Commentary: Dean, Gephardt Abandoning Bill Clinton's Economic Legacy
By SEN. JOHN KERRY
TWELVE YEARS ago, Gov. Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for President with a pledge to "fight for the forgotten middle class." He called for a tax cut for middle class families, cutting the deficit in half in four years, and restoring investment in jobs, the skills of our workers, and economic growth.
Clinton economics worked - nearly 40 million hard-working families got a tax cut, we created 23 million new jobs and witnessed record high family incomes and the fastest real wage growth in more than 30 years.
With George W. Bush in the White House, the middle class has been forgotten all over again. More than three million jobs lost, retirement and college savings gone in a flash, investment in skills and training plummeting. In the last years the cost of the average home for families with children has grown 70 times faster than average incomes.
In November of 2004, Democrats need to offer America's middle class a clear choice: jobs or no jobs, making health care more affordable or continuing skyrocketing costs, a return to fiscal discipline or more fiscal insanity, tax relief for middle class families or tax loopholes for corporate special interests.
George W. Bush stands in the way - but so does a debate within our party.
Before all of America votes, we Democrats are going to have to make our own choice: are we going to imitate George W. Bush in forgetting the middle class or are we going to be the party that fights for the middle class? Will we turn our back on the progress of the Clinton years or will we follow his lead in assuring middle class voters that Democrats will defend their interests and honor their values?
That's why I am so concerned that some of my fellow Democratic candidates for President, most prominently former Gov. Howard Dean and U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, have adopted policies in the course of this campaign that - in effect - turn their back on both the Clinton economic legacy and the very middle class families the Democratic Party has historically defended.
I believe we should repeal President Bush's special tax breaks that go to the wealthy. I believe we should end corporate welfare as we know it and tax giveaways to special interests. But I do not believe we should abolish tax cuts for middle class families - whether it's the child tax credit or the elimination of the marriage penalty. In fact, I believe we should give middle class families a tax cut, not a tax increase.
With George Bush in the White House, middle class families can't catch a break. For all of this President's talk about tax cuts, the lion's share of working families - those earning between $40,000 and $90,000 a year - have seen their share of the tax burden go up, not down. The Democratic Party needs to stand up for these families in their struggle to make ends meet and get ahead.
However, repealing all the tax cuts for the middle class, which some Democrats want to do, would mean that a family of four, with two parents working hard on the job and at home, would have to pay about $2,000 more a year in taxes. That's bad economics; and it's a violation of fundamental fairness.
Gov. Dean and others have vowed to repeal these middle class tax cuts Democrats fought to pass, because of a commitment to balance the budget in four years. However, as Bill Clinton pointed out in 1992 under similar circumstances, the budget deficit is not the only deficit we face. America has been suffering under an investment deficit, a jobs deficit, a fairness deficit; and all of these deficits would be made worse by a breakneck rush to raise the tax burden on struggling middle class families.
Our party should put substance ahead of sound bites. We should cut the budget deficit in half in four years while keeping tax cuts for middle class families and eliminating them for the very wealthy and special interests. We do not need to offer Americans a false choice between health care for all and middle class tax cuts - a responsible health care plan can bring down health care costs for all Americans, cover the uninsured, and still protect middle class tax fairness.
In 1992, Democrats had the strength and courage to stand up to the pressure to turn their backs on the middle class, to trade middle class fairness for quick and easy sound bites. Now our party is being tested again. It is time again to honor the middle class families our party at its best has championed and defended.