCain Faces Tricky Senate Votes


John McCain has missed most of this year's Senate votes, devoting his time instead to criss-crossing the country to campaign for the presidency. But in the next several weeks, there are a couple of crucial votes coming up that he can't afford to miss -- and that will put him  into a tough position.

 

One is the immense new farm bill, chock full of higher crop subsidies. McCain will vote against it, saying it is bloated and unnecessary now that crop prices are at sustained highs, even as other parts of the economy struggle. It will be a principled stand, but it will put him at odds with farming states in the Midwest. McCain has long been opposed to farm bills, making him a champion of fiscal conservatives. It would be a flip-flop for him to support it now, although he said before the Iowa caucus that he supports large ethanol subsidies, a switch from his past record on the subject.

 

Another minefield for McCain is a planned hike in education benefits for veterans. The issue will come up either on a war supplemental bill or a defense policy bill. Bipartisan-backed language, drafted by Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., both veterans like McCain, would substantially enhance higher education benefits for post 9/11 military veterans. Other language would give troops longer rest periods between tours of duty. McCain worries of the cost of a new, larger education entitlement -- an estimated $4 billion over 10 years. He'll offer a less costly alternative, but it may not sail in the Senate. The Bush administration is also opposed.

 

McCain has backing from the joint chiefs on the rest period issue. They say more down time for troops would create further strain on military readiness.

 

McCain will also vote against many budget bills with popular domestic spending, complaining of too much pork. Those are easy votes for him, though, and it won't matter because the bills will pass anyway.

 



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