Bush, Kerry trade accusations on economy, campaign in Oregon

Saturday, August 14, 2004

PORTLAND, Ore. -- President Bush traded one refrain for another Friday, saying he is "getting the job done" on the economy and more. Not so, said Sen. John Kerry, criticizing administration tax cuts as insensitive to the middle class as he ended a 22-state tour.

"Don't for an instant be shy about using the word sensitive," the Democratic presidential nominee told one questioner, referring to criticism a day earlier from Vice President Dick Cheney.

"If you don't speak you mind, you shouldn't be the president of the United States. And I intend to speak my mind," Kerry said.

In their latest campaign convergence, Bush and Kerry were both in Oregon, a state that has drawn $5.5 million in television advertising from the two candidates combined thus far even though it has only seven electoral votes. Bush lost the state to Al Gore by 7,000 votes in 2000.

The two men spoke a few miles apart on slightly different schedules. Close enough, though, so that all four local network affiliates briefly aired live, split-screen coverage of the president and his Democratic rival at dueling appearances.

The president blended local politics with national concerns as he labored to move the state into his re-election column.

"I like to remind people, in the nation's capital a lot of them can talk a good game. I like to be the person known as somebody getting the job done," he said. Later, announcing that the administration will support a plan to dredge the Columbia River shipping channel, he said, "It's getting the job done."

Aides said the phrase was a replacement for another one hastily jettisoned. "We've turned the corner and we're not turning back" was a staple of the president's campaign speeches for several days this month, but it drew ridicule from Kerry and skepticism from some voters.

Bush also accused Kerry of backing plans that will require higher taxes. "Here's a fellow who has made $2.2 trillion in new promises, and we still have September and October to go," said the president. "When you start running up those tax rates on individuals, the people who start paying are small businesses."

Kerry denies the charge. He says his plan would roll back the Bush-era tax cuts on the top 2 percent of all income earners and use the money for health care, education and other programs.

Standing before enormous shipping cranes, Bush announced the administration will request funds to begin deepening 104 miles of the Columbia River channel from the Pacific Ocean to Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.

"What I'm telling you is we're committed to keeping the Columbia River open for navigation and trade, and we're committed to keeping America's great ports open for business," he said.

Bush's announcement marked an election-year policy exception for his administration -- a textbook example of the prerogatives of power. Since he took office, the White House budget office has opposed new projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not required by environmental laws.

Bush's announcement had implications beyond his own race.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was present for the announcement -- and the White House also invited her rival for the Senate seat, Republican Rep. George Nethercutt.

Murray's office released a letter she wrote Bush earlier this week noting her own efforts to secure funding for the project. "... Unfortunately, you have failed to step forward and support it. For two years running you requested zero dollars for channel deepening ...," she wrote.

Kerry drew a huge crowd in Portland, last stop on a two-week coast-to-coast, post-convention tour of 22 states by bus, train, helicopter, plane and ferry. The four-term Massachusetts Democrat seized on a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that showed Bush's tax cuts since 2001 have shifted more of the tax burden from the nation's rich to middle-class families.

"John Edwards and I know that we can restore fundamental fairness to America," he said.

The subject of sensitivity arose when Kerry was told by one person in his audience that most people in prison are black or Hispanic. "How do we change that figure to make this country more sensitive -- I don't want to use the word sensitive because Bush has screwed that word up -- but more aware of the problem?" he was asked.

"Don't for an instant be shy about using the word sensitive," Kerry said.

"I don't think it's very sensitive to have a vice president who has secret meetings with the polluters who write the laws. And I don't think it's very sensitive to expect the wealthy to shift the tax burden to the average American."

On Thursday, Cheney quoted Kerry as saying he would wage a "more sensitive" war on terror, and mocked him for it.

Edwards, campaigning in Michigan, faulted Cheney for campaign distortion.

"He's talking about a man who still carries shrapnel in his body. He's talking about a man who spilled his blood for the United States of America," said the North Carolina senator.

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