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Obama's American Dream Agenda


Obama spoke about help for the middle-class in Bettendorf, Iowa. (AP)

BETTENDORF, IOWA--Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, bidding to strengthen his appeal among working families, outlined new proposals Wednesday designed to make college more affordable, encourage retirement savings and help people balance the competing demands of work and family.

In a speech delivered in Bettendorf, Iowa, Obama said the cost of the American Dream is rising faster than ever. "While some have prospered beyond imagination in this global economy, middle-class Americans -- as well as those working hard to become middle class -- are seeing the American dream slip further and further away," he said.

Obama said President Bush's tax cuts have helped to increase income inequality and said the administration's policies have favored corporate and special interests over average families. But he argued that it will take more than replacing Bush with a Democrat next year to bring about the changes needed.

"We're not going to reclaim that dream unless we put an end to the politics of polarization and division that is holding this country back," he said in remarks prepared for delivery. "Unless we stand up to the corporate lobbyists that have stood in the way of progress. Unless we have leadership that doesn't just tell people what they want to hear but tells everyone what they need to know."

Obama repackaged some of the proposals he has outlined already in the campaign with several new ones in an effort to offer a newly updated economic message two months before the Iowa caucuses. Through much of the year, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has demonstrated much more appeal to middle-class and blue-collar voters than Obama, a critical weakness in the Illinois senator's campaign that he is seeking to overcome.

Campaign officials said the new proposals would cost $26 billion annually. That does not include the cost of his health care proposal or his previously announced middle-class tax cut.

Among the new proposals offered Wednesday is a refundable tax credit to cover the first $4,000 in tuition costs for any student. Obama said that would cover two-thirds of the tuition costs at the average public college or university. He also pledged to simplify the financial aid application process to make it easer for all students to apply for assistance.

To make saving for retirement easier, Obama said he would require employers to enroll workers in direct deposit accounts. Workers would have the option of opting out of the program or putting even more of their wages into the accounts. He also proposed expanding an existing program that would have the federal government match half of the first $1,000 in savings for families earning $75,000 or less.

To help families cope with the burdens of raising children or caring for elderly parents, Obama pledged to double the amount of money spent on after-school programs and expand provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover millions more families. He also said he would encourage states to provide paid leave for workers.

"Americans don't expect government to solve all our problems," Obama said, according to his prepared text. "But you're tired of a government that works for special interests, and not for you. It's time that we had leadership that worried as much about Main Street as it does about Wall Street."

--Dan Balz

By Washington Post editors  |  November 7, 2007; 11:56 AM ET
 
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