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Dole Misses A Chance To Defend Tax Cut Plan

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (Oct. 11) -- In the first presidential debate Sunday night, Bob Dole scored a lot of points.

He hit President Bill Clinton hard on his record. He called him the great exaggerator. He defended his own record and said, "I am not an extremist."

But he made one serious blunder in the debate.

This week's question asks, was it...

A) Comparing Clinton to Dole's brother Kenny.

B) Not talking about social issues.

C) Changing his mind on Medicare.

D) Criticizing Clinton's global policy, or...

E) Failing to defend his tax cut plan.

And the answer is.... E) Failing to defend his tax cut plan.

Clinton took direct aim at Dole's tax cut plan when he made this charge:

"With this risky $550 billion tax scheme of Senator Dole's, even his own friend, his campaign co-chair, Senator D'Amato, says that they can't possibly pay for it without cutting Medicare more and cutting Social Security as well, according to him," Clinton said.

But Dole never took the opportunity to explain why his plan would not require drastic Medicare cuts. Instead, he played rope-a-dope with the issue.

"Stop scaring the seniors, Mr. President," Dole said. "You've already spent $45 million scaring seniors and tearing me apart. I think it's time to have a truce."

Dole was right about that. Seniors have been scared about Medicare cuts since the Republicans took over Congress.

Perhaps they've been more scared than they should have been, but it is a major issue working for Democrats. When voters are asked, "Who would do the best job handling Medicare?", they picked Clinton over Dole by 53 to 28 percent. It's Clinton's best issue.

Fears about Medicare cuts are one reason why some voters, especially older voters, have not responded to Dole's tax cut plan as if it were free candy.

They've been split over the plan since he first proposed it in August, and after Sunday night's debate, they tilted against it.

Who will come to Dole's rescue? Why his running mate, of course, the man who never saw a problem that could not be solved with a tax cut.

At Wednesday's debate, Jack Kemp argued that the 15 percent tax cut would mean a larger economy and more tax revenue. "We would have $6 trillion in 15 years, extra wealth for the American people, another trillion dollars of revenue with which to save Medicare and Social Security."

Whew! Just in the nick of time!

This commentary originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics Extra."

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