- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

George W. Bush, reaching out to minorities and swing voters, proposed a new program of tax credits and subsidies yesterday to help lower-income families buy health insurance, become homeowners and save money.

In a bid for the support of independent, working-class voters, the core of Mr. Bush's plan is centered on giving families earning $30,000 or less some of the tax incentives that middle- and upper-income people have long enjoyed for home mortgages, health care costs and savings plans.

The lower-income tax breaks in the Texas governor's plan "are the functional equivalent of tax relief that other people get," said Stuart Butler, chief domestic policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Under the Bush plan, lower-income families that cannot now afford health care plans would receive a refundable tax credit of up to $2,000 per family to purchase their own private health insurance coverage.

Another part of the plan would give eligible families a year's worth of rental subsidies in a lump sum voucher to make a down payment on a home, while a third proposal would give tax subsidies to banks that match the savings of lower-income depositors.

"Instead of helping people cope with their need, we will help them to move beyond it," Mr. Bush said in remarks to a group of about 250 community and church leaders on Cleveland's West Side, a heavily blue-collar, Democratic area.

His plan would "help remove obstacles on the road to the middle class," he said.

Mr. Butler gave Mr. Bush's plan "a B grade. I think it's a step forward. You can quibble about the details, but the basic approach is correct."

The Texas governor made his proposal as a new CNN/Gallup Poll showed that with nearly six months to go before the election, he now leads Vice President Al Gore by 9 points.

Mr. Bush's rise in the polls follows several weeks of campaigning during which he has reached out to Hispanics in California and promoted proposals to raise educational standards and provide school choice vouchers to parents whose children are in failing schools.

Mr. Bush's $40 billion plan to make health insurance affordable to those who do not have coverage is similar to a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican, and John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat. It is being sponsored in the House by Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.

The plan would provide a $1,000 tax credit for individuals earning $15,000 or less and a $2,000 tax credit per family with income of $30,000 or less. He also proposes that Medical Care Savings Accounts be expanded.

Conservative domestic policy experts, like Mr. Butler, said they were generally pleased with Mr. Bush's proposals.

"There's a consistency to all of this, if you are in the middle class you get all kinds of tax breaks for health care, IRA savings, mortgage," Mr. Butler said. "But if you are at the low end, there's really nothing. So there's a disincentive to get off the bottom rung."

"This is a bold health plan," said John Goodman, the president of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis that has long crusaded for tax credits to make health care more accessible to lower-income workers.

"This is a step toward fundamental reform of the health care system. This will put a lot more money in the hands of patients and we'll have a lot more people choosing their plans," Mr. Goodman said.

"Tax credits are the right cure for low-income families without health insurance," said Grace-Marie Arnett, president of the Galen Institute, which supports tax incentives to expand health care coverage.

"Single mothers trying to get off welfare, and minority working families particularly Hispanic families stand to benefit the most from the Bush initiative," she said.

A January poll conducted by the Hispanic Business Roundtable found that 65 percent of Hispanics supported tax credits to help the uninsured purchase private health insurance, she said.

But some of Mr. Bush's campaign advisers said yesterday that the health care plan that he proposed had to overcome strong internal opposition from some of his economic advisers at the Hoover Institution.

"His advisers at Hoover fought it. They didn't want to do anything," said a Bush campaign adviser who did not want to be identified.

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