PRESIDENTIAL DEBATEOctober 16, 1996
JIM LEHRER: The next question is for President Clinton, and it comes from right here. Yes, sir?
JACK FLECK: President Clinton, my name is Jack Fleck. I'm a retired Air Force pilot. Sir, it's officially forecast that our annual Medicare and Social Security deficits are measured in the trillions of dollars next century. Depending upon who you listen to, Social Security will be bankrupt in either 2025 or 2030. I feel this is grossly unfair, especially to our younger generations, who are losing faith in the system. My question is this: Assuming you agree that our entitlements programs are on an unsustainable course, what specific reforms do you propose?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, they're two different things. Social Security and Medicare are entirely different in terms of the financial stabilities. Let's talk about them separately.
Social Security is stable until, as you pointed out, at least the third decade of the next century. But we'd like to have a Social Security fund that has about 70 years of life instead of about 30 years of life.
What we have to do is simply to make some adjustments that take account of the fact that the Baby Boomers, people like me, are bigger in number than the people that went just before us and the people that come just after us. And I think what we'll plainly do is what we did in 1983, when Senator Dole served, and this is something I think he did a good job on when he served on the Social Security Commission, and they made some modest changed in Social Security to make sure that it would be alive and well into the 21st century. And we will do that. It's obvious that there are certain things that have to be done, and there are 50 or 60 different options. And a bipartisan commission, to take it out of politics, will make recommendations and build support for the people.
Medicare is different. Medicare needs help now. I have proposed a budget which would put 10 years on the life of the Medicare Trust Fund, that's more than it's had a lot of the time for the last 20 years.
It would save a lot of money through more managed care but giving more options, more preventive care and lowering the inflation rate in the prices we're paying providers without having the kind of big premium increases and out of pocket costs that the budget I vetoed would provide. Then that will give us 10 years to do with Medicare what we're going to do with Social Security: have a bipartisan group look at what we have to do to save it when the baby boomers retire. But now we ought to pass this budget now and put 10 years on it right away so no one has to worry about it.
MR. DOLE: Well, again, you know, it appears somebody thinking about the future. I think it's fair to say that it'll be -- we'll work it out. I mean, this is a political year and the president's playing politics with Medicare. But after this year's over we'll resolve it just as we did with Social Security in 1983: with a non-partisan commission. Ronald Reagan got together with Tip O'Neill and Howard Baker -- two Republicans and one Democrat -- and formed a commission. I was on that commission. We resolved -- we rescued Social Security. We suggested -- I think it's been over a year ago now we do the same with Medicare, and the White House called it a gimmick.
Now last week, I guess it was, Donna Shalala said, ``Well, we'll cut Medicare a hundred billion and we'll appoint a commission.'' It probably ought to be done by a commission. Take it out of politics.
I think if I were a senior citizen I'd be a little fed up with all these ads scaring seniors, scaring veterans, and scaring students about education. When you don't have any ideas, when you don't have any agenda, and all you have is fear, that's all you can use. We have ideas in the Dole-Kemp campaign, and we'll rescue Medicare as we did Social Security.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Their idea was to have the poorest seniors in the country pay $270 more a year this year. Their idea was to budget -- that the American Hospital Association said could close 700 hospitals. Their idea was to charge everybody more out-of-pocket costs in their budget that I vetoed -- not in an election year, sir, I told them in early '95.
Senator Dole said 30 years ago he was one of 12 people that voted against Medicare and he was proud of it. A year ago he said, ``I was right then; I knew it wouldn't work.'' American seniors have the highest life expectancy in the world. We need to reform it, not wreck it.