Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore says GOP rival George W. Bush's tax cut plan "overshoots the mark" by spending too much.
But in an exclusive interview with the Daily Herald, Bush argued there is more than enough money for broad tax cuts, an education boost, a new Social Security approach and prescription drug coverage for senior citizens.
He also talked about ongoing air traffic worries and suburban sprawl, and he offered an admission about his controversial Labor Day visit to Naperville.
The tax and other policy initiatives are outlined in Bush's new "Blueprint for the Middle Class" at www.GeorgeWBush.com. And the Texas governor promoted the booklet last week during a campaign stop in Chicago to tape "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
The taping, the blueprint and a visit to Chicago's Beethoven Academic Center on the South Side all are part of a concerted effort to boost Bush's standing among women voters.
Bush must especially win over suburban women. He has to post huge victory margins in the GOP-dominated Northwest and West suburbs if he is to have a shot at carrying swing-state Illinois.
Responding to the fact that Gore made his own pitch to critical suburban voters through a sit-down interview last month, Bush's aides carved out time for a brief, walk-and-talk chat with the Daily Herald as he prepared to leave the Beethoven school to campaign in Kentucky.
Upbeat after the warm Winfrey appearance, Bush emerged from a kindergarten classroom with his wife, Laura, by his side. Asked if he would stand still so that he could give his take on all the same suburban concerns Gore had addressed, Bush offered more. He jerked to a stop, smirked, and tapped out an impromptu soft-shoe in the school hallway. Then he launched into a rapid-fire take on the suburban topics of the day.
An edited transcript follows.
Q. What in your blueprint appeals to suburban voters, specifically, that your opponent does not offer?
A. Tax relief for everybody that pays taxes. Getting rid of the death tax. Doing something about the marriage penalty. Under his plan, if you itemize, you do not get marriage penalty relief. Under my plan, everybody who's married gets marriage penalty relief.
Drop the top rate from 39.6 to 33 percent. Also, drop the bottom rate. I think suburban people do not appreciate the fact that our tax code is discriminatory, for say, working women at the bottom end of the economic ladder, and I'm dropping the bottom rate from 15 to 10 (percent) and increasing the child credit. It really makes the code more equitable and fair.
Two, I've got a vision for education reform. I've performed in the state of Texas. It's local control of schools, high standards and strong accountability in order to make sure every child learns. I would ask people in suburban Illinois to look at my record as governor of Texas.
Social Security reform. That for the seniors in suburbia, by setting aside one-half of the surplus - $2.3 trillion of the Social Security surplus - we're going to say to seniors, the promise will be kept.
But for younger people, I'm going to trust you to manage some of your own money in the private markets, under obviously safe conditions, so that we can get a better rate of return on Social Security moneys than the less than 2 percent we're getting today. Those are some examples.
Q. Can you really do all that ...
A. Yes, absolutely.
Q. ... and not use up all the surplus? How do you convince people of that?
A. Well, I'm going to have to just lay out the facts and fight through the misinformation that goes on. We've got about $4.5 trillion in surplus. Half of it goes to Social Security reform; a quarter of it to programs like prescription drugs for seniors, rebuilding the military to keep the peace, some education money increased over the baseline of the education budget - about $47 billion over a 10-year period - but a quarter of it ought to go for tax relief. …