(CNSNews.com) - Charges that he's a big spender are a myth, Democrat Al Gore said in Tuesday night's debate, and he made that point again later, in a post-debate television interview.
"Look, I have presided over the sharpest reduction in the size of the federal government in the entire history of our country - more than 300,000 people less now than when I started on the 'reinventing government' program," Gore said in an NBC television interview taped after the debate.
However, an editorial in Wednesday's Washington Post noted, "There has in fact been such a decline, but about three-fourths of it has been in the Defense Department."
The Bush campaign, quoting Paul Light, the director of government studies at the Brookings Institution, says the reduction in the federal workforce during the Clinton-Gore years came largely as the result of the Cold War's end, with dramatic cuts in the military.
During their final debate, Republican George W. Bush again accused Gore of advocating the biggest increase in government spending since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs of the 1960s - "three times bigger" than anything Bill Clinton ever proposed as president.
"This is a big spender and he ought to be proud of it -- it's part of his record," Bush said, adding, "We just have a different philosophy."
Gore eagerly seized the opportunity to respond. He said his plan is "absolutely not" the largest increase in federal funding in decades, a point he repeated later in the NBC interview when he said, "Under my four-year budget plan, government spending as a percentage of our economy will be the lowest in 50 years."
Specifically, Gore noted that interest on the national debt is the government's third-biggest spending item. His plan to pay down the debt, he said, will save the government money it now spends on interest.
The Bush campaign, in its effort to portray Gore as a Big Government guy, notes that Gore supported Hillary Rodham Clinton's attempt to put the federal government in control of the entire U.S. health care system.
And during Tuesday night's debate, Gore said he thinks "we should move step by step toward universal health coverage," but he said he's not in favor of government doing it all.
Bush stated unequivocally that he is "absolutely opposed" to a national health care plan. "I don't want the federal government making decisions for consumers of for providers," Bush said Tuesday night.
Asked in NBC's post-debate interview if the U.S. economy and the resulting prosperity are slowing down, Gore said no, the fundamentals remain "very sound," especially compared with Europe and Asia.
"This is the place to invest, this is the place where the future is being born," he said, noting that the stock market has tripled in past eight years and that oil prices are relatively stable, given recent turmoil in the Middle East.
Gore repeated his oft-mentioned campaign mantra that educational improvements would be his top priority as president. He also defended his opposition to school vouchers -- using federal funds to help poor parents get their kids out of failing schools - because there are other alternatives.
"If there is a failing school, we should work with the states to shut down failing schools and immediately reopen it with a new principle, a turnaround team of specialists to get that school headed in the right direction right away," Gore said in the NBC interview.
He touted the education plan of North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, "who's put a plan just like that into effect, and it works great."
NBC's Tim Russert told Gore, "We called his (Gov. Hunt's) office tonight and he has not shut down any schools."
Gore replied, "Well, he has turned around a bunch of schools that were failing schools and he has sent specialists in." Whether it's a shutdown or a takeover - it's a question of terminology, Gore said. He said the point is that Hunt has "turned around failing schools."