from AP:

By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 21 minutes ago

PHOENIX – Republican presidential candidate John McCain acknowledged the steep drop in U.S. jobs and said he would help the economy by cutting taxes, encouraging free trade, building nuclear power plants and launching other initiatives.

Economic problems under the Bush administration pose a major challenge to McCain and fellow Republicans running for House and Senate seats this fall. In remarks prepared for an event in Denver on Monday, McCain tried to confront the issue with a can-do spirit.

More than 400,000 jobs have been lost since December, he said, adding, “Americans are worried about the security of their current job, and they’re worried that they, their kids and their neighbors may not find good jobs and new opportunities in the future.”

He cited a list of previously announced proposals that he said are better-suited to helping the economy than are plans by Democrat Barack Obama.

“I will double the child deduction from $3,500 to $7,000 for every dependent,” McCain said in the prepared remarks. He also cited his plans to cut the estate tax, although Democrats note that it applies to only a fraction of Americans.

McCain would provide refundable tax credits of $2,500 for individuals, and $5,000 for families, for all those who buy health insurance. Employer contributions toward health insurance would be treated as income, meaning workers would have to pay income taxes on it, but not payroll taxes.

Obama says the plan would seriously undermine the employer-based system that provides health insurance to about 158 million workers. He would require most employers to provide health care for their workers or pay into a national health care plan.

McCain said Obama’s plan would hurt small businesses and hamper job creation.

McCain restated his support of free trade, acknowledging it “is not a positive for everyone.” He promised to retrain workers who lose their jobs to overseas plants.

McCain also repeated his call to build at least 45 new nuclear plants, which he said “will create over 700,000 good jobs to construct and operate them.”

In an interview Monday on CBS’ “The Early Show,” McCain campaign adviser Carly Fiorina was asked what he would do immediately to boost the economy if he’s elected president.

“Make it easier for small businesses to hire and grow and that’s critical because small business is the one place in the economy that is still adding jobs,” said Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO. “Small business is the engine of growth in this economy.”

Obama supporter Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri criticized McCain for saying he would continue President Bush’s tax policy, which she said mainly benefits the wealthiest Americans.

Obama’s “plan is all about middle-class families,” she said. “We’re talking about changing the tax code to help out those who need it instead of those very few at the top.”