VP Hopefuls Square Off in Danville

Vice-Presidential candidates Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman, in their first and only debate, attacked each other’s budget proposals, but still managed to sound civil.

ABCNEWS.com Oct. 5 — The vice-presidential candidates, Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joseph Lieberman, opened their first and only

showdown with a flurry of numbers as each tried to paint the other’s budget proposal as reckless.

Cheney tried to portray Lieberman and his running mate, Al Gore, as “old way” tax-and-spend liberals who would blow projected federal budget surpluses on expanding government programs.

“Gore promises $900 billion in spending over and above the surplus,” Cheney said, promising a “new era.”

Choice Cuts

Echoing his running mate, George W. Bush, Cheney said his campaign would take “one quarter of the surplus and return it to the taxpayer.”

“The average American family is paying about 40 percent in federal, state and local taxes,” Cheney said. “We think it is appropriate to return to the American people so that they can make choices themselves in how that money ought to be spent,”

By Lieberman’s math, this would require that “they raid the Medicare trust fund to pay for … their tax cut and other proposals they can’t afford to pay for.”

Lieberman warned Bush and Cheney would spend $1.6 trillion (the Bush price tag of $1.3 trillion plus the projected loss of interest from less taxes coming in) of the $1.8 trillion surplus on tax cuts, bringing the nation “back down the road to higher interest rates, to higher unemployment.”

Two days after Bush and Gore met in the first of three presidential debates, Cheney and Lieberman sat just inches from one another for their debate. But the traditional vice-presidential role as the “hatchet man” on the ticket was not in evidence — at least at the policy-heavy start of their debate. In fact, both candidates opened by vowing to be positive.

Casual Exchange

Tonight’s format allowed for no opening statements, but Lieberman made one anyway, talking about his mother and thanking the crowd. Cheney also offered thanks, but dove right into a pitch for his tax cut. The notoriously dry Cheney even cracked a joke.

“I too want to avoid any personal attacks,” Cheney said to Lieberman. “I promise not to bring up your singing.”

Lieberman captured headlines last month by singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” on a late night talk show.

The event was being held at tiny Centre College in Danville, Ky. Befitting the small-town setting, the candidates were preceded by an introduction from 10-year-old local boy Michael Ward, who helped this city fight to convince the campaigns to participate in the debate back when the Bush campaign was refusing to participate.

Dead Heat Set Stage

Vice-presidential debates aren’t known for swaying elections, but a serious gaffe by either candidate would be amplified by the massive media presence and could potentially knock one of the campaigns off-message. With less than five weeks between now and Election Day, both sides can ill-afford such a misstep.

Bush planned to watch the debate from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Gore was watching from Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The format for tonight’s debate is less formal than Tuesday’s presidential debate, where the two candidates stood behind lecterns. Lieberman and Cheney are sitting at a rounded desk, faced by debate moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN. The candidates are being allowed two minutes to respond to each of Shaw’s questions.

The second Bush-Gore debate, scheduled for Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., will feature a similar talk-show format. The third and final presidential debate is set for Oct. 17 in St. Louis and will feature a town hall meeting setting. During negotiations with the Gore campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates, Bush officials lobbied for the use of less formal debate formats.