Edwards Pushing Universal Health Care

The Associated Press
Monday, January 1, 2007; 9:24 PM

WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential contender John Edwards says it is more important to invest in universal health care and lifting people out of poverty than to reduce the budget deficit.

The 2004 vice presidential nominee said in an interview broadcast Sunday said "there is a tension" between the two directions, but he has made his choice.

"If I were choosing now between which is more important, I think the investments are more important," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Edwards' proposal, which includes tax cuts and a million housing vouchers for the poor, may place him at odds with Democrats in charge of the congressional spending committees.

The incoming Senate and House Appropriations Committee chairmen, Sen., Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, have announced a plan to fund most domestic agency accounts at 2006 levels.

They envision some increases to avoid layoffs of federal employees and for politically sensitive programs such as veterans' medical treatment.

Edwards said he wanted to get the country "out of this ditch we're in fiscally" but acknowledged his plan "means you cannot do about the deficit what you'd like to do, that's true."

The former North Carolina senator, who announced his 2008 candidacy last week, said he believes in a trade policy with "labor and environmental protections that are achievable" by U.S. trading partners. But, he added, if the protections "are being used as a ruse to create a protectionist barrier, then I am not for that."

Edwards said he is not ready to take a position yet on gay marriage, and acknowledged his upbringing in the rural South makes this a troubling issue for him.

"It's easy for me to say, civil unions yes, partnership benefits, yes," he said. But on gay marriage, he said, "I'm just not there yet."

Edwards, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio have been the only Democrats to announce their 2008 White House bids.

Vilsack was asked on "Fox News Sunday" about two polls that showed him running third in his own state _ in one case behind Edwards and Sen. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and in the other, trailing Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Edwards.

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