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Candidates Address Trade, Health Care Rather Than CBS Documents

September 9, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush today attended a campaign rally in Colmar, Pa. John Kerry participated in a town meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Neither candidate commented on two new reports that appear to add more information to what’s known about Mr. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard some 35 years ago.

Last night the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes aired an interview with Ben Barnes, who in 1968 was speaker of the Texas legislature and who claimed he was asked to help get young George Bush into the Texas Air National Guard. It was the height of the Vietnam War. George W. Bush had just graduated from college and was eligible for the draft. Barnes said the request came from oil man Sid Adger, a friend of his, and of then-congressman George H.W. Bush. Barnes said he contacted Gen. James Rose, a longtime friend and head of the Texas Air National Guard.

BEN BARNES: Oh, I would describe it as preferential treatment. There were hundreds of names on the list of people wanting to get into the Air National Guard or the, or the Army National Guard. I think that would have been a preference to anybody that didn’t want to go to Vietnam, that didn’t want to leave. We had a lot of young men that left and went to Canada in the ’60s and fled this country. But those that could get in the reserves or those who could get in the National Guard, chances are they would not have to go to Vietnam.

KWAME HOLMAN: In response, White House communications director Dan Bartlett said there was “no truth” to Barnes’ story and called it “dirty politics.” 60 Minutes did note that Ben Barnes is a life-long Democrat and a fund-raiser for the Kerry campaign. This was the first time Barnes has spoken publicly about his role in George Bush’s National Guard service.

The CBS broadcast also displayed a series of memos it said came from the files of Col. Jerry Killian, George Bush’s squadron commander. Killian is deceased. However, he is on record as having described the young Lieutenant Bush as “an exceptionally fine young officer and pilot,” who “performed in an outstanding manner.” But Killian’s memos also state that Lieutenant Bush called him to talk about how he “can get out of coming to drill from now through November,” that he is working on a campaign for his dad in Alabama.

Killian’s files contained a memo that said Lieutenant Bush was suspended from flying status for “failure to accomplish his annual medical examination.” Killian wrote, he “has made no attempt to meet his training certification or flight physical.” Killian also wrote that he was feeling pressure from superiors to “sugar coat” an evaluation of Lieutenant Bush. Again, White House communications director Bartlett responded.

DAN BARTLETT: He spoke to the commander who made that order to talk about his personal situation and the fact that he was going to Alabama, so at every step of the way, President Bush was meeting his requirements, granted permission to meet his requirements. And that’s why President Bush received an honorable discharge.

KWAME HOLMAN: Last night, Bartlett’s office released to other news organizations the memos it obtained from 60 Minutes. Meanwhile, a Boston Globe report yesterday said its examination of the records shows that when George W. Bush enrolled at Harvard Business School in 1973, he signed documents pledging to meet his National Guard training commitments or face punitive call-up to active duty. But the Globe said George Bush never signed up with a Boston-area National Guard unit. Reacting to the Globe report, Dan Bartlett said, “If he hadn’t met his requirements you point to, they would have called him up for active duty for up to two years.”

Bartlett was the principal White House voice on the president’s National Guard service. Mr. Bush did not comment during today’s campaign stop in Colmar, Pa., choosing to tout his economic agenda before employees at a company that makes Christmas ornaments.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In order to keep jobs here, so people can realize their dreams, we must open up markets for U.S. products. Listen, we’ve opened up our markets. And it’s good for consumers. We’ve opened up our markets. If you have more choices in the marketplace, you’re likely to get the product you want at a better price and better quality.

And so what I’m saying to countries like China is, “Treat us the way we treat you.” I believe American farmers and manufacturers and business owners can compete with anybody, anywhere, anytime, so long as the rules are fair. There are communities around where manufacturing, textiles, and other jobs no longer exist. There are poor communities in our country that need help as well. And that’s why, the other night at the convention, I announced American opportunity zones. These zones will provide tax relief and other incentives for new businesses to be created and to improve housing and job training and bringing hope. In other words, in changing times…

KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush also gave a critique of John Kerry’s policies.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: See, I believe our opponent’s philosophy is very different from ours. If you carefully listen, he wants to expand government. Listen to the proposals. That’s what he wants to do. What we want to do is expand opportunity. He wants to give more power to Washington by raising taxes and spending more money. And he’s got a record to match his promises.

Over two decades in Washington, he has voted for higher income taxes, higher taxes on Social Security benefits. That’s part of his record. He repeatedly voted for higher taxes on small businesses, higher taxes on gasoline. He voted against tax relief for married couples, for increasing the child credit, and against expanding tax-free retirement savings. We have a difference of opinion when it comes to taxation. If you drive a car, Senator Kerry has voted for higher taxes on you. If you have a job, he’s voted for higher taxes on you. If you’re married or have children, he’s voted for higher taxes on you. The good news is, on the 2nd of November, you have a chance to vote. (Applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: At Senator Kerry’s morning appearance in Des Moines, Iowa, he focused on health care.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: The Des Moines Register in two articles in the last couple days hit the nail on the head, and one yesterday. I happened to see it when I came in last night. Here it is. “Health care costs passed to workers.” It’s happening all across the country. When you look at the statistics, for an individual taxpayer, a single person, there’s been a 74 percent increase. If you’re a family, there’s been a 65 percent increase in the health care costs that are being passed to them. Do you know senators and congressmen give themselves the best health care in the world, right? And they give you the bill. The fact is that that health care plan is a pretty good plan. And what I’m going to do is let anybody who wants to, if you don’t think your company is giving you a good deal, you can come and bring your people into the same plan that senators and congressmen give themselves because that gives you more clout and more ability to get a better plan. (Applause)

So we’re going to open up the competition. We’re going to open up the accountability and we’re going to make it possible. We’re also going to tampen down the costs. Remember, if I’ve taken the catastrophic cases off your backs, right, and I’ve lowered the premiums, to start with health care is going to cost less than it does today. To add to that, I’m going to give you, the small business, the entrepreneur, the self-employed, you’re going to get a 50 percent tax credit for the cost of health care on top of those lower premiums. So that’s a double whammy. You really begin to bring those costs down.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senator Kerry also took note of the criticism leveled at him during last week’s Republican Convention.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: That’s why they’re spending all this time attacking me personally. I mean, you’ve never ever in history seen an incumbent president of the United States spend almost their entire convention attacking their opponent and not talking about the things they’ve done for the last four years. Well, that’s because they don’t want to talk about the things they’ve done for the last four years because they can’t.

KWAME HOLMAN: Later, in an interview with the Associated Press, Senator Kerry said questions about President Bush’s National Guard service are “for the White House to answer.” Senator Kerry spoke this evening in New Orleans before traveling to St. Louis for events tomorrow. President Bush returns to Washington tonight and heads out for West Virginia and Ohio in the morning.