WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Monday that President Bush has stubbornly refused to address the chaos in Iraq and questioned Bush's adherence to the deadline for ending the U.S. occupation.
The four-term Massachusetts senator was reacting to Bush's statement that he is committed to ending the U.S. occupation and transferring power to the Iraqis by June 30, despite calls for the deadline to be extended because of continued violence.
"The measurement is stability, not the date," Kerry said. "You should not have a date that has anything whatsoever to do with the election in the United States of America"
Kerry said the Bush administration should be "less ideological and more practical" by laying out a security plan for Iraq's self-rule that involves the United Nations (search).
"The administration really seems to be stubbornly refusing to do what's necessary to avoid the kind of disintegration that's taking place, and now we see continued violence," Kerry told reporters.
Over the weekend, supporters of a radical Shiite (search) cleric rioted in Baghdad and four other Iraqi cities in fighting that killed eight U.S. troops, a Salvadoran soldier and at least 52 Iraqis. Several days earlier, a mob in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, killed four Americans and mutilated their bodies.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt called Kerry's comments "a disappointing new low."
"The president sent a strong message to the Iraqi citizens today, saying they do not have to fear that America will turn and run," Schmidt said.
Kerry also faulted the White House for scrapping steep tariffs on foreign-made steel in December, but said he would not put them back if elected. The White House pulled the tariffs under threat of $2.2 billion in retaliatory sanctions from the European Union (search).
"I would have let them play out the way they were promised," Kerry said. "Once you put them in place, people have expectations. ... And if you, all of a sudden, upset that, you're really wreaking havoc in the market."
Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden (search) said Kerry's "position on steel tariffs is that he doesn't have a position," and added: "His statements are inconsistent and absent any core policy beliefs on what he would do to help the steel industry."
Kerry spoke to reporters from news organizations in battleground states to tout a study drafted by his campaign that says Bush has proposed more than $6 trillion in unpaid spending over the next 10 years.
The Bush campaign said Kerry greatly overstated program costs. Tim Adams, the Bush campaign's policy director, said Kerry voted for much of the spending he now faults Bush for supporting, including the farm bill, the increased child tax credit, aid for the unemployed and workers displaced by trade.
In some cases, he said, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit and a better retirement deal for people in the armed forces, Kerry backed even more expensive alternatives than Bush supports, Adams said.
Kerry plans to lay out an updated economic plan Wednesday that offers more detail on how he would pay for his proposals. He has said he will have to scale back some of his campaign promises considering the increasing deficit.
Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman welcomed the latest numbers showing a seventh consecutive month of job creation, which brings the net loss of jobs under Bush to 1.8 million, down from 2.3 million. He said Kerry's spending plans would "derail this recovery."
Kerry also released an Internet video Monday that pokes fun at Bush for spending on programs that aren't balanced on the other side of the ledger.
"George, it looks like you're having a little trouble with your math," a teacher says as "My Budget: By George W. Bush" appears on a chalkboard. "What do you mean?" a child's voice, presumably a young Bush, asks.
The teacher proceeds to outline Bush's spending, as the child says: "When I'm president, I'm gonna spend as much money as I want."