Ballot Box

The Agenda of John Edwards

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 John Edwards.

1. Change the tax code to encourage middle-class investment and home ownership. Edwards would repeal parts of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that benefit Americans making $240,000 a year or more, such as the estate tax. He would raise capital gains taxes for people in higher tax brackets but would lower capital gains rates for people in lower brackets. He would make some capital gains tax-exempt in order to encourage investment and offset the burden of the Social Security tax on the middle and lower classes. He would give a $5,000 tax credit for the down payment on a first home. To encourage saving and stable retirements, he would grant one dollar in refundable tax credits for every dollar saved in a private account by a taxpayer making up to $50,000 a year.

2. Rearrange the homeland security infrastructure. Edwards would create a homeland intelligence agency to take on all the FBI’s information-gathering (as opposed to law enforcement) tasks. He would federalize security at all nuclear power plants and raise security standards at hazardous sites such as chemical plants. He would offer scholarships to students pursuing professions he deems relevant to homeland security, such as public health. He would also provide $50 billion to states to finance first-responders.

3. Fix public education, primarily through teacher incentives. Edwards proposes to raise teacher salaries, focus more resources on neglected geographic areas, provide one year of free college at all public universities, shrink the size of public high schools, and offer more flexible public school choice instead of vouchers. His centerpiece is a plan to fully subsidize the education of prospective teachers who pledge to teach in lower-income schools for five years. To encourage interaction with the local community, Edwards would provide a tax credit to any teacher in this program who moved to a neighborhood near his or her school.