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Dean: No Free Lunch

By's Jarrett Murphy

Depicting himself as a steady manager, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on Friday warned that federal deficits would burden future generations and could threaten national security.

The morning after the last candidates' debate before Tuesday's big primary, Dean told a town hall meeting of New Hampshire voters gathered at a Lions Club that if he is elected president, "We are not going to provide everything to everybody."

He criticized opponents for promising to cut taxes while providing more money for health care, education and college tuition, dismissing those proposals as "blather at election time."

"If you believe it you should be ashamed of yourself," he told the crowd.

Dean spoke quietly, still nursing some hoarseness, and apparently still trying to project a quieter, more managerial tone after his raucous speech to an Iowa rally Monday.

His message of budget stinginess could also be a break from his earlier campaign message that he represented the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," and the general perception that he is the most liberal mainstream candidate in the race.

Dean spoke amid increasing criticism from fiscal conservatives directed at the Bush administration and Republican Congress for running up large deficits. His speech came as John Kerry, also a liberal, leads Dean in the polls.

The focus on the deficit may have been an effort to appeal to people worried about federal spending, especially independents, who outnumber both Democrats and Republicans in New Hampshire, and who can vote in Tuesday's primary.

But Dean has not abandoned his core sales pitch.

He still employed fiery rhetoric, claming President Bush "believes that corporations are his constituents," and referring more than once to "Ken Lay and his boys" at Enron as beneficiaries of the president's tax cuts.

He compared the Bush administration to those of Presidents McKinley, Coolidge and Hoover, under whom the distribution of wealth grew starkly unequal.

"This president smiles when he's got the knife or scissors in your back," he said.

And Dean still claimed to be driven by social justice.

"I lead with my heart, not with my head," he said. Then, returning to his theme for the day, he added: "I do manage well."

The deficit was Dean's main talking point — one that he said his opponents were neglecting. Dean said federal spending overruns were "an extraordinary danger" to the government's ability to create jobs.

He also sees them as a threat to national security: If foreign countries that hold vast American investments, like Saudi Arabia and China, were to lose confidence and suddenly sell their holdings, "they could destroy our economy."

The Congressional Budget Office has projected a deficit of $480 billion for this fiscal year, and a total $1.397 trillion shortfall over the 2004-2013 decade.

He slammed Mr. Bush's economic policy for hyping federal tax cuts that, Dean said, were eclipsed for most taxpayers by increased local taxes to pay for services the federal government no longer provided.

"If you want tax fairness, we can do that, but we have to balance the budget first," he said.

The way to create jobs, Dean said, was by ending tax cuts to corporations who move operations overseas, helping small businesses and investing in infrastructure, like mass transit, renewable energy and broadband connections to rural areas.

It was unclear how that investment could occur without adding to the deficit.

By Jarrett Murphy

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