The 3rd Presidential Debate: Vice President Gore and Governor Bush
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JIM LEHRER: Good evening from the Field House at Washington University in St. Louis. I’m Jim Lehrer of the “NewsHour” on PBS, and I welcome you to this third and final Campaign 2000 debate between the Democratic candidate for president, Vice President Al Gore, and the Republican candidate, Governor George W. Bush of Texas. Let’s welcome the candidates now. (applause.)
Before proceeding tonight, we would like to observe a moment of silence in memory of Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri who, along with his son and his former chief of staff, died in a private plane crash last night near St. Louis. (Pause.)
A reminder, as we continue now, that these debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The formats and the rules were worked out by the commission and the two campaigns.
Tonight’s questions will be asked by St. Louis area voters who were identified as being uncommitted by the Gallup organization. Earlier today, each of them wrote a question on a small card like this. Those cards were collected and then given to me this afternoon. My job, under the rules of the evening, was to decide the order the questions will be asked, and to call on the questioners accordingly. I also have the option of asking follow-ups, which in order to get to more of the panel’s questions, for the record, I plan to do sparingly and mostly for clarifications.
The audience participants are bound by the following rule: they shall not ask follow-up questions or otherwise participate in the extended discussion, and the questioner’s microphone will be turned off after he or she completes asking the question. Those are the rules. As in Winston-Salem last week, no single answer or response from a candidate can exceed two minutes.
There is an audience here in the hall, and they have promised to remain absolutely quiet, as did their predecessors this year in Boston, Danville and Winston-Salem.
Before we begin, a correction from last week’s debate. I was wrong when I said Vice President Gore’s campaign commercials had called Governor Bush a “bumbler.” That specific charge was made in a press statement by Gore Campaign spokesman Mark Fabiani not in a TV guide.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: (Chuckles.) I’m glad you clarified that.
JIM LEHRER: In a TV ad. In a TV ad.
Now let’s go to the first question of over the 130 questions we received from this panel. We will begin with one of the 19 on health issues, and it goes to you, Mr. Vice President, and it will be asked by James Hankins (sp). Mr. Hankins (sp)?
JAMES HANKINS (sp): How do you feel about HMOs and insurance companies making the critical decisions that affect people’s lives, instead of the medical professionals? And why are the HMOs and insurance companies not held accountable for their decisions?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Mr. Hankins (sp), I don’t feel good about it, and I think we ought to have a Patients’ Bill of Rights to take the medical decisions away from the HMOs and give them back to the doctors and the nurses.
I want to come back and tell you why, but if you will forgive me, I would like to say something right now, at the beginning of this debate, following on the moment of silence for Mel Carnahan and Randy Carnahan and Chris Sifford. Tipper and I were good friends with Mel and Randy. And I know that all of us here want to extend our sympathy and condolences to Jean and the family, and to the Sifford family.
And I’d just like to say that this debate, in a way, is a living tribute to Mel Carnahan, because he loved the vigorous discussion of ideas in our democracy. He was a fantastic governor of Missouri. This state became one of the top five in the nation for health care coverage for children, under his leadership; one of the best in advancing all kinds of benefits for children to grow up healthy and strong.
And, of course, this debate also takes place at a time when the tragedy of the USS Cole is on our minds and hearts. And insofar as the memorial services tomorrow, I would like to also extend sympathy to the families of those who have died and those who are still missing, and the injured.
Now, Mr. Hankins (sp), I think that the situation that you describe has gotten completely out of hand. Doctors are giving prescriptions, they’re recommending treatments, and then their — their recommendations are being overruled by HMOs and insurance companies. That is unacceptable. I support a strong national patients’ bill of rights. It is actually a disagreement between us. The national law that is pending on this — the Dingell-Norwood bill, a bipartisan bill, is one that I support —
JIM LEHRER: Time is up, Vice President.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — and that the governor does not.
JIM LEHRER: Two minutes response, Governor Bush.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I, too, want to extend my prayers to the — and blessings, God’s blessings on the families whose lives were overturned last night. It was a tragic moment.
