Sunday, February 4, 2007

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards promised to raise taxes and provide universal health care if elected to the White House, accusing his rivals of lacking the political “backbone” to voice their convictions.

“Yes, we’ll have to raise taxes,” the former one-term senator from North Carolina and 2004 vice-presidential candidate said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. “The only way you can pay for a health care plan that costs anywhere from $90 billion to $120 billion is there has to be a revenue source.”

Mr. Edwards said he would help pay for his universal health care plan by eliminating all tax cuts passed under the Bush administration for people earning more than $200,000 in annual salary.

“You’d be willing to increase taxes to provide health care?” moderator Tim Russert asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” Mr. Edwards said.

Several polls have shown Mr. Edwards leading the Democratic field in the Iowa caucuses, where the first 2008 votes are scheduled for January.

“I’m winning there, according to the polls. I don’t know if I believe them, but they say I’m winning,” he said.

Mr. Edwards also challenged his Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, on her support for a nonbinding resolution voicing disapproval of an increase of U.S. troops in Iraq.

“If she believes that her vote was wrong, then, yes, she should say so. If she believes that her vote was right, then she should defend it,” he said.

Mr. Edwards, who said he supports cutting off funding for a troop surge, called it “morally wrong” to support an “escalation” in Iraq.

“We have to step to the plate and show some courage. It’s just such a critical point in America’s history that we have to stand up and show some backbone,” he said.

However, Mr. Edwards said he remains conflicted when asked whether he supports full homosexual “marriage” rights and other government recognition of same-sex couples.

“I’m aware of why I believe what I believe,” he said of his opposition to same-sex “marriage.” Yet Mr. Edwards appeared uncomfortable when asked whether he thinks homosexuality is genetic.

“I’m not an expert on sexual orientation. I think that … there’s a real possibility that people are born gay, yes,” he said. Despite his opposition to marriage rights, Mr. Edwards said he does not think homosexuality is a sin and would revoke the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy.

Citing his 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq and statements of support for that vote as recently as 2004, Mr. Russert repeatedly questioned Mr. Edwards about his consistency on the issue.

“First of all, I don’t want to defend this,” Mr. Edwards said. “Let me be clear about this. I think anybody who wants to be president of the United States has got to be honest and open, be willing to admit when they’ve done things wrong.”

The newly released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq says a significant and immediate redeployment of American forces, which Mr. Edwards publicly supports, could greater destabilize Iraq and the entire Middle East. Nonetheless, Mr. Edwards said he support an immediate redeployment.

“What I think the process should be is withdrawal,” Mr. Edwards said. “Forty thousand, 50,000 troops now, from the more secure areas of Iraq; continue to draw down American troops, combat troops, over the course of the next 12-plus months.”

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