Edwards Says U.S. Should Set Out to Eliminate Poverty

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006

Former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), sketching out themes for a possible 2008 presidential campaign, said yesterday that the nation should set a goal of eliminating poverty over the next three decades and seek to reclaim the moral high ground internationally by starting to withdraw forces from Iraq.

On a day when the Senate defeated two Democratic amendments aimed at forcing President Bush to begin pulling out of Iraq, Edwards told a National Press Club audience the administration has made a mess in Iraq. He said he favors an immediate withdrawal of 40,000 troops and called for all combat forces to be gone in the next 12 to 18 months.

"We desperately need to restore the moral core of leadership," he said. "It is absolutely no secret that our credibility in the world has been enormously damaged and tarnished over the last six years. . . . It is absolutely essential, if we are going to defeat these global jihadists, that we restore America's credibility in the world."

The 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee had sharp words for his party, saying Democrats must stand for big ideas, backbone and leadership. "I do not believe in a party obsessed with incrementalism, half-measures, positions based on yesterday's polls," he said.

In his 2004 campaign, Edwards talked about an America divided between haves and have-nots, and after leaving the Senate he helped establish a poverty center at the University of North Carolina. But it was Hurricane Katrina, he said, that gave new urgency to the 37 million Americans living below the poverty line.

Edwards said that welfare reform has helped reduce poverty among single mothers but that the problem remains acute among young men. He called on society to strike a bargain with those in poverty by providing additional assistance for housing, health care, education and savings. In return, he said, those capable of working would be expected to work and to make responsible choices about their lives.

His policy proposals include raising the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour, which he said would lift a million people out of poverty. He also proposed creating a million temporary government-subsidized jobs over five years, tax credits for first-time home buyers, a radical overhaul of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, tax credits to help low-income workers establish savings accounts, and expanded opportunities to attend college.

Edwards said wiping out poverty would cost $15 billion to $20 billion a year, which he said he would pay for by rolling back President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and preserving the estate tax, which the Republicans are seeking to eliminate.

Noting that past declarations of war on poverty have fallen short, Edwards said there are huge obstacles ahead, particularly in helping young African American men break out of the poverty cycle. He said new thinking must be part of the solution.

"The debate on poverty is so stuck in the old policies of the past, the old days," he said. "We've got one side driven by guilt and then we have another side who just doesn't believe government can do anything effectively. . . . The truth is that both sides should recognize that our whole economic future depends on providing upward mobility for everybody."

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