Who you gonna call?

I was disappointed, though not surprised, that neither Obama or McCain would answer Jim Lehrer’s question on how they would pay for the $700 billion financial rescue package. It’s a hard question to ask during a political campaign, which is all the more reason why we wanted to hear an answer.

In response, though, we gained a considerable insight into the candidate’s character. Obama waffled, and repeated his priorities. McCain let out a howler, or two.

McCain suggested a spending freeze. Only he exempted defense expenditures, homeland security, and veterans affairs. Sounds good, until you think a bit beyond the simplistic portrayal of Tax & Spend Liberals. I’m guessing that McCain isn’t proposing freezing social security payments (which are increasing, not just with the cost of living but also with more retirees), and he sure doesn’t want to penalize Medicare and Medicaid patients. No-one wants the AARP upset! And, I’m pretty sure that McCain doesn’t want us to stop making our payments on the national debt. That one’s going to go up. I wonder if he wants to cut into FEMA’s budget to assist with hurricane damage or the Forest Service’s budget to fight fires? No, probably not.

Problem is, once you’ve taken all those things off the table there isn’t much left.

Then, he suggests that we should build 45 new nuclear power plants. Putting aside the costs of transporting and storing all the nuclear waste (45 new nuclear waste plants? One coming soon to a backyard near you!), how is he going to pay for them? A single new nuclear plant costs a bit more than $2.2 billion. Forty five times that equals over $116 billion. Others estimate a new plant costs around $13 billion a plant, which would be $585 billion. Ouch!

Now, skip the fact that the Federal Government has already given more than $100 billion in research and development to the nuclear industry over the past half century. It appears that private investors aren’t terribly excited in getting involved in building new nuclear plants. (That’s compared to the renewable industry — including wind and solar — that last year attracted $71 billion in private investment.) So, either we’re going to end up paying for it, or we’ll be providing loan guarantees covering 50 percent of the cost of building them. Senators Lieberman and McCain’s Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007 (S.280) suggested just that.

How exactly is McCain going to pay for all this, and his tax cuts? (Remind me how much those tax cuts will cost. $100 billion over five years? $200 billion? $300 billion?) Maybe it’s time to call MythBusters!