- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) Democratic presidential candidate Richard A. Gephardt, yesterday presented a stark choice for voters if nominated by his party: a continuation of President Bush's tax cuts or his plan to give nearly all Americans access to health care.
The Missouri congressman, seeking to break out of the pack of White House hopefuls, said he would repeal all of Mr. Bush's tax cuts and use the money to help businesses insure their employees. Mr. Gephardt said his plan would provide health care to most of the 41 million uninsured Americans.
"This is the right way to stimulate the economy not knee-jerk tax cuts that do nothing but pay off George Bush's wealthy contributors while killing economic growth," Mr. Gephardt said in a speech to the Service Employees International Union, which represents 1.5 million health care workers.
The former House minority leader estimated the total cost at $214 billion in 2005, $231 billion in 2006 and $247 billion in 2007.
Under the Gephardt plan, companies that currently offer insurance would get a refundable tax credit worth 60 percent of their share of the costs, while companies without health benefits would get a credit for 60 percent of the total premium.
To pay for the plan, Mr. Gephardt said he would repeal all of the tax cut that passed two years ago and any others that Mr. Bush signs into law.
The 2001 law cut income-tax rates, provided tax relief for married couples, increased the child credit and reduced the inheritance tax.
Mr. Gephardt said he may reintroduce smaller provisions for tax relief for married couples, the child credit and the inheritance portion after his plan became law.
Republicans and business groups criticized the plan as too expensive and said voters will not support government-funded health care. Former Rep. Vin Weber, Minnesota Republican, called it "a disastrous thing for him politically."
"It's a great irony," Mr. Weber said. "All this has proven in the past is to be a real loser for Democrats."
Dan Danner, senior vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business, said some small businesses can't afford to provide health care.
"Imposing one of the largest tax hikes in American history, which is exactly what Dick Gephardt proposed today, certainly won't help small-business owners find more affordable health insurance," he said.
Mr. Gephardt says his plan is different from the Clinton-era proposals because most Americans would still be insured through their employer plans, not the government. And it would give a tax break to businesses that currently provide coverage as well as supporting those that don't.
"I believe to make a win for this campaign, we have to lay out a clear choice for the American people do you want a continuation of the failed Bush tax cuts and economic plan or do you want to move to give universal health care for everybody in the country and stimulate the economy better than is being run today?" he said.
Under Mr. Gephardt's plan, workers still would have to pay their portion of premiums to help cover health care costs.
Taxpayers would subsidize up to a quarter of the employee contribution for workers below or near the poverty line.
Currently, employers can get tax deductions that cover about 30 percent of their health care costs.
The tax credit would cover health care costs of part-time employees, retirees and the self-employed.
It also would refund 60 percent of health care costs paid by state and local governments.
Mr. Gephardt also wants to subsidize two-thirds of the cost of health insurance for unemployed workers, expand a federal program for uninsured low-income children, and allow those 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare coverage.
Mr. Gephardt conceded that his plan would not eliminate budget deficits.
"The goal is to get the economy to grow, the goal is not just to balance the budget," he told reporters after his speech. "Look, if the economy is working well, the budget will be in balance."

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