Bush says foe would tax middle class

September 27, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

PLYMOUTH, MICH. — PLYMOUTH, Mich.-- President Bush, barnstorming the battleground Midwest on a two-day train trip, vowed yesterday to "blow the whistle" on what he called Bill Clinton's "secret" plan to raise taxes on the middle class.

"That is the big secret of this campaign: to capture all the revenue that he wants to raise, to pay for all his promises, Bill Clinton will have to go after the middle class," the president said from the observation deck of his caboose during a stop in Marysville, Ohio. "I'm not going to let him do that, and neither are you."

But the real duel yesterday was over travel showmanship. President Bush tried to match Bill Clinton's celebrity-style bus trips to small towns -- and even raise the ante -- by riding the rails.

"Let's get that bus off the side of the road because on this train trip we're going to blow the whistle on Governor Clinton," Mr. Bush declared as he began the trip from Columbus, Ohio. "Maybe he's inhaling too many of those bus fumes."

The whistle-stop campaign stopped here for the night, and the president was greeted with fireworks and a torchlight rally of nearly 10,000 supporters. He responded with a broadside at Mr. Clinton's failure to serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

"Governor Clinton is already talking about putting together the best and the brightest -- all the lobbyists, economists and lawyers -- all those liberal guys hanging with him in Oxford, while some of you were over there [Vietnam] fighting," he said.

Instead of "letting them try to solve the the problems," Mr. Bush said he "had a different vision for America" that gives individuals more control.

Scattered clumps of people turned out nearly all along the 235-mile route that took Mr. Bush through picturesque meadows and cornfields and eight small towns in Ohio and Michigan. At most of his stops, the president drew enthusiastic crowds of 5,000 or so, but some were laced with Clinton supporters handing out T-shirts that proclaimed Mr. Bush to be "On the wrong track."

Mr. Bush's 19-car luxury train -- dressed up with red, white and blue bunting and the presidential seal and bearing more than 200 reporters and photographers -- was dubbed the "Spirit of America."

Given the steep uphill nature of Mr. Bush's re-election quest, though -- he's believed to be about eight points behind in Ohio and even farther behind in Michigan -- one staff member called the vehicle, "The Little Train That Hoped."

The symbolism of Mr. Bush's trip borrowed heavily from the most famous presidential whistle-stopper, Harry S. Truman, whose come-from-behind victory had earlier been the model upon which Mr. Bush wanted to pattern his campaign.

But the Truman theme has been largely abandoned now because campaign officials discovered it wasn't working as well as they had expected. The president didn't even mention the Missouri Democrat yesterday.

Last summer, Mr. Bush said he really liked the idea of giving Congress "hell," as Truman had. But the tax policies of the two presidents are nearly opposite, and Democrats, including Truman's daughter, Margaret, pointed that out.

Further, Democratic leaders of Congress have maneuvered to take much of the steam out of Mr. Bush's Congress-bashing theme by approving spending bills within the limits the president proposed.

The tax-and-spending theme formed the core of Mr. Bush's message yesterday, but he aimed most of his salvos at his Democratic challenger, who is calling for raising taxes on the rich to invest in education and other programs.

Mr. Bush charged yesterday that Mr. Clinton would have to raise taxes on families earning as little as $61,000 a year in net taxable income to keep all his promises.

The president contended the Democrat's claim that he can raise $150 billion partly by raising tax rates on the richest 2 percent of Americans is based on faulty calculations.

He said Mr. Clinton defines the 2 percent as those drawing more than $200,000 a year in net taxable income, but Treasury officials say that the 2 percent bracket actually dips as low as $64,800 for individuals and $108,000 for families.

"But there's not even enough money at that level," even when combined with the other tax increases Mr. Clinton has proposed, to produce $150 billion in new income, the president said.

To get the full $150 billion, Mr. Clinton would have to tax individuals who earn $36,600 a year in net taxable income, the president said.

An aide to Mr. Clinton said it was the president's numbers that were faulty.

Gene Sperling, Mr. Clinton's economic adviser, said his plan intended to raise only $92 billion through a variety of tax increases on wealthy individuals. The rest of the $150 billion would come from closing tax "loopholes" on foreign owned-corporations.

As the president acknowledged when he left Columbus, Ohio, yesterday, the train gambit was a direct response to the success of the first bus trip Mr. Clinton and his running mate, Al Gore,

took during that heady week after the Democratic National Convention in July.

"I call it the 'Iron Rule of Emulation,' " said James Thurber, director of the American University's Center in Presidential Studies. "If one candidate is doing something that seems to work, the other candidate emulates it eventually."

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