Gore details lofty goals

Erasing federal debt, less poverty, higher incomes called for

Fiscal prudence pledged

191-page book focuses on helping the middle class

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

CLEVELAND - Al Gore unveiled a book-length campaign manifesto yesterday that sets forth ambitious goals for the nation and pledges fiscal prudence and aggressive government intervention to achieve them.

The goals are bold and the aims straightforward, Gore said: "to help the middle-class families who have always been America's purpose and pride."

Those goals include raising college attendance to 75 percent of high school seniors and college completion rates to 50 percent, reducing poverty to the lowest level ever, creating 10 million high-technology jobs, ensuring that seven in 10 families own their homes and eliminating the federal debt by 2012.

The means to reach many of those objectives are untested, but the vice president has carefully calibrated the goals and policy prescriptions in his 191-page book, "Prosperity for America's Families," to appeal to the anxieties of swing voters, especially women, which linger even in good economic times, while claiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility in the race for the White House.

In releasing the detailed economic plan here yesterday, Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, was taking a page from President Clinton's 1992 campaign, when his "Putting People First" document laid out what the Arkansas governor intended to accomplish in the White House.

The Gore book is largely a compendium of previous Gore proposals, with two exceptions: his 10 economic goals and a proposal to set aside $300 billion in projected budget surpluses as a "rainy day" fund in case of an unexpected economic downturn or other exigency.

Virtually all of that $300 billion was "found" in the Gore budget by shifting his budget projections from those of the White House budget office to the more optimistic estimates of the Congressional Budget Office.

The money would not be put into a fund but would be used to pay down the $3.4 trillion federal debt. That would help lower commercial interest rates by a percentage point, Gore aides said, which would reduce annual interest payments by $850 on a typical $100,000 home mortgage and cut $250 billion from total mortgage costs over a decade.

In many ways, Gore's goals are far more challenging than candidate Clinton's. Raising a nation's fortunes as it emerges from recession might be difficult, but it is not unprecedented. Sustaining a boom that has reached record heights means venturing into uncharted territory.

One of Gore's 10 economic goals, to raise family incomes by one-third over the next decade, would require a feat his advisers say has never been accomplished: keeping median family incomes rising by 2.9 percent annually over a decade. From 1997 to 1998, the average family income grew by 3.3 percent, from $45,262 to $46,737, but even Gore aides say the boom of the late 1990s will be hard to sustain.

"It's an ambitious goal," a senior Gore policy adviser said.

Gore also pledged to raise college attendance rates from the current two-thirds of high school seniors to three-quarters, and to raise college completion rates from 36 percent to 50 percent.

Meeting the goals could prove politically less important than setting them. Gore proclaimed those goals yesterday in an economic speech at Cleveland State University during an event that was part campaign rally, part tutorial.

He jabbed at Texas Gov. George W. Bush's nine-year, $1.3 trillion tax-cut proposal, made a veiled, mocking reference to President George Bush's "no new taxes" pledge of 1988, and mixed the centrist message of economic prudence with the populist appeal of helping the poor and working class.

"No blank checks, no deficit spending, tax cuts for the middle class instead of a tax giveaway for those who need it least," Gore pledged. "It's time to move on to a new prosperity for a new America. This is the place. This is the time, the beginning of a new century."

Gore's assertion that he can be the candidate of fiscal prudence and of new social spending has frustrated his political opponents. Rep. John Kasich, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, bristled yesterday that Gore had tried "to lecture Republicans on fiscal responsibility" as he laid out what Kasich estimated to be $800 billion in new federal spending.

"He thinks he can buy people's votes with their own money," Kasich said. "People are not silly. They don't believe there's a chicken in every pot."

Before Gore spoke, Republicans noted a Senate Budget Committee analysis of the vice president's campaign promises that concluded the spending and tax cut proposals had exceeded the projected non-Social Security budget surplus of $2.2 trillion by as much as $906 billion.

That would not put the government back into deficit, but it would mean that Gore would have to dip into the surplus of Social Security and Medicare taxes that both parties have put off limits.

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