Bush Frets About Tax Cut Plan

bush sits with an elementary school class in peoria, ill. aug. 22, 2000
George W. Bush acknowledged Tuesday he hasn't convinced voters that the nation can afford his $1.3 trillion tax cut plan after shoring up Social Security. He also continued to argue long distance with Al Gore about fall debates.

"I have got to do a better job of making it clear" that expected budget surpluses in the next 10 years will allow for the tax cuts, even after Social Security is rescued, Bush said. He was responding to new criticism from Gore alleging his plan would squander the surplus.

Bush said he was standing by his proposals: "I am not changing my opinion. I think it is the absolute right thing to do for America."

As for debates, Democrat Gore has challenged the Republican candidate to a long series before Election Day in November, but Bush said Tuesday, "I think three is plenty."

The Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled three debates for the presidential candidates and one for their running mates. The Bush campaign has proposed three presidential and two vice-presidential, with dates and sponsors to be negotiated.

Asked aboard his campaign plane Tuesday about Gore's contention that he is trying to duck prime-time debates, Bush said, "Of course we are going to debate. There will be debates and I look forward to them."

Meanwhile, the Texas governor was completing a two-day tour through the Midwest by pushing a $5 billion program copied from one he started three years ago in Texas that would encourage states to teach children to read by third grade.

"Reading is the building block, and it must be the foundation, for education reform," he said in remarks to be delivered Tuesday during visits to schools in Peoria, Ill., and Chesterfield, Mo.

States that use this fund would be required to establish a reading test for students to determine who needs extra help, a curriculum and teacher training, he said.

But even as he tried to refocus attention on his top legislative priority, Gore chided him for being slow in agreeing to debate one-on-one.

Gore accused Bush of trying to duck prime-time exposure by proposing that their camps negotiate debates outside the three televised events already scheduled by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Bush "wants to see if he can get away with some Sunday morning talk show when nobody's watching much," Gore said. "The American people have a right in this day and time to be respected with an adult, intelligent discussion of what the major issues are."

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer noted that during the 1996 campaign President Clinton and Gore agreed to only two of the three debates proposed by the debate commission.

"This is one of the worst examples I've ever seen of Al Gore saying one thing and doing another," Fleischer said. "The last major party candidate to stiff the commission was Al Gore and Bill Clinton."

Bush aide Karen Huges suggested that when the vice president accepted so many invitations, he had ceded bargaining power to Bush.

"Maybe the vice president feels he was a little out-negotiated," she said.

The Texas governor, meanwhile, seemed unaffected by the intensifying atmosphere when he was asked by a Des Moines, Iowa, fifth-grader Monday how it felt to run for president.

"I don't know whether I'm going to win or not. I think I am," he said. "I do know I'm ready for the job. And, if not, that's just the way it goes."