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Lieberman Tells Diners He'll Save Their Bacon

Politics: Vice presidential candidate talks up Democrats' middle-class tax cut plans, appealing to those caring for children and the elderly.


WEST PEORIA, Ill. — The coffee was steaming and the bacon was sizzling Tuesday morning at P.C.'s Kaffee Haus, a modest diner in this shady river town. But the breakfast fare for most patrons was a discussion about middle-class tax cuts, served up by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.

In a continuing appeal to the working class, the Democratic vice presidential nominee spent an hour chatting with diner patrons about how the Gore-Lieberman tax cut plan--$500 billion over 10 years--would help out families struggling to pay for the costs of child care, college and care for elderly parents.

Fresh off a 27-hour marathon Labor Day campaign swing, Lieberman jumped right back onto the stump Tuesday, praising the middle class as "heroes" and saying Republican George W. Bush's $1.3-trillion tax cut would "give the most to those who need it the least."

"The point of it is, the wealthy don't need this tax cut," said Lieberman, shedding his jacket as he sat with 10 pre-selected people at a round brown table in the middle of the diner. "They've done extremely well in the last decade."

Vice President Al Gore and Lieberman, a senator from Connecticut, have proposed an assortment of tax credits and deductions to help families with child care, after-school expenses, college tuition and retirement savings.

On Tuesday, Lieberman listened to the stories of Illinois residents like Devon Pierson, 35, a single mother struggling to save for her sons' college education, and Jackie Watkins, 50, who says she feels burdened by the marriage tax penalty. The mellow setting was a comfortable one for the senator, who has visited more than 100 diners in Connecticut while campaigning for office there.

"You inspire me and Al Gore to try to be helpful to you, because you make this country what it is," he told the group gathered at the Kaffee Haus.

Judy Venegonia, a resident of nearby Pekin, told the senator that she is struggling to pay the costs of caring for her 83-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

"She's going to outlive her assets," Venegonia said. "What are we going to do?"

Lieberman told her about the Democrats' proposal to offer a $3,000 annual tax credit to help people pay for long-term care. But he also cautioned Venegonia and others that the proposed tax cut plan wouldn't solve all their problems.

"I know this is not going to make it all better," he said, "but it's something that makes it a little easier."

Firefighter Tony Ardis, 33, said that when Gore selected Lieberman as his running mate, he had some worries about Lieberman's positions. But he left the breakfast round table convinced the vice president made "an excellent choice."

"He's very down-to-earth," Ardis said, holding his 3-year-old daughter, Cydney. "He just seems like a normal guy, who really relates to the needs and the wants and the concerns of the basic working class, and I think that's what draws people to him the most."

Lieberman also traveled Tuesday to St. Louis, where he pitched the tax cut proposal to 75 people gathered for a town hall meeting. And the senator continued to defend his call for a greater role for religion in public life.

"Obviously, we're all for separation of church and state," he said during an interview on CBS' "The Early Show" Tuesday. "And religion, I think, should always, when it's discussed in the public square, be a source of unity and inclusiveness, not divisiveness. But that's why I've talked about it. It's me."

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