Ballot Box

The Agenda of Dick Gephardt

What he’d do as president.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. This series outlines what each candidate would do as president. Candidates take positions on many issues, but once in the White House, a president tends to focus on the few issues he or she really cares about. The purpose of this series is to identify those issues and clarify how the candidate, as president, would address them. Today’s subject is Dick Gephardt.

1. Universalize health insurance by subsidizing employer-provided plans. Currently, employer-provided insurance is fully tax-deductible, which means it’s about 30 percent subsidized. Gephardt would replace this deduction with refundable tax credits (i.e., subsidies) covering 60 percent of employers’ health insurance costs. In sum, he would double the subsidy. For employees too poor to pay the remaining share of their premiums, he would offer an additional 25 percent refundable tax credit. To cover other uninsured Americans, he would expand current federal programs. He would extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program to parents of eligible children, enroll more families in SCHIP, further subsidize COBRA (insurance for the unemployed), and let 55- to 64-year-olds buy into Medicare. To pay for the plan, he would repeal the entire 2001 tax cut.

2. Create a “Teacher Corps” modeled on ROTC. In return for five years of teaching, Gephardt would give college students federal aid. He aims to recruit 2.5 million teachers through this program by 2010. All participants would be trained and held to certain standards by the government throughout their teaching stints.

3. Establish a variable international minimum wage. Gephardt would raise the U.S. minimum wage. Then he would press the World Trade Organization to require every country to enforce a minimum wage sufficient for its citizens to live on. The minimum would vary according to each country’s cost of living and its degree of development. The WTO would compensate for some of the costs. In addition to helping workers in each directly affected country, Gephardt believes an IMW would reduce the incentive for American corporations to shift operations abroad in pursuit of cheap foreign labor.