TOLEDO, Feb. 25 -- Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry accused the Bush administration Wednesday of indifference to the plight of U.S. workers who have seen their jobs shipped overseas and offered steps to deal with a problem that has dominated this year's Democratic campaign.
The senator from Massachusetts also vowed not to cut Social Security benefits to help reduce the federal budget deficit, a direct repudiation of a recommendation offered Wednesday on Capitol Hill by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan. Kerry was joined in this by his major rival, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), who lauded the attention the Fed chairman shined on deficits during the Bush administration but said in a statement, "it is an outrage for him to suggest that we should extend George Bush's tax cuts on unearned wealth while cutting Social Security benefits that working people earn."
With Edwards and Kerry sprinting in the remaining days before next week's 10-state Super Tuesday primaries, new polls suggested the task Edwards faces to keep his candidacy viable. The Field Poll in California, where Edwards spent the day, showed him trailing Kerry by 41 percentage points.
Public polls showed gaps of 20 points or more in Ohio and New York, two states where Edwards has hoped to run strongly and has spent considerable time recently. There was somewhat better news in Georgia, where a poll showed Edwards trailing by 8 points.
Kerry was on the second day of what his campaign billed a "jobs tour" to highlight what has happened economically in Ohio and other battleground election states. "Under this administration, America's middle class has been abandoned, its dreams denied, its Main Street interests ignored and its mainstream values scorned by a White House that puts privilege first, and we must change that," he said at the University of Toledo.
Kerry highlighted corporate greed and executive misbehavior for part of the problem and said workers who have played by the rules have suffered. He cited one firm that dismissed 22,000 employees while the chief executive left with a $9.5 million severance package.
If he becomes president, Kerry said, "Our government won't provide a single reward for shipping our jobs overseas or exploiting the tax code to go to Bermuda to avoid paying taxes while sticking the American people with the bill."
Kerry's speech, however, underscored the challenge for Democrats on the issue. The only new proposal he offered would do nothing to stop companies from moving jobs overseas, but would give government and workers more advance notification.
Kerry said he would require companies to give three months' notice before moving jobs abroad; the notice would go to workers and government agencies tasked with offering laid-off employees assistance and training. He said he would also require the Labor Department to gather statistics on the number of jobs that have gone abroad, by company, and to report them to Congress on an annual basis.
The Kerry campaign estimated that about 1 million jobs have moved overseas since President Bush took office. Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser in the Clinton White House, who briefed reporters, acknowledged that the steps Kerry proposed Wednesday would not, by themselves, do much to change the behavior of such companies.
Sperling noted that there is not a "silver bullet" when it comes to outsourcing. But he said Kerry has made other proposals, including a manufacturing tax credit, a health care plan that he said would cut corporate costs and an energy plan that would lower production costs for U.S. companies and make it more attractive for them to keep their plants in this country.
Kerry sought to steer a course between Bush administration economic policies and calls for greater protectionism within his own party, saying workers deserve the truth about what government can and cannot do. "They don't have a lot of patience for those who tell them everything is going to be fine if only we have a little more tax cuts for the wealthy or if we cut off trade with the rest of the world," he said.
Edwards, in California, spent the day striking similar themes. At Pomona College in Claremont, he outlined wide-ranging steps that he said were designed to lift 10 million Americans out of poverty. Edwards has touched on his proposals previously, but his theme -- that Americans have a moral responsibility to the poor -- was striking on a verdant campus where students pay $38,000 a year.
His goal, Edwards said, was to create 5 million jobs, particularly in poor communities. Among other proposals, Edwards advocated raising the $5.15 minimum wage by $1.50 per hour, which would raise the earnings of a person making minimum wage by $3,500 a year. He also advocated eliminating the marriage tax penalty for the working poor, investing in public health centers, public transportation, tax credits for companies that create jobs in rural and disadvantaged communities, and creating a government-run venture capital fund to help companies locate in these communities. "The best anti-poverty program is a good job," he said. "But we have to do more than that."
Edwards would also match the savings of working poor families dollar for dollar and offer tax credits for purchase of a first house.
He gave no estimate of the total cost of his proposals but suggested that some could be funded by rolling back tax cuts that favored wealthier Americans.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt defended the administration's record and said Kerry policies would continue to burden employers and raise their costs.
Kerry unveiled a new television ad in Georgia featuring former senator Max Cleland, who closes the ad by saying that Kerry has "been tested on the battlefield, he's been tested in the United States Senate and now he's ready to be president of the United States."
Farhi reported from California. Staff writer John F. Harris in Washington contributed to this report.