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Kerry promises new fiscal discipline

“We will have to make real choices — and that includes priorities of my own," Kerry said in his speech at Georgetown University. Steven Senne / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrat John Kerry said Wednesday if he is elected president he will not let government programs outside of security and education grow beyond the rate of inflation, even if it means cutting some of his own campaign promises and existing government programs.

“When I say a cap on spending, I mean it,” Kerry said in a speech at Georgetown University. “We will have to make real choices — and that includes priorities of my own.”

Kerry said he would freeze the federal travel budget, reduce oil royalty exemptions for drilling on federal lands, cut 100,000 federal contractors and cut electricity used by the federal government by 20 percent, among other programs.

Promises may have to be deferred
Campaign promises Kerry said with the growing deficit, he’ll have to “slow down” some of his campaign promises or phase them in over a longer period. He cited proposals for early childhood education and a program that would have provided tuition to students attending state colleges in exchange for two years of national service, although he didn’t say how much they would be scaled back.

Kerry’s pledge to abide by spending caps could open him to criticism that his campaign promises cannot be trusted. His policy director, Sarah Bianchi, said if he sticks to the programs despite the increasing deficit “maybe you get something for consistency, but it’s incredibly reckless.”

Kerry also said he will cut the deficit in half in four years. President Bush has made the same promise but, Kerry said, “his record shows that we can’t trust what he says.”

“A deficit-reduction promise from George W. Bush is not exactly a gilt-edged bond,” he said.

'Pro-growth' Bush policies touted
Commerce Secretary Don Evans touted what he called Bush’s “pro-growth” policies and criticized Kerry’s economic proposals in a speech earlier Wednesday, comparing the Massachusetts senator to former President Jimmy Carter. Evans said Carter enacted a corporate tax credit nearly identical to the one Kerry proposed recently and contended it could place some industries at a disadvantage.

“The last time America experimented with the policies like the ones Senator Kerry advocates were in the 1970s, and most of us remember that those weren’t the best of times,” Evans told the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“When I hear Senator Kerry and the economic naysayers, the image that comes to mind is of President Carter sitting in the White House blaming the state of the economy on ’malaise.’ What they fail to realize is that this is a growing economy in which we must foster job growth and opportunity, not close it off,” Evans said.

Kerry has yet to offer a detailed budget that explains how much he is spending on his campaign promises and where he will get the money to pay for them.

Bianchi said the repeal of Bush’s tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year will pay for Kerry’s education and health care proposals, but other spending programs will have to be financed by trimming back existing federal initiatives.

Bush campaign sees $1 trillion price tag
The Bush campaign said that third-party calculations of 44 of Kerry’s programs show they would cost about $1 trillion over five years — an amount he can’t pay without raising taxes. Kerry told reporters Tuesday, “I think it’s fuzzy math, as usual, and they’re not telling the truth.”

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry’s emphasis on fiscal discipline contrasts with his Senate record and his spending promises on the campaign trail.

“His speech failed to address the mystery of his own budget gap — which taxes will he raise and which federal spending programs will he cut?” Schmidt asked.

In his speech, Kerry promised to work with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The two men have co-sponsored a bill that would create a commission that would recommend budget cuts and submit them to Congress for a yes-or-no vote with no amendments to keep pet projects.

“John McCain can’t get anyone in the Bush White House to listen to our proposal,” he said. “Well, if I’m president, John McCain will get the first pen when I sign this bill into law.”

Kerry also had a fund-raiser in Washington Wednesday night. Campaign spokesman David Wade said more than 1,000 donors were expected, although the amount raised was not yet available.