1st Presidential Debate Part 4: Vice President Al Gore and Governor George Bush
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JIM LEHRER: New question. There can be all kinds of crises, Governor — a question for you. There could be a crisis, for instance, in the financial area. The stock market could take a tumble. There could be a failure of a major financial institution. What is your general attitude toward government intervention in such events?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, it depends, obviously, but what I would do, first and foremost, is I would get in touch with the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, to find out all the facts and all the circumstances. I would have my secretary of the treasury be in touch with the financial centers — not only here, but at home. I would make sure that key members of Congress were called in to discuss the gravity of the situation, and I would come up with a game plan to deal with it. That’s what governors end up doing. We end up being problem solvers. We come up with practical, common-sense solutions for problems that we’re confronted with, and in this case, in the case of a financial crisis, I would gather all the facts before I made the decision as to what the government ought or ought not to do.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENTAL GORE: Yeah, first I want to compliment the governor on his response to those fires and floods in Texas. I accompanied James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out, and FEMA has been a major flagship project of our reinventing government efforts, and I agree, it works extremely well now.
On the international financial crises that come up, my friend Bob Rubin, the former secretary of Treasury, is here. He’s a very close advisor to me and a great friend in all respects. I have had a chance to work with him and Alan Greenspan and others on the crisis following the collapse of the Mexican peso, when the Asian financial crisis raised the risk of worldwide recession that could affect our economy, and now, of course, the euro’s value has been dropping, but seems to be under control.
But it started, for me, in the last eight years, when I had the honor of casting the tie-breaking vote to end the old economic plan here at home and put into place a new economic plan that has helped us to make some progress — 22 million new jobs and the greatest prosperity ever. But it’s not good enough, and my attitude is, You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. We need to do more and better.
JIM LEHRER: So, Governor, would you agree there is no basic difference here on intervening — the federal government intervening in what might be seen by others to be a private financial crisis, if it’s that severe?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: No, there’s no difference on that. There is a difference, though, as to what the economy has meant. I think the economy has meant more for the Gore and Clinton folks than the Gore and Clinton folks have meant for the economy. I think most of the economic growth that has taken place is the result of ingenuity and hard work and entrepreneurship, and that’s the role of government, is to encourage that. But in terms of the response to the question, no.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Can I comment on that?
JIM LEHRER: You may.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: See, you know, I think that the American people deserve credit for the great economy that we have, and it’s their ingenuity, I agree with that. But you know, they were working pretty hard eight years ago, and they had ingenuity eight years ago. The difference is we’ve got a new policy, and instead of concentrating on tax cuts mostly for the wealthy, we want — I want tax cuts for the middle-class families, and I want to continue the prosperity and make sure that it enriches not just the few, but all of our families.
Look, we have gone from the biggest deficits to the biggest surpluses. We’ve gone from a triple dip recession, during the previous 12 years, to a tripling of the stock market. Instead of high unemployment, we’ve got the lowest African American and lowest Latino unemployment rates ever in history, and 22 million new jobs. But it’s not good enough. Too many people have been left behind. We have got to do much more, and the key is job training, education, investments in health care and education, the environment, retirement security.
And incidentally, we have got to preserve Social Security, and I am totally opposed to diverting one out of every six dollars away from the Social Security trust fund, as the governor has proposed, into the stock market. I want new incentives for savings and investment for the young couples who are working hard so they can save and invest on their own, on top of Social Security, not at the expense of Social Security, as the governor proposes.
JIM LEHRER: Governor?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Two points. One, a lot of folks are still waiting for that 1992 middle-class tax cut. I remember the vice president saying, just give us a chance to get up there; we’re going to make sure you get tax cuts. It didn’t happen. And now he’s having to say it again. It’s — they’ve had their chance to deliver a tax cut to you.
Secondly, the surest way to bust this economy is to increase the role and the size of the federal government. The Senate Budget Committee did a study of the vice president’s expenditures. They projected it could conceivably bust the budget by $900 billion.
That means he’s either going to have to raise your taxes by 900 billion or go into the Social Security surplus for 900 billion. This is a plan that is going to increase the bureaucracy by 20,000 people.
His targeted tax cut is so detailed, so much fine print that it’s going to require numerous IRS agents. No, we need somebody to simplify the code, to be fair, to continue prosperity by sharing some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills, particularly those at the bottom end of the economic ladder.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: If I could respond, Jim. What he’s quoting is not the Senate Budget Committee. It is a partisan press release by the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee. It’s not worth the government — the taxpayer-paid paper that it’s printed on. Now, as for 20,000 new bureaucrats, as you call them, you know, the size of the federal government will go down in a Gore administration. In the Reinventing Government program, you just look at the numbers, it is 300,000 people smaller today than it was eight years ago.
Now, the fact is, you’re going to have a hard time convincing folks that we were a whole lot better off eight years ago than we are today. But that’s not the question. The question is, will we be better off four years from now than we are today? And as for the surest way to threaten our prosperity, having a $1.9 trillion tax cut, almost half of which goes to the wealthy, and a $1 trillion Social Security privatization proposal is the surest way to put our budget into deficit, raise interest rates and put our prosperity at risk.
JIM LEHRER: I want to –
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I can’t let the man — I can’t let the man continue with fuzzy math. It’s 1.3 trillion, Mr. Vice President. It’s going to go to everybody who pays taxes. I’m not going to be one of these kinds of presidents that say, “You get tax relief, and you don’t.” I’m not going to be a pick-and-chooser. What is fair is everybody who pays taxes ought to get relief.
JIM LEHRER: I thought we cleared this up a while ago.
New question on Social Security. Both of you have Social Security reform plans, and we could spend the rest of the evening and two or three other evenings talking about them in detail.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Suits me.
