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Bradley Announces Plan To Save $124B by Eliminating Tax Breaks

By Mike Allen and John F. Harris

Bill Bradley announced Tuesday that he would work to eliminate tax shelters, breaks and loopholes that he figures would cost the government $124 billion over 10 years, targeting powerful industries to help pay for his health-care plan and other ambitious proposals.

The measures are designed in part to defuse the warning by Vice President Al Gore, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, that Bradley would knock the federal budget from surplus to deficit. But Bradley, speaking at a New Hampshire forum, cast the changes more as a matter of justice and equity than dollars and cents.

“When a tax break is created to help only a few people, or a company finds a way not to pay taxes, we all end up paying more,” Bradley said. “If I am president, we will spend money wisely on the things that make the most difference for the greatest number of people, and we will end the influence of special interests in Washington.”

On Wednesday, it is Gore who will be making the splash as the two men jockey for the spotlight in the weeks before the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 1. Gore will receive the endorsement of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, an important boost from one of the most important liberal voices in the Democratic Party. Kennedy had remained noncommittal during months of “very aggressive” lobbying by Gore aides, but decided over the holidays he would campaign for the vice president, said a Democratic source.

As the Gore campaign began spreading the word about his coup, Bradley traveled here to announce his proposal to tighten the tax code. Much of the savings Bradley projects would come from stiffer enforcement. The Internal Revenue Service would step up audits of large corporations and increase penalties on companies that engage in practices with the sole purpose of lowering tax liability. And he would require companies to disclose to the IRS periods in which they reported higher income to shareholders than to the government. Those measures are to save $100 billion over 10 years, aides estimated.

In addition, Bradley said he would work to reduce subsidies that he said reward what he considers environmentally harmful practices. Bradley would cut benefits to mining companies that drill on public land but pay few royalties, oil-and-gas producers who have a deduction for exploration and development costs, and ranchers who graze livestock on public lands. That is to save $2 billion over a decade.

Bradley also said he wants to repeal preferential tax treatment for oil drillers, chemical companies and companies with foreign subsidiaries that he said was enacted after those interests made large contributions to both national political parties in recent years. That move would save $22 billion over 10 years.

The only corporation Bradley singled out by name is the Amway Corp., the marketing organization, which he said was the primary beneficiary of a 1997 measure making it easier to avoid U.S. taxes by moving profits to foreign subsidiaries.

Business groups were swift to condemn Bradley’s ideas. “We should call this what it is: a $120 billion-plus tax increase being pushed onto American corporations to pay for Bradley’s social programs,” said Martin A. Regalia, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.