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Centrist Democrats' proposed agenda stresses security, values

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Stung by criticism that their party offers no policy options for moderate voters, centrist Democrats proposed a broad agenda Sunday on national security, family values, health care, tax reform and managing the federal government.

The agenda, unveiled at the beginning of a two-day meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council, stressed security and social values. Among the proposals: growing the military by 100,000 troops, allowing military recruiters unrestricted access to college campuses and banning the marketing of violent material to children.

"There's nothing wrong with the Democratic Party that a positive agenda can't fix," said Al From, founder of the group that helped launch Bill Clinton to the presidency and which will hear Monday from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential candidate.

The session drew more than 300 elected Democrats from around the country, from state legislators to Clinton and other potential presidential candidates, including Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Govs. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Mark Warner of Virginia.

No formal action on the proposals was expected at the meeting, which was focused on discussing ways to win in states like Ohio that once swung back and forth between the two major parties but now lean toward Republicans. Ohio helped clinch President Bush's re-election last year, and Republicans dominate its state government and congressional delegation.

The meeting was entitled, "Heartland Values, Bold Solutions: An American Reform Agenda."

From said it was critical to offer voters a clearer idea of where Democrats would take the country, not just criticism of the Republican path. "You've got to know where you're going," he said.

Topping the agenda he wrote with former Clinton White House adviser Bruce Reed were several proposals on national security. "It's a toughness issue. We have to prove we're willing to pull the trigger," From said.

They urged increasing incentives to add more troops at a time the Army is falling short of its recruiting goals. "Iraq isn't the last war we'll have to fight, and we need a bigger army," they said.

Risking anger from liberal Democrats on college campuses, they said all colleges should be open to Pentagon recruiters. Some have turned those recruiters away. "It is wrong to shield America's elites from the duties of freedom," From and Reed wrote.

More than helping recruitment, the move could help the party shed its image as anti-military, From said. He likened it to Bill Clinton's criticism of rap singer Sister Souljah for endorsing violence, a move that angered the Rev. Jesse Jackson but burnished Clinton's credentials as resolute. "Sister Souljah had nothing to do with security. But it showed Bill Clinton was tough enough to stand up to an interest in his party," From said.

The proposal also urged cutting oil imports by 25 percent by 2025. That would curb the flow of U.S. money to Middle East countries where some of the money ends up financing terrorists, they said. One way to help reach that goal: converting the U.S. government fleet to hybrid vehicles by 2010 and offering new tax incentives to the public to buy hybrids.

To cut the federal budget deficit, they proposed cutting congressional and nondefense government staff by 10 percent, reducing the number of consultants used by the government by 150,000, and cutting "pork barrel" highway projects by 50 percent. They urged restoring caps on some federal spending and reimposing pay-as-you-go rules that force the government to offset new spending or tax cuts with either spending cuts or tax increases.

They also proposed several measures they said would clean up a government now seen as corrupt and out of touch. Among them: prohibiting members of the administration and Congress from becoming lobbyists as soon as they leave government and ending the partisan drawing of congressional districts that protects incumbents of both major parties.

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(For more on the DLC agenda, go to www.dlc.org)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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