IS MR. FREEZE THAWING OUT?…. When John McCain first announced his support for a spending freeze, he said he would exempt “the caring of veterans, national defense and several other vital issues.” What counts as a “vital issue”? He didn’t say.

Yesterday, McCain reiterated his support for a spending freeze, adding that he would exempt “the most important programs like defense, veterans care, Social Security and health care.” What other programs are “the most important”? He didn’t say.

I’m starting to get the impression, though, that the spending freeze plan is starting to thaw.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain would exempt funding for scientific research from the across-the-board federal spending freeze he’s promised on the campaign trail, a campaign adviser said Tuesday.

The McCain budget plan includes “a specific carve-out for spending on science,” said Ike Brannon, a senior policy adviser to the McCain campaign. “You’ll definitely see, under John McCain, more spending on research,” Brannon said.

Wait, it gets better. Atrios reports:

Sarah Palin just told me that John McCain would impose a spending freeze on all but the most vital functions of government. She listed two of those “most vital” functions, and one of them was “worker retraining.”

I have nothing against a little federal worker retraining funding, but I’m reasonably sure that if you put all of the functions of government which are more vital than federal worker retraining expenditures on the list of vital functions you’ve pretty much covered about 99.9% of that budget.

So, what do we know at this point about McCain’s proposal for a freeze on federal spending? It’s going to be sweeping, except for the Pentagon, the V.A., entitlements, healthcare, scientific research, and job training. Oh, and anything else McCain decides is “important.”

There was a point a few months ago at which McCain said every earmark is awful and must be eliminated. He’d then make a campaign stop and laud some local industry, which existed thanks to an earmark. When pressed, McCain would in effect say, “Well, I didn’t mean that earmark.” This happened more than once.

The moral of the story is, McCain is against earmarks except when he isn’t, and he’ll impose a spending freeze except when he won’t.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.