McCain Campaign Changes Course

U.S. Republican Senator from Arizona and a presidential hopeful John McCain speaks during a press conference at the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Sunday, April 1, 2007.
AP Photo/Sabah Arar

The Skinny is Joel Roberts' take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

It's still too early to hit the panic button, but changes are afoot at John McCain's presidential campaign. Amid disappointing first-quarter fundraising figures and concern that some see his view of the Iraq war as overly optimistic, the campaign is delaying the official announcement of McCain's candidacy.

The New York Times says that following disclosures that he's trailing all the major Republican and Democratic candidates in campaign contributions, McCain is revamping his fundraising operation, adopting the sort of "big donor" program developed by his 2000 campaign rival, President Bush.

Where Mr. Bush had his Rangers and Pioneers, McCain, a longtime proponent of curbing the influence of big money in politics, plans to establish the McCain 100s and 200s, for donors who kick in $100,000 and $200,000 to the campaign, respectively.

McCain aides admitted that the campaign's money problems were due in part to complacency over the past year that his nomination was a done deal. With Rudy Giuliani now leading him in the polls, that's no longer the case. The campaign plans to load McCain's schedule with big fundraising events through the spring.

He's also planning to give what his campaign calls a major speech explaining his position on Iraq, after an uproar over his assertion during a weekend visit to Baghdad that the security situation there was improving.

That speech, the Times says, is set for April 11, the day he had been scheduled to formally enter the race.

How We Really Spend Our Tax Refunds

Ask most Americans and they'll say they plan to use their tax refund for savings or to pay off big bills. Few say they plan to blow it on, say, a trip to Cancun or a new plasma TV.

But USA Today says someone's not telling the truth.

So many Americans spent their refunds as soon as they received them last year that retail sales jumped 12 to 20 percent in March, April and May compared with February, according to the Commerce Department. It's a phenomenon known as "the April problem."

USA Today points out that tax refunds are really paybacks for interest-free loans you've made to the government. A big tax refund means you've had too much money withheld from your paycheck. Experts suggest having less money withheld so you can save money throughout the year and earn interest on it yourself.

But that's not the way most Americans like it. Apparently we prefer loaning the government money throughout the year and then getting a big wad of cash back after April 15

"I'm happy for the government to have the money," said one woman. "We do all the things we're supposed to do, save in our IRAs, fund our 401(k)s, have an emergency fund. But for some reason, our vacation fund always gets depleted before the vacation."

That's why, she says, "When I see that refund amount, I start planning the vacation."

1995 Redux?

A new party takes over Congress and challenges a weakened president in an epic battle over federal spending.

Sound familiar?

With President Bush and majority Democrats locked in a fierce fight over funding for the Iraq war, both the New York Times and the Washington Post see similarities with the 1995 budget showdown between President Clinton and the Republican Congress led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

That battle was lost by the Republicans, the Times points out, after the public blamed them for a shutdown of federal agencies. This time, the roles are reversed, with a newly elected Democratic Congress taking on an unpopular Republican president.

Gingrich, for one, doesn't buy the argument that 2007 is a repeat of 1995.

"There were no Americans being shot at the Interior Department in 1995," he tells the Times. "The Democrats risk sending signals to our enemies that kidnapping British sailors and killing young Americans is acceptable."

Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader in 1995, also sees differences but says they may play to the Democrats' advantage.

"Newt Gingrich boasted of shutting the government down," Daschle said. "He was proud of the fact he was doing that just to show his will. Republicans felt they had a mandate and could do what they wanted. I don't think you could find a Democrat who thinks they have a mandate, but we do have a chance."

A NOTE TO READERS: The Skinny is now available via e-mail. Click here and follow the directions to register to receive it in your inbox each weekday morning.