MANCHESTER, N.H. – Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean (search) called for a repeal of the $350 billion tax cut that President Bush signed into law Wednesday, describing it as "part of a radical agenda to dismantle Social Security, Medicare and our public schools through financial starvation."
Dean's rival, Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) of Missouri, labeled the tax cuts -- the third largest in the nation's history -- "unfair, unaffordable and ineffective" as several of the Democratic candidates stepped up their criticism of the president's economic policies.
Their complaints came as Bush signed the bill in an East Room ceremony surrounded by congressional Republican leaders, some of whom had to push a few recalcitrant GOP colleagues to back the cuts. It passed by one vote in the closely divided Senate; the four Democratic senators seeking the party's nomination opposed it.
The president hailed the legislation as "a bold package of tax relief for America's families and businesses, which will help turn our recovery into a lasting expansion that reaches every single corner of America."
In stark contrast to that fanfare, Dean stood in the rain on a Manchester, N.H., sidewalk to assail the bill, sharing his umbrella with the two reporters who showed up. He said all of Bush's tax cuts -- including those passed in 2001 -- must be repealed. He believes the cuts are part of a "radical plan to dismantle Social Security, Medicare and our public schools."
The former Vermont governor, like his Democratic rivals, cited the 2.7 million jobs lost during Bush's tenure in the White House and pointed to the fact that a day earlier, the president signed a bill allowing the federal government to borrow as much as $7.4 trillion, an increase in the federal debt limit.
"The president promises everything and delivers nothing," Dean said.
In signing the bill, Bush said the package -- less than half the amount he initially sought -- will provide tax relief to 136 million taxpayers by offering breaks to families, businesses and investors.
Jim Dyke, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee (search), said of Dean's call for a repeal: "It sounds like each day another Democratic presidential hopeful makes a commitment to the American people of a $2 trillion tax increase. That's not just a bad idea, it's bad economics."
Gephardt, who also wants to repeal Bush's 2001 tax cut and this year's reductions to pay for health care coverage, said his plan would stimulate the economy more than Bush's "misguided tax cuts."
Sen. John Edwards (search) of North Carolina said the nation will not return to the economic growth of the 1990s unless "we as Democrats have the backbone to say we must stop this tax cut" for the wealthy.
Edwards, in a speech before the San Francisco Bar Association, said, "the president should not, today, be celebrating passage of tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country."
Another candidate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) of Connecticut, said, "George W. Bush has sapped our schools of the funding they need to produce a new generation of innovation leaders. That may help him finance his tax cut today ... but tomorrow; we'll all pay the price."
Earlier in the day, Lieberman told an audience at the University of California, San Diego, that Bush was to blame for a sluggish economy that has kept Americans out of work. Lieberman said he would work toward ensuring U.S. productivity growth -- the amount of output per hour of work -- at 3 percent annually by the end of his first term.
Lieberman said he would reach his goal by passing tax cuts that would spark productivity, restoring fiscal discipline, pushing a $40 billion increase in funding for research and development, supporting free trade and improving math and science education, among other measures.
Dean, however, criticized that notion. "We can't have more tax cuts," he said. "We've got to get rid of what we have."