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READ HIS LIPS: PRESIDENT VOWS TO `HOLD THE LINE' ON TAXES

President Bush vowed anew Monday to "hold the line" on tax increases if re-elected but refused to call that a no-new-taxes pledge.

Bush declined in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" to back away from his declaration on the campaign trail in New Jersey earlier this month, where he said, "We do not need to raise taxes. I am not going to do it again. . . . ever, ever."His chief spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, subsequently sought to discourage reporters from interpreting that as some kind of new "read my lips, no new taxes" declaration from Bush. That's the line he used in accepting the Republican Party's nomination to run for president in 1988.

Bush has said he regretted entering subsequently into a deficit-reduction deal with congressional Democrats that involved, among other things, his support of a substantial tax increase.

Asked Monday about his statement in New Jersey, Bush said his remarks reflected "a determination not to raise taxes."

"The big difference in this election is going to be over taxes," the president said, repeating his charge that Democratic opponent Bill Clinton would hike the taxes of the middle class. Clinton has proposed tax increases for Americans with the highest incomes. But Bush said that would ultimately filter down to the middle class, particularly in connection with Clinton's health reform proposals.

Asked if he was making a pledge Monday not to raise taxes, Bush said: "Leave the rhetoric aside. I am holding the line on taxes. . . . `Pledge' has gotten to have a little political connotation of its own. I am going to hold the line on taxes."

Bush spoke before taking off for campaign stops in St. Louis, Mo., and Dallas, Texas.

The Senate on Saturday completed work on a $34 billion package of tax breaks and social spending that faces a Bush veto unless congressional negotiators eliminate some of the tax increases that finance it. The Senate is poised to take final action on the bill Tuesday.