Obama Addresses Income Inequality

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Obama Addresses Income Inequality

BETTENDORF, Iowa -- Barack Obama, bidding to strengthen his appeal among working families, outlined new proposals Wednesday designed to make college more affordable, encourage retirement savings, and help people balance the competing demands of work and family.

In a speech here, Obama said the cost of the American dream is rising faster than ever. "While some have prospered beyond imagination in this global economy, middle-class Americans -- as well as those working hard to become middle-class -- are seeing the American dream slip further and further away," he said.

The senator from Illinois said that President Bush's tax cuts have helped increase income inequality and that the administration's policies have favored corporate and special interests over ordinary families. But he argued that it will take more than replacing Bush with a Democrat next year to bring about the changes needed.

Obama repackaged some of the proposals he has already outlined in the campaign with several new ones in an effort to offer an updated economic message two months before the Iowa caucuses. Through much of the year, Hillary Clinton has demonstrated much more appeal to middle-class and blue-collar voters than Obama, a critical weakness in his campaign that he is seeking to overcome.

Campaign officials said the new proposals would cost $26 billion a year. That does not include the cost of his health-care proposal or his previously announced middle-class tax cut. Among the proposals offered Wednesday was a refundable tax credit to cover the first $4,000 in tuition for any student. Obama said that would cover two-thirds of the tuition at the average public college or university. He also pledged to simplify the financial aid application process to make it easer for all students to apply for assistance.

To make saving for retirement easier, Obama said he would require employers to enroll workers in direct-deposit accounts. He also proposed expanding an existing program that would have the federal government match half of the first $1,000 in savings for families earning $75,000 or less.

To help families cope with the burdens of raising children or caring for elderly parents, Obama pledged to double the amount of money spent on after-school programs and to expand provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In Iowa this week, Obama has been speaking about Clinton, his Senate colleague from New York, telling the Des Moines Register that it seems she has reversed her position on ethanol and energy. Obama also criticized Bill Clinton's comments to a Las Vegas union crowd on Monday, when the former president compared the attacks on his wife by Democratic opponents Obama, former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) to the television commercials aired against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race and to GOP ads targeting then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) in 2002.

The former president's comments drew widespread, though private, reactions from strategists in rival campaigns, who argued that he had dramatically exaggerated the criticism his wife had received and had stretched credulity with his Swift-boat analogy. A senior Clinton aide was quoted as saying that the former president's remarks were not helpful to his wife's candidacy and that he was not speaking for the campaign.

Another official later tried to distance the campaign from the suggestion that officials were trying to distance the candidate from her husband.

-- Dan Balz


Michigan Primary Up in the Air

With voting scheduled to begin in less than two months, the presidential nominating calendar grew even murkier after a Michigan judge issued a ruling that appeared to confound the state's plans for a Jan. 15 primary.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collete struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the state law creating the Jan. 15 primary that would give the Democratic and Republican parties exclusive access to lists of voters who participated in the primary. Collete ruled that this provision amounted to giving public property to private interests and should have required a two-thirds majority when the legislature passed the measure this summer. And because the legislation has a "non-severability" clause, the entire law creating the Jan. 15 must be declared void if any part of it is struck down.

Supporters of the Jan. 15 primary, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), said they are reviewing the ruling and will do what they can to retain the date. But one of the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit, Ingham County Commissioner Mark Grebner, told the Free Press he doubts the legislature could pass a new measure in time.

-- Alec MacGillis

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