Gore says 'time has come' to fix Medicare; prods Bush for details

PORTLAND, Ore. - Al Gore declared Wednesday ''the time has come'' to make hard spending choices to rescue the Medicare health system, and he and running mate Joseph Lieberman suggested George W. Bush has made his commitments to tax cuts instead.

''Today, our focus is single-minded,'' said Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate. ''There are some even more basic choices that we as a nation must make.''

He and Lieberman spent more than an hour talking about details of their health proposals, especially for senior citizens, and they argued Bush has a responsibility to give voters similar details.

Gore said his proposal would put Medicare funding in ''an iron-clad lock box'' that assures the future of the program, a $400 billion commitment he said fits within his budget proposal.

''Let's remove the temptation to raid the cookie jar,'' he said at a health care roundtable. ''We have made that decision, our opponents have not.''

All week, Gore has been hammering on health issues and criticizing Bush for not offering specifics. In addition to setting aside $400 billion to prop up Medicare, Gore has also offered a $253 billion, 10-year program to add a prescription drug benefit.

Republican Bush has indicated he will provide health-care details next week, and his aides fired back at Gore's prescription-drug proposal with a touch of sarcasm.

''If Al Gore's promise to provide prescription drug coverage sounds familiar, it's because the Clinton-Gore team has been promising seniors that coverage for eight years,'' said Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett. ''Al Gore wasn't able to provide prescription drug coverage before, so why should seniors believe him now.''


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