Shedding his self-imposed restraint, President Clinton launched a full-bore attack on Bob Dole’s $550 billion tax-cut plan Saturday, calling it an “indiscriminate” and reckless proposal likely to hurt the economy.
Clinton, who is ending his week-long vacation in the shadow of the Grand Teton mountains, maintained a resolute silence during the Republican National Convention in San Diego.
But he reclaimed his voice in his weekly radio address, contending the Dole plan would wreck the chances for a balanced budget, impose unacceptable cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment, raise interest rates and place the economy at risk.
In contrast, the president said his own more modest plan for a targeted $110 billion tax cut would permit the budget to be balanced by 2002 and keep the economy healthy while protecting Medicare and Medicaid and investing in education and the environment.
Shortly after the president spoke, the Clinton-Gore campaign released a tough new ad saying that without Clinton in the Oval Office, the Republicans could and would slash and eliminate vital government programs.
The escalated radio address and the release of the ad were the clearest signs yet that candidate Clinton had begun his re-election campaign in earnest.
The Dole-Kemp campaign responded quickly.
“It’s no surprise that a man who levied the largest tax increase in history would find fault with a plan that puts more money into the hands of Americans,” said spokeswoman Christina Martin. “Bill Clinton may think tax cuts are irresponsible but Bob Dole knows tax cuts are key to giving American families control of their money, their lives and their dreams.”
Actually, adjusted for inflation, the largest U.S. tax increase since World War II came in 1982 under President Reagan. It was written principally by Dole, who then chaired the Senate Finance Committee.
In the weekly Republican radio address, Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma tried to counter criticism from Democrats, declaring the GOP will provide ample resources for education, health care and welfare.
The recently approved changes in the welfare system, which are awaiting Clinton’s approval, said Watts, are designed to “replace demeaning handouts with a compassionate hand up.” He said the Republican Congress has put more money in student loans. And on Medicare, Watts added, Republicans want to increase per-patient spending by 7.1 percent over the next several years.
In the radio address, Clinton said it is clear Americans do deserve a tax cut.
“But we must choose between a tax cut that responsibly balances the budget and one that puts the economy at risk; between one that is targeted to help working families pay for education, health care and other pressing needs, and one that is indiscriminate,” he said.
Clinton said the worst possibility is that the Dole plan might not be fully paid for through cuts in government programs, “bringing back those bad old days of out-of-control deficits, high interest rates, slow growth or recession.”
Clinton’s attack was his harshest and most comprehensive to date. Last week in California he had used a gentler approach, comparing the Dole tax plan to “going to the candy store” and choosing a little of everything. “Eat it all at once and you might get sick,” he said then.
Comparing the two plans in the radio address, Clinton said his tax cut is limited in size while Dole’s is five times as large.
“We can afford ours; we can’t afford theirs,” he said.
Clinton contended that under his plan, millions of middle-class families with children in college, or with adults in educational programs, would get a bigger tax cut than under the Dole plan.
“And my tax cut is paid for with specific, tough budget cuts consistent with the balanced budget plan,” Clinton said. “Our opponents haven’t said how they’ll pay for their tax cut yet.”
“Now if they don’t pay for it, their plan would balloon the deficit,” Clinton said.
Clinton ended his vacation with a rollicking 90-minute whitewater raft ride down the tumultuous Snake River. The president was accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and his 16-year-old daughter, Chelsea.