DENVER—Centrist Democrats argued Monday that the best way back to power is appealing to middle-class values, not attacking President Bush and inflaming liberal passions.
"Our party has been good at trashing the other team," said Andrew Romanoff, the Democratic speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives and a rising star in the party. "But that's not a particularly good way to win an election, and it's certainly not a good way to run a country."
To underscore the point, the Democratic Leadership Council unveiled a domestic policy platform that its members hope will appeal to the middle class and bring back independents and suburban moderates.
Many of the DLC's proposals were familiar, offering government help in paying for college, buying a home and saving for retirement, paid for by cutting government subsidies to corporations and closing capital gains-tax loopholes. But key Democrats welcomed comparisons to the policies that they said worked for the country and the politics that they said worked for Democrats a decade ago.
"I want us to be a majority party," said Al From, the founder of the DLC, which helped launch Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992 and re-election in 1996. "We were very well on the way to doing that and we need to get back on that route."
Shut out of power in Washington, Democrats are torn over the war in Iraq and over how sharply to confront Bush. In a high-profile example, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a centrist and six-year chairman of the DLC, is facing a strong primary challenge because of his support for the war and his refusal to attack Bush.
A group chaired by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., wrote the DLC's domestic agenda, called the American Dream Initiative.
"A lot of Americans can't work any harder, borrow any more or save any less," she said. "It's time for a new direction."
She said the agenda would strengthen the middle class and "help pave the way for the poor to work their way out of poverty." As politics, she added, she hoped it would "unite Democrats and help elect Democrats across the country this November."
The agenda also could serve as the nucleus of her possible run for president. Paraphrasing a slogan from her husband's first campaign, she joked that "it's the American dream, stupid."
In addition to Clinton, the three-day strategy session featured a cavalcade of potential 2008 presidential candidates: Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Govs. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Tom Vilsack of Iowa. Former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia sent regrets; he was on a long-scheduled vacation in Europe.
The DLC's platform was drawn narrowly enough to attract support even from liberal Democrats, and it didn't include any references to social issues such as gay marriage. Nor did it address the issue that most divides Democrats this summer, the Iraq war.
For more on the DLC online, go to www.dlc.org
Among the proposals in the Democratic Leadership Council's American Dream Initiative:
_$150 billion in grants to the states over 10 years to help keep tuition increases at the rate of inflation or lower.
_Consolidating federal tax breaks into one $3,000-a-year college tax credit.
_Giving $5,000 to 7 million low- and middle-income people for down payments on homes. The money would come through a refundable tax credit.
_Giving every newborn a $500 savings bond and another at his or her 10th birthday. The money could be used for college, a first home or retirement.
_Requiring businesses with more than five employees to enroll workers automatically in retirement accounts and automatically increase their contributions each year—unless they opt out of the account or the increases.
To pay for it, the DLC proposed cutting federal subsidies to corporations by $200 billion to $250 billion over 10 years, cutting the number of government consultants from 5 million to 4.9 million to save $50 billion over 10 years, and cracking down on stock-selling tax cheats to raise another $250 billion in capital gains taxes over 10 years.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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