Campaigning in a state filled with senior citizens, Bob Dole on Thursday angrily denounced President Clinton for conducting what he called a “Medi-scare, Medi-scare, Medi-scare” campaign and vowed to “save” the federal health care program for the elderly if elected president.
In one of his harshest attacks yet on Clinton, a visibly riled Dole all but accused his rival of lying to seniors by claiming that Republicans want to gut Medicare.
“Why don’t you tell the truth, Mr. President?” he thundered during a rally at West Palm Beach Auditorium shortly after arriving in Florida to begin several days of presidential-debate preparations at his seaside condominium in Bal Harbour.
Clinton, for his part, met with Democratic members of Congress for a pep rally at the Capitol, declaring that “this country is on the right track.” The president and his aides were clearly cheered by the latest economic news--a Census Bureau report indicating that the nation’s poverty rate had dropped sharply and that for the first time in six years, average incomes had risen faster than the rate of inflation.
Dole and other Republicans were badly burned last year by Democratic charges that their plan to balance the federal budget would cut Medicare.
The Republican plan would have changed the program and put it on an annual budget that critics said would have made benefit reductions inevitable. Because the nation’s elderly population continues to rise, the amount of money to be spent under Medicare would have continued to increase under the GOP plan. Republicans argue, as a result, that Democrats are wrong to say the GOP would “cut” Medicare.
Dole’s annoyance on the subject may have been aggravated by an encounter minutes before his speech during a tour of the Fountainview Senior Living Community.
As he later described it, he was confronted by an elderly woman in a wheelchair who demanded: “Why are you cutting my Medicare?”
Dole did not say how he responded. But in his speech he renewed his call for a blue-ribbon commission to study Medicare and “take it out of politics.”
A similar approach taken in the early 1980s cleared the way for long-term solutions to preserve Social Security, a process in which Dole participated, as he emphasized here.
Dole said he did not think Clinton would take his advice. “He won’t do it,” he fumed. “All he has is fear.” But White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta has said the administration favors a similar approach.
Also on Thursday, the Dole and Clinton campaigns continued bickering over the details of debates that are scheduled to start on Oct. 6.
While Dole campaigned in Florida, his running mate, Jack Kemp, conducted two energetic and well-attended events in Montana.
Against a spectacular backdrop of Douglas firs on a rocky hillside, Kemp told a crowd at a lumber mill outside Bonner, Mont., that a Dole administration would pursue a less confrontational policy on environmental regulation.
“We will believe in the type of regulation that works in harmony with businesses such [as this], and does not shut them down,” he said as supporters in the crowd waved signs that read “Wood is Good” and “The War on the West is Over.”
Complaints from Western ranchers and mineral and oil interests that the Clinton administration was waging “a war on the West” helped fuel the Republican surge in the region in the 1994 congressional elections.
Both in Bonner and at an enthusiastic town meeting earlier Thursday in Billings, where small-business owners braved a snow squall to see him, Kemp sought to align himself with that argument.
He criticized Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman for a recent executive order reducing the amount of fallen timber that loggers can harvest from public lands. And he reiterated the Republican charge that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is contemplating “a new tax on backpacks and birdseed.”
Dole and Kemp repeatedly have accused Babbitt of proposing a new tax. But administration officials say he has merely spoken favorably of a long-standing proposal from a coalition of interest groups to impose user fees on outdoor equipment to fund state conservation and wildlife programs. The administration has made no proposal on the subject.