Bush, Clinton trade barbs on economy New survey shows Democratic ticket ahead in Ohio

September 07, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer Staff writer Karen Hosler contributed to this article.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- On the eve of the Labor Day kickoff o the fall campaign, Bill Clinton defended his economic plans and President Bush sought to play down dour predictions of a slow economic recovery in nationally televised interviews.

Questioned by satellite from his boyhood hometown of Hot Springs, the Arkansas Democrat rejected criticism that his economic plan overstates projected growth and understates the costs of his new programs.

In an interview with Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Mr. Clinton repeated his proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while emphasizing the need for business tax incentives to encourage growth. He said "investment is the key to growth" and to dealing with the deficit.

Pressed to state his priorities, he said "the first thing is passing a jobs program." The second is a "vigorous plan" to reduce health care costs.

Cutting health care costs is essential to reducing the deficit, he said, in an apparent allusion to the skyrocketing costs of government-financed Medicaid and Medicare programs.

Mr. Clinton also was questioned about his belated acknowledgment last week that he knew months ago of efforts by his late uncle to get him a Navy Reserve slot during the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton lashed out at the news media, saying, "This is a story that was made by the press.

"The truth is I have told the same story all along. . . . The facts are clear," he said.

Asked about the Bush administration's proposed free trade agreement with Mexico, the governor reiterated his support "in concept" of such a pact. But he said the administration has revealed only half the de- tails thus far. "I think it's quite unfair" to ask for a commitment until all the details are known, he said, getting in a dig at Mr. Bush's ill-fated "read my lips" anti-tax pledge of 1988.

"We know we can't read Mr. Bush's lips. We've got to read the paper."

President Bush, who won a coin toss and chose to be interviewed after Mr. Clinton, stuck to the themes that he has been sounding on the campaign trail. Speaking from Saute Ste. Marie, Mich., he sought to play down the predictions of his budget chief, Richard G. Darman, and others that national unemployment figures will likely become worse before the November election.

"I think things are getting better," the Republican incumbent said, noting that there has been a steady decrease in the jobless rate during the summer. "We are poised for strong recovery. I am not one of these doomsayers about the economy."

The national unemployment rate in August was 7.6 percent, down fractionally from 7.7 percent in July.

The president also sidestepped an attempt by Mr. Brokaw to get him to admit his recent decision to finance projects such as the M-1 tank would advance his campaign but simply add to the national deficit.

"I will not cut into the muscle of defense," Mr. Bush said. He also defended his recent decisions to sell F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan and provide $1 billion in subsidies to wheat farmers -- both of which have been called politically motivated.

Mr. Clinton leads President Bush 49 percent to 40 percent, according to an NBC poll broadcast on the NBC News special. The survey also found that more people, 38 percent, trusted Mr. Bush than the 29 percent that trust Mr. Clinton.

Newspaper polls published yesterday by the Dallas Morning News and the Hartford Courant showed the presidential candidates virtually tied in Texas and Connecticut.

There was good news for the Democrats in a poll in a key state, Ohio. Mr. Clinton leads Mr. Bush by 10 points, 48 percent to 38 percent with 8 percent undecided and 6 percent planning to vote for Ross Perot, according to the Columbus Dispatch, which sponsored the survey.

In Texas, a state Republicans believe they must win, the poll by the Dallas Morning News showed the candidates dead even, with Mr. Clinton leading by a statistically insignificant margin of 2 points, 42 percent to 40 percent.

Republicans hailed the results as evidence that Mr. Bush had closed a large gap in previous polls. But the poll found that voter support for the candidates is weak and that Mr. Perot would be competitive if he were still actively seeking the presidency.

Though Mr. Perot has ended his campaign, a senior aide told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the "door is still open" to a revived campaign.

Earlier in the day, appearing before Polish-Americans in Chicago, Mr. Bush charged that his Democratic opponent planned more than $200 billion in new spending and was "offering pie in the sky."

The difference between them, he said, is "tax and spend vs. less taxes and less spending." Mr. Clinton, meanwhile, endured some boos in South Carolina as he acted as grand marshal of the Darlington 500 stock car race. It was his second day of campaigning in a state that has gone Republican in five of the last six presidential elections.

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