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Gephardt Launches Bid for 2004 Presidency

February 20, 2003

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Opening his second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Rep. Dick Gephardt balanced his belief in the need to disarm Iraq with criticism of the way President Bush has tackled the problem.

``I negotiated the resolution that authorized the use of force,″ Gephardt said, ``and got into it the language that says the president has to go to the U.N.″

In October, when Gephardt was House minority leader, Congress passed a resolution authorizing Bush to launch a military attack against Iraq if he decided it is necessary. Gephardt co-wrote the legislation.

He suggested Wednesday he would have done more to involve other nations in confronting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. ``We can’t just bully people into doing what we want them to do,″ he said. ``You can’t fight terrorism with military force alone.″

The Missouri congressman announced his campaign Wednesday at his childhood elementary school in St. Louis, but was headed quickly to key early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Gephardt, 62, ran for president in 1988 but his candidacy fizzled after he won the Democratic caucuses in Iowa.

Questions on Iraq are certain to follow Gephardt throughout the primary season. He faces pressure from the left, where anti-war candidates like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean criticize him for backing any resolution that could lead to war. At the same time, criticizing the president when war appears imminent is a risky strategy.

``I would be the kind of president who would lead an international coalition,″ said Gephardt. ``We need help. We need help before and we need help afterward.″

``This is a world problem, not just a U.S. problem,″ he said.

At a nursing school in Iowa, where precinct caucuses launch the 2004 nominating season, Gephardt touted what he called the main theme of his campaign. He wants to repeal virtually all of a tax cut pushed through Congress by Bush, and use the money to offer health coverage for everyone.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gephardt said his health care plan could cost as much as Bush’s $10-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut plan, though his team is still working out the details.

``You could easily spend as much as the Bush tax cuts,″ said Gephardt. ``This is an offer to every business and every employee. This is a big deal, it’s a lot of money.″

He would offer businesses a tax credit for health insurance purchased for workers, a relatively simple system he said he came to favor after the losing battle over former President Clinton’s complex national health care plan.

``I learned a lot from that failure,″ said Gephardt. ``Americans probably won’t support a complicated plan that people think is going to have the government run the health care system.″

Gephardt said the only part of the tax cut he would retain was elimination of the so-called marriage penalty, in which a married couple pays more than they would if they filed as two single people.

Other than that, he said, chipping away at the tax cut wouldn’t generate enough money.

``You can’t keep the Bush tax cuts in the main and be able to do this,″ said Gephardt. He conceded his plan would be attacked as a tax increase.

``I’ve got to sell this idea to people,″ he said. ``I wouldn’t call it a tax increase. I’d call it getting rid of a tax cut that’s on the books that Republicans are trying to make permanent.″

Gephardt said he was eager for a debate.

``I’m sure that George Bush will try to say that,″ he said. ``I’m ready for that charge because I feel so strong that people are most interested in health care.″

Gephardt countered arguments that he’s an old face in an era when voters are seeking something new.

``Voters are going to be very careful in making that decision,″ he said. ``People want steady hands. Experience can be a plus and I think in this case it will be.″


On the Net:

Dick Gephardt: http://www.dickgephardt2004.com/