Gephardt Focuses on Economic Message

Marking the one-year anniversary of a set of business-oriented tax cuts, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said Tuesday that if Republicans keep control of the House, there will be more breaks for scandal-plagued firms like Enron.

"The American people can expect more tax cuts for special interests like Enron," if Republicans control the Congress, Gephardt, D-Mo., said at a news conference in which he pounded economic issues in an effort to sway voters to the Democratic ticket.

One year ago the GOP-led House voted for a corporate tax repeal that included $254 million in returns to Enron. That was still more than one and a half months before Enron declared bankruptcy, though it had made quiet appeals to the Bush administration for assistance.

The legislation failed, but Gephardt, a potential presidential candidate in 2000, said it is indicative of the Republican method of helping the economy.

Jobs, wages, pension plans and savings for education "are the issues that people live with every day and worry about every day,'' he said. "It's obvious the Republican plan is an absolute failure and has let everyone down in this country.''

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., disagreed. He said that Democrats, particularly in the Senate where they are a majority, have obstructed efforts to create jobs and spur growth through targeted tax cuts. They have also faltered on energy policy, prescription drugs and homeland security.

"House Democrats, led by Mr. Gephardt, voted to increase taxes by close to $100 billion. ... When House Republicans voted for tax relief to spur economic stimulus, House Democrats voted for tax increases to spur government growth," Hastert said.

The parties have been struggling to gain the upper edge in an election season where just a handful of races will determine control of the Congress. Republicans hold a six-seat edge in the House. Democrats hold a one-seat voting majority in the Senate.

According to at least one political analyst, Democrats seem to be gaining that edge since they agreed to a resolution on Iraq and lawmakers left Washington to campaign in their home districts.

"Right now, at this minute, and it can change next week as it did from last week, I think there is a Democratic trend on," said Fox News contributor Dick Morris. "In the last two weeks, the Democrats have taken the lead in Missouri, in Minnesota, and in New Hampshire, according to published polls."

But Republicans are not willing to give up that easily. Cabinet members are on the trail in several close House races, and President Bush went to Pennsylvania and Maine on Tuesday to stump for candidates.

In suburban Philadelphia, Bush told a raucous invitation-only crowd to "tell your neighbors about their responsibility" to get out and vote on Nov. 5.

"I'm here to ask you to do whatever it takes to make sure you crank up a good, healthy vote," the president said.

Bush said that Congress needs to be populated with people "who understand jobs" and the importance of the tax cuts he wants so that "small business can grow to be a big business."

He called for making permanent the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut passed by Congress last year and pushed for medical malpractice limits and homeland security powers.

"There are too many lawsuits which are driving up the cost of medicine. There are too many lawsuits, which are driving good doctors out of the practice of medicine. We need medical liability reform," Bush said.

So far, Bush has raised $140 million this year for candidates, a record amount, and a feat that had Democrats railing on the president for not doing his job.

"It may be that he is worried they are going to lose this election and he's got to spend 100 percent of his time trying to keep that from happening. But I think everybody would feel better if he would devote at least half of his attention to the problems that people are worried about every day," Gephardt said.

The Democratic National Committee released data saying that Pennsylvania workers have lost 63,500 jobs and Mainers 4,500 jobs since Bush took office in January 2001.

If Democrats win the House, Gephardt said, they will try to revitalize the economy with short-term investments in school construction and other vital needs, one-time rebates and tax cuts for families and for company investment, a long-term plan to balance the federal budget, protections for people's pensions and an increase in the minimum wage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.