Monday, April 30, 2007

SAN DIEGO — Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said yesterday raising taxes for higher-income families back to their levels under the Clinton administration is a floor, not a ceiling, and he would consider even higher tax increases.

“What I believe is the starting place is to go back to the Clinton levels,” Mr. Edwards told reporters after addressing the 2,000 delegates to California’s state Democratic Party convention.

Four years ago, during his last presidential run, the former North Carolina senator drew boos and jeers from the California convention for his defense of the Iraq war. This year, he was back with a completely different message — both on the war and on how far he would go in rolling back President Bush’s legacy.

“I voted for this war, and I was wrong to vote for this war. I should never have voted for this war,” he said. “I am speaking out with every fiber of my being to get America out of Iraq. We need to be leaving Iraq, and we ought to start today, not two months from now.”

Iraq continues to dominate the discussion among Democrats and their presidential candidates heading into the 2008 primaries. This convention’s biggest applause was for Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat and a leader of Congress’ Out of Iraq Caucus, who told the crowd they must demand more from their candidates.

“Democrats, your presidential candidates and elected officials must stop nuancing, politicizing, sound-biting, benchmarking and playing it safe,” she said. “Democrats must have the courage to tell this president, ‘No, Mr. President, not another nickel, not another dime, not another soldier, not this time.’ ”

She was cheered so wildly that she made a curtain call.

Minutes later, Mr. Edwards spoke, urging congressional Democrats not to let Mr. Bush push them away from their war-spending bill, which sets a timeline for troops to begin pulling out.

“If the president vetoes this bill, they should send him back another bill with a timetable for withdrawal,” he said.

Speaking Saturday, the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both said Congress should try to find the votes needed to override Mr. Bush’s promised veto. But that is unlikely, given how far shy of the two-thirds threshold the Democratic bill came in both the House and Senate last week.

Addressing the convention after Mr. Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, another presidential hopeful, said it’s time to take a different approach and vote to rescind the authority to go to war that Congress granted in 2002 — exactly the vote Mr. Edwards was apologizing for.

“The Congress authorized the war; now they should deauthorize it,” Mr. Richardson said.

He also disagreed with Mr. Edwards on taxes, saying he is proud to be a tax-cutting governor and arguing that Democrats are often too quick to turn to tax increases.

“Whenever we have solutions, we want to tax,” he said in his own press conference after his speech. “I’m different.”

He said he would not allow the Bush tax cuts to become permanent but said he would shift some of the higher revenues to go to further tax cuts for the middle class and for businesses that pay the prevailing wage. And he said taking care of the deficit is a top priority.

But Mr. Edwards said that’s not his top priority.

“I believe it is more important to bring about the transformation,” he said, pointing to his universal health care plan, achieving independence from foreign energy and reducing global warming emissions. “Some people believe it’s more important to push those things off and reduce the deficit — the deficit’s the priority.”

In his speech to the convention, Mr. Richardson also drew a distinction between himself and the candidates who are in the Senate, all of whom voted for the bill authorizing more than 850 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The first thing I would do as president — I would tear down that wall,” Mr. Richardson said.

Mr. Richardson underscored just how far he has to go, recounting a recent conversation with his mother, who he said is beginning to have memory lapses. She kept asking him whether he was still governor, and when he told her he was also running for president, he said she replied in Spanish: “President of what?”

“That’s exactly where I am — I can’t even count on my mother’s vote.”

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