- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Sen. John Kerry warned rival Democratic presidential contenders yesterday that the party will be undercut in next year’s elections if its opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts is seen as raising taxes on the middle class.

“Real Democrats don’t walk away from the middle class. They don’t take away a tax credit for families struggling to raise their children, or bring back a tax penalty for married couples who are starting out, or penalize teachers and waitresses by raising taxes on the middle class,” Mr. Kerry said last night at a forum in Dover, N.H.

Mr. Kerry’s warning was aimed principally at his chief rival for the nomination, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is tied with the Massachusetts senator in the early delegate-selection contests. Mr. Dean has called for a total repeal of Mr. Bush’s across-the-board income tax cuts — many of which would benefit middle-class taxpayers. Like Mr. Dean, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, also has called for a complete tax-cut rollback to pay for health insurance coverage.

While Mr. Kerry did not mention Mr. Dean in his remarks, his top aides made it clear to reporters yesterday that is who he had in mind. Copies of the Kerry speech were distributed to the news media shortly before the former governor spoke to the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union in Iowa last night. Mr. Dean quickly fired back at the senator.

“Real Democrats don’t make promises they can’t keep. Working Americans have a choice. They can have the president’s tax cuts or they can have health care that can’t be taken away. They can’t have both,” Mr. Dean said.

But the total rollback position has spawned a divisive policy debate among the Democratic presidential contenders and between liberal and centrist Democrats throughout the party, fueled by the Democratic Leadership Council.

While Mr. Kerry has called for repealing Mr. Bush’s tax cuts for the top income brackets, the Bush economic stimulus plan, which Congress accelerated this year, also includes a number of tax cuts aimed at key constituencies the Democrats will need to defeat Mr. Bush next year.

Besides cutting income tax rates for middle-class workers, Mr. Bush’s plan also doubled the per-child tax credit for families and sharply reduced the tax penalty for two-earner married couples — all of which most Democrats support. Polls show that these groups are among the president’s strongest supporters.

Mr. Kerry said these provisions, among others, should be retained and that Mr. Dean’s call to abolish all of the Bush tax cuts would hurt job creation and further alienate swing Democratic voters.

The senator’s position was straight out of the DLC’s policy playbook for the 2004 presidential election that calls for middle-class tax relief.

“If Democrats take the bait and mount a crusade to take away middle-class tax cuts, Bush will prevail. But if Democrats turn the issue around, and come out for lowering the middle-class tax burden instead of helping the wealthy, Bush will have nothing left to say,” DLC founder Al From and its president Bruce Reed said in a DLC memo titled “How Democrats can win in 2004.”

DLC leaders have sharply criticized Mr. Dean’s liberal, big-spending agenda and have warned if he wins the nomination and runs on rolling back all of the Bush income tax cuts, he would meet the same fate former Vice President Walter Mondale met in 1984.

“When Mondale proposed raising taxes at the Democratic national convention, he was cheered by the delegates, but we lost 49 states to Ronald Reagan that year,” Mr. From said.

Earlier this week, at its annual summer meeting in Philadelphia, the DLC released a new poll by Democratic pollster Mark Penn that found the party has suffered deep erosion among middle-class voters.

“Among middle-class voters, the Democratic Party is a shadow of its former self. Half a century ago, a near majority of voters identified themselves as part of the Democratic Party. Today, that number has declined to roughly one-third of all voters,” Mr. Penn said.

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