DALLAS, Texas – President Bush on Monday accused John Kerry (search) of having proposed "deeply irresponsible" cuts in intelligence spending just two years after the first attack on the World Trade Center (search), part of a re-election effort to depict his Democratic rival as weak on national security and the war against terrorism.
Bush, during a fund-raiser in Dallas, called attention to a 1995 bill that Kerry sponsored to trim intelligence spending by $1.5 billion over five years. The cut was part of what Kerry called a "budget-buster bill" to strip $90 billion from the budget and end 40 programs that he said were "pointless, wasteful, antiquated or just plain silly."
Kerry's proposal, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and calls for a peace dividend after decades of spending to thwart the Cold War (search) opponent, never came up for a vote.
"This bill was so deeply irresponsible that it didn't have a single co-sponsor in the United States Senate," Bush said.
"Once again, Senator Kerry is trying to have it both ways," Bush said, one of the few times recently he has mentioned his rival by name. "He's for good intelligence, and yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services, and that is no way to lead in a time of war."
Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said the senator's bill was about opposing "business as usual in our intelligence community" and that he has supported $200 billion in intelligence funding over the past seven years -- a 50 percent increase since 1996.
"He voted against a proposed billion-dollar bloat in the intelligence budget because it was essentially a slush fund for defense contractors," Clanton said. "Unlike George Bush, John Kerry does not and will not support every special spending project supported by Halliburton and other defense contractors."
Republicans hope to raise doubts about Kerry's ability to fight and win the war against terror, suggesting that his rhetoric does not match his 20-year record in the Senate. Bush on Monday also criticized Kerry for indicating he was uncomfortable "using the word 'war' to describe the struggle we're in."
To fend off such criticism, Kerry has relied in large part on his decorated Navy service in Vietnam.
On Sunday, Kerry accused Bush of "stonewalling" separate inquiries into the events leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as well as into the intelligence that suggested Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Bush campaign contends the president is cooperating with investigators.
Later Monday, the president was headlining another fund-raiser in Houston, with the two events pouring $3 million into his campaign account the day before Texas holds its presidential primary. Kerry campaigned in Houston on Saturday.
In between the money events, Bush was to stop by the popular Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to meet with cowboy champions and peruse the cattle on display. Despite the political benefits of Bush's attendance -- it offered a more colorful photo opportunity than the two fund-raisers and allowed him to appeal to the sport's mostly white male fans -- the White House considered it an official event. That means taxpayers will foot the bill for at least part of the trip.
"The visit to the livestock show is part of the president's official capacity," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
Kerry, who has accused Bush of impeding a federal commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said Monday while campaigning in Florida, "If the president of the United States can find time to go to a rodeo, he can spend more than one hour before the commission."
Monday's cash swing opens a week that will also take Bush to Long Island, N.Y., for fund raising. He has collected more than $155 million for his re-election and is closing in on his goal of $170 million. Aides said last week they expect him to stop at that mark, but they wouldn't rule out more.
Bush's home state of Texas, of which he was governor before winning the presidency, remains a bedrock of his political support. It has sent his re-election campaign in excess of $13.2 million, more than any other state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (search), a campaign watchdog group. Dallas is among the top five metropolitan areas by volume of donations to his campaign.