EDITORS NOTE: As the January primaries approach, The Post and Courier will seek one-on-one interviews with the major candidates to discuss what they would do, if elected. On Wednesday, Democratic hopeful U.S. Sen. Barack Obama spoke with reporter Robert Behre after Obama delivered his "Plan to Reclaim the American Dream" in Iowa.
P&C: The plan you outlined today includes tax breaks and credits for working families, college students and for the elderly making less than $50,000 a year, as well as increased spending on after-school programs. Do you have an estimate of what this will cost?
OBAMA: "We have ensured that all these are paid for because I have a strong commitment to pay-go, to making sure that if we have tax breaks, we find offsetting spending cuts, that if we have increases in spending, we have the revenues to pay for it.
The primary way that we pay for the tax cuts is to shift away from some of the tax cuts that are currently going to companies that are shipping jobs overseas and using tax havens and so forth. There it's really a shift of tax breaks away from corporations and those who are doing very well to the pockets of working Americans."
P&C: This speech addresses Americans' pocketbooks. How important do you think that is relative to the other issues, such as Iraq, energy independence and immigration, and the other issues out there?
OBAMA: "People feel like the American dream is slipping away. I see it all the time when I'm traveling through South Carolina, when I'm traveling in Iowa and New Hampshire. It's not just one region of the country. People generally feel like they're working harder. They haven't seen income growth. Their costs for health care, for gasoline, for home heating, for college have all risen, and they're using credit cards to stay afloat. They're using home equity loans to stay afloat."
P&C: Under your plan, people not only would be able to deduct their mortgage interest from their taxes but also would get a 10 percent tax credit based on their annual mortgage payments?
OBAMA: "That would be for those people who don't itemize. The problem we have right now with the way our mortgage deduction works is the guy with a $1 million house gets a much bigger tax break than the guy with a $100,000 house. If you take the standard deduction, then you're generally not getting that break, and we think it's important, given the problems a lot of homeowners are having around the country, to give them some relief."
P&C: What do you expect would be the most difficult part of this plan to accomplish?
OBAMA: Obviously, getting health care done is going to be a heavy lift because the drug and insurance companies have spent $1 billion over the last decade fighting reform. That's going to be my first priority when I get into office domestically is to get that done. Once we get that done, I think the changes in the tax code are long overdue, and I that think most Americans, including wealthy Americans, recognize that there has been unfairness in the system. There's a reason why the top 1 percent have doubled their share of the income and wealth in this country over the past couple of decades — doubled it — whereas ordinary Americans have literally seen their wages and incomes flat line during the same period."
P&C: Can you be more specific about how you would 'take on the insurance industry' and pass universal health care?
OBAMA: "One of the things I've always said is I give credit to Senator Clinton in trying to push health care reform back in 1993. I think the process she took was fundamentally flawed because she went behind closed doors. ... I would take a reverse process. I think the more open and transparent the debate is, the more included the American people are, the better off we're going to be. I would get everybody sitting around a big table —all the parties concerned: employers, employees, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, patients rights advocates, the relevant congressmen.
.... This would be on C-SPAN, and we would have a lengthy debate about how we're going to move this process forward and make sure the American people understand that they're already paying, if they have health insurance, an extra $900 in added premiums because of uncompensated care. We've got a system of universal care. It's just the most inefficient imaginable. That's why we pay twice as much as any country on earth."
P&C: What do you feel has been the most overlooked issue in the campaign?
OBAMA: "We have not had in the debates a serious conversation about education. ... When I'm travelling around South Carolina, through the Corridor of Shame, and walk into schools built in the 1800s, I can tell you a lot of folks in South Carolina are deeply concerned about education. I think that the plans that we have to expand early childhood education, to close the achievement gap, to provide higher teacher salaries and better professional training and support, to change No Child Left Behind so it's not punitive and forcing teachers to teach to the test but is instead encouraging creativity in arts and music and a well-rounded education for children.... Those are all issues that I would like to see discussed more in future debates."