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Gephardt Takes the Long View in Democratic Agenda

January 24, 2002|NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Democratic election-year offensive on economic issues continues today, as House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) offers what he calls a "long-term growth" agenda days ahead of President Bush's State of the Union address.

According to a summary of his scheduled speech provided by aides Wednesday, Gephardt will seize on Enron Corp.'s financial collapse--in which many employees lost their life savings--to urge creation of a universal pension system that moves with employees from job to job.

Gephardt also will call for more spending to develop alternative energy sources, to help reduce American dependence on foreign oil, and a new tax deduction for families with children in college.

Notably absent from the summary of the speech: any criticism of the Bush tax cut. If the speech steers clear of the tax debate, it will be a departure from the path chosen by other prominent Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) earlier this month charged that the $1.35-trillion, 10-year tax cut enacted in June had contributed to the recession. Subsequently, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for a delay of about $350 billion worth of cuts scheduled to take effect in a few years for wealthy taxpayers.

Republicans vehemently--and somewhat gleefully--attacked those speeches as a return to what they call an ingrained Democratic habit of taxing and spending.

Bush himself declared that "not over my dead body" would the tax cut be rolled back.

Gephardt's speech aims to steal some of the thunder from Bush's nationally televised address Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress.

"For me, the question before us today is not just what is the state of our union, but what is the state of our vision?" Gephardt said in advance excerpts from the speech. "Where do we want to go as a nation, and what are we doing to make that vision come true--not just in our own time but in our children's time?

"In this city, it's sometimes hard to take the long look ahead. It's so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day details of the current debate that we never lift our eyes and look ahead to the next decade--about how we want our country to look, not just in one year but in 10 years."

As an example of a long-term goal, Gephardt cited his pension reform proposal. With Enron's fiasco in mind, he also proposes strengthening corporate accounting rules.

His other proposals include:

* A program to develop renewable energy sources over the next decade, such as fuel cells, to wean the nation from dependence on oil.

* A deduction for taxpaying families of up to $10,000 a year for each student they have in college.

* A "teacher corps" to recruit 2 million teachers in 10 years.

* A tax credit for children to help them build funds for college or to buy a home.

* A new federal fund to help states meet the higher costs of protecting against terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

* More spending to track material used for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

* A campaign to cut the cost of broadband Internet access across the country.

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