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Gore Starts 'Prosperity' Tour

Vice President Al Gore began a three-week "progress and prosperity tour" Tuesday, touting the nation's strong economy and declaring "none of this happened by accident."

Gore's upcoming tour - through battleground states - is sure to stir up the sensitive question of who, exactly, deserves credit for the prolonged economic expansion and federal budget surplus.

The Republican National Committee suggested a better name would be the "Broken Promises Tour." In New York, where Gore's tour is beginning, Gov. George Pataki said Congress and the nation's governors share credit for prosperous times, and quipped that Gore is trying to claim he "invented prosperity."

Gore has told Democratic contributors Monday he and President Clinton deserve at least some of the credit for enacting, over much controversy, a deficit-reduction measure in 1993 that included tax increases. And he was pressing the idea again Tuesday in New York City.

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"No serious person can question the achievements of the 1990s," Gore said in his speech, which was delivered Monday morning at the New York Historical Society. "Now we must ask: Will we be better off still - in terms of affluence and in terms of spirit - four years from today?"

Gore proposed to seal off surplus money in the Medicare Trust Fund, to create new retirement savings accounts that would supplement but not alter Social Security and to put government money in new trust funds with the hope that the money would be used only to finance new education, health care and environmental initiatives.

The savings plan was Gore's answer to Republican George W. Bush, his presidential rival, who has proposed allowing people to divert a percentage of their Social Security payroll taxes into personal savings accounts.

As for the proposed new trust funds, Robert Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said Gore overstated their importance.

"From a practical standpoint it's meaningless in the sense that Congress can do with the money anything it wants," Reischauer said. "These are rhetorical devices."

Gore plans to give a series of addresses in battleground states over the next three weeks to detail his proposals.

Gore is scheduled to discuss health care Wednesday in Scranton, Pa., then make his pitch for modest, targeted tax cuts on Thursday in Cincinnati. Spokesman Chris Lehane said Friday's event will occur in the Washington, D.C., area. The tour will resume next Tuesday and hit other "key battleground states around the country,"> said Gore campaign spokesman Chris Lehane.

Gore also addressed lingering questions about his image, often lampooned as dull.

"I am who I am," he said, adding "If you are selling a car, you have to find out features the car has that people have interest in. In selling a candidate, you have to do the same things."