JIM LEHRER: We’re not going to do that, but — (laughter) — many experts, including Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, Vice President Gore, say that it will be impossible for either of you, essentially, to keep the system viable on its own during the coming baby-boomer-retirement onslaught without either reducing benefits or increasing taxes. Do you disagree?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I do disagree because if we can keep our prosperity going, if we can continue balancing the budget and paying down the debt, then the strong economy keeps generating surpluses. And here’s what I would do, here’s my plan.
I will keep Social Security in a lock box, and that pays down the national debt, and the interest savings I would put right back into Social Security. That extends the life of Social Security for 55 years. Now, I think that it’s very important to understand that cutting benefits under Social Security means that people like Winifred Skinner (ph) from Des Moines, Iowa, who is here, would really have a much harder time because there are millions of seniors who are living almost hand-to-mouth, and you talk about cutting benefits — I don’t go along with it. I am opposed to it.
I’m also opposed to a plan that diverts one out of every six dollars away from the Social Security Trust Fund. You know, Social Security is a trust fund that pays the checks this year with the money that’s paid into Social Security this year. The governor wants to divert one out of every six dollars off into the stock market, which means that he would drain a trillion dollars out of the Social Security trust fund over the — in this generation, over the next ten years, and Social Security under that approach would go bankrupt within this generation.
His leading adviser on this plan actually said that would be okay because then the Social Security trust fund could start borrowing; it would borrow up to $3 trillion. Now, Social Security has never done that, and I don’t think it should do that. I think it should stay in a lock box. And I’ll tell you this: I will veto anything that takes money out of Social Security for privatization or anything else other than Social Security.
JIM LEHRER: Governor?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I thought it was interesting that in the two minutes, he spent about a minute and a half on my plan, which means he doesn’t want you to know that what he’s doing is loading up IOUs for future generations. He puts no real assets in the Social Security system.
The revenues exceed the expenses in Social Security to the year 2015, which means all retirees are going to get the promises made. So for those of you who he wants to scare into the voting booth to vote for him, hear me loud and clear: A promise made will be a promise kept. And you bet we want to allow younger workers to take some of their own money — see, that’s a difference of opinion; the vice president thinks it’s the government’s money. The payroll taxes are your money; you ought to put it in prudent, safe investments so that $1 trillion over the next 10 years grows to be $3 trillion. The money stays within the Social Security system. It’s a part of the — it’s a part of the Social Security system. He keeps claiming it’s going to be out of Social Security. It’s your money. It’s a part of your retirement benefits. It’s a fundamental difference between what we believe.
I want you to have your own asset that you can call your own. I want you to have an asset that you can pass on from one generation to the next. I want to get a better rate of return for your own money than the paltry two percent that the current Social Security trust gets today.
So Mr. Greenspan missed the — I thought missed an opportunity to say there’s a third way, and that is to get a better rate of return on the Social Security monies coming into the trust. There’s $2.3 trillion of surplus that we can use to make sure younger workers have a Social Security plan in the future, if we’re smart, if we trust workers, and if we understand the power of the compounding rate of interest.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Here is the difference: I give a new incentive for younger workers to save their own money and invest their own money but not at the expense of Social Security — on top of Social Security. My plan is Social Security Plus. The governor’s plan is Social Security “minus.” Your future benefits would be cut by the amount that’s diverted into the stock market, and if you make bad investments, that’s too bad. But even before then, the problem hits because the money contributed to Social Security this year is an entitlement. That’s how it works, and the money is used to pay the benefits for seniors this year.
If you cut the amount going in one out of every six dollars, then you have to cut the value of each check by one out of every six dollars, unless you come up with the money from somewhere else. I would like to know from the governor — I know we’re not supposed to ask each other questions, but I’d be interested in knowing — does that trillion dollars come from the trust fund, or does it come from the rest of the budget?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: No. There’s enough money to pay seniors today in the current affairs of Social Security. The trillion comes from the surplus. Surplus is money — more money than needed. Let me tell you what your plan is. It’s not Social Security Plus, it’s Social Security “plus huge debt,” is what it is. You leave future generations with tremendous IOUs.
It’s time to have a leader that doesn’t put off — you know, tomorrow what we should do today. It’s time to have somebody to step up and say, Look, let’s let younger workers take some of their own money and, under certain guidelines, invest it in the private markets. The safest of federal investments yields a 4 percent. That’s twice the amount of rate of return in the current Social Security trust. There’s a fundamental difference of opinion here, folks.
JIM LEHRER: Right. Well, we –
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Younger worker after younger worker hears my call that says, “I trust you.” And you know what? The issue is changing, because seniors now understand that the promise made will be a promise kept.
But younger workers now understand we better have a government that trusts them, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
JIM LEHRER: A new question –
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Can I respond to that, Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Let’s — we’re almost –
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: This is a big issue. This is a big issue. Could we do another round on it?
JIM LEHRER: We’re almost out of time. I suppose –
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, just briefly, when FDR established Social Security, they didn’t call them IOUs; they called it “the full faith and credit of the United States.” If you don’t have trust in that, I do. And if you take it out of the surplus and the trust fund, that means the trust fund goes bankrupt in this generation, within 20 years.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, if I could –
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead. What –
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: This is a — this is a government that thinks a two percent rate of return on your money is satisfactory. It’s not. This is a government that says younger workers can’t possibly have their own asset. We need to think differently about the issue. We need to make sure our seniors get the promise made.
But — but I want to tell you, if we don’t trust younger workers to manage some of their own money with the Social Security surplus to grow from 1 trillion to 3 trillion, it’s going to be impossible to bridge the gap without what Mr. Gore’s plan will do — causing huge payroll taxes or major benefit reductions.