Sun City, Fla. George W. Bush, courting seniors in a must-win state for Republicans, proposed spending an additional $67 billion over the decade to search for cures for age-old afflictions, including Alzheimer's disease and many forms of cancer.
"As president, I will fund and lead a medical moonshot to reach far beyond what seems possible today," Bush said in a speech Friday at this retirement community on Florida's west coast.
George W. Bush
Al Gore's Democratic campaign countered that the Republican was coming late to a proposal made several months ago by Gore to spur the research budget of the National Institutes of Health. And it painted the new promises as a budget-buster, given Bush's other plans for tax cuts and spending.
"He can't pay for the promise he's making today," said Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway.
But the Gore campaign could not explain Friday how it was accounting for its own budget increase for medical research.
Gore aides said the vice president would spend an additional $83.9 billion on medical research taking $18 billion from the projected surplus and the rest from higher tobacco taxes. But the proceeds from the tobacco taxes are, in Gore's budget blueprint, set aside to make his fiscal plans balance and not apparently available for spending.
"No matter how you count it, the vice president is underfunding what is necessary to fight diseases of the elderly," said Ari Fleischer, speaking for Bush. "But worse, he is again making up phony claims."
The emphasis both parties placed on health care underscored the fierce competition for the support of Florida's elderly and the 25 electoral votes offered by a state where Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.
As he promised new medical research, Bush also hunted for the right prescription to break ahead in a dead-even contest he had been leading in the summer.
"There's no 'have to' (win) about it, we are going to win," proclaimed Bush at an airport rally in nearby Sarasota on his third swing this month through the state.
At the Sun City Center, Bush told a predominantly elderly audience that, if elected, he would "promote medical advances with new resources and new resolve."
Specifically, Bush would complete a five-year plan already in progress in Congress to double NIH funding by 2003, to about $27 billion. Then, he proposes to keep that budget growing at the same pace for the rest of the decade roughly 15 percent a year.
Gore, also in step with Congress, proposes to double the portion of the NIH budget that goes for research grants between 2000 and 2006. That would bring the level of grants to about $30 billion in 2006.
Highlighting diseases of the elderly, Bush said, "Four million Americans, including a beloved former president, live in the fading light called Alzheimer's disease." Former President Ronald Reagan is suffering from the disease.
"Help is on the way," Bush said.
Noting that he had lost a sister to childhood leukemia, Bush also vowed to "renew a special national commitment" to fighting cancer, the second leading cause of death in America.
"Cancer knows no bounds of age, spreading suffering across generations," he said.
Medical research has broad bipartisan support in Congress. In fact, Congress has approved higher spending on it than President Clinton has proposed each year since legislative action started in 1997 to double the NIH budget.
Florida has the nation's largest concentration of people over 65 more than 18 percent. Elderly people are among the most active voters.