Bill Bradley announced today that he would work to eliminate tax shelters, breaks and loopholes that he figures would cost the government $124 billion over 10 years, targeting powerful industries to help pay for his health care plan and other ambitious proposals.
The tax measures are designed in part to defuse the warning by Vice President Gore, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, that Bradley's plans would knock the federal budget from surpluses to deficits. But Bradley, speaking at a New Hampshire luncheon, cast the changes more as a matter of justice and equity than dollars and cents.
"When a tax break is created to help only a few people, or a company finds a way not to pay taxes, we all end up paying more," Bradley said. "If I am president, we will spend money wisely on the things that make the most difference for the greatest number of people, and we will end the influence of special interests in Washington."
On Wednesday, it is Gore who will be making a splash as the two men jockey for the spotlight in the weeks before the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 1. Gore will receive the endorsement of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, an important boost from one of the most important liberal voices in the Democratic Party. Kennedy had remained noncommittal during months of "very aggressive" lobbying by Gore aides but decided over the holidays that he would campaign for the vice president, said a Democratic source.
As the Gore campaign began spreading the word about the coup, Bradley traveled here to announce his proposal to tighten the tax code. Much of the savings Bradley projects would come from stiffer enforcement. The Internal Revenue Service would step up audits of large corporations and increase penalties on companies that engage in practices with the sole purpose of lowering their tax liability. And he would require companies to disclose to the IRS the periods in which they reported higher income to shareholders than to the government. Those measures are to save $100 billion over 10 years, aides estimated.
In addition, Bradley said he would work to reduce the subsidies that, in his view, reward environmentally harmful practices. Bradley would cut benefits to mining companies that drill on public land and pay small royalties, oil and gas producers who get deductions for exploration and development costs, and ranchers who graze livestock on public lands. That is to save $2 billion over a decade.
Bradley also said he wants to repeal the preferential tax treatment for oil drillers, chemical companies and companies with foreign subsidiaries. He said that tax break was enacted after those interests made large contributions to both national political parties in recent years. That move would save $22 billion over 10 years.
The only corporation Bradley singled out by name was the Amway Corp., the marketing organization, which he said was the primary beneficiary of a 1997 measure making it easier to avoid U.S. taxes by moving profits to foreign subsidiaries. Mark Bain, Amway's spokesman, said he would reserve comment until he has studied Bradley's remarks.
But other business groups were swift to condemn Bradley's ideas. "We should call this what it is: a $120 billion-plus tax increase being pushed onto American corporations to pay for Bradley's social programs," said Martin A. Regalia, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Many of these things aren't loopholes, but provisions designed to reduce or modify inequities which existed in the tax code, and to foster certain types of savings and investment."
Gore's spokesman, Chris Lehane, said that, as a senator, Bradley had fought for tax breaks for the pharmaceutical industry, a key part of the New Jersey economy. "Like so many other issues, such as campaign finance reform and health care," Lehane said, "Senator Bradley seems to have discovered this issue only after becoming a candidate for president."
The Treasury Department last summer advocated some of the ideas being promoted by Bradley, but neither Gore nor President Clinton has aggressively promoted the cause of eliminating tax shelters, according to several tax attorneys.
At a rare news conference this afternoon, Bradley described Gore as a good vice president, but he argued that the cost of Gore's agenda would far exceed available funds. "The question of who is the big spender here is pretty clear," he said.
Bradley's day started on a much lighter note. He shuns many political customs, but he has tended carefully over the years to one of the key rituals of contemporary national politics--paying homage to the I-Man. This morning Bradley called in on the nationally syndicated radio show of Don Imus, a Clinton administration enemy who has been plugging Bradley and Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) for many months.
"I'm just going out there and working hard, trying to live up to your expectations," Bradley said with a chuckle. "You know, Don, it's all for you."
When asked for his favorite character in the comic strip "Peanuts," Bradley said, "I think I like, uh--I think I like Linus." He did not elaborate. After Bradley hung up, Imus said, "I like the fact that he selected Linus."
On Wednesday, Gore and Kennedy are to appear at a middle school in Dorchester, Mass., where they will discuss education and hold a news conference. Then they will drive to neighboring New Hampshire for a discussion on health care--including prescription drug benefits under Medicare--at a senior citizens center in Portsmouth.
Gore aides with links to Kennedy, such as Massachusetts operative Michael Whouley, helped facilitate the endorsement.
While there has never been much likelihood that Kennedy would endorse Bradley, his decision to come out for Gore now could be important. Kennedy, who made his own unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 1980, is a revered figure among the liberal voters who tend to dominate Democratic primaries, and he has particular identification with health care issues.
Gore told reporters that he was not going to "preempt" Kennedy's statement by acknowledging an endorsement. He did praise Kennedy as "the single most effective United States senator that I served with," adding, "of course, anybody who is running for president would benefit enormously from having an endorsement from someone like that."
CAPTION: The expected endorsement of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is considered a coup for Vice President Gore.
CAPTION: Presidential hopeful Bill Bradley is greeted by his wife, Ernestine, as he arrives in Bedford, N.H. He used the occasion to announce key tax proposals.