Ascendant Gore sets out 10-point plan for economy

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The Independent US

With his presidential campaign soaring into overdrive, Vice-President Al Gore sought to capture the high ground of an incipient economic debate, presenting himself as the candidate of broad vision and sound stewardship. Speaking in Cleveland, in the battleground state of Ohio, Mr Gore set out a 10-point economic plan to explain how he would use the projected $4.6m (£2.8m) budget surplus.

With his presidential campaign soaring into overdrive, Vice-President Al Gore sought to capture the high ground of an incipient economic debate, presenting himself as the candidate of broad vision and sound stewardship. Speaking in Cleveland, in the battleground state of Ohio, Mr Gore set out a 10-point economic plan to explain how he would use the projected $4.6m (£2.8m) budget surplus.

The happy subject of what to do with a surplus that would have been unimaginable even four years ago is coming increasingly to the fore of the election campaign and exposing sharp policy differences between the two candidates. Where the Republican nominee, George W Bush, is promising to use one-quarter of it for cuts in personal income tax, Mr Gore has hitherto offered a much smaller sum, preferring to reduce the national debt while also extending health and social programmes.

So far, voters have appeared to favour Mr Gore's caution, to the point where Mr Bush recently worried openly that he needed to find a better way of presenting his rationale for tax cuts.

In Cleveland yesterday, Mr Gore capitalised on this advantage, lauding prudent money-management - and, in an extraordinary reflection of the political mood, making a virtue of not spending money.

"We'll underspend the surplus," he told an exuberant audience. And in the populist tone he adopted so successfully at the Democratic Party convention last month, he went on: "We should do what so many families have done for years - set aside money for a rainy day to ensure that we don't spend money we don't have." One out of every six dollars of the surplus, he said, would not be spent on anything.

Launching into a list of "specifics", he undertook to pay off the national debt by 2012 while balancing the budget each year, ring-fence current surpluses in the state pension and health care funds, encourage savings, cut taxes on the least well-off, raise homeownership to 70 per cent by 2004, reduce poverty to below 10 per cent by 2004, cut the male-female pay gap, and create 10 million hi-tech, high-skill jobs over the next 10 years.

While the wisdom of promising more jobs at a time when the US is experiencing a shortage of hi-tech labour - and of providing statistical definitions that can be open to question - is debatable, specificity is proving an electoral asset for Mr Gore. The promise not just to cut poverty, but to reduce it "below 10 per cent", is the sort of thing that is going down well with voters.

It distinguishes him from the sometimes inarticulate and indefinite Mr Bush and displays his superior experience.

While Mr Gore's economic programme was expertly "sold" by his team in advance, and made readily available in a 200-page handout and on the internet immediately after he spoke, the Bush team mounted aggressive efforts to limit its impact.

It sponsored a page advertisement in the USA Today newspaper, citing six Nobel laureates and almost 300 economists who endorsed Mr Bush's tax-cutting plan as "better for working families and continued prosperity". Mr Bush also intensified his work level, with four scheduled appearances yesterday across Pennsylvania and the Midwest.

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