Saturday, October 9, 2004

Bush, Kerry clash in heated rematch

Gulf widens on Iraq, health care, taxes

By Nedra Pickler
The Associated Press

The smiles of Sen. John Kerry and President Bush at the start of their second presidential debate faded quickly as they quarreled aggressively over a variety of issues Friday evening in St. Louis.
The Associated Press/RON EDMONDS
ST. LOUIS - In a heated second debate, Sen. John Kerry accused President Bush on Friday night of transforming huge budget surpluses into massive deficits with tax cuts for the rich during wartime.

Bush said Kerry would have to raise taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for $2.2 trillion in new spending programs. "That's just reality," the president insisted.

The two candidates quarreled aggressively over the war in Iraq, jobs, education, health care, the environment, cheaper drugs and tort reform at a town-hall session 25 days before the election.

Under questions from a select audience of uncommitted voters, Kerry was asked to pledge not to raise taxes on people making $200,000 or less. "Absolutely yes, right into the camera. Yes - I am not going to raise taxes," the Democratic challenger said. Bush scoffed at the answer. "Of course he's going to raise your taxes."

What did you think of the debate?
Transcript: In their own words
Watch debate video from WCPO
Election 2004 page
Estimating that Kerry's proposals would cost $2.2 trillion, Bush declared, "He's going to tax everybody here to fund these programs." He said Kerry's plan to raise taxes on the wealthy would force 900,000 small-business owners to pay more - a contention disputed by Kerry's campaign.

Bush drew criticism in his first debate with Kerry last week for scowling at his opponent's criticism. The president's frustration showed again Friday night when he jumped from his seat for forceful answers.

At one point, he interrupted moderator Charles Gibson after Kerry had said he was "not going to go alone like this president did" in Iraq.

"I've got to answer this," Bush said indignantly to Kerry. "You tell Tony Blair we're going alone."

Friday night's session was open to all questions - and the economy was a dominant theme.

"We did something that you don't know how to do," Kerry told Bush. "We balanced the budget. And we paid down the debt of our nation for two years in a row and we created 23 million new jobs at the same time."

Bush noted that the economy was falling into recession when he took office, then he had to deal with the expense of war.

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