Gephardt Links Economy, Free Trade

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U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt (search) said Sunday the loss of American jobs overseas and the lack of health insurance coverage for millions of Americans are moral problems, not just economic ones.

The former House minority leader and Democratic presidential hopeful from Missouri said he would eliminate President Bush's tax cuts and spend the money instead on his plan to guarantee health coverage to all Americans.

That would boost the economy and create more health care jobs - jobs that could not be exported to China, he told several dozen people attending house parties in Manchester and Derry on Sunday.

"It is immoral to have people without health insurance," he said.

Gephardt has proposed a sweeping, $240-billion plan that would enable every company to provide health insurance for its employees, with 60 percent of the cost paid by a refundable tax credit. He said his plan would lower total health care costs by 5 to 7 percent.

He said Bush's policies, on the other hand, reflect a "survival of the fittest" philosophy.

"It's not real. It's not moral. We go forward together," he said.

Gephardt, who opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (search), said existing trade agreements with developing countries such as Mexico and China have no teeth and the restrictions they do contain are not enforced.

Such trade agreements invite corporations to operate wherever labor is cheapest, no matter the cost to American jobs or human rights, he said.

He called for an international minimum wage, no slave labor, and strong environmental standards. If they are violated, the United States should have the power to enact tariffs, he said.

Gephardt also called for a full congressional investigation into claims made by President Bush when he sought congressional and public support for an invasion of Iraq.

A week ago in Iowa, Gephardt said he wanted to know whether Bush misled the country, or whether Bush was misled by intelligence officials, when he claimed in last year's State of the Union speech that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (search) sought nuclear materials from Africa. But Sunday he blamed Bush.

"I am shocked that this president is trying to blame intelligence problems on the CIA," he said.

Intelligence officials have conceded the information should not have been included in Bush's speech because they were unable to verify it and had serious doubts about its accuracy.

But CIA Director George Tenet (search) took responsibility for the error, and Bush's defenders repeatedly have said the president's statement was technically accurate because he attributed the information to British intelligence.

Asked whether he thinks civil liberties have eroded since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Gephardt said attempts to label dissenters "unpatriotic" are "the most dangerous thing that could go on in this country."

"This cuts at the heart of the meaning of the country," he said. "If we give up all our freedoms to protect our freedoms, there's nothing to protect."

James Travers, a Manchester artist, said he thinks Gephardt has the experience to correct the "mistakes" made by Bush in "squandering lives and resources." He also said he believes Gephardt is the only Democrat who can beat Bush.

But Roger Paradise, also of Manchester, said that while he liked Gephardt's ideas, he thought he lacked "fire" in presenting them.