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Lieberman, on His Own, Takes a Swing at Bush Tax Plan

Politics: He stumps for the first time by himself as Democratic nominee. In Delaware, he says the GOP proposal falls short on education, health care.


CLAYMONT, Del. — Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman used his first solo swing as the Democratic vice presidential nominee to get in some digs at Republican George W. Bush's tax cut plan.

Lieberman spent the day at a community center in this small suburb of Wilmington, kissing seniors and hugging children as he continued the debate over whose tax plan is better.

"The point is about their tax plan, we shouldn't help those who need it least at the expense of everything else we want to do," said Lieberman, who was cheered by about 500 supporters gathered underneath a large American flag in the center's brick courtyard.

Lieberman told the audience that the Texas governor had pointed out a "pre-selected" family in a crowd in New Orleans on Thursday, claiming that they wouldn't benefit from the Gore-Lieberman tax cut plan.

In fact, Lieberman said, that family would receive more money under the Democratic proposal than under the GOP plan.

"I think it's good to have a debate about taxes," he said. "That's what that campaign ought to be about. But it has to be an honest debate that accurately tells the American people what we would do, what they would do, so you the voters can make an informed choice."

Al Gore and Lieberman have proposed targeted tax cuts of $500 billion over 10 years that include an assortment of tax credits and deductions to help families with child care, after-school expenses, college tuition and retirement savings.

As part of their plan, people who save $500 a year would be eligible for a $1,500 matching refundable tax credit. That money could be used for college tuition or retirement.

Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, have proposed tax cuts of $1.3 trillion over 10 years that would reduce taxes for nearly every income bracket and double the per-child tax credit.

On Friday, the Bush-Cheney campaign argued that, because their proposal does not require families to save money to receive matching funds, it would provide greater tax relief for the family Bush singled out.

Lieberman was joined in Claymont by Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). It was the kind of day when all three politicians mentioned their mothers and the local county police force was saluted as "the best police force in the country."

Lieberman hewed closely to his stump script, reiterating the themes he laid out during his convention speech: The election is a choice, he told the crowd. And while my opponents are honorable men, there are some differences you should know about them.

He praised Gore as a leader and friend: "I looked at his record, I know it, and I know his heart."

He talked about American values and prosperity, all the while reminding those gathered: "We have enough confidence in the American people to talk facts to them, not give them a blur of happy talk."

The Republicans' tax cut proposal, he said, "doesn't leave hardly a penny for anything else." Bush and Cheney will not do enough for education, a patients' bill of rights or the minimum wage, Lieberman added.

The litany of criticism seemed to go over well with the crowd.

"I like his honesty, his straightforwardness," said John Bradley, 57, a trade union leader from Wilmington. "I like the fact that he didn't bash his opponents, he respects them."

But the Bush campaign wasn't so happy.

"It's unfortunate that the senator is taking up Al Gore's mantel of misrepresenting and distorting Gov. Bush's [tax] plan," said Dan Bartlett, a Bush spokesman.

With the current projected budget surplus, Bartlett said, a $1.3-trillion tax cut over 10 years would still leave about $1 trillion for various other programs.

And he criticized the Gore-Lieberman tax plan, saying it would require people to "jump through hoops in order to get tax relief."

Lieberman seemed enthusiastic about taking his message on the road alone, kicking off the day with a train ride from Washington to Wilmington. He walked through a train car shaking hands, high-fiving travelers and posing for pictures. One woman wished him "good Shabbos," while another greeted him as "Mr. Vice President," sparking applause in the train car.

The senator drew tears from Lynn Imperiale, 45, after he took her cell phone and spoke to her mother in Nutley, N.J., who is suffering from breast cancer. "I'm praying for you," Lieberman told Marie Stefanelli, 77.

"I'm praying for you and Mr. Gore," she responded.

In Claymont, Lieberman visited a community center housed in the brick schoolhouse that used to be Claymont High School, the first public high school in the 17 segregated states that legally integrated in the 1950s.

There, he visited with senior citizens, then stopped in at the child care center, where 5-year-olds were making paper collages and racing toy cars.

The Connecticut senator took a Lego construction handed to him by one boy and solemnly informed him: "Do you know that these things are made in the state of Connecticut?"

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