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  •   Gore Takes Aim at Deadbeat Dads

    By Ceci Connolly
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, October 20, 1999; Page A8

    Vice President Gore, looking to preempt rival Bill Bradley by a day, plans to unveil his anti-poverty agenda today with the emphasis on deadbeat dads.

    Under Gore's plan, fathers who do not pay child support would be required to go to work and they could have trouble getting a credit card.

    "Promoting responsible fatherhood is the critical next phase of welfare reform and one of the most important things we can do to reduce child poverty," Gore said in a draft of the speech.

    Despite the strong economy, Gore and Bradley are spotlighting poverty this week in their increasingly tight race for the Democratic nomination. Bradley, who regularly speaks about the widening gap between the nation's rich and poor, will deliver his address on the issue in Brooklyn on Thursday.

    Gore argues that the best way to reduce poverty is to get more fathers involved in parenting. Documents released by his office indicate that children living without their fathers are five times more likely to be poor than children living with both parents and children raised without a father are twice as likely to drop out of high school, end up in jail or use drugs or alcohol.

    Gore's speech, to be delivered today at a Washington church, is heavy on incentives and light on financial assistance for low-income Americans. Following on a Clinton administration initiative that uses hospitals to help collect paternity papers from new fathers, Gore would set up similar projects at a range of government-supported programs such as Head Start and after-school centers. He also wants to streamline the process for securing support orders.

    Just as President Clinton's welfare reform legislation cuts off aid to women who do not find jobs within two years, Gore wants states to crack down on men who refuse to pay child support. As a condition of receiving federal child support, Gore would urge states to help enforce his go-to-work policy and offer more job placement and training programs for unemployed fathers.

    Gore also would use the presidential bully pulpit to pressure credit card companies to reject applicants who are delinquent on child support payments. Aides say he would offer the nation's three major credit bureaus regular reports from the federal database on parents (primarily fathers) who have fallen behind in child support.

    Acknowledging that the government could not force the companies, a Gore adviser said: "We think they'd be shamed into it."

    The vice president says he would expand the Family and Medical Leave Act, which now applies to businesses of 50 people and more, to any firm with more than 25 employees. And he wants to mandate one more day off for parents to attend conferences at their children's schools.

    In the speech, Gore reiterates two tax proposals targeted to working families. As president, he would eliminate the "marriage penalty" by raising the standard deduction for married couples to $1,400, and he would increase the amount a couple may earn--up to $29,000--and still receive the full earned-income tax credit.

    Today's speech has its origins in the 1994 Gore family conference, a yearly Tennessee policy seminar hosted by the vice president and his wife.

    All this week, the two Democratic contenders will be circling each other, both making personal pitches to the House Progressive Caucus and both giving environmental speeches.

    In a private session with the caucus yesterday, Gore promoted an increase in the minimum wage and dissected Bradley's health care plan point by point, according to lawmakers who attended.

    Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said despite the vice president's reticence last Friday to invite Clinton out on the campaign trail, Gore told House Democrats yesterday that Clinton would be campaigning for him but at the same time said it was important for him to define his own candidacy.

    The Gore and Bradley camps also continued their feud over when and where to debate. Bradley yesterday agreed to six dates beginning Dec. 17 and ending Jan. 27. Gore has already accepted an invitation to a televised town hall meeting on Dec. 17 in Manchester, N.H., but his aides say he wants earlier dates on several other debates.

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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