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Gephardt proposes broad health care plan

Democrat calls for repeal of Bush tax cuts

Rep. Richard Gephardt says his proposal would cost $692 billion from 2005 to 2007.
Rep. Richard Gephardt says his proposal would cost $692 billion from 2005 to 2007.

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Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt proposed extending health insurance coverage by repealing President Bush's 2001 tax cuts. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (April 24)
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt Wednesday proposed extending health insurance coverage by repealing President Bush's 2001 tax cuts, saying Bush "couldn't care less" about the issue.

"This president has made it clear: You're all on your own," said Gephardt, one of nine Democrats seeking to oust Bush in 2004.

Gephardt said he would use tax credits to spur businesses to provide health insurance for workers and reduce the cost of those benefits for businesses that already provide them.

"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," he told union members in New York.

Gephardt, D-Missouri, said the proposal would cost $692 billion from 2005 to 2007, paid for by rolling back the Bush tax cut. He said the plan would stimulate the economy as well, further offsetting the cost.

GOP criticism

Republicans quickly hit back, with the party's national committee calling Gephardt's proposal a "big government-run health care plan" and a "tried, tested, rejected idea." They compared it to a proposal from former Sen. Bill Bradley during his 2000 presidential bid.

But Gephardt said his plan could be put in motion "with no new bureaucracy and no nationalized plan."

"Two-thirds of the money is passed directly to the workers and ends up instantaneously in the economy," he said. "It's a win-win-win-win situation -- employers win, employees win, the economy wins and this plan can win in Congress."

His proposal would give businesses that provide health care for their workers a tax credit equal to 60 percent of their premiums and give cash-strapped states a break by paying up to 60 percent of their health care costs.

It would subsidize insurance payments for laid-off workers; allow workers 55 and up to buy into the federal Medicare program, the health care entitlement for Americans over 65; and modify state children's health insurance programs to include parents.

'Matt's plan'

He called it "Matt's plan," named after his now-grown son who survived a bout with childhood cancer. Gephardt said the experience introduced him to parents whose children suffered from a similar condition but lacked the insurance coverage to pay for treatment.

"The economic stimulus created by this plan will pump billions of dollars into the economy, creating jobs and helping far more working Americans than would ever be helped by the Bush tax cuts and giving them the security of health care when they need it," he said.

Gephardt's campaign billed the speech to members of the Service Employees International Union as a major statement in his second bid for the White House. Gephardt had strong union support in his 1988 campaign, but he has blamed weak fund raising for hindering his drive to win the Democratic nomination.

This time around, his campaign raised $3.6 million during the first three months of 2003 -- about half of what the best-financed Democrats, John Kerry and John Edwards, collected.

The 26-year House veteran announced his presidential bid in February. He served as minority leader from 1995 to 2002, resigning his leadership position after the Democrats lost seats in last fall's election.

Gephardt co-sponsored the congressional resolution giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq and supported the war. But he has said the president should have done a better job of explaining the military confrontation "not only to the American people, but to the world."

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