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Gephardt, Simon Spar With Dukakis On Tax Compliance Effect

November 3, 1987

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidates, generally agreeing during a debate on social policy that federal programs are needed to help people escape poverty, endorsed Monday increasing the federal minimum wage to at least $4.25 an hour.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, while agreeing with his five rivals for the nomination that a boost from the current $3.35 federal minimum wage was needed, added that it would not help the poorest people who have no jobs.

″Those that have no wage can’t have a minimum,″ he said.

Jackson, former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, Sens. Paul Simon of Illinois and Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri debated for 90 minutes.

In addition to an increase in the minimum wage, Dukakis, Gore, Gephardt and Jackson endorsed programs to provide health care coverage to Americans.

The sharpest exchange of the debate was over Dukakis’ statement that the federal government could collect an additional $35 billion in revenue by getting more people to pay what they owe in income taxes.

″If we raise compliance from 81 to 86 percent in this country, we could add $35 billion in new revenue,″ said Dukakis. ″If the next president of the United States can’t increase tax compliance by 5 percentage points he doesn’t deserve to be president.″

″Tax compliance and amnesty is hokum when it comes to doing something about this budget,″ said Gephardt. ″I’m for tax compliance and amnesty. Everybody’s for it. We’re talking about real answers to real problems.″

After the debate, Simon said he wished Dukakis were correct.

″But he’s not,″ said the senator. ″I think he just doesn’t understand the federal government yet.″

Dukkais and Gore advocated incentives to private industry to provide better health care programs for their workers and Gephardt advocated using tax incentives.

Gephardt tried to widen the agenda to include discussion of the trade deficit but was cut off by moderator Hodding Carter III who told him there would be time to discuss that issue ″in another debate.″

When the debate was concluded, Gephardt said he thought Carter should have allowed the candidates to discuss the economy.

″None of this is going to help unless the economy moves forward,″ he said.

″How are we going to persuade the American people that we can pay for these programs?″ asked former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona.

″My question to Dick Gephardt is how are you going to pay for those tax credits for health care?″ said Babbitt. ″My question to Paul Simon, how are you going to pay for that public works program?

″It’s all words unless somehow we have the courage to stand up and say, okay, here’s what we’re going to cut out of the budget.″

Dukakis cited the success in his state moving people off welfare and into paying jobs and said, ″If we can do that in one state, we do it in 50.″

But Simon questioned whether the example of Massachusetts, where the unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, was valid for states with much higher jobless rates.

Gore disagreed with Dukakis’ statement that there is no underclass that cannot be helped by government programs.

″I think the problem is a lot more difficult and intractable than you describe it, Mike,″ said the Tennessee senator.

Gephardt, saying ″the best economic program program is a paycheck,″ made a pitch for his trade legislation, which would authorize the president to punish some countries with large trade imbalances with the United States.

During the forum in McAlister Auditorium at Tulane University, Carter and Michael Lomax, chairman of the Fulton County, Ga., commission, quesioned the candidates on social policy, including their views on welfare, helping the working poor, education, and urban policy.

But with the stock market on a roller coaster and concern growing about the future of the economy, the candidates wanted to expand the agenda to economic issues.

As the debate opened, however, Carter warned the six that he would press them to stick to the original agenda.

The debate was the second in as many days for the candidates. All the Democrats except Gephardt participated in a Sunday afternoon forum on the environment in Bedford, N.H.

The social policy debate was the second of three being sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council, which describes itself as an organization of elected officials established ″to forge a new Democratic agenda for the 1980s and 1990s.″

While the group, now chaired by former Gov. Charles Robb of Virginia, has denied it has any ideological focus, it is generally seen as spearheading an effort move the Democrats toward a more conservative agenda.

Former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke had sought to speak at the Tulane debate, but two federal courts ruled he could be prevented from doing so.

U.S. District Judge Peter Beer, followed by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, both refused to let Duke join in and also refused to stop the event until Duke could press his legal claims further.

Duke described himself as a major candidate, and accused Democratic Party leaders of conspiring to keep him off the ballot in 1988.

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