Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wants to spend $20 billion over a decade developing clean-burning fuels and environmental technology, part of an effort to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.
President Bush, meanwhile, pressed for changes in labor laws so that workers can choose time off instead of overtime pay, a notion that has met stiff resistance in the Republican-controlled Congress.
A portion of the development fund that Kerry is proposing, which campaign aides said would be unveiled Friday, would be financed by trimming the government’s own utility bills. Kerry envisions switching to fuel-efficient cars and trucks, winterizing federal buildings and installing lights that turn themselves off at night.
The remainder would be paid for by reinstating a tax on corporate polluters that had financed cleanups at some of the nation’s worst environmentally damaged sites, known as Superfund sites.
Kerry planned to turn his attention to energy as he whistle-stopped his way across Missouri, which has voted for the winner in every presidential race but one in the past 100 years.
He spent part of the day reaching out for support from conservatives and independents. “Change is coming to Washington,” he said.
“Both Washingtons,” the Democratic presidential candidate said to cheers from a crowd of several hundred people. They had turned out to greet him at a train station in a town of 15,000 along the banks of the Missouri River.
Whistle-stop tour with Edwards
Joined by running mate John Edwards, Kerry briefly left his bunting-draped train to shake hands with residents as he and his aides invited comparisons to the famed whistle-stop tour that Harry Truman rode to re-election in 1948.
For the Kerry-Edwards ticket, the 26-car train was a switch of sorts. Behind were 1,700 miles of campaigning by bus. Ahead lie 1,800 miles by rail, winding up in Arizona on Sunday night.
The mode of transportation was different but the message was the same. A low-to-the-ground push through important states where the Massachusetts senator appealed for support from people who might have once preferred President Bush but have now grown weary of his policies.
“I want you to talk to conservatives,” Kerry told a crowd at Union Station in St. Louis before his train began its trek westward.
“I want you to talk to Republicans and independents and I want you to remind them there is nothing conservative about running up deficits as far as the eye can see and giving the debt to our children,” Kerry said.
“There is nothing conservative about a certain attorney general from somewhere who stomps on the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans,” Kerry said, drawing cheers with his jab at Attorney General John Ashcroft, a former Missouri governor and senator.
Negotiations for debates
Campaign officials also said they intend to name several Democrats to assist Vernon Jordan in negotiating with Republicans over the terms of fall campaign debates with Republicans. The list includes Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Jim Johnson, who headed Kerry’s vice presidential search effort, and Robert Barnett, a Washington lawyer with long experience in debate preparations.
Kerry earlier this year accepted a proposal from a bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates for three presidential and one vice presidential debate this fall.
Kerry scheduled a stop Friday at a family farm in Kansas City, Mo., to unveil the energy fund. His campaign’s energy policy also includes $10 billion dedicated to clean coal technologies.
Kerry said Thursday the United States can improve national security by developing more domestic sources of fuel, such as ethanol.
“We are going to reach for energy independence,” he said. “We’re going to create the jobs of the future because I want America’s security to depend on America’s ingenuity and creativity, not the Saudi royal family.”
Kerry avoids gay marriage issue
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry is holding up a Senate bill that would fund many of the alternative fuels he’s advocating. “John Kerry has no credibility on these issues,” he said.
The crowd that greeted the Democrats in this Missouri town was overwhelmingly friendly, although some Bush supporters were present. Their chants of “four more years” prompted Kerry’s partisans to respond with “three more months,” predicting Bush’s defeat in November.
While Kerry pitched his economic plans to disaffected Bush voters, he avoided mention of two prominent social issues during his first two stops in the state. Missouri long has been a center of anti-abortion activity, and the state’s voters on Tuesday endorsed an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage.
Kerry supports abortion rights and opposes a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriages.
The senator repeatedly evoked memories of Truman, a man from Missouri who set out on a whistle-stop tour in 1948 and won re-election. “Give ’em Hell, Kerry,” read one sign held up in the crowd along the train route, a play on “Give ’em Hell, Harry” cry of the 1948 campaign.
But the comparison goes only so far.
Truman is the political patron saint of underdogs, incorrectly written off more than a half-century ago when he sought to remain in the White House.
Kerry is a challenger in a tight race with Bush with not even three months left before the election.
Bush talks comp time in Ohio
President Bush, speaking in Columbus, Ohio, pushed his ideas for changes in labor laws. Before Bush spoke, the White House issued a two-page memorandum on proposed labor law changes so that workers can choose time off instead of overtime pay as compensation for extra work and so that workers can have the option of working more hours in one week and fewer the next — proposals often referred to as comp time and flex time.
The AFL-CIO and other opponents say the proposals will hurt workers financially while savings companies billions on overtime pay.
Bush only mentioned the proposals once, in response to a question from the audience at the end of his appearance. The president said the government should allow employers to say to employees that they can spend more time with their families.
“Government should be standing side by side with people,” the president said to applause.
Labor unions say companies don’t need a change in federal law to schedule workers to work a late shift or allow them to come in late one day to accommodate family needs.
Bush favors the business community argument that the workplace has been transformed because of two-parent working families and that family time is precious.
In June, House Republican leaders yanked an overtime pay bill after failing to find enough votes for passage, a rare win for labor unions in the GOP-controlled Congress. The pullback followed a massive lobbying effort by organized labor that targeted moderate House Republicans.
The measure would let hourly workers who log more than 40 hours in a week choose between overtime pay or compensatory time off at a later date. Private companies are barred under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act from offering comp time as an option to millions of workers covered by the law.