NEWTON, Iowa — Democratic presidential candidate Paul Simon, attracting more criticism as well as bigger crowds since moving to the front of the Iowa polls, tried Friday to head off attacks on his budget platform by preempting them.
Appearing at a luncheon here, the Illinois senator told a crowd of 120 that the Washington Post that day had accused him of being inconsistent in supporting expanded health care and education and at the same time espousing a balanced budget amendment.
"My answer is you can't be for these kinds of programs that will move this country ahead and at the same time not be for a balanced budget," Simon said. "We're wasting money. The fastest growing item in that budget is interest."
Simon's mention of the criticism reflects his opponents' plans to hit him hard on the balanced budget amendment at every opportunity. As his popularity in the state has grown, the criticism by other campaigns has intensified. Some of those in the Newton crowd said after Simon's speech that they had not heard of the criticism until Simon himself brought it up and dismissed it.
Would Cut Interest Burden
Simon said the nation will spend $203 billion to finance the deficit this year. As President, he said, he would work to bring down interest rates to reduce the cost of financing the deficit. But he did not go into detail on his strategy for lowering interest rates.
"The programs I asked for, you can pay for them all with a drop of 1% in the interest rates," he said.
Simon's proposal to trim the deficit also calls for job creation to reduce the costs of welfare and unemployment and cuts in military spending. His program has come under sharpest attack from rival candidate Bruce Babbitt, former governor of Arizona, who argues that Simon's budget positions and spending priorities are contradictory.
Simon is not the only candidate whose deficit plan has been attacked. Babbitt and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt have challenged Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis' plan to help balance the budget by beefing up tax enforcement. And Babbitt has ridiculed as insufficient Gephardt's support of an oil import fee to trim the debt. Babbitt is the only candidate who uses the word "taxes" to describe a plan to raise revenues; he advocates a 5% national sales tax to cut the deficit.
Crowds Jam the Aisles
Simon's rise to the top of the polls in Iowa, where the Feb. 8 caucuses are the first major test of candidate strength, has brought him large crowds on the campaign trail. When he appeared in Newton in May, about 25 people showed up to hear him. On Friday, people sat on the floor and jammed the aisles to get a chance to shake his hand. They laughed at his jokes and applauded him warmly.
Simon, initially viewed as a long shot for the nomination, is working hard to shake the image of unelectability. He tells audiences that few thought he could succeed in Illinois races that he eventually won, and he cites early Iowa polls that showed him with only 1% support. He boasts that he received support from conservatives in Illinois that defied the news media predictions, and said he now draws Republicans to his Iowa appearances as well as Democrats.
"What you want is somebody who can keep the Democratic base and reach out to Republicans," he told the Newton audience.
Portrays Himself as Courageous
In a race in which pandering to special interests has become an issue, Simon regularly portrays himself as courageous, willing to buck the political tide. He told the Newton crowd that he voted against the tax bill last year even though a friendly colleague warned him it would be the end of his political career.
"I said to him, 'I have to live with myself more than I do 12 million people in Illinois,' " Simon said. "What you want is a person who is going to say, 'What's in the best interest of this country?' "
After mentioning the poll results in his stump speech, Simon cautioned against complacency. "I am No. 1 in the polls temporarily," he said. "There is one poll taken Feb. 8, and that's the one that counts. . . . I don't want to fool myself or anyone else. We have a lot of work to do."