By SCOTT SONNER
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; 7:03 PM
RENO, Nev. -- Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Bill Richardson courted Nevada's union workers Wednesday, pledging to end the war in Iraq and spend the billions of dollars in savings on health care and rebuilding U.S. infrastructure.
Biden was sharply critical of President Bush for citing the legacy of Vietnam as justification to remain in Iraq.
"He said we left Vietnam too soon," Biden told about 300 delegates attending the state convention of the Nevada AFL-CIO. "I don't know what planet he was on."
Biden said the U.S. was spending money "on the wrong things," and Richardson told the group, "That money should be spent on our own people."
Earlier Wednesday, Bush told those attending the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Mo.: "One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields."
Biden told reporters that the only analogy he sees between Vietnam and Iraq is that Americans in Iraq will be in greater danger the longer U.S. troops are there.
"I predict if we continue down President Bush's path, we are going to see the repeat of helicopters over the top of the embassy with people hanging on the ladders trying to get out," he said.
Both Biden and Richardson vowed to walk the picket line if union workers strike at the hotel-casino hosting the convention, the Grand Sierra Resort, the largest in Reno. The Culinary Workers Union representing hotel workers is negotiating contract issues, including health care payments and proposed cuts in vacations and paid holidays.
The New Mexico governor asked delegates to back him as a fellow Westerner who understood regional issues and backed gun rights.
"We've got to get somebody who is electable. Not somebody who can just win on the East Coast and far West Coast, but somebody who is strong and has the values of working men and women," he said.
Richardson said that as president his goal would be to double the number of union workers in the country during his first term. He also said he would appoint a union member as his secretary of labor and lower the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55.
Biden said that in addition to the $120 billion being spent annually on the war in Iraq, he would save an additional $85 billion by eliminating tax breaks for the richest 1 percent of Americans.
Biden said he could provide health insurance for every child in the country for about $28 billion and catastrophic health care insurance for every citizen for about the same amount. He also said he long has advocated spending $20 billion annually to repair bridges, highways and other infrastructure.
"You can do this if you end the war and take away the tax cut," he said.