Bush blamed the pace of the cleanup at the Paducah plant on the Democratic administration and Vice President Al Gore.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
George W. Bush says his presidential administration would meet the federal government's commitment and timetable for cleaning up contamination at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
He also said that plant workers who are ill or injured because of exposure at the plant should be properly compensated by the federal government.
Bush made the comments Friday in an interview during a bus tour through western Kentucky. He also defended his plan to use surplus funds to cut taxes, defended his idea for saving Social Security, and said he supports Alan Greenspan's leadership as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Further, he supports laws to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits being filed against businesses, and thinks the Tennessee Valley Authority should develop business strategy to be competitive in selling electricity.
Bush blamed the pace of the cleanup at the U.S. Department of Energy's gaseous diffusion plant on the Democratic administration and Vice President Al Gore, his opponent the Nov. 7 election.
Clinton's energy secretary, Bill Richardson, a strong Gore ally, has signed an agreement with the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet that cleanup at the plant will be completed in 10 years. However, state environmental officials monitoring the work say DOE already is behind schedule because the administration isn't providing enough funding to complete the work. It will cost about $1 billion.
"I am running against a man who touts his environmental record and attacks me for my environmental views," Bush said. "But he fails to look at his own record of the federal government's lack of willingness to clean up its own mess."
Bush said his administration would follow an aggressive cleanup schedule to meet the commitments made to workers and Kentucky. He also said environmental problems aren't confined to Paducah. "It is a problem at just about every DOE facility in the country," he said.
"I don't know all of the particulars of the problems in Paducah, but I do know that if contamination at the federal plant caused a worker to be sick, then the federal government as the employer should reimburse and compensate the worker," Bush said.
Bush rebuked critics, some in his own party, who say his plan to cut taxes by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years would cause runaway inflation.
"If I thought that was true, I would not propose it," he said. "It is a five-year phase-in relief plan to get rid of the marriage penalty, get rid of the death tax, allow those who don't itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions and to help those on low income who right now pay a higher percentage of their wage in taxes than those who earn high incomes."
Bush said the debate over what to do with the projected federal surplus is a major issue in the presidential race. Gore wants to use most of the surplus to pay off the federal debt and fund new programs.
Bush acknowledges that his plan isn't popular with some groups and has drawn criticism. Still, Bush said he won't change his plan.
"I think it is important that I be consistent in my tax-cut message and not back off of it, even though the polls might say it isn't popular right now. I am for it because it is the right thing to do. I am not going to base my views by putting my finger in the air and see which way the political winds are blowing."
He said if he is consistent and wins, he will have an easier time convincing Congress to pass the tax cuts, even if Congress is controlled by Democrats. "I can say to Congress that the people heard my message, and this is what they want."
In addition to using the surplus to cut taxes, Bush said his plan includes debt reduction, money for a few new programs and to help keep the Social Security system solvent.
Bush defended his plan to allow younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in a private investment fund similar to 401(k) retirement accounts. He said it is the only way to save Social Security and ensure young workers that they'll have benefits when they retire.
"That also is the right thing to do because it will give individuals an asset base they can call their own, not only for their retirement but they can pass it from one generation to the next," he said.
"In handling Social Security, Al Gore believes all wisdom exists in Washington, and that people should trust the government. I want to trust the individuals to make the right decision about their retirement."
He said the average retired worker earns about 2 percent from his investment in the Social Security system, much less than investments in private funds. Under the most conservative investment strategies, he said private investments have an annual income of 6 percent. However, others have earnings of more than 20 percent.
"We won't allow workers to do day trading, or invest in fly-by-night operations where people are picking their pocket. They will only be allowed to invest in well-secured, well-thought-out investments."
He said Democrats are using scare tactics to convince people that they will lose their benefits if they support the private investment plan. "No senior citizens will lose a single penny if this goes through," he said.
Bush said he plans to meet next week with the chairman of the federal reserve to discuss economic policy.
If he had to make a choice, he said, he would nominate Greenspan for another six-year term as chairman, a position Greenspan has held for almost 20 years under three presidents.
He would not express his opinion on Tuesday's decision by Greenspan and the board to increase interest rates by one-half percent.
"The Federal Reserve is an independent organization, but the man's (Greenspan's) track record has been good up until now," Bush said. "I won't second guess his short-term strategy."
Bush doesn't think the government-owned TVA needs to be privatized to be competitive in a deregulated energy market. TVA is run by a board whose members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
"It is not an issue of whether the government runs it, but an issue of being competitive in the marketplace," Bush said. "The industry has been deregulated, which will give people choices of where they buy their power and how best to meet their needs."
Bush said laws are needed to stop frivolous and harassing lawsuits against businesses. Although he said such suits are without merit, they are costly to defend and cause high liability insurance rates that add to the financial problems of small businesses.
"I am concerned about the litigious society that we have become," Bush said. "I am for a fair civil justice system .... people should have access to the courts. But I don't want the courts to be clogged with frivolous and junk lawsuits, like the asbestos suits that are being filed all over the country."