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Gore says Bush would bankrupt Social Security

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WASHINGTON — Al Gore told a crowd of bus drivers, highway workers and train dispatchers Friday that George W. Bush would squander their Social Security retirement money as president.

Gore, the Democrat, pointed to what he said were budget overruns in Texas of as much as $750 million, partly a result of tax cuts pushed by Republican Bush.

"Now Governor Bush wants to bring those same budget-busting tax policies to the nation as a whole," the vice president said. "He would turn Social Security into a program of social insecurity, burdened not only by debt but also by doubt."

Speaking on Bush's behalf, Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Budget Committee, called Gore's contentions "absurd." Texas has a $1.4 billion surplus, Kasich said in a conference call with reporters.

"It's absolutely amazing to me that the vice president has the gall to be kind of trying to distort this and to try to somehow force us to draw the conclusion that the state of Texas is in a deficit," Kasich said.

Gore made his remarks while speaking to a convention of transportation workers affiliated with the AFL-CIO. The audience included delegates of the Teamsters, machinists and bus drivers who make up about a quarter of the federation's membership.

The vice president reiterated his support for a raise in the minimum wage and said Bush's Social Security proposal would leave the program with a $3 trillion shortfall by 2040.

"Draining all the money out of the Social Security trust fund is similar to what he's done to the largest budget surplus in the history of his state, squandering it in one year," Gore said.

As evidence, the Gore campaign is pointing to a recent column in The Washington Post by Bush adviser Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economist who argues in favor of Bush's plan to allow people to invest some Social Security money in stock market accounts.

Feldstein wrote that "no other policy can do as much to protect" older Americans and raise their retirement incomes. But the Gore campaign has seized upon one sentence in which Feldstein said the fund could borrow temporarily to bridge any funding gap. Gore aides call it a "breathtaking admission."

"In 65 years of its existence, the Social Security trust fund has never been allowed to run dry, has never gone into deficit, has never been forced to borrow from general revenues," Gore said.

Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan said, "The truth is that Governor Bush is the only candidate for president who has a plan to strengthen Social Security."

Gore's plan would encourage people to invest in the stock market but maintain a core Social Security fund that lawmakers could not touch.

His speech comes at a time when the vice president has not enjoyed the unqualified backing of labor officials in his presidential race.

While donations from labor have been strong, the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers have so far declined to join the AFL-CIO in endorsing Gore. Together, those two unions represent about 2 million of the labor federation's 13 million members.

Nevertheless, Gore received a warm reception at the union meeting on Friday, and his argument about Social Security apparently produced some converts.

"This is about moving forward or just fighting to survive," said highway worker Tim Sullivan, 50, of Madison, Wis. "If we have George W., that's what it will be for us, just trying to survive."