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Gore Assails Bush on the Economy

Politics: In his second jab in 10 days, the Democrat assails the president's 'Enron accounting' policy. His comments are one of the most visible efforts yet to turn public attention to the nation's financial state.

October 03, 2002|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Delivering his second sharp criticism of the White House in 10 days, Al Gore said Wednesday that President Bush's economic policy was built on "Enron accounting," and he called for a reassessment of the administration's economic blueprint.

"Like a lost driver who won't stop to ask for directions, the president clutches his old plan and continues racing in the wrong direction, farther and farther into the economic wilderness, with the fate of nearly 300 million Americans in tow," the former vice president said.

Gore urged Bush to devote the same energy to solving the nation's economic problems that he has to preparing for a war with Iraq. Offering a limited economic prescription, Gore called for extended unemployment benefits and unspecified help for small business "to jolt the U.S. economy out of stagnation and start creating jobs again."

Taken with a speech he gave in San Francisco last week, in which he questioned the wisdom of invading Iraq before ending the campaign against terrorism, Gore's remarks Wednesday put him at the front of those taking issue with the foreign and economic policies established by the Republican who defeated him for the presidency two years ago.

At the same time, it represented the most visible effort yet by a prominent Democrat to turn the public's attention to the nation's economic uncertainties, which the party hopes will propel it to gains in the Nov. 5 midterm elections.

Equating Bush policies with the accounting sleights of hand that brought down Enron Corp., the Houston-based energy company, Gore said the president and his aides "are projecting revenues that will never appear, and they are hiding expenditures that will appear."

Asked for comment, Claire Buchan, White House deputy press secretary, did not address Gore's remarks directly, saying that Bush had presented three overarching goals--protecting national security, protecting the American homeland and protecting economic security--and that "he has delivered on that agenda."

At the same time, she said, Bush "is calling on the Congress to act" on such central economic elements as a proposal to help companies obtain insurance against terrorist attacks and energy legislation while holding down spending.

Referring to Gore, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said: "I guess he's trying to get back in the dialogue. I guess he's trying to find some way to become relevant for 2004. But I think he's missed the boat."

Given the increasing demands on the federal budget, Gore said any reassessment of the administration's economic plan must ask how it can simultaneously pay for a war with Iraq, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates could cost as much as $9 billion a month, while meeting the costs of beefed-up homeland security, Social Security and Medicare.

He said Bush "ought to have an open mind and accept responsibility for the fact that what he thought would happen, what he said would happen, ain't happening." Gore ticked off what he said were the economic developments under Bush's stewardship: the evaporation of a federal budget surplus that had been forecast at $5 trillion over 10 years; the decline, every quarter, of business investment; the stock market's loss of more than a quarter of its value; a 10% drop in the purchasing power of those earning the minimum wage; a 27% increase in health insurance premiums; and mortgage foreclosures at a 30-year high.

His speech took place during the week when third-quarter reports on investments are arriving in mailboxes, bringing reminders to homes across the country of the drop in the stock market.

Gore has kept a low profile since the 2000 election, drawing criticism from some Democrats that he should have been more out front in opposing Bush policies. But he is slowly returning to public view, giving rise to the question he has said he will answer by the end of the year: Will he again seek the presidency?

Asked how, given his criticism of Bush, he could not run again, Gore cracked: "Well, I didn't vote for the guy."

He said he had promised his wife, Tipper, and their family that he would take two years off "to try to get some financial security." A member of the audience interjected, "Great timing!" in reference to the economic downturn. Gore replied: "I wish I'd been out there doing this during the Clinton-Gore years, I'll tell you that."

The Gores, who moved to Arlington, Va., after he left office, have recently bought a house in Nashville, allowing him to renew his roots in the state that he represented in the House and the Senate but which Bush won by nearly 4%. Gore spoke at the Brookings Institution to an audience of scholars from the nonpartisan research organization, and former campaign aides and staff members of the Clinton administration.

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