Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday called for a national broadband Internet system and permanent research tax credits, while also quoting comedian Stephen Colbert for the second time in a week in a swipe at the Bush administration.

The Democratic front-runner and New York senator said that if elected she would invest in high-tech fields in order to sustain the high-tech jobs that are critical to economic prosperity and strengthening the middle class.

"The nation that invented the Internet is now ranked about 25th in access to it," Clinton said in her latest speech directed at the middle class appeals.

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Called "Connect America," Clinton's broadband network would give businesses incentives to go into underserved areas, support state- and local-based initiatives and change the Federal Communication Commission rules to more accurately measure Internet access.

"I see this problem in New York. A lot of the utilities don't want to connect up our isolated, rural areas. And they also don't want particularly to go into our underserved, poor, urban areas because there's so much money that can be made in Manhattan and our suburban areas," Clinton said. "It was like when we had to electrify the country in the 1930s. Utilities didn't electrify places because it wasn't cost effective for them to do so. Well, we've got to play catch-up."

Clinton said the Internet is the new necessity for economic development.

"In the 19th century, we invested in railroads. In the 20th century, we built the interstate highway system. In the 21st century information economy we need to invest in our information infrastructure."

Clinton also advocated making permanent the research and experimentation tax credits, which more than 15,000 companies have used since they began 1981.

"We cannot rebuild a strong and prosperous middle class if we don't have a new source of new jobs," Clinton said. "Our country is a country of innovators. We're not acting like it right now, but we have all the potential to get into gear quickly."

Clinton also repeated a pledge made last week in a speech to the Carnegie Institution for Science to give researchers increased freedom and to end the politicization on science.

She cited Colbert, the Comedy Central news anchor with a pseudo-conservative personality.

"To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, that great philosopher, this administration doesn't make decisions based on facts, it makes facts based on decisions," Clinton said to laughter. "By ignoring or manipulating science the Bush administration is letting our economic competitors get an edge in the global economy."

Later Wednesday, Clinton lashed out at Republican activists for questioning the financial need of a 12-year-old who spoke up on behalf of Democrats who sought an extension of the State Child Health Insurance Program. Bush vetoed the bill that would have done so.

Some conservative bloggers suggested the family of Graeme Frost had granite counters in its Baltimore home and could afford health insurance. The family said its counters are made of concrete.

"I don't mind them picking on me; they've done it for years," Clinton said to laughter from the audience at Symphony Hall in Boston. "You know, I think I've proven I can take care of myself against all of them.

"But President Bush and the Republicans should lay off Graeme Frost and all the other children who are getting health care because we have decided to do the right thing in America," Clinton said.