With less than seven weeks to go before election day, and
trailing President Bush by a few points in most polls, John Kerry is
taking the offensive on a central issue: the economy.
It represents a point of vulnerability for the president,
particularly in some Midwestern battleground states. Bush has many
positives in his economic record, including an unemployment rate
that has declined to 5.4 percent, a 3 percent economic growth rate,
and low inflation and interest rates. But recent job growth has not
made up for major losses early in Bush's tenure; wages have been
stagnant; healthcare costs have soared; gas prices are high; poverty
is up; and the budget deficit has ballooned.
Senator Kerry and the Democrats have done a good job framing
discussion around job creation and losses, and away from an
unemployment rate that favors Bush, analysts say. But the
Massachusetts Democrat has not been as aggressive as some party
strategists would like in going after Bush's entire record.
That changed Wednesday. In a speech at the Detroit Economic Club,
Kerry scored the president for what he called "wrong choices" in tax
cuts and spending decisions that have driven up the deficit and hurt
the middle class.
"This president has created more excuses than jobs," Kerry said,
alluding to the recession early in Bush's term, then the 9/11
attacks and the wars that followed. "His is the excuse presidency -
never wrong, never responsible, never to blame."
Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman fired back: "John Kerry offered
more pessimism about an economy that has created over 1.7 million
jobs over the past year and he rehashed old, tired ideas of higher
taxes, of more regulation, and of more government control of
people's lives that his own advisors say will not work."
Whatever the merits of the charges, economists generally agree
that Bush and Kerry offer profound policy contrasts.
"The overall level of debate is sharper, louder," says William
Beach, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "I
don't believe politics should be quiet. The issues facing the
country are important."
On taxes, for instance, Bank of America economist Mickey Levy
describes Kerry as a traditional Democrat who would raise taxes and
spending. Kerry has said he would restore the income tax rate on
those making more than $200,000 a year to the level they were before
the Bush tax cuts, putting the money into healthcare reforms.
Kerry would also raise taxes on dividends and capital gains. In
addition, the Kerry staff is exploring raising the cap on earnings
subject to payroll taxes above their present level of about $88,000
The latter, says Mr. Levy, would be a "gigantic tax increase"
hitting business as well as individuals, and thereby eventually
affecting all workers.
In comparison, President Bush proposes making his temporary tax
cut permanent, including ending the estate tax.
Kerry talks of raising the minimum wage. That's not on Bush's
Bush calls for partial privatization of Social Security. Kerry
Bush came into office four years ago on a platform of free trade.
But he has given in to protectionist pressures in several business
areas of political concern, such as steel and lumber. …