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U.S. President

TIMES
POLITICAL
EDITOR
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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


The differences between the front-runners in this year's presidential campaign lie in the details.

On the surface, George W. Bush and Al Gore don't appear to be all that different.

The Texas governor and the vice president were raised in prominent political families, yet both went through periods when they wanted little to do with politics. Both survived political defeats -- Bush lost a race for Congress and Gore fared poorly in the 1988 presidential primaries.

Now both men pledge to cut taxes, reduce the federal debt, shore up Social Security, offer a prescription drug benefit for seniors and improve public education.

But there are stark differences in how they got here and how they would achieve their goals if they were elected president.

Gore has been obsessed with his political career for decades. Bush has been governor for just six years. The vice president relishes the details of public policy; the Texas governor prefers to set broad goals and empower his staff to work out the specifics to reach them. Their policy disagreements are buried in the fine print of their proposals.

Many of the disputes between the Republican and Democrat boil down to money. In previous presidential campaigns candidates sparred over raising taxes and controlling deficit spending. This one concerns how to manage a record amount of money flowing into Washington because of unprecedented economic prosperity.

Both candidates want to give some of the money back to taxpayers, although they disagree about how and how much.

Bush proposes a $1.3-trillion tax cut over 10 years that he believes would benefit every taxpayer. His plan includes cutting all income tax rates, doubling the child tax credit to $1,000, eliminating the inheritance tax and reducing the marriage penalty.

Gore wants a smaller tax cut of $500-billion over 10 years, which he would target to specific goals. His proposal would offer tax credits or deductions for areas such as college tuition, day care, long-term care and health insurance. He also would eliminate the inheritance tax on farms and businesses worth up to $5-million, up from the current $2.6-million.

Predictably, each of the candidates contends the other eats up more than the $4.6-billion projected budget surplus with spending and tax cuts.

There are similar fights over Social Security and prescription drugs.

Bush would enable younger workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes from Social Security into private investment accounts instead. He pledges that current retirees and older workers would not be affected. Through the combination of private accounts and Social Security, he predicts, younger workers would end up with retirement benefits equal to or greater than they would have under Social Security now.

Gore contends that Bush's plan is too expensive and has too many unanswered questions, such as how to respond to workers who lose money in their private investment accounts.

The vice president would offer refundable tax credits to low-income and middle-income people that would match the money they invest in new retirement accounts. But Bush contends that Gore has underestimated the cost.

Prescription drugs for seniors also has been a hot topic, particularly in Florida.

Gore would offer a $253-billion prescription drug benefit through the existing Medicare program that would be open to all seniors and provide free or subsidized coverage to low-income seniors. The initial premium would be $25 per month.

Bush has proposed a $200-billion Medicare plan that also would provide free or subsidized coverage to low-income seniors. But the Texas governor would rely heavily on private insurers and health maintenance organizations to offer prescription drug coverage at affordable prices. His plan calls for the government to pay 25 percent of the premium for drug coverage.

Bush and Gore are not the only presidential candidates on the ballot. Among the more prominent third party candidates are Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party, Ralph Nader of the Green Party and John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party. While they have loyal supporters, they have not campaigned hard in Florida and will not be serious challengers for the state's electoral votes.

REPUBLICAN

George W. Bush

Born: July 6, 1946

Birthplace: New Haven, Conn.

Family: Wife, Laura. Twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, 18.

Religion: Methodist.

Government experience: Elected governor of Texas in 1994, re-elected 1998.

Other work experience: Worked in the oil and gas industry until 1986. Was part of a group that purchased the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in 1989 and later built the Ballpark at Arlington.

Military experience: F-102 pilot for the Texas Air National Guard.

Education: Bachelor's degree from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

* * *

Dick Cheney, 59, was born in Lincoln, Neb., and grew up in Casper, Wyo. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wyoming. He entered public service in 1969, holding several positions in the Nixon administration. He also served in the White House under President Gerald Ford, eventually becoming chief of staff in 1975. After returning to Wyoming in 1977, he was elected the state's sole U.S. representative and served there until he became secretary of defense under President George Bush in 1989. He and his wife, Lynne, have two children.

DEMOCRAT

Al Gore

Born: March 31, 1948

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Family: Wife, Tipper. Four children, Karenna, 27, Kristin, 23, Sarah, 21, and Albert, 18.

Religion: Baptist

Government experience: Elected U.S. representative in 1976. Served until he was elected to the Senate in 1984. Served there until he was elected vice president in 1992.

Other work experience: Newspaper reporter for the Tennessean in Nashville.

Military experience: Served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a military journalist.

Education: Degree in government from Harvard University.

* * *

Joe Lieberman, 58, was born in Stamford, Conn., and received his bachelor's degree from Yale College and law degree from Yale Law School. He was Connecticut's attorney general from 1982 to 1988. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1988 and re-elected in 1994. He is married. Between them, he and his wife, Hadassah, have four children.

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