DEMOCRATS . . . AN ALTERNATIVE CONTRACT FOR VOTES

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In a bid to build a "contract" with moderate, middle class Democrats, the party's leading centrist group released their alternative to the GOP's congressional battle plan, vowing "hand-to-hand combat" to capture the legislative and political agenda. The Democratic Leadership Council's blueprint is obviously akin to the GOP "Contract with America," calling for deep budget cuts and a nearly complete reworking of federal housing and job training programs. But it also calls for health care reform and money for job training. And it cuts $75 billion in annual federal subsidies to agriculture, aerospace companies, the oil and gas industry and other corporate interests. The money saved would be used for deficit reduction, welfare reform, family tax relief, and highway and other infrastructure improvements. Al From, president of the DLC, released the plan today at the 10th anniversary of the group, which Clinton once led. It's a wise political and practical move by the Democrats to define themselves as clearly different from the Gingrich crowd, according to TIME political writer Michael Kramer. "Newt's free ride in the world of big think ends this week, " Kramer writes in this week's issue of TIME. But will the Dem's embattled big chief sign on? Writes Kramer: "Few expect him to summon the courage to tackle entitlements seriously."