Representatives of the McCain and Obama camps sparred politely at a Presidential Tax Forum sponsored by the New York State Society of CPAs.

The forum, moderated by The Wall Street Journal columnist Tom Herman, sought to preview the tax policies of the next president. David Lifson, managing partner of Hays & Company LLP, and Mel Schwarz, director of tax legislative affairs in Grant Thornton's National Tax Office, were on the panel.

Speaking for the McCain position was Ed Cox, a partner at New York-based Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP. He described the differences between the McCain and Obama positions as a difference between a macro approach and a micro-managed approach. As a consequence, McCain avoids targeted positions, while proposing to cut spending to pay for any tax changes. Obama's position, he noted, has changed frequently during the campaign.

For example, he cited the initial proposal to raise the capital gains rate to 28 percent, then to raise it only to 20 percent. The Obama plan "is a policy that is really a speech rather than a policy," he said. "It's whatever sounds good to the constituency he's speaking to at the time." The U.S. corporate rate is the second highest in the world and would be reduced to 25 percent under the McCain plan, said Cox.

Michael J. Greenwald, a managing director of UHY Advisors, represented the Obama position. Describing it as providing broad-based relief for middle-class families and workers, he explained that Obama recognizes that time and circumstances dictate action, rather than philosophy.

Overall, he noted, the Obama plan would bring taxes in line with levels at or below the prevailing rates during the Reagan years. The capital gains and dividend rates would be boosted to 20 percent only for families making more than $250,000, while capital gains tax would be eliminated for startup businesses.

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