Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sought to tap into US citizens' anxiety over high gasoline prices yesterday by pledging to seek a windfall profits tax on US oil companies if elected.
Launching a two-week focus on the ailing US economy, Obama drew a sharp contrast with Republican John McCain, his rival in the November election, accusing him of a "full-throated endorsement" of President George W. Bush's fiscal policies, including tax breaks for oil companies. "I'll make oil companies like Exxon pay a tax on their windfall profits, and we'll use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills," the Illinois senator said. With people in the US struggling to pay for record high 4 US dollars-a-gallon (4 liters) gasoline, the jobless rate up and consumer confidence battered, Obama is attempting to focus the general election campaign on the US economy. A Gallup poll gave Obama a mild bump in support following rival Hillary Clinton's departure from the Democratic race. It said he leads McCain 48% to 42% among registered voters. Obama renewed his call for a 50 billion US dollars stimulus package as a way to try to spur consumer spending and jolt new life into the economy, and a 10 billion fund for homeowners caught up in the housing crisis. McCain, at a fundraising luncheon in Richmond, Virginia, said "Americans are hurting." "We need lower taxes, we need to stimulate our economy, we need to keep people in their homes," he said, accusing Obama of wanting to raise the capital gains tax on stock profits. The economy is more familiar turf for Obama. In contrast, McCain has used national security and foreign policy as the centerpiece for his campaign and has repeatedly accused Obama of being too inexperienced to lead the country. Obama, 46, who would be the country's first black president, charged that McCain's support for extending Bush's tax cuts would allow 2 trillion US dollars in corporate tax breaks, including 1.2 billion for Exxon Mobil Corp, which had earnings last year of 40.61 billion. "If John McCain's policies were implemented, they would add 5.7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. That isn't fiscal conservatism, that's what George Bush has done over the last eight years" Obama said. On Obama's charge about corporate tax breaks, McCain economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin told reporters he assumed Obama was referring to "basic across-the-board tax cuts needed for job growth." He disputed Obama's claim that McCain's policies would increase the national debt, saying McCain would aim to balance the budget by the end of his first term in 2013. Critics of the windfall profits tax say it proved to be counterproductive when it was last put in place in the United States in 1980 during the final year of President Jimmy Carter's administration. Those critics say the measure prompted oil companies to cut back on domestic production while failing to raise as much in tax revenue as lawmakers expected. It was repealed in 1988 during the Reagan administration. Obama said he would seek a reform of the US tax code if elected in November, saying the current tax system is a "10,000-page monstrosity". In a bid for the older voters from whom rival Clinton drew support before leaving the race for the Democratic nomination on Saturday, Obama said he would seek to eliminate income taxes for any retiree making less than 50,000 US dollars per year. Obama opened his economic tour in North Carolina, a state that Bush won in 2004 with 56% of the vote. Obama won the state's Democratic contest by a wide margin over Clinton. Obama claimed McCain would more than double US debt by continuing Bush administration economic policies â€" which he called the "most fiscally irresponsible in history." Obama's two-week tour of Republican strongholds and swing states aims to draw sharp distinctions between himself and McCain, the Arizona senator and Vietnam war hero. Obama is banking on building a victory by snatching votes in traditional Republican regions. McCain, likewise, is working to undo Democratic control in the country's so-called blue states. Obama offered no new policies in his speech. He used the occasion to emphasize his economic differences with McCain and to summarize earlier proposals, including raising income taxes on wealthy Americans, granting a 1,000 US dollars tax cut to most others, winding down the Iraq war, tightening credit card regulations and pumping more money into education, alternative fuels and infrastructure. (BAH).-