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  Bush Criticizes GOP-Led Congress

By Ron Fournier
AP Political Writer
Thursday, Sept. 30, 1999; 6:00 p.m. EDT

SAN JOSE, Calif. –– In a rare dispute with Congress, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush on Thursday criticized a GOP plan to squeeze money from a program for the working poor to meet budget targets.

He also signaled his displeasure with trends that suggest Congress may exceed spending limits in place since the 1997 balanced-budget deal.

"I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor," said the two-term Texas governor and Republican presidential front-runner.

The GOP-led Congress is mulling several bookkeeping gimmicks to keep a promise to avoid spending portions of the federal surplus reserved for Social Security.

One proposal accepted by Republican House leaders would produce $8 billion in savings by spreading the earned income tax credit over 12 monthly payments rather than the lump sum now paid with tax refunds.

Democrats say the tactic would be unfair, because it would siphon money from working families who earn less than $30,000 a year. Bush agreed.

"I'm concerned about the earned income tax credit. I'm concerned for someone who is moving from near-poverty to middle class," said Bush, whose is trying to build an election coalition by blending traditional conservative values with moderate rhetoric. Afterward, his spokeswoman Karen Hughes confirmed that Bush was criticizing the proposal to change the earned income tax credit distribution.

Asked about Bush's remarks, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who sponsored the proposal, said: "This is not balancing on the backs of the poor. They don't lose a dime. And Democrats want to raise taxes on the poor with their tobacco tax." That was a reference to President Clinton's proposal to help pay for spending increases by raising the cigarette tax.

Bush, the self-professed "compassionate conservative," signaled in August that his long-awaited tax proposal would revise the earned income tax program. Bush has delayed revealing his tax plan, in part to ensure that tax cuts to wealthy Americans are offset by relief for voters in the middle class and near-poverty.

His remarks at a news conference during a swing through Silicon Valley marked the first time he has spoke against the spending plan. Bush has close ties to Congress and the GOP establishment, a point that his Democratic and Republican opponents could use against him if Republican lawmakers mishandle the politics of the budget debate.

Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office says current Republican spending proposals would exceed two-year-old spending caps set for fiscal 2000 and eat into the Social Security surplus. Asked about the report, Bush said, "The administration and Congress should hold to the spending caps."

He did not elaborate.

The Senate office of Arizona's John McCain, who is also running for the Republican presidential nomination, chafed at Bush's criticism of congressional Republicans.

McCain's press secretary Nancy Ives replied by saying, "If we were to eliminate the pork that's in the spending bills right now, we wouldn't have to rely on budget gimmicks; we would have the money to spend on low-income Americans and hard-working families instead of spending that money on special interests."

Bush also:

– Accused the Clinton administration of refusing to help the high-technology industry deal with a laundry list of issues before Congress until he began courting the industry on the campaign trail.

–Promised to debate his rivals, but only "when the people start paying attention." Fellow GOP presidential candidates, trailing him badly in polls and money-raising, want to test his handle on issues.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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