Bill Bradley angrily accused Vice President Gore yesterday of repeatedly lying about his record and intentions, but said he did not believe he had been hurt by their increasingly harsh debate over health care.
"I think we've reached a sad day in our political life in this country when a sitting vice president distorts a fellow Democrat's record because he thinks he can score a few political points," Bradley said.
Bradley's attack, which came during an appeal to black legislators meeting in Baltimore, appeared to be part of an effort to regain ground he has lost in polls since his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination began arguing that Bradley's health care plan is too expensive and would hurt more people than it would help.
Besides Bradley's blasts from the stump, which have escalated by the day, his once-thrifty campaign has begun to far outspend Gore on television ads in New Hampshire. Several key supporters said privately that they fear Bradley blew his lead of early fall by retaining his gentlemanly forbearance too long.
But in an interview yesterday at The Washington Post that ranged from foreign policy and race relations to the problems of the poor, Bradley said he did not believe Gore had wounded him permanently. "I haven't seen any real evidence that the static is making a difference in people's receptivity," he said. "We don't have momentum--we have a little traction. You want momentum in January, February and March--not now."
With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary less than two months away, Bradley said he still had time to make his case. "It's a big country," he said. "It's very difficult to attack something that nobody knows exists. If he just simply goes out there and says Bradley wants to hurt African Americans and Latinos with health care--that's what he said--that's a fairly easy thing to refute."
In Iowa, Gore said during a satellite interview with New York television stations, "I haven't attacked him and will not attack him. I have discussed the issues and I'll continue to do that, whether it makes him sad or happy."
In the meeting at The Post, Bradley said Gore's criticisms "deal with small elements of a larger picture."
"Every other day there's an attack--some I'll refute; some I won't," he said. "When he hits it across and it's something outrageous, then I'll hit back." He said he would not be "diverted from the positive vision that I want to portray," and vowed to ignore "your ordinary, everyday attack."
Bradley's program would replace Medicaid, which serves the poorest Americans, with free or low-cost care in other private or public health insurance plans.
"I've been attacked for trying to make Medicaid better," Bradley said. "The idea is to try to think about this more thoroughly. If we can't do better than what we're doing for poor people in Medicaid today, then we're in trouble."
Earlier yesterday, Bradley spoke to the annual meting of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, a day after Gore used an address to the same group to say Bradley's platform would undermine Medicare and Social Security. Bradley began his response by saying, "I heard he gave a pretty good speech." Then he unloaded.
"But I'm afraid he didn't tell you the whole truth about my record--or even half of it," Bradley began. "He said that I proposed raising the eligibility age of Social Security. Not true--he knows it's not true. He suggested I'd cut Social Security benefits and increase Social Security taxes. Not true--he knows it's not true."
On other matters, in the interview at The Post, Bradley said:
* He is willing to raise taxes to pay for his health care plan, although he first would seek to "close a lot of loopholes" in the tax system and "cut out some subsidies, such as the mining industry." Bradley acknowledged that such savings would not cover the cost of his plan, which he estimates at $55 billion to $65 billion each year.
"But it would be a chunk of it," he said. "Then you have to see where your revenues were and make your decision then as to whether, if you didn't have enough, what you were going to do--cutting spending or increasing taxes. But the commitment I've made is to do this."
* He said he would not support an income tax cut in the current economic climate, but added, "If we got into a downturn, I could see an argument for a counter-cyclical tax cut."
* He would not favor deploying a missile defense shield, which would require modification, or a breach, of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Bradley said that by the time President Clinton faces that decision next summer, not enough tests will have been done to know whether "it actually works."
"I'd want to talk to more people, but my sense is that I would not go with deployment based on three tests," Bradley said.
* He believes the expansion of NATO was a mistake, in part because it had "certainly alienated a large segment of the Russian elites." He said he would be "extremely cautious" about the addition of any more countries, "given the volatility in Russia."
"I think that it was a decision taken in a conceptual vacuum at the end of the Cold War, when people were trying to figure out, well, what is NATO going to do next," he said.
* He had given no consideration to pushing to reopen the two-block section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House that was closed in 1995 to deter bombers.
"Is it closed?" Bradley asked. "Look, if I can convince the Secret Service that I don't need them and I can get out occasionally on my own and drive a car, which is going to be the greatest personal deprivation of being president of the United States, I might even challenge them on Pennsylvania Avenue."