“I don’t know,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, policy adviser to Mr. McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said when asked how his former boss would vote on the tax overhaul. “For most people there are going to be things in there they don’t like and the question is what is preferable, the status quo or the bill.”

In 2001, as Republicans forged ahead with a $1.35 trillion tax cut, Mr. McCain became one of two Republican senators to vote against the bill’s passage. He said he could not accept that changes to the bill lowered the top individual tax rate to 35 percent and delayed tax relief for married couples.

“We had an opportunity to provide much more tax relief to millions of hard-working Americans,” Mr. McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor. “But I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief.”

Two years later, Mr. McCain voted against another round of tax cuts. In his remarks in 2003, Mr. McCain again cast doubt on the need to use “billions of federal dollars to cut taxes for our nation’s wealthiest.” The deal breaker that time was that his fellow lawmakers would pass such cuts while rejecting legislation that would have allowed members of the military to get tax breaks on profits from selling their homes.

“Politics ruled the day,” he said ruefully.

But Mr. McCain had been a tax cut skeptic well before…

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