President Bush Friday seized on Bill Clinton's newly detailed health care plan as evidence that his Democratic rival was both indecisive and misleading.
A day after Clinton pledged to require private employers to provide health insurance, Bush dismissed the plan as further evidence of Clinton's "doublespeak" and scoffed that as President "you don't get to change your mind every time the heat gets turned up."
Clinton's new health care proposal calls for a smaller government role than the Democrat earlier had seemed to favor. But Bush noted that the revision was his rival's third in three months and said the mandatory approach favored by Clinton was inefficient and too costly.
"The rhetoric certainly sounds better," Bush told a high-technology conference here. "It uses words like 'competition' and 'preserving quality.' But when you strip away the doublespeak, it is the same old thing."
Bush supports an alternative plan that would provide tax deductions and tax incentives to help uninsured Americans gain access to health care but would not require that employers provide such plans.
Just before leaving Chicago, Bush vetoed one bill and proposed another in a late night tactic designed to minimize news coverage of potentially controversial or embarrassing actions.
Bush vetoed a congressional bid to lift the so-called gag rule prohibiting federally funded clinics from offering abortion counseling. The White House contends that no change is necessary in current law, which allows the clinics only to refer patients to other doctors for abortion advice.
Bush also transmitted to Congress a plan he first put forward during the Republican National Convention to reduce the pay of high-ranking federal employees by 5% and cut the salary of the President by 10%. Bush had initially promised to impose the pay cuts unilaterally, but the White House was somewhat chagrined to learn that the step would require congressional approval, which is considered unlikely.
The announcements marked the second time this week that Bush, who vetoed family leave legislation Tuesday night, chose to announce his intentions too late for the network news and most East Coast newspaper deadlines.
Earlier in the day, Bush challenged Clinton's avowed commitment to high-tech research and development.
Noting that such proposals had been rejected by the Democratic-controlled Congress, Bush went on to suggest that nothing in Clinton's Arkansas record showed support for high technology. "It's odd for him to talk about high-tech," the President said, "when the residents of his state have to worry about getting out of high school."
Such rhetoric retained the acid tone that has become common in Bush attacks on Clinton in recent days. Bush also gleefully repeated an earlier slip-of-the-tongue labeling Clinton "Gov. Taxes" and said his rival's slogan should be "putting it to the people first."
But senior campaign officials suggested that Bush was increasingly wary at appearing ever on the offensive. When the Bush campaign gathered small groups of voters over the weekend for previews of anti-Clinton advertisements, sources said, the attacks were met with a largely negative response.
As a result, the sources said, the Bush campaign has decided to set aside at least for now advertisements critical of Clinton and his draft record.
"You've got to do two things at once," a senior campaign official said, describing a conclusion others said had been reinforced by the weekend "focus group" results. "You have to drive Clinton's negatives up . . . and you've got to give people a reason to vote for George Bush. Just driving up his negatives won't work. It'll result in a backlash."
Bush seemed to take new pains to balance his broadsides at Clinton by calling attention to his own health care and high-technology plans and what he called the "fundamental choice" posed in the presidential election.
"Do you want a tomorrow in which we look forward and take on the competition, or one where we turn inward to protectionism and pull back?" he said at the technology conference here. "Do you want a tomorrow in which we invest in the technologies that make us more competitive, or in which we allow the patrons of the past to spend our future away? Do you want a tomorrow in which work and innovation are rewarded, or in which we turn back down the path of higher taxes and more regulation?"
Separately, the Bush campaign complained Friday to the Federal Election Commission that the Clinton campaign was benefiting unfairly from two companies' sales of a book and audio tape containing the Democratic presidential candidate's political message.
Bobby R. Burchfield, the Bush organization's general counsel, said the distribution by Times Books, of New York, and Dove Audio Inc. of Beverly Hills was saving the Clinton campaign $2 million and should be counted as a corporate contribution of that amount.
Dove Audio maintained that it has treated each campaign equally, and it is distributing tapes of Bush speeches, too.
But Burchfield maintained in a press conference and a later telephone interview that a Clinton campaign press release announcing the availability of the tapes was evidence that Dove had "collaborated" with the Clinton campaign.
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang in Washington contributed to this story.
Today on the Trail . . .
Gov. Bill Clinton campaigns in Manchester, N.H., Burlington, Vt., and Portland, Me. Travels to Washington to speak to the National Newspaper Publishers Assn. and attend the Congressional Black Caucus dinner.
President Bush embarks on a whistle-stop train tour, starting in Ohio with stops in Columbus, Marysville, Arlington and Bowling Green, and ending in Plymouth, Mich.