Gore Attacks Texas Health Care

Thursday, July 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) — Al Gore is taking on George W. Bush on his home ground, contending the Texas governor's decision to push for big tax cuts has hampered health programs in a state where more than 1 million children are not insured.

The Democratic vice president said Thursday that he and President Clinton had led an administration that turned a federal deficit into a surplus while Republican Bush's decisions could ``squander the surplus'' in Texas.

Bush's ``decision to make the top priority tax cuts for the wealthy has produced a budget shortfall'' in Texas, Gore said in an interview on CNN from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before flying to San Antonio. Texas officials have been talking of a $610 million shortfall — Gore suggested it could be bigger — but have said it will be covered by a surplus that has been built up.

That surplus, previously estimated at $1.1 billion, is actually about $1.4 billion, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander said at a news conference Thursday.

Bush campaign officials worked to mount a counteroffensive against Gore's allegations, including an afternoon news conference in Austin by Bush.

Rylander said she and Texas legislative leaders would be happy to meet Gore in San Antonio and ``brief him on the facts.'' But Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway said that meeting would not take place since ``it probably would not be very productive to meet with a comptroller accused of cooking the books to help Bush.''

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer's take on the whole issue: ``If this race comes down to Bush's stewardship versus Gore's leadership, that's a contest we would relish.''

In heading to San Antonio, Gore was going to a city where childhood immunization rates are among the lowest for any big city, with only 70 percent of youngsters aged 19 months to 35 months getting needed injections.

Overall, Texas has one of the largest number of youngsters not covered by health insurance in the nation, with 1.4 million of the nation's 11 million uninsured children living in that state.

Gore was set to use those numbers — and budget woes that he said dog the state — as fresh evidence of what he sees as the starkest of differences between the two.

In addition, the 1.1 million population of San Antonio is about 60 percent Hispanic, a key demographic group in both campaigns. Bush carried the county in the last election, but Gore was seeking some inroads.

Gore was clearly energized by his decision to head to Texas, seeking to underscore budget problems he argues the state faces and making the case that those woes mark major differences in the race.

``I've been a part of a team that eliminated a budget deficit and produced a surplus,'' Gore told reporters on his campaign plane. ``In his case, he eliminated a huge surplus and big chunks of his budget are now experiencing a serious shortfall and according to some members of the state legislature there, the shortfall may be more serious than they're acknowledging now.''

Fleischer, the Bush spokesman, dismissed the entire trip as a ``distort and destroy mission'' and argued that Texas retains a significant budget surplus.

The Bush campaign was planning to release three ads on Thursday, their first since the primary campaign.

Gore's decision to invade his rival's home state is an aggressive one, and he was asked to compare it to former President George Bush's decision to campaign at a polluted Boston Harbor to ridicule rival Michael Dukakis.

``It never crossed my mind,'' said Gore. ``It really didn't.''

But he used the comparison to make the case for fundamental differences between himself and the Texas governor. He also wasn't shy about bringing President Clinton's name into the argument.

``President Clinton and I came in and eliminated the deficit and along the way we had more flexibility to come in with the resources needed to clean up Boston Harbor,'' said Gore. ``I may go to Boston Harbor myself.''

Gore was contending that deep tax cuts in Texas have drained money from programs helping people, particularly health programs where he said differences between the rivals are stark.