Bush accuses Kerry of wanting to expand government with domestic proposals
Associated Press Writer
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) – Seeking to gain ground against Sen. John Kerry, President Bush said Thursday that his Democratic opponent “wants to expand government” in education, health care, taxes and virtually every other area of domestic policy.
“We have a difference of philosophy in this campaign,” Bush told supporters. “It’s a clear difference: my opponent’s programs will expand government. Our programs will expand opportunity.”
Bush made a special point of assailing Kerry’s positions on health care, one of the issues where the president is weakest against his Democratic challenger. Bush is attempting to boost his own agenda by painting Kerry as a big-government, antibusiness, anti-patient politician.
“I have a commonsense practical plan to make high-quality health care more affordable and more accessible,” Bush said. “My opponent wants government to dictate. I want you to decide, when it comes to health care.”
Although health care was the president’s focus as he campaigned in Minnesota, he used his first appearance to question Kerry’s most recent comments on Iraq, including the Democrat’s contention Wednesday that he would “not under the current circumstances” gone to war.
Kerry voted in October 2002 to authorize the administration to use force against Saddam Hussein but has said Bush used the authorization in the wrong way.
Bush told his audience, “Let me be clear: Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops in the field, the Iraqi people, to our allies and most of all to our enemies.”
By sticking to southeastern Minnesota, near the borders with Iowa and Wisconsin, the trip gives Bush an opportunity to pick up coveted local media coverage in three states that are among the handful of tossups remaining in the race.
Bush, trying to put Kerry on the run, has started to spend more on advertising in Minnesota, a longtime Democratic stronghold won by Democrat Al Gore in 2000. That has forced Kerry to move up plans to advertise here, and both candidates and their surrogates have blanketed the state with visits. Bush’s trip Thursday was his fifth to Minnesota this year; Kerry has made six stops in the state.
The president arrived during a week when three new polls showed a close race. One by the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis had Kerry in front. Two others – one by Mason-Dixon for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio and another by Gallup for CNN and USA Today – showed the candidates nearly even.
With health care costs rising dramatically and the number of people without health insurance up by about 5 million to 45 million last year, Kerry has kept up a drumbeat of criticism of Bush on the topic.
Bush’s proposals include letting small businesses pool resources to buy health insurance at the same discounts available to larger companies. He also favors expanding tax-free health saving accounts for individuals and plans to propose a tax credit to help poor families and individuals buy health coverage. Further, he wants to have health centers in the poorest communities to serve the underprivileged.
Bush has called for a medical liability overhaul to limit malpractice awards and, he argues, drive down health care costs.
“The only thing worse than Bush’s failed record on health care is his plan to encourage more businesses to stop providing health care to their employees and raise the cost of health insurance even more,” Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said. “It’s just another example of how George Bush’s wrong choices are taking America in the wrong direction.”
Bush, though, slams Kerry for proposing what the president on Thursday called “a plan that is massive and it is big” that would have government dictating Americans’ health care choices. The Kerry campaign objects to that characterization, saying its plan is a mix of business incentives and tax credits.
Kerry has proposed helping more businesses offer health care by requiring the federal government to pick up 75 percent of catastrophic health care costs, a plan his campaign estimates will lower premiums by an average of 10 percent. The Massachusetts senator also would give small businesses a tax credit to help them bear the cost of health insurance and wants to allow people to buy cheaper-priced drugs from Canada.
On the Net:
Kerry campaign: http://www.johnkerry.com
Bush campaign: http://www.georgewbush.com