Democratic Leader Lays Out Party Agenda

The Associated Press
Saturday, June 17, 2006; 11:07 AM

WASHINGTON -- If they retake control of Congress, Democrats will act quickly to increase the minimum wage, lower prescription drug costs and slash interest rates on student loans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Saturday.

The ideas are part of the Democrats' new domestic agenda, named "New Direction for America," which the party rolled out during the past week. Pelosi, D-Calif., used the party's Saturday radio address to promote the plan.

"A new direction means expanding access to affordable health care for Americans. We will begin by lowering the cost of prescription drugs by putting seniors ahead of pharmaceutical companies and HMOs," Pelosi said.

"A new direction means broadening opportunity by addressing the soaring costs of higher education. We will begin by making tuition tax-deductible and cutting the interest rates of student loans in half."

Pelosi also pledged to improve security, reduce dependence on foreign oil, maintain Social Security and oppose deficit spending. Under the plan the minimum wage would rise from $5.15 to $7.25 over two years, the interest rate on student loans would be cut to 3.4 percent and Democrats would approve a "pay as you go" budgeting rule.

Most of the ideas have been part of Democratic talking points for months but, facing criticism that they lack a cohesive message, the party is regrouping them as a platform to run on in November's midterm elections. Democrats hope to regain control of the House and Senate, which would take a gain of 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate.

On Iraq, Pelosi said: "2006 must be a year of significant transition. It is time for a new direction in Iraq."

She didn't mention that there's significant disagreement among Democrats on when to begin withdrawing troops.

Pelosi's position on the Iraq timetable _ "at the earliest practicable time, the United States must begin the responsible redeployment of its troops," she said _ is not shared by everyone in the Democratic caucus.

© 2006 The Associated Press