IMAGE: DEMOCRATS DEBATING
Scott Olson  /  Getty Images
Democratic presidential hopefuls greet the audience before Thursday's debate in Johnston, Iowa.
updated 12/13/2007 5:35:16 PM ET 2007-12-13T22:35:16

Democratic presidential rivals called for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and on some corporations Thursday and said any thought of balancing the federal budget would have to wait.

"We're not going to be able to dig ourselves out" of Bush-era deficits in the next year or two, said Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, one of six Democratic rivals sharing a debate stage for the final time before Iowa's leadoff Jan. 3 caucuses.

Asked about eliminating deficits, several of the Democrats responded by mentioning higher taxes on the wealthy and on big corporations.

"I want to keep the middle-class tax cuts" that Congress passed during President Bush's tenure, said Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. But she said she favors raising taxes for the wealthiest income-earners and corporations.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina readily agreed. "The truth of the matter is the tax policy has been established by the big corporations and the wealthiest Americans," he said. "What we ought to be doing instead is getting rid of those tax breaks."

The Democrats fielded questions on the same stage that Republican White House hopefuls held on Wednesday, the second half of a debate double-header sponsored by The Des Moines Register.

Video: Biden, Richardson pitch their platforms

Tax divide
The opening moments of the event underscored the gulf between the two parties on economic issues. Republicans called repeatedly on Wednesday for elimination of the estate tax — which falls principally on the largest of estates — and reduction in the corporation income tax.

Those differences will have to wait for the general election campaign, however. For now, all presidential hopefuls in both parties are pointing with single-minded determination on their nomination campaigns, beginning with the Iowa caucuses on Jan 3 and the New Hampshire primary five days later.

Only New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said balancing the budget would be a high priority. He noted that as governor, he is required to do so, and he called for a presidential line-item veto, a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, the elimination of “corporate welfare” and elimination of congressional earmarks to help get rid of federal red ink.

Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut jabbed at Richardson, saying the federal government is “much more complicated than state budgets. What we need to be doing is growing our economy, giving people a sense of confidence again.”

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware was one of several Democrats who noted that the Iraq War is costing $10 billion a month — money that he said could be spent on education, health care and other programs, or allocated to deficit reduction.

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Biden was one of several Democrats who noted that the Iraq War is costing $10 billion a month — money that he said could be spent on education, health care and other programs, or allocated to deficit reduction.

The federal budget ran a surplus of $127 billion the year Bush took office. The deficit hit a record high of $413 billion in 2004 before declining to $162.8 billion for the 2007 budget year, which ended last Sept. 30.

Republicans have long blamed an economic slowdown, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a stock market crash for the country’s descent into deficit spending and said tax cuts have promoted economic growth. Democrats contend Bush’s tax cuts needlessly drained the treasury of revenue, while disproportionately helping the wealthy and corporations.

The six Democrats stuck to well-rehearsed campaign lines, passing up opportunities to attack one another and periodically illustrating their points with Iowa-specific examples.

Dodd noted that the cost of attending the University of Iowa has risen 147 percent in the past six or seven years. Obama, addressing energy issues, squeezed in a reference to a new wind turbine manufacturing plant in Keokuk with 400 jobs. Biden said his first trip to Iowa was a generation ago, when former Sen. John Culver ran in 1974. Biden didn’t say so, but Culver’s son, Chet, is the current governor, neutral in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.

Kucinich not invited
The field of debaters was trimmed to six at the direction of the newspaper that hosted it. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Iowa was excluded because he does not have a campaign office in the state. His supporters protested the decision, but to no avail.

It was not clear why the same rules did not exclude former Ambassador Alan Keyes from the Register’s debate of Republican candidates on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the newspaper did not immediately return a telephone call or e-mail.

More debates are scheduled early next year before the New Hampshire primary, which occurs five days after Iowa, and before later contests in South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and California.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama, Edwards pitch their platforms

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