Ballot Box

The Agenda of Howard Dean

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 Howard Dean.

1. Extend health insurance coverage through existing programs. Dean aims to cover everyone under 25, establish an affordable federal alternative to private care, and keep the annual cost below $100 billion. His method is to patch together several programs. He would enlarge the State Children’s Health Insurance Program into a federal Families and Children Health Insurance Program covering everyone under 25. This would also be available to adults with low incomes. Second, he would offer refundable tax credits (i.e., subsidies) to help uninsured adults join a Universal Health Benefits Program providing the same coverage currently enjoyed by federal employees. Already-insured Americans could buy into UHBP; uninsured Americans would automatically be enrolled into either FCHIP or UHBP. Third, the federal government would mandate and partially subsidize employer-based health insurance, even for laid-off employees. Dean says that the plan would eventually cost $88.3 billion per year and that he would pay for it, along with other initiatives, by repealing the 2001 tax cut. 

2. Increase homeland security funding. Dean would use part of the savings from the tax cut repeal to establish a Homeland Security Trust Fund dedicated to three objectives: preparation, protection, and prevention. Preparation would entail more than $5 billion in aid to local first responders. Protection would involve extra funding and more stringent security measures for ports and borders, plus money for detection and identification technology. Prevention would focus on foreign threats and would include greater U.S. financial and political involvement in programs to limit nuclear proliferation. It would be funded in part by some of the money previously set aside for missile defense.

3. Balance the budget. Of all the candidates, Dean is the most emphatic about not running deficits. In addition to canceling the 2001 tax cuts, he proposes to “restrict spending.” This could include ideas he has previously floated, such as increasing the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax (at the moment, only the first $87,000 * is taxable) and possibly raising the retirement age to 67 or 68. In the past, Dean has expressed support for a constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets. But more recently, he has said he would probably not pursue such an amendment.

Correction, July 18, 2003: The first $87,000 of income is subject to the Social Security tax, not $80,000 as was originally stated. [ Return to the corrected sentence.]