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Kerry blames Bush for deficit; president says Democrat will raise taxes
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President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry greet each other before their debate rematch at Washington University in St. Louis. (LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

St. Louis, Mo. — (AP) In a heated debate rematch, 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," Bush 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."

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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 the Kerry 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, cutting off Gibson, then indignantly responded to Kerry. "You tell Tony Blair we're going alone."

While foreign policy and national security dominated the first debate, Friday night's session was open to all questions - and the economy was a dominant theme.

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"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." He accused Bush of driving up the biggest deficits in history.

"He's added more debt to the debt of the United States in four years than all the way from George Washington to Ronald Reagan put together. Go figure." The budget swung from a record $313 billion surplus projected when Bush took office to a record $422 billion deficit this election year.

One questioner asked Bush who he would pick if there were a Supreme Court vacancy. "I'm not telling you," the president said. "I really haven't picked anybody yet." He added lightheartedly, "Plus I want them all voting for me."

Kerry said that if he had to pick a Supreme Court justice, "I want to make sure we have judges who interpret the Constitution of the United States according to the law."


President Bush said he raised the child tax credit by $1,000, when in fact his tax package did half that much. And not even a fresh jobs report could make John Kerry get it right when he talked about employment losses under the president. A mix of familiar misstatements and some new ones came out of the second presidential debate. The town-hall format was looser Friday, and so were some of the facts.

A day after acknowledging in the clearest terms yet that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded Iraq, Bush declared in the debate: "Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies."

Kerry charged, "The president has presided over an economy where we've lost 1.6 million jobs."

Kerry meant - but once again did not say - that those were private sector job losses. Overall, with employment gains in the public sector, the economy has lost 821,000 jobs in Bush's time, according to the last employment report to be released before the election.

Talking up his tax cuts, Bush said, "You remember we increased that child credit by $1,000." Actually, his package increased the child credit to $1,000, up by $500.

Also in the debate:

- Bush said of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization, "We've already (got) 75 percent of his people," a loose interpretation of intelligence findings that up to three-quarters of the group's leadership from before Sept. 11, 2001 - not the rank and file - has been run down.

- Kerry, defending himself from the knock that he's wishy-washy, denied that he changed positions on Bush's education reforms, now criticizing what he voted for. He said his complaint with the changes is that Bush did not put enough money behind them.

But Kerry's problems with the No Child Left Behind Act have gone beyond that. He also says too much emphasis is placed on tests for measuring student achievement and that additional factors, such as attendance and parental satisfaction, should be considered.

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