Health care getting a post-debate round from Bush and Kerry campaigns |

Health care getting a post-debate round from Bush and Kerry campaigns

Associated Press Writer
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., answers a question as President Bush listens during the third and final presidential debate in Tempe, Ariz., Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2004. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – The topic most discussed during the final presidential debate – health care and how to pay for it – is getting another round from the Bush and Kerry campaigns on Thursday as they try to convince older Americans they know best how to treat a system that’s under the weather.

Portraying Sen. John Kerry as the liberal’s liberal, President Bush called the Democratic health care proposal just more big government and promoted health care savings accounts and medical liability reform as the cure. Kerry countered that people remain in charge of their care under his plan and accused Bush of blocking commonsense cost cutting while throwing the budget off balance with tax cuts aimed at the wealthy.

Following a prime-time debate on domestic and economic policies, the nation’s largest lobbying group for people over 50 was providing a forum for their views. AARP, once known as the American Association of Retired Persons, was hosting Kerry and first lady Laura Bush in Las Vegas.

The president, meanwhile, was bypassing the group’s meeting to attend a Las Vegas rally with Republican governors before traveling to Reno and Central Point, Ore.

For undecided voters, Wednesday night’s debate was a chance to comparison-shop. Kerry cast himself as champion of the little guy and Bush the guardian of the wealthy, branding the president as reckless with the federal budget and the use of American force. Bush labeled Kerry a do-nothing liberal senator with questionable credibility and an insatiable appetite for taxes. A question about federal spending and deficits yielded one of their sharpest exchanges.

“You know, there’s a mainstream in American politics, and you sit right on the far left bank,” Bush said, charging that Kerry had voted to exceed budget ceilings 277 times.

“Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country,” Kerry said. “This president has taken a $5.6 trillion surplus and turned it into deficits as far as the eye can see.”

Both candidates said they believe marriage should remain a union of man and woman but that gay Americans should be treated with respect. Kerry cited Mary Cheney, the vice president’s openly gay daughter and an official in his campaign, as a lesbian who probably would say being gay is not a matter of choice.

That drew a rebuke at a post-debate rally from Lynne Cheney, the vice president’s wife. She called Kerry “not a good man” and his reference to her daughter “a cheap and tawdry political trick.”

The debate ranged over virtually the entire landscape of domestic issues and exposed deep differences:

-Kerry said a hike in the minimum wage to $7 an hour is “long overdue,” and blamed Republican congressional leadership for preventing a vote on it. Bush mentioned a Republican senator’s minimum wage plan that he said he had supported.

-On the assault weapons ban that expired last month, Kerry said it was a “failure of presidential leadership” that Bush had taken no concrete action to renew the law. Kerry said the law’s expiration could help put more guns in the hands of terrorists and criminals. Bush said background checks at gun shows and vigorous enforcement of existing gun laws were the way to keep deadly weapons off the streets.

-On affirmative action, Kerry said he opposes quotas but the nation has not moved far enough along to eliminate affirmative action. Bush also opposes quotas, but said he supports programs that help low- and middle-income families fund college, or small businesses get loans.

-Kerry said he would not appoint judges who would overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion rights decision of Roe v. Wade. Bush said he had no issue test for judges, and reiterated his support for the ban on so-called partial-birth abortion.

The last of the three debates offered fewer fireworks and more statistics than the two previous encounters, at times sounding like a dry dissertation on the bureaucracy. Each candidate threw out a dizzying array of figures and an alphabet soup of government acronyms.

Bush seemed to find his stride after two debates that most viewers and analysts thought he lost. He stifled most of the facial expressions that marred his first performance, ending each answer with a smile, though the camera occasionally captured him dropping it abruptly a few seconds later. After letting his voice rise to a shout during the second debate, Bush toned it down, speaking more softly.

Kerry was seen as the winner in two of three post-debate polls, while the third found the two tied.

Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot dismissed polls showing Kerry won the debate and described the president’s performance as “extraordinarily good.”

“He was in command of the facts, he was in command of the issues, he was relaxed, he was confident, and I think that’s how the American people saw it,” Racicot told reporters.

The Democratic Party was quick to publicize what it called a “threepeat,” launching two videos Thursday morning mocking Bush at the Tempe debate. “Exaggeration” shows Bush denying he ever said he wasn’t worried about Osama bin Laden and then saying just that at a news conference. “What’s So Funny?” shows Bush laughing when asked about uninsured Americans.

“They capture the essence of George Bush’s four years in office. Four years of wrong choices which he won’t even own up to,” McAuliffe told reporters in a conference call.

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