Actually, Mr. Vice President, it’s not true, I do support a national patients’ bill of rights. As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas to get a patients’ bill of rights through. It requires a different kind of leadership style to do it, though. You see, in order to get something done on behalf of the people, you have to put partisanship aside, and that’s what we did in my state. We’ve got one of the most advanced patients’ bill of rights. It says, for example, that a woman can — doesn’t have to go through a gatekeeper to go to her gynecologist. It says that you can’t gag a doctor. A doctor can advise you. The HMO, the insurance company can’t gag that doctor from giving you full advice. And this particular bill allows patients to choose a doctor, their own doctor if they want to.
But we did something else that was interesting. We’re one of the first states that said you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage. Now, there is what’s called an independent review organization that you have to go through first. It says if you’ve got a complaint with you insurance company, you can take your complaint to an objective body. And if the objective body rules on your behalf, the insurance company must follow those rules. However, if the insurance company doesn’t follow the findings of the IRO, then that becomes a cause of action in the court of law.
It’s time for our nation to come together and do what’s right for the people. And I think this is right for the people. You know, I support a national patients’ bill of rights, Mr. Vice President. And I want all people covered. I don’t want the law to supersede good law like we’ve got in Texas.
JIM LEHRER: Governor.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I think —
JIM LEHRER: Time is up, sir.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: We have a direct disagreement on that.
JIM LEHRER: Just a minute, Mr. Vice President. I wanted to — you know, the way the rules go here now, two minutes, two minutes, and then I’ll decide whether we go on, okay?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Right.
JIM LEHRER: So, what I want to make sure is, we understand here, is before we go on to another question in the health area, would you agree that you two agree on a national patients’ Bill of Rights?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Absolutely — absolutely not. I referred to the Dingell-Norwood bill. It is the bipartisan bill that is now pending in the Congress. The HMOs and the insurance companies support the other bill that’s pending; the one that the Republican majority has put forward. They like it because it doesn’t accomplish what I think really needs to be accomplished, to give the decisions back to the doctors and nurses and to give you a right of appeal to somebody other than the HMO or insurance company; let you go to the nearest emergency room without having to call an HMO before you call 911; to let you see a specialist — a specialist if you need to; and it has strong bipartisan support. It is being blocked by the Republican leadership in the Congress —
JIM LEHRER: So —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: And I specifically would like to know whether Governor Bush will support the Dingell-Norwood Bill, which is the main one pending.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, you may answer that if you’d like, but also I’d like to know how you see the differences between the two of you, and we need to move on.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, the difference is, is that I can get it done. That I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That’s what the question in this campaign is about. It’s not only what’s your philosophy and what’s your position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: What about the Dingell-Norwood Bill?
JIM LEHRER: All right, we’re going to go now to another —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’m not quite through. Let me —
JIM LEHRER: All right. Yes. Go.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I talked about the principles and the issues that I think are important in a Patients Bill of Rights. Notice this — this kind of Washington, D.C. focus, “Well, it’s in this committee,” or “It’s got this sponsor.” If I’m the president, we’re going to have emergency room care, we’re going to have gag orders, women will have direct access to OB/GYN, people will be able to take their HMO insurance company to court. That’s what I’ve done in Texas., and that’s the kind of leadership style I’ll bring to Washington.
JIM LEHRER: All right, another — the next question, also on a Health issue is from — it will be asked by Marie Payne Klape (sp).
MARIE PAYNE KLAPE (sp): Are either of you concerned with — I’ve got to put my glasses on —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Here you go — I’ve got — (laughter) —
MARIE PAYNE KLAPE (sp): Okay, are either of you concerned with finding some feasible way to lower the price of pharmaceutical drugs such as education on minimizing intake, revamp of the FDA process, or streamlining the drug companies procedures instead of just finding more money to pay for them?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, that’s a great question. I think one of the problems we have, particularly for seniors, is there’s no prescription Drug coverage in Medicare, and therefore when they have to try to purchase drugs, they do so on their own. There’s no kind of collective bargaining, there’s no power of purchasing among seniors.
