WASHINGTON – Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt said Wednesday that if elected president, he would move to scrap President Bush's reduction of income tax rates in favor of a tax credit to help businesses pay for health care.
"I do not believe that we can retain any of the relief on rates," Gephardt said of the provision in the 2001 law. "But I will argue, as I have throughout, that my tax cuts will be of more benefit to all taxpayers, and certainly with middle income and low income taxpayers, than with the president's tax bill."
The Missouri congressman, one of nine Democrats seeking the party's presidential nomination, said he would reveal the details of his plan during a speech in New York next Wednesday. But he discussed the proposal in a conference call with reporters as Bush arrived in his home town of St. Louis to deliver a speech on the war and national security.
Gephardt said that in his first week in office, he would ask Congress to repeal the cut of income tax rates that Bush signed into law two years ago, essentially raising taxes to the Clinton-era level. The law created a new 10 percent rate for the first $6,000 of each person's income and reduced the top 39.6 percent rate to 35 percent, with most other rates dropping by 3 percentage points. The rate cuts have already been partially phased in, but are not scheduled to take full effect until 2006.
Gephardt is proposing more government spending on health care as an alternative to the first Bush tax cut. He would give tax credits to businesses that would pay for 60 percent to 65 percent of their employees' health care costs.
"It would put money into corporations to hire new people or to make capital investments," he said. "It would get money into the pockets of individual workers. And it would cause the hiring of more people in the health care industries, which are pretty good jobs in this country."
Jim Dyke, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, criticized Gephardt's plan. "His tax increases will pay for his government spending, but they won't stimulate our economy or create jobs," Dyke said.
Gephardt said he's still trying to determine exactly which parts of the first Bush tax cut would need to be repealed to pay for his health care plan. He said he is trying to keep all or part of the child tax credit and the increased deduction for married couples.
Bush has proposed a new tax cut plan of $726 billion over 10 years -- largely by eliminating individuals' taxes on corporate dividends. But resistance in Congress, especially among his fellow Republicans, has forced the president to back down and lawmakers likely will hand him no more than a $350 billion package.
Last week, the House approved cuts of $550 billion over a decade, but the Senate, with several key Republicans breaking ranks, agreed to no more than $350 billion in tax cuts. Congress hopes to work out the final details in May.
Gephardt said he opposes Bush's new plan entirely.
"We don't need another Bush tax cut," he said. "The one we had was a failure and has not stimulated the economy."