PHILADELPHIA – The Democratic White House candidates are unified in their argument that President Bush's economic plan has been a failure, but not on what to do about it.
Their differences were on display Monday night at a town hall meeting hosted by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (search).
While some of the candidates want to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts, others warned that running on a promise to raise taxes across the board is the wrong position for Democrats.
"I think it's bad economics," said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search). "I think it's bad social policy and I think it's bad politics." He has called for keeping some of the middle-class tax cuts.
The town hall meeting was not supposed to be a debate and candidates were not given the opportunity to question one another, but they still staked out different positions on trade policy, war in Iraq and the economy.
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun line up with Kerry's position in saying they would only repeal Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. They say they would keep some other cuts, such as the child tax credit and relief for married couples.
Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search), former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Al Sharpton said the first step to repairing the economy would be to repeal Bush's tax cuts across the board. They would spend the money on health care and other programs.
"I think it's very important that Democrats not promise more than we can deliver," Dean said. "We can deliver health care for every American, or we can have the tax cuts."
Gephardt said he thinks most people would rather have health care for all Americans than a few hundred dollars taken off their taxes. He said Bush's tax cuts are like "handing out candy bars" and are not helping the middle class or creating jobs.
"This is a joke," he said. "This is like buying votes."
Lieberman said Gephardt's plan to spend the money on health care is the kind of big government thinking that has hurt Democrats in the past. He said it's vital that Democrats focus on fiscal responsibility or risk being stuck "in the political wilderness."
Sharpton responded, "Before you can deal with the wilderness, Mr. Senator, you have to deal with the burning Bush."
Two candidates missed the forum. Florida Sen. Bob Graham was campaigning in Iowa, while North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was taking a day off before a bus trip through Iowa and New Hampshire later this month.