So I think step one, to make sure prescription drugs is more affordable for seniors — and those are the folks who really rely upon prescription drugs a lot these days — is to reform the Medicare system, is to have prescription drugs as an integral part of Medicare once and for all. The problem we have today is that — like the patients’ bill of rights, particularly with health care, there’s a lot of bickering in Washington, D.C. It’s kind of like a political issue as opposed to a people issue. So what I want to do is I want to call upon Republicans and Democrats to forget all the arguing and finger-pointing, and come together and take care of our seniors with a prescription drug program that says we’ll pay for the poor seniors, we’ll help seniors with prescription drugs.
In the meantime, I think it’s important to have what’s called immediate helping hand, which is direct money to states so that seniors — poor seniors don’t have to choose between food and medicine. That’s a — that’s a part of an overall overhaul. But purchasing power is important. I’m against price controls. I think price controls would hurt our ability to continue important research and development. Drug therapies are replacing a lot of medicines as — as we used to know it. One of the most important things is to continue the research and development component and the — and so I’m against price controls.
Expediting drugs through the FDA makes sense, of course. Allowing the new bill that was passed in the Congress made sense, to allow for, you know, drugs that were sold overseas to come back — in other countries, to come back into the United States. That makes sense.
But the best thing to do is to reform Medicare
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, two minutes.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: All right, here we go again. Now look, if you want someone who will spend a lot of words describing a whole convoluted process and then end up supporting legislation that is supported by the big drug companies, this is your man.
If you want someone who will fight for you and who will fight for the middle-class families and working men and women who are sick and tired of having their parents and grandparents pay higher prices for prescription drugs than anybody else, then I want to fight for you. And you asked the — a great question, because it’s not only seniors. Listen, for 24 years, I have never been afraid to take on the big drug companies. They do some great things. They discover great new cures, and that’s great. We want to — we want them to continue that.
But they are now spending more money on advertising and promotion — you see all these ads? — than they are on research and development. And they’re trying to artificially extend the monopoly patent protection so they can keep charging these very high prices. I want to streamline the approval of the competing generic drugs and the new kinds of treatments that can compete with them so that we bring the price down for everybody.
Now, briefly, let me tell you how my prescription drug plan works. The governor talked about Medicare I give — I propose a real prescription Drug benefit under Medicare for all seniors, all seniors. And here’s how it works. You pick your own doctor, and nobody can take that away from you. The doctor chooses the prescription that you need, and nobody can overrule your doctor. You go to your own pharmacy, and then Medicare pays half the price. If you’re poor, they pay all of it. If you have extraordinarily high costs, then they pay all over $4,000 out of pocket. And I’ll bring new competition to bring the price down. And if you pass the big drug companies’ bill, nothing will happen.
JIM LEHRER: All right, another Health question. It comes from Vicki French (sp), and it’s for you, Vice President Gore. Vicki French (sp), where are you? Oh, there she is. Yes.
VICKI FRENCH (sp): We as American people, we spend billions of dollars every year on taxes — or pay billions of dollars in taxes. Would you be open to the idea of a national health care plan for everybody? And if not, why? If so, is this something you would try to implement, if you’re elected into office, and what would you do to implement this plan?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think that we should move step by step toward universal health coverage, but I am not in favor of government doing it all. We’ve spent 65 years now on the development of a hybrid system — partly private, partly public. And 85 percent of our people have health insurance, 15 percent don’t. That adds up to 44 million people. That is a national outrage. We have got to get health coverage for those who do not have it. And we’ve got to improve the quality for those who do with a patients’ bill of rights that’s real and that works, the Dingell-Norwood bill. And we have got to fill in the gaps in coverage by finally bringing parity for the treatment illness, because that’s been left out. We’ve got to deal with long-term care.
