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On Tax Day, Dole Pushes Tax Relief But Hedges on Flat Tax

April 15, 1996

HAVERTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ Using Tax Day and a cardboard ``tax axe″ as props, Sen. Bob Dole tried Monday to train Americans’ tax anxiety on President Clinton, but found himself under pressure to support the flat tax he’s previously resisted.

At photogenic campaign stops in this quiet Philadelphia suburb, Dole described April 15th’s tax-filing deadline as the day Americans ``go down and give everything they’ve got left to the government.″ The presumptive GOP presidential nominee asked voters to consider that they’d be able to keep more if not for Clinton.

``Today’s the last day you can file your taxes and they’re higher because Bill Clinton passed the largest tax increase in the history of America,″ Dole said at a noisy rally staged before a family-owned Italian deli.

Earlier, Dole and a delegation of the state’s most prominent Republicans, including Gov. Tom Ridge and former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, met at an old-fashioned malt shop with about a dozen local small-business owners.

A round of chocolate milkshakes smoothed the dialogue as Dole deflected calls for a flat tax.

``Why can’t we have a simple, flat tax?″ asked pub owner Tom Buckton. Another businessman asked for a ``true single tax,″ while John Centrella, owner of the deli, called out simply, ``Simplify it!″

Dole hedged, reiterating concerns aired during the GOP primary campaign, that supporting a pure flat tax could be disastrous for Republicans because it could be easily painted as a boon for the wealthy.

``When you say simplify it, obviously you hit the nail on the head,″ Dole said. ``We’re looking at a single-rate concept and one thing we want to make certain of with a so-called flat tax, single-rate, whatever, is that we’re not shifting the burden of taxes from big people to the people sitting around here.″

Responding to other tax gripes, Dole pointed out that the GOP-led Congress passed an expanded IRA program and estate-tax relief last year as part of the budget that was vetoed by Clinton. The Senate majority leader promised to try again on both counts.

Louis Testa, a baker, offered the Kansas senator some token help _ a cardboard cleaver labeled ``Tax Axe.″

The Pennsylvania day trip, including an afternoon rally of about 200 in a Pittsburgh warehouse, was timed as a runup to the state’s GOP primary next week. But as Dole had long since won enough delegates to clinch the nomination, Monday’s focus was on November. Casting Pennsylvania as a ``battleground state″ Dole conceded it would be tough to win where Clinton whomped George Bush by nearly 10 points in 1992.

``We’ve got 204 days before the election and a lot can happen in 204 days,″ he said.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, once a GOP presidential candidate himself, was traveling with Dole on Monday and said he needs to articulate an urban agenda that includes better funding for schools if he wants to win in places like Philadelphia.

At the Havertown rally, Dole, who was accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, pressed his ``character″ theme.

He told the noisy crowd of about 400, many of them school children and high school students, that November’s election boils down to ``Who do you trust?″ And, he offered himself as the candidate with better values.

``If something happened along the route and you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, I think you’d probably leave them with Bob Dole,″ he said.

In another poke at his rival, who was on his first day of a round-the-world foreign policy mission, Dole said he’s the better man for that task.

``When it comes to leadership around the world, we want somebody with experience, somebody who understands sacrifice,″ Dole said.

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