Friday, June 16, 2000

The presidential candidates swapped traditional roles Thursday as Democratic Vice President Al Gore proposed bigger tax cuts and Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas called for more federal spending on programs for the disabled.

Mr. Gore, campaigning in the battleground state of Ohio, tried to make his “prosperity tour” sound more prosperous by proposing to double his tax-cut plan to $500 billion over 10 years.

“The right kind of tax cuts are good for our economy,” Mr. Gore said. “I won’t be profligate with the people’s money. I won’t spend your money on a huge tax cut we can’t afford.”

The vice president has ridiculed the size of Mr. Bush’s proposed tax cuts about $1.3 trillion over 10 years as a “risky scheme.” Mr. Gore trails Mr. Bush slightly in the polls in Ohio, and federal budget-surplus projections have risen steadily since the vice president’s initial tax-cut proposals.

Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Gore is mimicking Mr. Bush “by offering tax cuts to the hard-working Americans who are responsible for our robust economy.”

“Governor Bush didn’t need polls or focus groups to know that Americans deserve some of their money back,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush campaigned Thursday in Portland, Maine, where he outlined programs to aid the disabled that would cost an estimated $880 million over five years.

“Disabilities should not be a barrier to the pursuit of happiness,” Mr. Bush said. “Our society, and our government, must make every effort to enable people with disabilities to lead independent and productive lives.”

Eric Schlecht, an analyst for the conservative National Taxpayers Union, said of both candidates’ proposals Thursday, “They’re both running to the [political] center so fast, they’re going to run into each other.”

While Mr. Bush has introduced some new spending proposals, Mr. Schlecht said, his “overarching theme” remains one of allowing communities to help people in need and not to rely on the federal government.

Mr. Schlecht said Mr. Gore has recognized that his rival’s tax-cut plan “seems to be fairly popular.”

“The economy is doing well, people are doing well, and people are appreciative of the leadership by Bush on tax cuts and Social Security reform,” Mr. Schlecht said.

In fact, Mr. Gore, who has resisted new ideas for Social Security, said he will release the details next week of a new “independent savings account” to add to the benefits of Social Security recipients.

Mr. Bush has proposed allowing younger workers to invest 2 percentage points of their payroll tax for Social Security in the stock market and to place the earnings in individual accounts. Mr. Gore has called that plan “irresponsible.”

Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Thursday that, whatever the details of Mr. Gore’s new plan, it will be the vice president’s third position on Social Security in less than one year.

He said the administration proposed late last year allowing the government to invest Social Security funds in the stock market for individuals. Mr. Gore later said he opposed that plan in favor of the current system, Mr. Bartlett said, and now the vice president is coming out with another proposal.

“It appears now that the vice president sees the American people responding to Governor Bush’s leadership and is changing his mind for the third time,” Mr. Bartlett said. “The American people want leadership, consistency and conviction.”

Among the features of Mr. Gore’s tax-cut plan, it would eliminate the so-called “marriage penalty” for working couples; give a $3,000 tax credit for people with long-term care needs and their caregivers; make up to $10,000 in college-tuition costs tax deductible; and offer a tax credit for parents of 5 million children ages 13 to 16 to pay for after-school care.

He is also proposing a 25-percent tax credit on premium costs for each employee of a small business that decides to join a purchasing coalition for health insurance.

Mr. Bush said his New Freedom Initiative is designed to help Americans with disabilities live and work more independently through increased access to computers and other technology.

He proposes to spend $20 million in federal matching funds to states to guarantee low-interest loans for people with disabilities to purchase computers and other equipment necessary to “telecommute” from home. Mr. Bush’s plan also would provide $10 million annually to increase the accessibility of 2,000 organizations that are currently exempt from Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as churches, mosques, synagogues and civic organizations.

Further, Mr. Bush would increase spending for rehabilitative engineering research centers for technologies that assist the handicapped, and for low-interest loan programs to purchase such technologies.

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