- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry yesterday called for deeper tax cuts for the middle class than proposed by President Bush and described his Republican critics as “the most crooked … lying group I’ve ever seen.”

“Our middle-class tax cut will help working people afford college and pay for health care and make ends meet,” Mr. Kerry told AFL-CIO leaders at their winter convention in Florida via satellite.

“If this president wants to make this election about taxes after he’s cut billions for billionaires and given middle-class families a larger share to pay, we’re ready for that fight.”

After addressing the labor leaders, Mr. Kerry met with one-time rival Howard Dean to discuss an endorsement and what role the former Vermont governor might play in his campaign.

Officials close to the talks said Mr. Dean plans to endorse Mr. Kerry late next week. The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the best time might be Thursday when the presidential candidates join former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for a Democratic Party fund-raiser.

Anticipating their meeting, the Bush campaign issued “Howard Dean’s Greatest Hits on John Kerry,” a 10-item recounting of Mr. Dean’s criticism of his rival for the nomination. The quotes from news stories include Mr. Dean’s statement in January that “you’re not going to change America by nominating somebody who’s a Washington insider whose biggest long suit is talk.”

In Florida, the labor leaders voted to spend $44 million to mobilize union household voters in November against President Bush, a record sum in an election they say is do-or-die for the labor movement.

“People are fed up with this administration’s inability to create good jobs and get our country back on track,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. “They are demanding a change and we plan to give it to them.”

The AFL-CIO’s get-out-the-vote efforts, which will cost its members an additional 48 cents in dues, will be concentrated in a few battleground states that labor leaders believe will determine the next occupant of the White House. Florida, Ohio and Missouri top the list.

Labor’s strength in the workplace has been plummeting, but union members have remained reliable voters for Democrats. One in four voters in the 2000 election was from a union household. That year, the AFL-CIO spent about $41 million to mobilize its 13 million members and their families.

Earlier yesterday in Chicago, Mr. Kerry toughened his comments about his GOP critics after a supporter urged him to take on Mr. Bush.

“Let me tell you, we’ve just begun to fight,” Mr. Kerry said. “We’re going to keep pounding. These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I’ve ever seen. It’s scary.”

Kerry spokesman David Wade said the senator was referring to Republican critics in general. “The Republicans have launched the most personal, crooked, deceitful attacks over the last four years,” Mr. Wade said. “He’s a Democrat who fights back.”

The Bush-Cheney campaign answered back, saying, “At every turn, John Kerry has claimed to be the victim of an imaginary smear machine. John Kerry has run a relentlessly negative campaign from the very beginning and this comment is completely consistent with that.”

In his speech to the AFL-CIO, Mr. Kerry said a “Bush tax” stemming from the president’s economic policies has driven up costs for working families. He vowed to reverse that trend while asking those making more than $200,000 a year to pay the same taxes they paid under President Clinton, effectively repealing portions of a tax cut Mr. Bush pushed through Congress.

Mr. Kerry also proposed creating a $50 billion fund to help states provide relief from state and local taxes for working families that he said have been struggling.

In response, the Bush campaign accused Mr. Kerry of favoring broad tax increases that would affect all taxpayers.

“John Kerry has voted for higher taxes 350 times and his numbers for new spending don’t add up,” said Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman. “His campaign-trail promises mean he is going to raise taxes by at least $900 billion.” It is the first time the Bush campaign has put a number on tax increases it says Mr. Kerry favors.

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