Beneath the rhetoric, domestic policy choices

Differences encompass taxes, campaign reform, education, gun control

March 07, 2000|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- For months now, Campaign 2000 has revolved around questions of integrity and character, but burbling beneath the surface are domestic policy issues that sharply divide Democrats and Republicans, while adding nuances to the nomination races.

Last week, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 59 percent of voters believe a candidate's position on issues eclipses his personal character in determining their vote. Only 18 percent said they would vote primarily on their perception of a candidate's character.

On the Republican side, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain part company most starkly on the issue of tax cuts and economic stewardship.

Bush would devote more than $1 trillion over the next decade -- all or nearly all the non-Social Security surplus -- to tax cuts, mainly through slashing marginal tax rates for every income bracket.

McCain would provide less than half that amount of tax relief. Instead, he would allocate 62 percent of the estimated $1 trillion non-Social Security surplus to Social Security, with another 10 percent earmarked for Medicare and an additional 5 percent going to federal debt reduction.

Bush also has proposed a complex educational program that would require statewide achievement tests for third- through eighth-graders. Federal funds would be used to reward states showing educational improvement. Where schools fail, students would be allowed to choose private schools and use federal educational funding to defray their tuition costs.

McCain has taken a more traditionally Republican approach to education, emphasizing that federal education dollars should be lumped together in grants and sent to state and local governments to use as they see fit. McCain has proposed a three-year, $5.4 billion program to test the impact on student achievement of federally funded vouchers for private schools.

Issues have been far more prominent in the Democratic race, with Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley clashing repeatedly over their competing health care, education, campaign finance reform and gun control proposals.

Both candidates have proposed far more ambitious -- and expensive -- issue agendas than their Republican counterparts. Bradley has generally gone further than Gore, proposing to register all hand guns in circulation, to spend as much as $65 billion a year on health care to cover the uninsured, and to require free radio and television air time for political campaigns.

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