- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

NEWS ANALYSIS

Al Gore should be benefiting big time from the strongest economic expansion in U.S. history, but his decline in the polls is the most convincing evidence yet that it is not working for him as he hoped.

The vice president has attempted repeatedly to wrap himself in the mantle of the soaring economy, but it has not lifted him politically as it did Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1996.

Instead, it seems to be turning into a difficult and elusive challenge for Mr. Gore and a new and more potent political issue for George W. Bush: Who's fiscal policies can keep the economy running at peak performance over the coming decade?

With the support of Republican leaders and the nation's leading economists, Mr. Bush sought to capitalize on that issue yesterday, branding Mr. Gore's $2.7 trillion spending plan as a liberal, big-government, Great Society initiative that would squander the surpluses and undermine the economy.

In a new and more aggressive campaign offensive against his opponent, Mr. Bush called his own tax-cutting economic plan "an insurance policy" that would safeguard America against recession; he portrayed Mr. Gore's spending plan as a threat to the nation's economic well-being.

"Continued prosperity should not be taken for granted. Overspending on big government is a direct threat to our prosperity and provides no insurance against an economic downturn," Mr. Bush said yesterday.

In what was seen as a strategic turn in his campaign, Mr. Bush has begun to attack Mr. Gore on what should be his strongest ground the nation's surging economy painting him as a liberal big spender whose fiscal policies would balloon the size of government and short-circuit future economic growth.

Republican leaders joined in the attack yesterday. They said that they, too, believe that instead of being a strength for Mr. Gore, the economy may be turning into one of the GOP's strongest issues because of his big spending agenda.

"Al Gore's plan is expensive, expansive and risky to our long-term economic health. His proposals would consume every dime of the federal budget surplus and amounts to the largest expansion of government in 30 years," Sen. Connie Mack, Florida Republican, told The Washington Times.

"What the Gore plan says to the American people is, 'If you act the way the federal government wants you to act, you'll get to keep some of your money,' " the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee said. "This is not sound economic policy, it's social engineering."

Earlier this week, Mr. Bush received new polling data that gave his campaign new confidence that a majority of Americans side with him on his criticism of Mr. Gore's bigger spending plans. A Los Angeles Times poll which found Mr. Gore trailing by 6 points showed that fully three-fifths of those polled preferred smaller government with fewer social services, rather than bigger government with more services.

Still, as new government data reported yesterday that the economy grew at a much stronger pace than expected in the second quarter, Mr. Gore also went on the attack. He charged that Mr. Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cuts would erase the surpluses and undermine the economy.

Mr. Bush responded immediately that his tax cuts would leave $1 trillion in the non-Social Security surplus to pay for his more modest spending proposals on health care, education and defense. All told, his proposals would cost $750 billion over the next decade.

Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan has a lot of support in the economic community and yesterday his campaign released comments from several of the 103 economists who have endorsed his plan.

"Al Gore's budget dips into the Social Security surplus to pay for more government spending. This is inconsistent with his pledge to lockbox Social Security," said Mickey Levy, chief economist at Bank of America.

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