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Kerry Targets Cheney, Halliburton

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Friday accused the Bush administration of turning a blind eye to waste and overcharging by Halliburton, the company Vice President Dick Cheney once ran, calling it evidence of the president's mismanagement of the war in Iraq.

"Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, has profited from the mess in Iraq at the expense of American troops and taxpayers," Kerry said. "While Halliburton has been engaging in massive overcharging and wasteful practices under this no-bid contract, Dick Cheney has continued to receive compensation from his former company."

President Bush, meanwhile, renewed his criticism of Kerry's domestic proposals as his campaign prepared a new television ad warning that liberals in Congress would join Kerry in harming job growth and the economy by raising taxes on small businesses.

"My opponent has proposed at least $2.2 trillion in new federal spending so far. And we still have the month of October to go," Mr. Bush told supporters at a fund-raiser in Washington, citing a figure the Kerry campaign rejects as inaccurate.

Kerry's criticism of Cheney, coupled with a new campaign ad aimed at the vice president, showed the Democratic candidate charging at one of his harshest critics. He rarely responds directly to the sharp words Cheney uses while campaigning for the president's re-election.

The television ad, which will air next week in Oregon and other battleground states, charges conflicts of interest stemming from money that Cheney still receives from Halliburton under a deferred compensation agreement.

It also contends that Halliburton wasted taxpayer money – in contracts awarded without competitive bidding – that could have been better used at home. Several investigations have found evidence of overcharging or raised questions about the company's performance.

"Dick Cheney got $2 million. What did we get?" the ad's narrator says. "A $200 billion bill for Iraq, lost jobs, rising health care costs. It's time for a new direction."

The $200 billion estimate reflects the campaign's calculation of funds already spent and money anticipated to be spent through next summer, based on a nonpartisan congressional report.

The new line of attack dovetails with Kerry's escalating criticism of Mr. Bush's management of security and reconstruction in Iraq.

Kerry, who was visiting Colorado later Friday, said Mr. Bush glosses over the increasingly dangerous situation in Iraq, while the United States bears the cost in lives and money. He also said congressional leaders say Mr. Bush plans to call up more National Guard and reserve troops after the election.

"It is clear that almost every aspect of this war, from how we went to how it was conducted, has been mismanaged and mishandled," Kerry said.

The Bush-Cheney campaign said conflicts of interest in the vice president's office just aren't there. "John Kerry's latest personal attack has as much accuracy as a Kitty Kelley novel," said spokesman Steve Schmidt, referring to the expose author who recently released a book on the Bush family. "It's a breathtakingly dishonest attack by John Kerry."

The Bush campaign said the vice president had no influence on contracts awarded to his former employer, and that Cheney has no stake in Halliburton's performance. The campaign added that deferred compensation packages have been accepted by other business leaders who move to the private sector, including some in President Clinton's administration, and that Cheney has been charitable with his income.

Kerry said he wants to clean up and open up the government contracting system by streamlining the paperwork, making it easier for smaller companies to compete, restructuring the accounting system and expanding audits. He also wants to withdraw contracts from companies that violate the law and punish businesses that overcharge the government.

The president, in his first fund-raising appearance in more than a month, which netted $1.8 million for the Republican National Committee, stumbled while reviewing his reasons for fighting terrorists abroad: "Free societies are hopeful societies, and free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat – at the drop of a hat."

The new Bush-Cheney television ad contrasts the president's economic plan with Kerry's, arguing that "liberals in Congress and Kerry's plan" would raise taxes on small businesses, which would "hurt jobs, hurt small business and hurt our economy."

At the same time, a new radio spot features a law enforcement officer from Kerry's home state of Massachusetts who claims that Kerry "and his liberal buddies in Congress want to make all the decisions for you, and then stick you with the bill."

The appearance in Washington was a rare one for Mr. Bush, who has been aggressively hitting the campaign trail with less than seven weeks before the Nov. 2 election. He immediately left town to collect more campaign cash for the GOP in North Carolina. While down south, he also was holding an event designed to boost his standing among women voters.

Mr. Bush last appeared at a fund-raiser Aug. 13 in Seattle and has spent far less time raising money in recent months than campaigning. He and Kerry each have accepted $75 million in taxpayer money for the general campaign and have stopped raising money for their own campaigns.

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