Gephardt: Venturing Into No-Man's-Land

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It is almost an article of faith in politics that when it comes to health care, the safest route for a candidate is to talk small — or not at all. And if there's anyone who should know enough to stay away from the subject, it's former House minority leader Dick Gephardt, who had a front-row seat when Bill Clinton's health-care plan collapsed in 1994. But that, Gephardt says, is precisely why he's betting his presidential campaign on a costly plan to provide health care to the 41 million Americans who now lack it. Why does Gephardt think his proposal can succeed where Clinton's failed? "I wanted something that was much simpler, that threatened fewer groups and would be seen as fair," he told TIME. Gephardt's plan retains the most controversial part of Clinton's: a requirement that every employer provide coverage for every worker. In return the government would give employers a tax credit worth 60% of what they have spent. But Gephardt has avoided things that doomed Clinton's plan: he proposes no bureaucracy and sidesteps issues like whether to pay for abortion. Gephardt says his proposal would be good for businesses that already insure their workers because it would double their current tax benefit; for companies without a health plan, he says, it would make one affordable. He argues that the tax credits would stimulate the economy and help strapped state and local governments to cover their workers. The plan's big drawback is its price tag--$213 billion the first year and upward from there — which does not exactly bolster the Democrats' case that they're the party of fiscal discipline. And the plan does little to contain the soaring cost of health care. But Gephardt has accomplished at least one thing: he has put health care back on the political map.