WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean (search) offered several new proposals to help the economy during a speech at Georgetown University but it was his renewed pledge to repeal all of President Bush's tax cuts that grabbed the most attention.
The pledge to roll back all of the tax cuts brought immediate criticism from the GOP national chairman and Democratic rivals John Edwards (search) and John Kerry (search). Dean's pledge to balance the federal budget was at odds with another rival — Dick Gephardt (search) — who said this week that improving the economy was a more pressing concern than the deficit.
Dean on Thursday called for the creation of a $100 billion fund to assist states and local governments in creating jobs and offered a plan to close tax loopholes. During the speech, he tied together elements of economic proposals he has made on the campaign. The job creation fund and the goal of closing down $100 billion of tax loopholes were among the new proposals.
"President Bush has brought the Enron model from Texas to Washington," Dean said, repeating his pledge to repeal all of the president's tax cuts.
"Governor Dean misses the point," said Edwards, a North Carolina senator. "He is right to note that this president is shifting the burden from wealth to work. Unfortunately, instead of addressing the problem he makes it worse by raising taxes on the middle class families that work."
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, said Dean is repeating his pledge to repeal the tax cuts for middle-class families "at a time when middle-class families are taking too many hits already."
But Edwards and Kerry have said they favor repealing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but not for those in the middle class.
Dean also pledged to balance the federal budget and bring back a "pay-as-you-go" spending policy.
In an interview published Friday in USA Today, Dean accused Republicans of intentionally running up the budget deficit so they can justify cutting Social Security and Medicare.
"I think their principal motivation is to undo the pillars of the New Deal, particularly Medicare and Social Security, by making the budget deficit so big that those programs can't be sustained," Dean said.
A GOP spokeswoman, Christine Iverson, called Dean's remarks "disturbing." She said fighting terrorism has fueled the deficit.
Earlier in the week, Gephardt, a Missouri congressman, said reviving the economy — not the deficit — was the top economic priority.
Dean, the Democratic front-runner, described Bush's economic policies as "Enron economics" — a phrase he plans to use frequently to highlight the deficit spending of the administration and remind voters of the questionable accounting practices at Enron, an energy trading company closely aligned with Bush that went bankrupt.
"As president, my fundamental and abiding economic pledge is that our federal budget once again serve the needs of our country, not the ideology and narrow interests of a powerful few," he said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said that "Howard 'Fritz' Dean unveiled an old idea," comparing Dean to 1984 Democratic nominee Walter "Fritz" Mondale. "Twenty years ago, a politician promised workers and small businesses a massive tax increase."
Dean promised that his job creation fund would add at least a million jobs to the economy — focused on health care, education and homeland security. He said that after repealing the Bush tax cuts, he plans to simplify the tax code and shift more of the tax burden to corporations from individual taxpayers.
A planned small business fund "will be modeled after the housing finance system that has helped make housing affordable for millions of middle-class Americans," Dean said. And he promised tough enforcement of unfair trade laws and opposition to any legislation that encourages corporations to move overseas.