Los Angeles Times
July 14, 2008

Obama proposes healthcare tax credit for small businesses

He courts Latinos in San Diego, speaking to the National Council of La Raza.

By Louise Roug
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO Barack Obama continued his courtship of a crucial voting bloc in the coming election, using a Sunday appearance in front of a Latino civil rights and advocacy group to unveil a new element of his economic plan.

Speaking to more than 2,000 members of the National Council of La Raza in San Diego, the Illinois senator said he intended to give tax credits to small businesses that provided their employees with health insurance.

"We know that small businesses are the engines of economic prosperity in our communities, particularly Latino communities," said Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. The plan would "help more employers provide health benefits for their workers instead of making it harder for them, as Sen. [John] McCain would do."

He would give a credit of up to 50% on premiums paid by small businesses on behalf of their employees, according to a statement from his campaign.

In a general election that seems likely to be tight, Latino votes could be crucial, especially in Southwestern swing states, and both Obama and his Republican rival have gone out of their way to woo them.

"I know Sen. McCain used to buck his party on immigration by fighting for comprehensive reform -- and I admired him for it," Obama said. "But he abandoned that courageous stance and said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote. Well, I don't know about you, but I think it's time for a president who won't walk away from something as important as comprehensive [immigration] reform just because it becomes politically unpopular."

McCain, who trails Obama among Latino voters in opinion polls, recently unveiled Spanish and English ads tailored to appeal to the demographic. Addressing the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington last week, McCain said the government should deal "practically and humanely with those who came here . . . to build a better, safer life for their families."

A Gallup poll this month gave Obama a 59% to 29% lead over his rival among registered Latino voters. But on his campaign plane to San Diego from Chicago on Saturday, Obama told reporters that although he was encouraged by such polls, he still faced an uphill battle.

"I'm not as well known in that community as I would like to be," said Obama, whose campaign has recruited and trained organizers to get out the Latino vote in crucial states such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

"I know how powerful this community is -- and by the way, so does John McCain," he told the San Diego audience Sunday. "I'm not taking a single Latino vote for granted in this campaign."

During the Democratic primaries, Obama's rival for the nomination, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, did proportionately better among Latino voters.

But since her concession, her followers have mostly fallen in line behind Obama. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who supported Clinton, now eagerly stumps for Obama, saying he is the only candidate who backs humane immigration reform.

On Sunday, Obama credited "my friend Hillary Clinton" for being the original champion of the tax credit idea -- an acknowledgment that drew the warmest applause from the crowd during his speech.

Earlier in the day, Obama spoke via satellite to the American Federation of Teachers convention in Chicago, pledging support for charter schools and for increased education funding. He criticized the No Child Left Behind Act and did not neglect to take a swing at McCain.

"For someone who's been in Washington nearly 30 years, he's got a pretty slim record on education, and when he has taken a stand, it's been the wrong one," Obama said.

"He voted against increased funding for No Child Left Behind to preserve billions in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans -- tax breaks he wants to extend without saying how he'd pay for them," he said. "In fact, his only proposal seems to be recycling tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice."