- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

WASHINGTON — Al Gore has given George W. Bush the greatest present any politician can receive: The gift of an opponent's hypocrisy.

Consider Gore's insistent harping that Bush produce “specifics.” This is an example of accusing a foe of the sins you are committing. In large part, the Gore political platform consists of gauzy phrases, unsupported by proposals, let alone specifics.

Check out the Gore Web site, and you'll see: The vice president provides a price tag for precious few of the dozens of new spending programs he has in mind. Begin with his topic of the week, health care.

Gore envisions expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program, but doesn't mention price, suspected enrollments, or eligibility for promised tax credits. He wants to punish states that don't sign up children for health insurance — even though the biggest barrier to participation today is red tape, much of it imposed by the Clinton-Gore administration.

His Web site says the candidate will “eliminate cumbersome barriers to child enrollment in health insurance. He will advocate new options for schools and child-care centers to enroll kids on the spot. … He will reach more eligible children by encouraging states to link their children's health insurance programs to their school lunch programs … ” And so on. It neither asks nor answers the crucial questions: How, when, why, for whom, and at what cost?

Here's a partial listing of initiatives for which Gore has high hopes but no details:

Health care:

  • strengthening Medicare “through competition”
  • strengthening Medicare “through cost savings”
  • creating a National Family Care Giving Support Initiative
  • reaching underserved populations, including the homeless, for mental-health care
  • strengthening Medicaid

Education:

  • school standards
  • teacher standards
  • student standards
  • standards for Universal Preschool
  • cost of hiring new teachers

Defense:

  • size of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and reserves
  • definition of “the next generation” of military technology
  • rebuilding military-industrial base

Government reform:

  • creating a “more accountable and effective federal government”
  • making government more efficient and less expensive
  • protecting Internet privacy

Again, this is just a partial listing, but you get the idea. Gore has plenty of program titles. He just doesn't have programs to go with them.

Yet, if there's one thing worse for the Democratic nominee than the lack of specifics, it is the presence of them. Gore wants to spend $42 billion over five years to insure 1 million children. If you do the math, that works out to $42,000 per child over five years — or $700 per month per kid for insurance premiums. Most policies these days will cover one or more children for $10-20 per month. Gore has chosen to spend dozens of times that amount. (What's that about cutting government waste?)

His desire to spend $253 billion over 10 years on prescription drugs is “specific,” but nuts. When is the last time the government made anything cheaper by promising to spend an extra quarter-trillion dollars on it?

And check out these nuggets from his tax plan: His much touted college-tuition tax credit applies to only one child per family, and doesn't cover room and board. It doesn't help poor people. His marriage-penalty relief doesn't apply to families who own their homes or accumulate annual earnings in excess of $60,000. Working seniors don't get a tax cut. If you're single, you're not guaranteed any tax relief, either.

The point is that “targeted” tax cuts pick out a few fortunate beneficiaries — and leave the rest of us out in the cold. They're not designed to focus benefits on “working people.” They're drawn up to appease very specific voting groups or modify behavior — hence, tax credits to parents who send kids to day care, but not to those who stay at home with toddlers and preschoolers.

Bush, rather than stammering about budget projections, ought to take up the Gore challenge. He has published a fat book filled with “specifics,” some of which may make sense, many of which may reflect the dreamy desires of policy wonks — but all of which give a pretty good sense of where Bush would go as president.

As for Gore, here's his “specific” vision of the future: “I believe we must create more than effective government agencies — we must create a country and economy that are strong and vibrant and equipped for the challenges of change. And at the same time we must create a new trust and faith in our people, and in each other.”

Huh?


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