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Bush, Kerry Debate Domestic Issues in Last Campaign Exchange - 2004-10-14

President Bush and challenger John Kerry clashed over the economy, taxes and health care, Wednesday evening, in the final debate of the presidential campaign.

From illegal immigration to the outsourcing of jobs, the candidates sparred on issue after issue. On taxes, President Bush characterized his opponent as a tax-hiking liberal. The president says his own tax plan has brought relief to middle-income families, and has helped to turn around a poor economy.

"People listening out there know the benefit of the tax cuts we passed," President Bush noted. "If you have a child, you got tax relief. If you're married, you got tax relief. If you pay any tax at all, you got tax relief - all of which was opposed by my opponent."

President Bush says the United States has added nearly two million jobs in the past 13 months, but Senator Kerry blamed the president for massive job losses during his term in office.

"This is the first president in 72 years to preside over an economy in America that has lost jobs - 1.6 million jobs," said Senator Kerry. "Eleven other presidents - six Democrats and five Republicans - had wars, had recessions, had great difficulties. None of them lost jobs the way this president has."

This debate focused on domestic issues, but touched on terrorism, homeland security, and American troop deployment. Mr. Kerry has proposed expanding the military by two active-duty divisions. Mr. Kerry accused the president of showing "bad judgment," and said American forces are "overextended." The Democrat renewed his charge that the Bush Administration failed to build an international alliance. "The most important thing to relieve the pressure on all of our armed forces is frankly to run a foreign policy that recognizes that America is strongest when we are working with real alliances," he said.

President Bush said freedom is on the march in Afghanistan and that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein has been held to account. He noted that Afghanistan has just held a democratic election.

This debate was held in Arizona, where illegal immigration is an issue. Both candidates endorse a temporary-worker program for foreign nationals. Mr. Kerry would also legalize the status of long-term residents who entered the United States illegally. Mr. Bush opposes that.

"I don't believe we ought to have amnesty. I don't think we ought to reward illegal behavior," stated President Bush. "There are plenty of people standing in line to become a citizen, and we ought not to crowd these people ahead of them in line."

This debate was important for both candidates. They are virtually tied in the polls, with less than three weeks to go before the November 2 election. The focus for both in coming days will be the so-called swing states, such as Florida, Nevada, Oregon, and Wisconsin, where pollsters say either candidate could win.