On the morning after the State of the Union address, this forum will provide an opportunity for key policy advisers to Democratic candidates to offer a response to President Bush’s economic vision and describe why their candidate’s policies offer a more compelling alternative. After brief introductory remarks, the panelists will take questions from the moderators and the audience.
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Kevin A. Hassett, director of economic policy studies, AEI
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Gene Sperling, senior fellow, Center for American Progress
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Sarah Bianchi, policy director, John Kerry Campaign
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Maria Echaveste, senior adviser, Howard Dean Campaign
| || ||Dan Gerstein, deputy communications director, Joseph Lieberman Campaign |
Robert Gordon, policy adviser, John Edwards Campaign
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Jason Furman, domestic policy adviser, Wesley Clark Campaign
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Center for American Progress
We invited six campaigns to send their policy directors or their representatives to come and speak this morning. We are offering a chance to address the president's State of the Union and to suggest why they believe their candidate and their ideas would run best in the general campaign against President George W. Bush.
Mr. Kevin Hassett
We intend to bring in speakers from both right and left to these events and expose them to questions that are meant to be collegial and helpful; those that are perhaps too infrequently asked by the media.
Policy Director to Senator Kerry
The initial reaction to the speech was that it was expected to contain a lot more compassionate conservativism than it did, generally in a whole range of areas: the economy, energy, and health care, to name a few. Obviously, the president touched on a lot of domestic and economic issues, but I really thought going into an election year that he would have come up with a couple more new ideas on some of the issues on which the Democrats have such an advantage.
I will focus on health care. The president has a lot of vulnerability in this election on health care, and many of us on the campaign have found that the American people recognize a lot of flaws in the Medicare bill. It seemed there might have been some change in the strategy on health care due to the public's growing concern for rising costs. The solutions the president proposed in his speech, however, were similar to those we have been hearing for some time. Proposals such as the health insurance tax credit, associated health plans, and the deduction on tax credit are all policies still of great concern to the Democrats as to whether they will be effective or even helpful in lowering prices.
Kerry's health care plan is focused on addressing coverage and is an employer-based system that allows individuals to buy into the same plan enjoyed by members of Congress today. Senator Kerry also has a big focus on cost-containment, and we believe that his policy would really help families in terms of lowering premiums. In addition he has approached this issue in a way that helps small businesses.
Senior Advisor to Governor Dean
The president's speech did focus on the core issues that resonate with his base. The president exhibits brilliant rhetoric in his views on the war on terrorism and its tight relationship to the domestic and economic agenda. Many of his proposals and apparent concerns with issues surrounding the No Child Left Behind policy, the prison reentry program, and Medicare are merely sound bites for his campaign. How does he intend to make the tax cuts permanent given the budget that he is likely to put forward? Consumer spending, which is supposed to be the economy's driving force, masks the fact that we have the highest consumer debt. His new immigration policy ends up benefiting corporate America most. With Dean's leadership, Democrats need to cut through Bush's words and language. Fiscal responsibility is absolutely a first stop to building the kind of country we want.
Deputy Communications Director to Senator Lieberman
The president is in a state of denial about the state of our union. The president only glossed over the issues of the jobless situation, poverty, and social insurance, and thus neglects the issues of a large segment of the economy, mainly middle-class America. The president has no realistic plan to deal with the deficit. President Bush paints a rosy scenario of the situation in Afghanistan and fails to provide effective solutions. Lieberman proposes better policies on national security, foreign policy, job creation, and health care that speak to the bulk of the population.
Policy Advisor to the Senator Edwards
There is a lot of anxiety felt by families about the economic situation, health care costs, college costs, and falling incomes, and President Bush has not proposed significant ways to help such situations. Edward's approach has been to help encourage a whole range of steps. He talks about creating recruitment savings for families that do not have them right now, fixing the disparity in our tax code that gives more benefits for homeownership to already wealthy families, increasing the minimum wage, and expanding the earned income tax credit so that families that work full-time do not live in poverty.
Of President Bush's proposal to make the tax cuts permanent, Edwards feels there is an underlying motive of shifting the tax burden away from the wealthy onto the working people who do not have savings. Edwards supports a consumption tax instead of the current income tax to counteract such effects.
Mr. Jason Furman
Domestic Policy Advisor to General Clark
The president's speech revealed no new approaches to the economy, education, terrorism, or health care especially. What the president has done is not tax reform, but really tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans under the guise and rhetoric of tax reform. Clark in his campaign is going to make a commitment to tax reform and set out five principles. The first is simpler tax system, and the second is making the tax code fairer. The third principle addresses the progressivity of the tax code, which involves creating a tax bracket for those making over one million a year and using that revenue to benefit middle-class families. The last two elements would be making a tax reform that is both pro-growth and deficit neutral.
AEI intern Kimberly Lim prepared this summary.