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Kerry says Bush turns blind eye to Halliburton waste and overcharging

Updated:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Friday accused the Bush administration of turning a blind eye to waste and overcharging by Halliburton, the company Vice President Dick Cheney once ran, and proposed reforming the contracting system to ensure fair competition.

The Kerry campaign said a new ad, ``Cheney Halliburton,'' will air next week in Oregon and other battleground states to criticize the administration and its no-bid contracts with the company. The ad suggests a conflict of interest for Cheney because he collects deferred benefits from the time he was chief executive of Halliburton, a multinational company that provides reconstruction and other services in Iraq.

``As president, I will stop companies like Halliburton from profiting at the expense of our troops and taxpayers,'' Kerry said in a statement released by his campaign. ``I will stop companies from receiving no-bid contracts from the government when the president or vice president is still receiving compensation from that company.''

The new ad also contends the administration's decision to award contracts to Halliburton without competitive bidding wasted taxpayer money that could have been used to create jobs and provide health care. Several investigations into Halliburton's work in Iraq have shown evidence of overcharging or raised questions about the corporation's performance.

The campaign sought to link Cheney and Halliburton to President Bush's management of military and security operations in Iraq. Kerry frequently charges that the Bush administration works hardest for special interests.

``We need a commander in chief and a vice president who puts the interests of our troops and our taxpayers ahead of their big-money friends,'' Kerry said. ``I will make sure that all government funds are properly accounted for. And as commander in chief, I will have two words for companies that cheat the U.S. military: 'You're fired.'''

The Bush-Cheney campaign said the links aren't there.

``John Kerry's latest personal attack has as much accuracy as a Kitty Kelly novel,'' said spokesman Steve Schmidt, referring to the expose author who recently released a book on the Bush family. ``It's a breathtakingly dishonest attack by John Kerry.''

Schmidt said deferred compensation packages have been accepted by other business leaders who move to the private sector, including some in President Clinton's administration, and added that Cheney has been very charitable with that income.

Cheney left the company before the Iraq war, and the Bush campaign said that Halliburton and its subsidiaries had been a government contractor before Cheney became vice president.

Kerry said he wants to clean up and open up the government contracting system by streamlining the paperwork, making it easier for smaller companies to compete, restructuring the accounting system and expanding audits. Kerry also wants to withdraw contracts from companies that violate the law and punish businesses that overcharge the government.

The Massachusetts senator unveiled the ad while he campaigned in New Mexico, one of a number of states barraged by campaign commercials and teetering between the two presidential candidates. A recent poll, taken just as the Republican convention got rolling, showed Bush with a slight edge.

The state has seen higher than average unemployment and underemployment during the Bush administration, a factor that could work to Kerry's advantage.

F. Chris Garcia, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, said the poll indicates that New Mexican voters might be more inclined to vote for security than a better economy, favoring Bush.

``People are generally sticking, even with some ambivalence, with the leadership that we have in these times of tension,'' Garcia said.
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