Republican presidential nominee George Bush, trying to offset criticisms that he is accentuating the negative, Wednesday unveiled a $3.9-billion plan designed to improve the lot of America’s children.
In cutting a wide swath through existing programs that directly or peripherally affect children, Bush vowed to stiffen child support laws, emphasize adoptions, expand Medicaid, establish a Justice Department anti-gang unit and beef up eradication of radon and lead contamination.
The proposal wraps together new plans with previously announced programs and is meant to dovetail with Bush’s call Tuesday for young Americans to volunteer to help the needy--and to silence criticism that Bush is spending too much time raking Michael S. Dukakis.
Revive Questions on Budget
But the cost--at least $650 million to $1 billion of the spending is for plans disclosed for the first time Wednesday--seems likely to revive questions about Bush’s dedication to reducing the budget.
The vice president has said he would cut the deficit by invoking a flexible budget freeze that essentially requires cuts in existing programs as new ones are funded--but he has refused to specify what programs are on the chopping block even while proposing more spending.
Bush advisers tried to downplay the overall cost.
“You have a trillion-dollar federal budget,” domestic policy adviser Deborah Steelman said. “It’s just not that much money.”
In the theme-a-day world of presidential politics, Bush surrogates announced the plan as the vice president spoke before students at Arapahoe High School in this affluent Denver suburb.
Offered No Details
Bush himself referred to the comprehensive program but did not detail it, and he would not answer questions about it.
In keeping with his campaign’s recent strategy, Bush offered Wednesday’s theme--investing in America’s children--early in the day; later, after most national newspaper stories and television spots were filed, he bashed away at his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Dukakis.
Later, in Denver and Oklahoma City, Bush characterized Dukakis as a tax-raising liberal who favors releasing convicts and would set the economy on the road to ruin.
In Littleton, Bush told students his Administration would protect children--whom he called “our greatest national resource"--but emphasized that the burden would be shared by state and local governments and private individuals.
Bush’s newly announced programs included at least seven that would require federal funding and several others that implied spending by state and local governments. Among them were:
--Expansion of Medicaid to include coverage for all young children whose family incomes fall below the poverty level, with a phasing in of “affordable coverage” for pregnant women and infants living at up to 185% of the poverty level. That level is now roughly $9,600 a year for a family of four.
Under a recently enacted law, Medicaid will in the future cover poverty-stricken children up to age 1, and Bush’s plan would reach children up to age 5, Steelman said.
--Creation of an anti-gang unit within the Justice Department’s criminal division that would coordinate with local police to fight gang members. Bush also proposed mandatory sentences for interstate drug and gun violations by juvenile gangs.
--Tightening enforcement of child support payments. Bush called for mandatory child support levels, a $10-million nationwide parent locater system and research into ways to improve scientific determinations of paternity. The level at which Bush would set child support was not addressed, nor was the method the federal government would use to ensure compliance.
--Encouraging the adoption of children through a tax break that would allow adoptive parents to write off some adoption costs, much as childbirth costs are deductible as a medical expense.
And, in what could prove to be a controversial issue, Bush would attempt to change the Public Health Service Act to require family planning services to “focus . . . on adoption services.” The Reagan Administration has long fought the right of federally funded family planning centers to counsel women about abortions.
--Supporting housing vouchers for the poor, tenant control over housing projects and increased social service counseling for the homeless. No specifics were offered.
--Limiting environmental contamination. The plan would give states a total of $10 million for radon eradication programs, would initiate a national survey of schools to determine radon levels, would impose “strict standards” on manufacturers who use lead in their consumer products and would demand greater cooperation from industries that emit lead.
After visiting Oklahoma, Bush traveled to Ft. Worth.