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Candidates duel on guns, health

President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry dueled over health care and the expired assault weapons ban Monday, with Bush slamming Kerry for backing a costly “government takeover” of health care that would lead to higher taxes.
/ Source: Reuters

President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry dueled over health care and the expired assault weapons ban Monday, with Bush slamming Kerry for backing a costly “government takeover” of health care that would lead to higher taxes.

Seven weeks before the Nov. 2 election, both candidates for the White House shifted to domestic issues after weeks of debate over the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

Bush, on the campaign trail in the swing state of Michigan, described Kerry’s plans as “a massive, complicated blueprint to have our government take over the decision-making in health care” and said Americans would pay the price in the pocketbook.

“Not only is his plan going to increase the power of bureaucrats in your lives, but he can’t pay for it unless he raises your taxes,” he told a forum in Muskegon, Michigan.

Kerry noted Monday’s expiration of the federal ban on assault weapons and accused the president of choosing “powerful and well-connected friends” in the gun lobby over the police officers and families he promised to protect. He said it would now become easier for groups like al Qaeda to get the weapons.

“So, tomorrow for the first time in 10 years when a killer walks into a gun shop, when a terrorist goes to a gun show somewhere in America, when they want to purchase an AK-47 or some other military assault weapon, they’re going to hear one word: ’Sure,”’ Kerry told supporters in Washington.

Polls show Bush leading Kerry, but several weekend surveys indicated the president was losing some of the big bounce he received from the Republican convention.

One of the issues where Kerry has maintained a lead over Bush has been healthcare. Surveys show more Americans trust Kerry to curb the exploding costs of healthcare and help the 45 million Americans without health insurance.

Attacking a Kerry strength, the Bush campaign launched a new advertisement touting the president’s “practical plan” for healthcare and tying Kerry with “liberals in Congress” who support a government-run health care plan.

“Big government in charge. Not you, not your doctor,” the ad said of Kerry’s healthcare plan.

Muskegon, Mich., forum

At the campaign forum in Muskegon, Bush cited a study by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, that put the 10-year cost of Kerry’s health care plan at $1.5 trillion — well beyond the 10-year, $900 billion estimate from Kerry’s campaign.

Bush said Kerry’s plan would be more intrusive in a patient’s decisions on health care.

“Having the federal government run your business and health care ... would lead to rationing health care,” Bush said. “It could mean that you’re not in charge of your decisions which is the exact opposite philosophy we hold.”

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer rejected that and said Bush had taken money from drug and insurance companies “hand over fist, making their profits the priority when he should have been focusing on the needs of everyday Americans.”

Emory University professor Kenneth Thorpe, whose cost estimates have been used by the Kerry campaign, said AEI had incorrectly modeled part of Kerry’s plan and missed savings that should have been counted.

Kerry, who spent part of the day filming campaign commercials for the stretch run to November, pledged to uphold the Constitution’s Second Amendment allowing Americans to bear arms. But he criticized Bush for proposing cuts to a program providing grants to state and local agencies to hire police officers.

“When his powerful and well-connected friends asked for a massive tax cut, he said ’sure’ and he’s paid for it by gutting the COPS program, slashing gang prevention and cutting enforcement programs that keep drugs like meth off the streets,” Kerry said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Kerry’s assertion that assault weapons would wind up in the hands of terrorists because the ban expired was “another false attack.”

An anti-Bush group, the Media Fund, said it would launch a $5 million ad campaign targeting black voters in battleground states to try and boost the African-American turnout in November, particularly in the 18-35 age group.

“Bush has a plan for America. But you’re not part of it,” a narrator says in one ad. In another, the narrator says “Bush said prosperity was right around the corner, but he wasn’t talking about the corners in your neighborhood.”