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CAMPAIGN 2000

New Bush Ad Pledges Drug Plan for Seniors

August 26, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush on Friday released a new ad saying that he will make prescription drugs available to "every senior who needs them," a promise branded by the Gore campaign as false.

The sparring over one of the most potent issues in the presidential race stemmed from Bush's latest TV commercial in the major ad campaign he launched Monday in 21 states. The commercial will air in only some of the states covered in the ad campaign, reportedly costing $5 million, but Bush aides declined to say which ones.

The ad shows images of elderly Americans and Bush speaking at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

"We will make prescription drugs available and affordable for every senior who needs them," Bush says in the ad. "You earned your benefits. You made your plans."

He pledges to "strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the greatest generation and for generations to come."

Chris Lehane, press secretary for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, dismissed the assertion about prescription drugs as "100% false."

"The only way Bush could accomplish that goal would be by voting for Al Gore," Lehane said.

Gore has proposed a new prescription drug benefit for all Medicare beneficiaries. Bush has supported such a benefit only for low-income seniors. For the millions of others on Medicare, Bush has proposed the option of buying insurance that covers prescription drugs.

Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan accused the Gore campaign of distorting the Republican nominee's plan.

"The Gore campaign has a habit of attacking every announcement, everywhere, on every issue," Sullivan said. "The fact is that George Bush's plan for bipartisan Medicare reform includes expanding options for health plans and making a prescription drug plan available to Medicare recipients."

Sullivan went on to unleash his own attack on the vice president.

"It's important for people to remember that over the last eight years, the Clinton-Gore administration has failed to enact any serious reforms in Social Security or Medicare," he said.

The debate over prescription drugs is an especially powerful issue in such battleground states as Florida and Pennsylvania where the elderly population is relatively large.

"The politics are clear: Seniors are a swing group and prescription drugs are important to them," said Stuart Rothenberg, the editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter in Washington.

Voters traditionally have favored Democratic positions on health care, and Bush's ad appears to be an effort to neutralize Gore's advantage on that issue, Rothenberg said.

On Monday, the Republican National Committee plans to begin running another TV commercial saying that Bush would provide access to prescription drug benefits for "every senior."

The ad, to run in nine states, says that Gore's proposal would let "Washington bureaucrats interfere with what your doctors prescribe," while Bush would let seniors choose their own drug plan.

The new ads were released two days after the Republican Party yanked an attack ad against Gore after Bush stepped in to block it. The commercial showed a video clip of Gore appearing to comment on President Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, but it was actually taped years before the scandal broke. Bush said Thursday that the ad was not appropriate.

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