- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush yesterday promoted his education reform plans in the Northeast and brushed aside a taunt from Vice President Al Gore to "put up or shut up" on health care as undignified.
"It didn't sound very presidential to me," Mr. Bush told reporters in response to Mr. Gore's dare. "But he has the right to say what he wants to say, and I'll continue to run my campaign the way I feel I need to."
Meanwhile, a new CNN/USA Today poll showed the Texas governor leading Mr. Gore by 46 percent to 45 percent, a statistical dead heat. The survey of 664 likely voters, conducted from Friday through Sunday, had a 4 percentage point margin of error.
A week ago, immediately following the Democratic National Convention, the same poll gave Mr. Gore a 47 percent-46 percent edge.
The candidates also inched closer yesterday to appearing on the same stage, with Mr. Gore endorsing three prime-time presidential debates in October and Mr. Bush saying he supported the time frame without formally committing to it.
Campaigning in Maine at an education forum, Mr. Bush said he would improve education by revoking federal money from public schools whose students consistently fail state achievement tests. And he said Mr. Gore, the Democratic nominee, is incapable of school reform because he is beholden to teachers' unions and their campaign donations.
"He's a good fellow; he cares about education, but he doesn't want to hold people accountable," Mr. Bush said. "Maybe, it's because of the constituencies … behind him."
Mr. Bush said that measuring student achievement and issuing school-by-school report cards is a key to making sure children learn. And he spoke in favor of vouchers and school choice, in stark contrast to Mr. Gore.
"I'm going to ask Congress to pass a bill that says, 'In return for receipt of federal money … you must show the people in your area whether or not children can read, write, add and subtract,' " Mr. Bush said. "Instead of continuing to subsidize mediocrity, after a reasonable period of time, the parents will have a different choice with the federal money."
Emphasizing the growing achievement gap between minority and white students in some regions, Mr. Bush said the Clinton-Gore administration has failed to improve education for the children who need it most.
"It should be unacceptable to the voters that over the past seven years, nothing has changed," Mr. Bush said. "We need to think differently in America. It's the difference between a campaign that wants to hold people accountable and a campaign that has got the illusion of accountability."
Mr. Gore continued to press his health-care agenda yesterday, promoting a $100 billion expansion of an insurance program for children in low-income families. Including his $253 billion proposal on Monday for Medicare prescription-drug coverage, Mr. Gore has advocated more than one-third of $1 trillion in additional federal spending in just two days.
"We need to cover every child in the next presidential term," Mr. Gore said at a campaign stop in Albuquerque, N.M. "Every child ought to have good, high-quality health care."
But Bush campaign officials pointed out that the Republican-dominated National Governors' Association has criticized the administration for creating regulations that make it more difficult for states to implement the Children's Health Insurance Program.
"Under Al Gore's watch, there are 2.4 million more uninsured children in America," said Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett. "Al Gore should explain why his administration has not addressed the concerns of our nation's governors that the federal bureaucracy in Washington is making it impossible for states to create better programs to insure more children."
Bush aides also derided Mr. Gore's taunting of the Republican candidate to spell out his health-care plan, saying Mr. Bush will reveal the details as planned next week.
Karen Hughes, Mr. Bush's top spokesman, asked reporters, "Is this the Al Gore who said he wouldn't say one unkind word or the one who wanted an adult discussion and six hours later issues a playground challenge?"
Said Mr. Bush, "I felt like his comments underline the point I made. If we want to get something done in Washington, we have to change the tone of the discourse."
Gore aides disputed the notion that Mr. Gore was not being presidential.
"What is not presidential is putting out a tax cut that benefits the very few," said spokesman Chris Lehane, referring to Mr. Bush's proposed $1.3 trillion tax cut. "George W. Bush is trying to defend the indefensible. He is between a rock and a hard place."

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