Bush, McCain and Forbes trade charges over tax-cut plans

By Glen Johnson, Associated Press, 1/15/2000

John McCain and Gary Bauer Republican presidential hopefuls Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, and Gary Bauer, right, talk after the Des Moines Register Republican presidential candidates debate. (AP Photo)

Here are the particulars of today's Republican presidential candidates debate.
WHO: Gary Bauer, George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Alan Keyes, John McCain.
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 15, 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. EST.
WHERE: Iowa Public Television, Johnston, Iowa.
SPONSORS: Des Moines Register.
MODERATOR: Des Moines Register's Dennis Ryerson.
COVERAGE: Live on CNN, FOX News Channel, C-SPAN.

* Bush, McCain, Forbes trade charges over tax-cut plans
* GOP candidates asked positions on posting Ten Commandments
* Truth Squad: Missing the mark on what a president can, can't, do
* Bush disavowing S.C. senator's racial remark
* Excerpt from debate


JOHNSTON, Iowa -- George W. Bush accused John McCain on Saturday of seeking a $40 billion tax increase on the job benefits of American workers, and the senator retorted that the governor was trying a ''Texas two-step'' around his own failure to plan for the future financing of Social Security.

Steve Forbes called them both ''the timid tax cutters'' of the Republican presidential campaign.

Their tax arguments dominated a 90-minute debate among the six GOP candidates for the 2000 nomination, their last Iowa confrontation before the first votes of the year are cast in the Jan. 24 precinct caucuses.

Bush is the faraway leader in the Iowa polls, with Forbes a lagging second, and McCain, who is not actively campaigning, Gary Bauer, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Alan Keyes trailing the field.

Bush challenged McCain on a loophole-closing proposal in his tax-cut plan that would eliminate the tax-free treatment of workplace benefits including continuing education, transportation and meals.

''You have a plan that in essence raises taxes on working people by $40 billion,'' Bush said.

''I'm giving them a huge tax cut,'' McCain countered. ''And the reality is that your tax plan has 36 percent of it going to the richest one percent in America.''

So McCain said he could tell a working mother ''I've got a tax cut for you and Governor Bush doesn't.''

''That's not true,'' Bush replied.

Besides, McCain said, the Bush tax cut, $483 billion over five years, ''has not one penny for Social Security, not one penny for Medicare and not one penny for paying down the national debt.

''And when you run ads saying you're going to take care of Social Security, my friend, that's all hat and no cattle,'' McCain said.

''That's cute, but ... '' Bush countered.

''You know, they're always cutest when they're true,'' said McCain.

''That's not true,'' Bush said.

The McCain campaign issued a statement saying that his $240 billion, five-year tax cut plan, would end ''a loophole that allowed corporations to get a tax benefit for giving employes things like golf and health club memberships and free parking.''

Campaign manager Rick Davis said that would end ''corporate welfare'' to finance a working class tax cut and put money into Social Security.

McCain is concentrating his campaign on the New Hampshire presidential primary on Feb. 1, and Forbes is Bush's closest rival in Iowa, but far behind in the polls.

Forbes challenged Bush on taxes, too.

He said the governor's Texas tax cuts ''are more apparent than real,'' that most Texans never see them.

''Not only are my tax cuts real, they've reduced the baseline of the budget,'' Bush said.

Forbes said in six out of 10 Texas districts, the property tax rate went up in 1999. ''That's a Clinton tax cut,'' Forbes said. ''That's the kind he would like. Raise the tax and call it a tax cut.''

''Steve, look, that's good research, it's not true,'' Bush retorted.

''I'm the one person on this stage who has fought for and signed tax cuts,'' Bush said. ''... ''I've got a good record, I'm the only one on this stage who's got a record endorsed by the people.''

Bush cited an ad taken by Bob Dole in The Des Moines Register on Saturday, in which the 1996 GOP nominee said he'd been damaged against the Democrats by attack ads Forbes ran against him in the primaries.

''If you're going to talk about a man's record, tell the whole record,'' Bush told Forbes. ''And I cut taxes.''

Forbes, who proposes a 17 percent flat tax, has ads attacking Bush for breaking a 1994 anti-tax pledge in Texas by including increases in some sales and business taxes in a plan to cut property taxes, a net tax reduction.

McCain, running as a Republican reformer, later threw in a slap at a federal subsidy popular with Iowa farmers, saying that he'd end the ethanol program along with special tax breaks and loopholes because they do not serve the interest of the American people. Ethanol is a fuel derived from corn.

''Like most government programs, it lived on forever,'' past its birth in the 1970s when the country was in a crisis over imported oil, McCain said.

In a lecturing tone, Bush rebutted. ''I believe that we ought to increase demand for Iowa products. That is what ethanol does, John, it increases the demand for Iowa products.''

When they weren't disputing their own rival ideas, Hatch, Bauer, Keyes, Forbes, Bush and McCain took turns denouncing President Clinton and his administration for its policies and for his conduct.

Bush slipped in a slap at Vice President Al Gore and Bill Bradley, the Democratic candidates, saying they sound as though they want the federal government to make all the decisions about American health care. The Republicans, to a man, oppose that, he said.

Bauer said he supports a patients bill of rights, which is anathema to most conservatives. ''There's nothing Republican or conservative about standing with'' big HMOs in opposition to it, he said.

McCain said the only way to get needed action on health care is to reform political financing, his keynote issue, so that insurers and HMOs can't get special interest treatment.

In one segment of the debate, the Republicans questioned each other, and Keyes asked Bush about a Texas town in which the city council voted to have all business conducted in Spanish. He called that an assault on ''linguistic unity'' and said Bush hadn't done anything about it.

Bush began his answer in Spanish: ''That's not true.''

He said he had expressed concern about the episode, had told the Texas attorney general to look into it. ''English is our nation's language,'' Bush said. ''That's why I'm for programs to make sure our children learn English.''

The GOP candidates debate next in Manchester, N.H., on Jan. 26, six days before the first of the presidential primaries, in New Hampshire on Feb. 1.

McCain has overtaken Bush in the polls there, running statistically even with the national frontrunner in the latest surveys.