John McCain and Barack Obama outlined steps to counter the faltering economy and plummeting stock market on Friday, fresh evidence of the dominant role of pocketbook issues in their race for the White House.
McCain called for legislation suspending a requirement that investors age 701/2 begin to liquidate their retirement accounts. “To spare investors from being forced to sell their stocks at just the time when the market is hurting the most, these rules should be suspended,” the Republican presidential candidate said in a speech in LaCrosse, Wis.
It was McCain's second proposal in three days on the economy, following his call for the government to buy bad home-loan mortgages and renegotiate them at a reduced price.
Obama, who was campaigning in Chillicothe, Ohio, said he favors a temporary extension in an expiring tax break to let small businesses write off the cost of many new investments immediately, rather than over several years. He said that “it's time to protect the jobs we have and to create the jobs of tomorrow by unlocking the drive and ingenuity and innovation of the American people.”
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The proposal would cover investments up to $250,000. Campaign officials put the cost to the Treasury at $900 million.
Aides said Obama also wants to extend the Small Business Administration's disaster loan program to help small businesses that cannot access other sources of capital, as well as eliminate fees on SBA loan guarantees and increase the size of loans that could be covered. They put the cost at $5 billion.
The presidential rivals outlined their proposals as retirement accounts continued to lose value and businesses struggled to obtain loans necessary to operate or expand.
Obama's tax write-off proposal was part of a Democratic-backed economic stimulus package that failed to clear Congress before lawmakers adjourned for the elections.
In his speech, Obama said the $700 billion bailout that Congress passed last week for the financial industry was “only the beginning” of what is needed.
“Now we need to pass a rescue plan for the middle class that will provide every family immediate relief to cope with rising food and gas prices, save 1 million jobs by rebuilding our schools and roads, and help states and cities avoid budget cuts and tax increases,” he said.
“And we should extend expiring unemployment benefits to those Americans who've lost their jobs and can't find new ones.”
The blocked stimulus legislation included the items Obama mentioned, and the Democratic presidential candidate said McCain “has said nothing” about enacting them.
McCain's campaign did not immediately provide an estimate of the number of investors who would be helped by his proposal to block the mandatory sale of retirement account assets.