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Getting Personal

For a second day in a row, Al Gore took direct aim at his Republican rival George W. Bush, linking the Texas governor with the GOP-controlled Congress.

Gore said Tuesday that the same "wealthy special interests" that are financing Bush's bid for the White House are blocking domestic legislation on Capitol Hill, from a patients bill of rights to tighter gun control.

"What's going on in Washington is that this Congress has failed to pass legislation that has very strong bipartisan support," Gore said.

In Little Rock, Ark., the vice president said a patients' bill of rights has stalled in Congress, "Because there are special interests with a lot of money and a lot of power and don't want it passed."

Gore blasted the GOP leadership on Capitol Hill for an agenda of "Do nothing for the people. Pass nothing that offends the special interest. Serve the powerful not the people." Besides a patients bill of rights, the vice president also took the Republican Congress to task for failing to pass a minimum wage increase, expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs, or allow patients to sue HMO's.

"The Republican leadership in Congress is responding to wealthy special interests, including drug manufacturers and insurance companies," Gore asserted. "The same group of special interests that is blocking the progress in Congress is bankrolling (Bush's) campaign."

On Monday, Gore said Bush should "speak up" and prod congressional Republicans to enact measures sought by working families.

"Let Gov. Bush pick up the phone, call the leaders of his own party and ask them to pass legislation instead of blocking it," the Democratic presidential candidate said at a campaign rally at Central Connecticut State University.

"If hard-working families can't count on Gov. Bush today, then what would happen if the results in November were a Bush White House and a Republican Congress?" Gore asked.

"I'm running for president because I want to fight for you," Gore told a gathering of several hundred people. "I want to fight for the people, not the powerful."

The Bush campaign dismissed Gore's charges.

"We find this whole thing very amusing," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "It is an amazing admission of lack of leadership that Al Gore has to ask the governor of Texas to do in Congress what he is unable to do for himself - demonstrate leadership to get things done."

Gore responded Tuesday: "Gov. Bush is the head of the Republican Party. The Republican leadership of the Congress has said publicly that they are going to let him call the shots on various things."

Gore campaign officials say the Texas governor has received $1.4 million from the insurance industry, which has poured $8.5 million into Republican congressional campaign coffers since 1997, and has helped stall passage of the patient protection legislation backed by Gore and Cliton.

The vice president said Bush could make a "decisive difference' in the fight. "At first, he opposed a strong patients bill of rights in Texas. Then, he reluctantly accepted it. Now, his own campaign is being supported by the same HMO and insurance company interests who are blocking progress in Congress," Gore said.

On Thursday, the vice president will be joined in Green Bay, Wis., by former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. It will be their first joint appearance since Gore defeated Bradley for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year.

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