Bush doubts Gore on less-government claim

Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Presidential candidate Al Gore said Tuesday, "I’m opposed to big government," and promised he would never expand the federal bureaucracy as president. Rival George W. Bush said voters shouldn’t believe it.

Gore said he had worked for eight years to reduce the bureaucracy — federal employment is down about one-sixth during the Clinton-Gore years — and he said he would try to shrink the government to the smallest share of the economy in a half-century.

Bush would have none of it. "He wants to increase the size and scope of the federal government," the Texas Republican said two weeks before Election Day, as both candidates cast wide nets in search of compelling homestretch issues.

Democrat Gore was campaigning in his home state and Bush was visiting once-friendly Florida — a sign that this closely fought race has pushed both candidates to the brink, even in their political back yards.

Three of four tracking polls suggest the race for the White House has narrowed in recent days after Bush appeared to be opening a lead over the weekend.

Campaigning in Arkansas, where President Clinton began his climb to the White House, Gore said the administration has reduced the size of government. Total workers are down 17.5 percent since 1993 — mostly because of post-Cold War cuts in civilian jobs connected with the military.

Gore promised not to add to the number of people working for the government — "not even by one position."

Later, aboard his campaign plane, he said he was best qualified to cut government because "I know where the rats in the barn are."

A skeptical Bush used the issue to frame his case for a 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut.

"Rather than increasing the size and scope of the federal government like my opponent would like to do, I’d like to send some of that money back to the people," Bush said.

He pointed to a chart that displayed the various conditions a person must meet to qualify for a targeted tax cut under Gore’s tax plan. He surveyed the crowd for people who met the criteria. A few hands went up, but not many, before he asked, "How many of you pay taxes?"

His point: Everyone who pays taxes would get a cut under his plan, a line that drew a standing ovation.

Anxious for any edge, Gore’s team on Tuesday distributed copies of a new report that raises questions about Bush’s education "miracle" in Texas. Researchers at Rand, a California-based think tank, concluded that huge increases posted by Texas schoolchildren on their high-stakes, state-administered test have not been evident in national testing of students from the Lone Star State.

Bush aides denounced the report with help from a Texas Democrat who is touring the nation on the governor’s behalf. "It’s utterly false," said Sandy Kress, an education advocate.

"We all hope and pray for miracles, but they are not occurring in the Texas school system," said Gore’s running mate, Joseph Lieberman.

Offering no definitive answers, the paper suggested that schools, pressured by policies that reward or punish them for the scores, could be "devoting a great deal of class time" to test preparation.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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