Monday, June 21, 2004

HENDERSON, Nev. — Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday opened up a new line of attack against John Kerry, saying the pro-tax economic plan of the senator from Massachusetts would return America to the “malaise” of the Carter era.

Mr. Cheney mocked Mr. Kerry’s “misery index” as a tortured throwback to the inflation and soaring interest rates of President Carter’s term.

“By Senator Kerry’s definition, things actually got better during the Carter years and then got worse during the Reagan-Bush years,” Mr. Cheney told 500 supporters in this Las Vegas suburb.

“That makes a total of two people who remember the late ‘70s as a golden age of the American economy,” he added. “Jimmy Carter and John Kerry. By now, even Jimmy Carter is probably beginning to have his doubts.”

Even as he sought to tie Mr. Kerry to the failed economic policies of Mr. Carter, Mr. Cheney repeatedly compared President Bush to the late Ronald Reagan. Again and again, Mr. Cheney described his boss as an optimist and Mr. Kerry as a pessimist.

“Every day, Senator Kerry does his best to talk down America’s economy,” Mr. Cheney said. “His economic plan comes down to one big goal: raising taxes on the American people.”

Mr. Cheney’s speech in Nevada, which is considered a battleground state in this fall’s election, was part of a concerted effort by the administration to portray the economy in more bullish terms. Until recently, the White House had tempered its economic optimism with an abundance of caution.

The administration has concluded that the economic expansion is gathering strength just in time for the president’s re-election campaign.

“I’ve had the chance to meet with small-business owners and workers all over the country,” Mr. Cheney said. “They’ve seen tough times in recent years, but now things have turned around.”

In Nevada, for example, the unemployment rate has dropped from 6.6 percent in January 2002 to 4.1 percent last month. During that period, 94,000 jobs have been created in the state, which Mr. Bush carried in 2000.

“Of course, some people find a way to be pessimistic about everything,” Mr. Cheney said. “And this is the case with the president’s opponent in this campaign.”

The vice president accused Mr. Kerry of ignoring the fact that for the past three years, the American economy has been growing at a faster pace than in any other major industrialized nation.

The administration considers the Las Vegas area a particularly good place to discuss the economy in upbeat terms. Every month, more than 5,000 people move to the region, forcing the telephone company to print new books twice a year.

Mr. Cheney warned that the trend would be reversed if Americans elect Mr. Kerry, who wants to repeal Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.

“His pessimistic outlook isn’t going to sit well with the people who work and vote in Nevada,” the vice president said. “Listen to his proposals. Every one of them would increase the power of Washington bureaucrats and increase the size of the government’s claim on your paycheck.”

Mr. Cheney said the administration will continue to resist efforts to roll back the Bush tax cuts and will press Congress to make those cuts permanent. That effort is opposed by Mr. Kerry.

“Senator Kerry’s plan to raise taxes on small businesses would choke growth, discourage investment and clog the primary engine of job creation in our economy,” the vice president said. “Senator Kerry doesn’t show much faith in America’s workers and entrepreneurs.”

Mr. Cheney also campaigned yesterday in Missouri, another battleground state, before returning to the District. He stopped at a store and bought a pair of hip-waders and a cleaner for a 12-gauge shotgun in Springfield, Mo.

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