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Bush, Kerry make draft, tax pledges

October 9, 2004

BY SCOTT FORNEK Political Reporter

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry took time out from squabbling and questioning one another's integrity in their second debate Friday to make some pledges to the American people.

Trying to counter Bush's charges he is a free-spending liberal, Kerry looked into a television camera and promised if he is elected, he would not raise taxes.

"Yes, right into the camera," Kerry said. "I'm pledging I will not raise taxes. I'm giving a tax cut to the people earning less than $200,000 a year."

For his part, Bush pledged not to reinstate the draft.

"I hear there's rumors on the Internets we're going to have a draft," Bush said. "We're not going to have a draft -- period. The all-volunteer Army works."

Bush and Kerry squared off in a town hall meeting at Washington University in St. Louis, addressing a wide range of issues -- including tax policy, health care, abortion, the environment, the war in Iraq and nuclear proliferation.

It was their second of three debates. But unlike their first debate, the questions came from the undecided voters in the audience. ABC News' Charles Gibson decided who got to ask questions.

Obviously hoping to avoid the criticism he received for grimacing when Kerry laid into him last week, Bush sought a looser approach this time, occasionally chuckling or winking at the audience when Kerry took him to task.

"That answer almost made me want to scowl," Bush quipped at one point before responding to a Kerry gibe.

But at other times Bush was clearly agitated, jumping off his stool before Kerry was finished and once talking over Gibson as he tried to ask a new question.

Bush also attacked Kerry as out of the mainstream, saying the liberal National Journal labelled him the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate.

"He's not credible," Bush said. "If you look at his record in the Senate, he voted to break the spending caps over 200 times.

"And of course he's going to raise your taxes. You see, he's proposed $2.2 trillion in new spending. ... Now, either he's going to break all these wonderful promises he's told you about or he's going to raise taxes. And I suspect, given his record, he's going to raise taxes."

As for Bush's no-draft pledge, Kerry said he doesn't support reinstating it either, but charged that the reservists and National Guard members serving "two and three rotations" in combat is essentially the same thing.

"You've got a back-door draft right now," Kerry said.

Answering criticisms that he is indecisive, Kerry insisted Bush has falsely portrayed him as a flip-flopper. Kerry argued he originally supported the Patriot Act but objected to the way Attorney General John Ashcroft has used it, and that he supported Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education program but is now unhappy that Bush has not moved to fully fund it.

"The president didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he has really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception," Kerry said. "The world is a more dangerous place today because the president didn't make the right judgments. "

Bush fired back: "I can see why people think he changes his mind a lot -- because he does. ... I don't see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics.

"Join me in the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place. Nobody is going to believe you. ... They're not going to follow an American president who says follow me into a mistake."

Kerry also repeatedly sought to portray Bush as untrustworthy, saying he broke promises he made during the debates four years ago. Kerry charged that Bush then said the reimportation of prescription drugs sounded like a good idea and pledged he would only take the nation to war with "a viable exit strategy."

"He didn't do that," Kerry said. "He didn't keep that promise."

One of the debate's more surreal moments came when Kerry sought to counter Bush's argument that the Democrat's tax proposal would hurt 900,000 small businesses.

"The Wall Street Journal said 96 percent of small businesses are not affected by my plan. And you know why he gets that count? The president got $84 from a timber company that he owns, and he's counted as a small business. Dick Cheney's counted as a small business. That's how they do things. That's just not right."

A smiling Bush replied, "I own a timber company? That's news to me.

"Need some wood?" he asked Gibson.


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