- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt yesterday called for an "Apollo project"-style push over the next decade to end American dependence on foreign oil, proposing tax breaks to encourage the use of alternative fuels.

"We need to begin today to reach the goal of making America energy self-sufficient, using clean and safe sources of energy," he said. "I believe that with strong leadership and a real energy policy we can meet this goal within a decade."

In a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council, Mr. Gephardt called on President Bush and congressional leaders to convene an economic summit to plan economic growth for the rest of the decade. The Missouri Democrat also laid out his plan to increase spending to combat terrorism, as well as proposed legislation to boost the number of teachers in the country.

But his main focus yesterday was on producing a sustainable energy policy. He proposed tax credits and government spending on research to make sure a majority of cars are not powered solely by gas by 2020, and that public-transportation vehicles use hydrogen fuel cells.

Mr. Gephardt joins a chorus of Democratic leaders who have given major policy speeches in recent days. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, and Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry have given speeches outlining their visions for the future. With the exception of Mr. Kennedy, all of the speakers are considered potential candidates for president in 2004.

Mr. Gephardt in his speech distanced himself from Mr. Kennedy's call for a freeze on the part of the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut that benefits upper-income families. Mr. Gephardt said the tax cuts should go forward.

"It's my view that we shouldn't be reconsidering tax cuts in the middle of a recession. And in any case, the president has taken them off the table. I think we would be wise not to spend all of our time and energy this year debating an issue we know will end in gridlock," Mr. Gephardt said, adding that Mr. Bush's tax cut "did not consider our long-term economic needs."

Among his other proposals, Mr. Gephardt said he wants to:

•Offer legislation to create a universal pension system that will allow portability as workers change jobs.

•Give a tax credit of $500 for every newborn baby, with the money eventually being used to pay for college or a home.

•Create a Teacher Corps to recruit 21/2 million new teachers by the end of the decade.

Republicans yesterday said the recent number of Democrats making major policy speeches shows that the Democratic Party is adrift.

"Leaders of the Democratic Party are in disarray; there is no clear Democratic agenda. They're all trying to one-up each other and trying to steal the spotlight from each other," said Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

But Mr. Gephardt said the Republican Party is also internally divided, and he called on Mr. Bush to distance himself from the conservative wing of his party.

"Given the choice between doing the right thing and listening to their right wing on domestic issues, too often the White House has given in to pressure from right-wing zealots in the Congress. Too often the party has been dragged so far right it's wrong," Mr. Gephardt said.

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