Ballot Box

The Agenda of John Kerry

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 Kerry.

1. Reduce U.S. reliance on non-renewable energy. In the Senate, Kerry has sponsored legislation to enforce strict fuel-efficiency standards on cars. As president, he would try again. He would give tax credits to companies that develop alternative automotive technology and to people who drive more advanced, fuel-efficient vehicles. Using incentives for innovation, he would aim to get 20 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

2. Expand public and private health insurance. Kerry would automatically enroll any uninsured child with a household income up to 300 percent of the poverty level in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program upon entering school. To help states afford this, the federal government would pick up the cost of all 20 million children covered by Medicaid. Kerry would let any company or individual buy into the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. He would add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare while loosening restrictions on making cheaper generic drugs. One distinctive feature of Kerry’s plan is a “rebate pool” through which the federal government would reimburse each employee health plan for 75 percent of all costs that exceeded $50,000 for a single individual. This promise would sharply cut each insurer’s risk and alleviate its need to raise premiums. Kerry estimates the plan’s cost at $72 billion per year for the first five years. To pay for it, he would repeal some of the 2001 or 2003 tax cuts.

3. Institute mandatory and voluntary national service. Kerry would provide four years’ tuition at a public university to any American who performed at least two years of national service. He would make some sort of community service a prerequisite for graduation from any U.S. high school. The high-school programs would be state-designed but federally funded. Under Kerry’s “Retired Not Tired” program, seniors who performed at least 10 hours of service a week could get $2,000 per year to spend on health-care expenses or educating a young family member. Kerry would use Homeland Security money to train volunteers in emergency skills to compliment professional first-responders. He estimates the cost of his national service initiatives at $3.2 billion.