Image: Edwards
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP
Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards addresses the Women Employed's luncheon in Chicago May 9.
updated 5/13/2007 8:25:58 PM ET 2007-05-14T00:25:58

Presidential candidate John Edwards is offering more policy proposals than any other candidate in the primary and his ideas are winning loud applause from Democratic audiences.  The question is whether other voters will cheer when they see the price tag - more than $125 billion a year.

Edwards is quick to acknowledge his spending on health care, energy and poverty reduction comes at a cost, with more plans to come. All told, his proposals would equal more than $1 trillion if he could get them enacted into law and operational during two White House terms.

To put the number in perspective, President Bush has dedicated more than $1.8 trillion to tax cuts. The cost of the Iraq war is nearing $450 billion. And this year's federal budget is about $2.8 trillion.

Health care over tax relief
Edwards says fixing the country's problems takes precedence over eliminating the deficit or offering middle-class tax relief like he proposed when running for president in the last election.

"I think for me, as opposed to the additional tax relief for the middle class, what's more important is to give them relief from the extraordinary cost of health care, from gasoline prices, the things that they spend money on every single day that are escalating dramatically," Edwards said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

To pay for some of his priorities, Edwards would roll back Bush's tax cuts on Americans making more than $200,000 a year. He also said he would consider raising capital gains taxes to help fund his plans and raise or eliminate the $90,000 cap on individual earnings subject to Social Security taxes to help cover the projected shortfall in the system.

'Tax and spend' label
Edwards also has proposed spending cuts such as cutting subsidies for the banks that make student loans for a savings of $6 billion a year. He would also save money by trimming the number of Department of Housing and Urban Development employees, negotiating Medicare prescription drug prices and cutting agricultural subsidies for corporate farms, although the campaign did not yet have estimates of how much that would bring in.

Edwards' ideas have already opened him to accusations of being just another tax-and-spend liberal, a label put on Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee who said he would raise taxes and then lost 49 states to President Reagan.

The Republican National Committee accused Edwards of making his first campaign promise to raise taxes. "Edwards' America Will Pay More Taxes," said a news release from the conservative Club for Growth on the day Edwards announced a plan for universal health care that would cost $90 billion to $120 billion.

The cost estimate came from Ken Thorpe, an Emory University researcher who provides outside analysis on health care plans for presidential candidates. The estimate he gave the Edwards campaign was $105 billion to $145 billion in 2010 dollars - the year Edwards' plan would go into full effect. However, the campaign changed it to 2007 dollars.

His plan would require employers to provide insurance or contribute to the coverage of every worker - and it would require every citizen to get coverage. The government would pay for insurance for lower income Americans and tax credits to help subsidize what other families would have to pay for coverage, funded by abolishing Bush's tax cuts for people who make more than $200,000 a year and by having the government collect more back taxes.

More policy plans
Among other annual spending Edwards has promoted:

  • $15 billion-$20 billion to help achieve his goal of ending poverty in the U.S. within 30 years. That includes $4.2 billion to increase the earned income tax credit, which refunds payroll and income taxes to low-income people; $4 billion to create 1 million short-term jobs to help the unemployed climb out of poverty; and $3 billion for $500 work bonds to help low-income workers save.
  • $13 billion energy fund to develop and encourage more efficiency and renewable energy use. That includes $3 billion in tax credits for the production of renewable energy and $1 billion to help the U.S. auto industry modernize with the latest fuel-efficient technology. He said the fund would be paid for by selling $10 billion in greenhouse pollution permits and by ending $3 billion in subsidies for big oil companies.
  • $1 billion rural recovery plan with initiatives like increased investment in rural small businesses, education, health care and resources to fight methamphetamine abuse.
  • $5 billion in foreign aid to combat international poverty, including $3 billion to help pay for primary education for every child in the world.

Progressive positioning
Edwards also has promoted other ideas he has in the works, such as an education plan that includes his goal of eliminating financial barriers to college, a border security plan and federal spending on stem cells. But he's yet to announce details or costs.

Still, Edwards has been the most forthcoming Democratic candidate when it comes to describing the details of how he would like to run the country. His chief rivals - Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama - have offered few hints about their policy proposals.

The ideas are the centerpiece of Edwards' plan to position himself as the party's true progressive in the primary. He hopes the big ideas will attract the liberal Iowa caucus goers, online energy and labor endorsements that he's counting on to propel him to the nomination, said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane.

"If the costs become a real issue, it will be a good problem to have for him because the only folks likely to make a real argument against it would be the Republicans, which means his strategy succeeded and he was the nominee," said Lehane, who worked in the Clinton White House and for Al Gore's candidacy in 2000.

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Edwards said his spending proposals also would take precedence over eliminating the more than $200 billion deficit. He said he would work to lower the deficit and would not let it grow.

"Those things cost money, and there's a balance between that and the need to reduce the deficit," said the former North Carolina senator. "And so the threshold question is where is the priority? ... If we're going to do those things, I think it's very difficult to eliminate the deficit - in the short term, impossible."

He said he supports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's requirement that legislation to cut taxes or boost federal benefit programs must be paid for with tax increases or other benefit cuts. But Edwards has yet to explain how he would pay for all his proposals. That will come later this year when he offers his tax plan, the campaign said.

"There's definitely a lack of numbers in some of his proposals," said Paul Weinstein Jr., chief operating officer at the centrist Progressive Policy Institute. "I think you should be commended for wanting to provide universal health care and to eliminate poverty. I think it would be more legitimate if he would identify some of the ways in which he would pay for these things."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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