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Babbitt Attacks Simon’s Tax Plan, Defends Own Proposal

January 19, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate Bruce Babbitt attacked rival Paul Simon’s plan for balancing the budget on Tuesday, saying Simon’s proposal for an income surtax ″is not a serious attempt to deal with the issue.″

The former Arizona governor, in an interview, also called Attorney General Edwin Meese III an ″unhappy example″ of the sort of official he does not want in a Babbitt administration. He cited Meese’s appearances before criminal grand juries and said, ″The standard of conduct for attorney general of the United States is surely not staying out of jail.″

Babbitt defended his own plan for a national sales tax, with rebates and exemptions for low-income people, against charges by Simon that it is a regressive tax that would hit hardest on low-income working people.

He said that the Illinois senator’s plan, offered recently as a ″last resort″ if needed to balance the budget, was proposed without meaningful supporting figures detailing how much money would be raised and from what types of taxpayers.

″Senator Simon some several days ago said, ‘Babbitt’s tax is regressive’ ... in effect said, ’they ran the numbers on your plan and it’s regressive,‴ Babbitt said.

″Well, you run the numbers on his plan and the computer would go ‘klunk’ because there ain’t no numbers,″ he said. ″It doesn’t add up and it’s not a serious attempt to deal with the issue.″

Babbitt, a Democratic darkhorse who is trying to capitalize on a wave of largely favorable television and press attention in recent weeks, made the comments in an interview with Associated Press editors and reporters.

On other subjects, Babbitt said:

-Despite his low standing in polls in the early primary and caucus states, he does not foresee dropping out of the race in the event of poor showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire. ″Look, I intend to continue,″ he said.

-There are many women who deserve consideration as vice presidential candidates, including Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin and Connecticut Rep. Barbara Kennelly. He said the failure of the 1984 Democratic ticket with Geraldine Ferraro as vice presidential nominee does not mean a ticket cannot be successful with a woman on it.

-A Democratic ticket also could win with a black candidate for vice president. He said all the Democratic candidates for president, including Jesse Jackson, who is black, should be considered worthy vice presidential nominees.

Asked if he could win election with a black running mate, Babbitt cited the election of a black as lieutenant governor in Virginia and said, ″The answer is yes.″

But at the same time, Babbitt said any vice president is ″a constitutional eunuch.″ He said ″the only substantive criteria″ for choosing a running mate should concern whether he or she is qualified to be president.

″I believe the case for a woman on a national ticket is very strong,″ he said. ″I think that the ice having been broken, the case is stronger than ever.″

On Meese, who remains under investigation by an independent counsel concerning the Wedtech military contract scandal, Babbitt said the attorney general ″flunks″ tests of ″personal probity″ and dedication to law enforcement.

″How can you prosecute the laws of the land when you spend all of your time as the target in grand jury investigations?″ he asked.

He had praise, however, for one member of the Reagan administration: Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Babbitt said Koop ″has really done an extraordinary job″ in pushing for a ″a powerful and thoughtful position″ on AIDS. Asked if he would keep Koop if elected, Babbitt said, ″I don’t know.″

Babbitt’s fire at Simon on the tax issue was triggered by a statement issued by the Simon campaign Monday citing a private study commission report that was critical of Babbitt’s call for a 5 percent national sales tax.

Simon spokesman Terry Michael said Babbitt’s plan ″would leave the wealthy laughing all the way to the bank, letting the poor and middle class disproportionately assume the burden of reducing deficits.″

Defending his plan, Babbitt said it would include offsetting reductions through rebates and exemptions in the lower tax brackets. He said that under his plan a middle-income family of four could pay about $1 a day in additional taxes and upper income taxpayers could pay an average of an extra $10 a day. ″It can be structured to make it as progressive as you want,″ he said.

Babbitt added that he believed that any support he has received on the tax question is more in response to his honesty in dealing with the issue than the specifics of his plan.

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