WASHINGTON (AFP) — Republican White House contender John McCain is reaching back through history to portray Barack Obama as an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal who would destroy jobs and growth.
On Tuesday, a day after Obama painted McCain as a clone of President George W. Bush, the Republican tied his Democratic foe to 1970s president Jimmy Carter and to that era's big government spending and over-regulation.
In a speech here to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which lobbies for owners of small enterprises, McCain said Obama would enact "the single largest tax increase since the Second World War."
"Under Senator Obama's tax plan, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise -- seniors, parents, small business owners, and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market," he said.
Obama's policies, including linking the federal minimum wage to inflation, were "a sure way to add to your costs and to slow the creation of new jobs," McCain added.
The Democratic hopeful, 46, is capitalizing on profound disquiet about rising unemployment and home foreclosures, plus opposition to the Iraq war, to accuse McCain of offering "four more years" for the hugely unpopular Bush.
"Frankly, John McCain's agenda simply continues the same economic approach that we've had over the last eight years," Obama said in a National Public Radio (NPR) interview.
"It's not working, and it's time for us to try something different."
McCain, 71, has a new line of retort, saying Obama would represent a "second term" for Carter, a throwback to a time of queues at gasoline stations, surging inflation and economic stagnation.
His attack at the NFIB hinged on Obama's promise to roll back multi-billion-dollar tax cuts enacted under Bush and levy higher taxes on those earning more than 250,000 dollars a year.
In riposte, Obama said McCain -- who once opposed the Bush tax cuts -- was guilty of fuzzy mathematics and again mocked the Republican's self-confessed weakness in economic matters.
"I've said that John McCain is running to serve out a third Bush term. But the truth is when it comes to taxes, that's not being fair to George Bush," the Democrat told reporters in St Louis, Missouri.
"Senator McCain wants to add 300 billion dollars more in tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and he hasn't even explained how to pay for it," he said.
Obama on NPR blasted McCain's "irresponsible" budgeting and warned that the corporate tax cuts were "going to burden future generations."
The 250,000-dollar threshold for annual income would mean that 98 percent of workers would pay no more taxes, Obama said, and middle-class families would get tax relief starting at 1,000 dollars to offset surging costs of living.
The Illinois senator also took aim at McCain's incremental approach to reform of healthcare, whose rocketing costs are one of the biggest headaches for small businesses, along with gasoline prices topping four dollars a gallon.
Touting his own plan to dramatically increase healthcare, Obama earlier went on ward rounds with a hospital nurse in St Louis, on the second day of a two-week campaign tour that is taking him deep into Republican territory.
An Obama trip Wednesday to Iowa was canceled due to floods in the midwestern state, and the candidate planned an event in his home city of Chicago instead. McCain was set for a "town hall meeting" with voters in Philadelphia.
The economy has dominated the two contenders' hard-hitting exchanges since Obama's opponent in the Democratic nomination battle, Hillary Clinton, quit the race at the weekend.
In Washington Tuesday, Democrats put on a show of unity after the bruising primary season, detailing how the party will merge its activities into the Obama campaign's to pursue an election strategy across all 50 states.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a message for the angry Clinton supporters who are now threatening to vote for McCain in protest at Obama's primary triumph.
"Women and blue-collar workers, whatever their race, have the most to gain by the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States and the most to lose by the election of John McCain," she told reporters.
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