COLUMBUS, Ohio – President Bush (search) lashed out at Sen. John Kerry (search) on Saturday for his stands on domestic programs ranging from retirement to health care, saying the Democrat is obstructing needed reforms that would give workers more control over their financial future.
"He's decided to put his faith in the wisdom of the government," Bush said of Kerry. "I will always put my faith in the wisdom of the American people."
Campaigning in Orlando, Fla., Kerry described the president's record of tax cuts (search) as a boon to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
"Time and time again, he has made the same choice — to use the power of the presidency to give more and more to those with the most, more to the wealthiest individuals, more to the most well connected," Kerry said. "And the result? George Bush doesn't have a record to run on. He has a record to run away from."
Kerry said the president's programs, specifically his tax cuts, have done little to create jobs, expand health care (search) coverage to uninsured families, make college affordable or promote fair trade.
"George Bush has given more to those with the most at the expense of the middle-class working families who are struggling to get ahead and reach the American dream," Kerry said. "For those people who are struggling, four more years of Bush choices is just four more years I don't think they can really afford."
Kerry touted his own ideas to expand tax deductions for college tuition, a tax credit for health insurance, a promise to make trade relationships fairer, while rolling back tax cuts give to the wealthiest individuals.
In Columbus, the president sought to turn Kerry's own words against him by criticizing a recent speech in Detroit in which the Democrat said, "This president has created more excuses than jobs." Kerry often criticizes the Bush administration for overseeing the first job-loss record since the Depression.
"Not once in his speech did he mention expanding ownership," Bush said. "Not a word on how we help more Americans own their own homes, or stocks, or savings accounts. Instead, his agenda focuses on expanding the scope and power of the government."
In that Sept. 15 speech, Kerry tried to reassure his conservative-leaning audience that he would be a friend to business, declaring, "I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat." But Bush told the National Association of Home Builders that Kerry voted against tax-deductible health savings accounts and expanding personal retirement savings.
The president said Kerry opposed proposals to strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to put some of their taxes into personal accounts and that Kerry "opposes our plan to allow small businesses to join together to purchase health insurance discounts available to big companies."
The candidates, shifting their focus to bread-and-butter economic issues in campaign stops in two closely divided states, still found time to trade jabs over Iraq.
Bush contended that the Kerry approach to foreign policy would give other governments veto power over the security of the United States, a partisan interpretation of Kerry's debate statement that pre-emptive strikes require a "global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."
Bush said, "The country is in danger and the president's job is not to take an international poll." Acknowledging the violence in Iraq, he told the home builders, "You can't be for getting rid of Saddam Hussein when things look good" and changing positions "when times are hard."
Kerry repeated his debate pledge that, "as president, I will focus on the real enemy of 9-11 Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and its network. And I will hunt down, and I will capture and kill the terrorists before they get us." He criticized Bush as "just plain stubborn, out of touch, and unwilling to change course."
Bush's tour through Ohio, his 27th trip there as president, came as polls showed the race to be close. Hurricanes and their aftermath have complicated polling and campaigning in Florida, where some polls show Bush ahead and others indicate a close race with Kerry.
The switch from foreign matters to pocketbook issues came as the campaigns looked ahead to the candidates' second face-to-face meeting on Friday in St. Louis, where undecided voters will pose the questions. Their third meeting, on Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz., will focus on domestic issues alone.
Turning its ad campaign toward those policies, the Kerry campaign released two spots on Saturday. One says, "The powerful and well connected are getting what they want from George Bush." The second promotes Kerry's economic proposals. Both link Bush with the Saudi royal family, a connection the Kerry campaign has questioned before.