"My vice president of the United States will never meet secretly with polluters who want to rewrite the environmental laws," the presidential nominee told a cheering crowd packed into a hockey arena.
The barb referred to Cheney, who met with industry officials while drafting proposals for new energy laws. Democrats want more information about those meetings and have argued that Cheney, the former head of the Halliburton Co., (search) had allowed the loosening of clean air and water rules at the behest of corporations.
The town hall meeting was billed as an opportunity for Kerry to talk about the economy and his plan to balance the budget. Kerry wants to roll back President Bush's tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 annually and rid the tax code of narrow breaks that help powerful companies who contribute to political campaigns.
Kerry said he counts $65 billion that goes to corporations "for no really good reason at all."
"You go through those pages, ladies and gentlemen, and there's gobbledygook that is hard to interpret," he said. "The only people who can interpret it are the people who paid for it with the campaign finance system."
Responding to Kerry's remarks, the Bush-Cheney campaign (search) said the comments on corporations was a personal attack on Cheney. "This is part of his bizarre, personal diatribe that he issued at the convention during his acceptance speech," said spokesman Terry Holt.
Holt also argued that Kerry's plan to roll back tax cuts for wealthier taxpayers means a tax increase on small business.
"John Kerry's economic plan would derail this economic recovery by raising taxes on those who create jobs in this country," he said.
Kerry also promised to cut the federal deficit in half during four years. To do that, he said, he wants the power to veto individual spending decisions made by Congress and to enforce budget caps with automatic spending cuts.
The White House last week said it expected this year's federal deficit to reach $445 billion. That's less than the White House budget office previously estimated, but it would still be a record in dollar terms.
Kerry's two-week campaign trip through battleground states takes him from Wisconsin to Iowa. His bus caravan may cross paths with Bush on Wednesday as both candidates appear in Davenport, Iowa, around the same time. Bush lost Iowa to Al Gore by fewer than 5,000 votes in 2000.
Kerry stopped late Tuesday at a civic center in Dubuque, Iowa, where he told the audience he could bring back the economic boom of the late 1990s.
"All you have to do is measure what we did because in the 1990s we balanced the budget, we paid down the debt," Kerry said. "We lifted up the middle class, and we can do it again. We just need to believe in ourselves."
Kerry arrived in Dubuque after stopping at several small towns on rural highways leaving Wisconsin.
In Monroe, Wis., the candidate and his wife stopped at Baumgartner's tavern, where Teresa Heinz Kerry ordered a Limburger cheese sandwich with raw onions and mustard on rye bread. Next was the Joseph Huber Brewing Co., the oldest continuously operating brewery in Wisconsin.