FRESNO — The Republican vice presidential nominee, Dick Cheney, came out striking harder and more frequently at his Democratic rivals Tuesday, saying Al Gore "is prepared to say virtually anything to any audience."
For the second day in a row, Cheney opened a Q&A session with reporters by challenging the vice president's integrity and honesty. Calling it "a pattern of saying one thing and doing something else," Cheney noted that Gore continues to raise funds from the entertainment industry while condemning some of the content produced by Hollywood.
Cheney also jumped into the controversy over Gore's use of congressional estimates, instead of actual out-of-pocket costs, to illustrate what his mother-in-law and other seniors pay for prescription drugs.
The issue arose after an article in the Boston Globe questioned the accuracy of comments Gore made to senior citizens in Florida, when he said his mother-in-law pays substantially more for an arthritis medication than the Gores pay for a similar prescription for the family dog, Shiloh. The numbers Gore cited came from a congressional report.
Aides to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, leaped on the issue, saying that Gore appeared to have fabricated parts of the anecdote to make a political point.
"Clearly, Al Gore is going around the country making up stories about his family, citing costs that they may or may not have paid, in order to win a political argument," Cheney said. "I think the vice president of the United States has an obligation to be as accurate as possible during the course of the debate."
Dan Bartlett, a Bush spokesman, was even more blunt: "He owes the public an explanation of whether he's made the whole thing up."
Cheney said the cost of prescription drugs is indeed a serious issue and argued that the current controversy isn't over numbers. The issue, he said, is veracity. Cheney added that Gore claimed to have invented the Internet and to have been the inspiration for a character in Erich Segal's 1970 novel, "Love Story."
"He once again . . . is playing fast and loose with the facts," Cheney said. "I think it's unfortunate."
Gore did not say he was the Internet's inventor but in 1999 he did say, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." But in 1997 he acknowledged a "miscommunication" in leading reporters to believe he and his wife, Tipper, were the model for "Love Story."
Kym Spell, a spokeswoman for the Gore campaign, called Cheney's characterization Tuesday "desperate."
She said the campaign has confirmed Gore's mother-in-law, Margaret Ann Aitcheson, takes the brand name arthritis medicine Lodine and the dog, Shiloh, is taking the animal version of the same drug, etoGesic.
"The issue is how seniors are charged much more for the same drugs than when they are bought in veterinarians' offices," Gore told reporters while making an impromptu stop at Carrillo's Tortilleria and Mexican Deli in San Fernando.
Gore campaign aides distributed a chart showing the wholesale costs of the drugs: $1.20 a pill for Lodine, 42 cents a pill for etoGesic. They said Aitcheson pays $2.13 a pill retail and the Gores pay $.92 a capsule for the dog. It was not immediately clear what size pills those prices reflect.
In parts of Southern California the drugs are even more expensive, although the cost for humans and animals per milligram appeared similar, at least at two medical establishments in Irvine.
At a Rite-Aid, Lodine costs $2.26 per 500 mg pill, or $135.69 for a month's supply under a prescription of two daily doses. The drug etoGesic cost $1.37 per 300 mg pill at the nearby Irvine Veterinary Services. In this instance, the cost per milligram was about half a cent for both drugs.
Also Tuesday, the Gore campaign released details of other drugs they say are priced much higher for human consumption than for animal use.
Citing the National Council of Senior Citizens, Gore aides listed disparate prices for such drugs as Lovoxin, for a heart condition, available at $5.41 for animals versus $39.31 for humans and Augmentin, an antibiotic, at $25.20 for animals and $66.29 for humans. The size of the doses was unclear.
Cheney's sharp criticisms of Gore, however, extended beyond the drug controversy. He has hit time and again in the last two weeks on Gore's ties to Hollywood.
Cheney said he is opposed to any form of censorship to deal with violent, obscene or misogynistic material, but he said public officials can "shine a spotlight of shame" on companies that produce such material. Gore, he said, has "hobnobbed" with the entertainment industry, behaving in a way he said was "unacceptable."