Now here are the steps that I would take first of all: I will make a commitment to bring health care coverage of high quality that is affordable to every single child in America within four years. And then we’ll fill other gaps by covering the parents of those children when the family is poor or up to two and a half times the poverty rate. I want to give a tax credit for the purchase of individual health insurance plans. I want to give small business employers a tax credit, 25 percent, to encourage the providing of health insurance for the employees in small businesses. I want to give seniors who are — well — (laughs) — the near elderly. I don’t like that term, because I’m just about in that category. But those 55 to 65 ought to be able to buy into Medicare for premiums that are reasonable and fair and significantly below what they have to get now.
Now, we have a big difference on this, and you need to know the record here. Under Governor Bush, Texas has sunk to be 50th out of 50 in the health insurance for their citizens. Last week he said that they were spending $3.7 billion — $4.7 billion on this.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Okay.
JIM LEHRER: Time is up. Governor Bush, two minutes.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’m absolutely opposed to a national health care plan. I don’t want the federal government making decisions for consumers or for providers.
I remember what the administration tried to do in 1993. They tried to have a national health care plan, and fortunately it failed. I trust people; I don’t trust the federal government. It’s going to be one of the themes you hear tonight. I don’t want the federal government making decisions on behalf of everybody. There is an issue with the uninsured — there sure is, and we’ve got uninsured people in my state. Ours is a big state, a fast-growing state. We share a common border with another nation. But we’re providing health care for our people.
One thing about insurance, that’s a Washington term. The question is, are people getting health care And we’ve got a strong safety net, and there needs to be a safety net in America. There needs to be more community health clinics where the poor can go get health care We need a program for the uninsured — they’ve been talking about it in Washington, DC. The number of uninsured have now gone up, for the past seven years. We need a $2,000 credit, rebate for people — working people who don’t have insurance so they can get in the marketplace and start purchasing insurance. We need to have — allow small Businesses. to write across — insurance across jurisdictional lines so small business can afford health care, small restaurants can afford health care And so health care needs to be affordable and available.
But we’ve got to trust people to make decisions with their lives. In the Medicare reform I talk about, it says if you’re a senior, you can stay in Medicare if you like it, and that’s fine. But we’re going to give you other choices to choose, if you want to do so, just like they do the federal employees. The people who work in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Congress or the United States Senate get a variety of choices to make in their lives, and that’s what we ought to do for all people in America.
JIM LEHRER: Governor —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yes, sir. I’m sorry.
JIM LEHRER: Governor —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Could I follow up?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’m not paying attention to the lights —
JIM LEHRER: No, not right now. Not right now. (Chuckles.) Education.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’m trying to find my light.
JIM LEHRER: These folks submitted 18 — 18 questions on education, and the first one is — that will be asked on Education will go to you, Governor, and will be asked by Angie Pettick (sp). Angie Pettick (sp), where are you? There — there she is. Governor, right there.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Oh, thanks. Hi, Angie.
ANGIE PETTICK (sp): I’ve heard a lot about education and the need to hold teachers and schools accountable, and I certainly agree with that. But as an individual with an educational background and also a parent, I have seen a lot of instances where the parents are unresponsive to the teachers or flat-out uninvolved in their child’s education. How do you intend to not only hold the teachers and schools accountable, but also hold parents accountable?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, you know, it’s hard to make people love one another. (Chuckles.) I wish I knew the law, because I’d darn sure sign it. I wish I knew the law that said all of us should be good parents. One of the things the next president must do is to remind people that if we’re going to have a responsible period in America, that each of us must love our children with all our heart and all our soul.
I happen to believe strong accountability encourages parental involvement, though. I think when you measure and post results on the Internet or in the town newspapers, most parents say, “Wait a minute. My child’s school isn’t doing what I want it to do,” and therefore become involved in education I recognize there are some who just don’t seem to care. But there are a lot of parents who feel like everything is going well in their child’s school and all of a sudden they wake up and realize that, “Wait a minute. Standards aren’t being met.” That’s why I’m so strong for accountability.
I believe we ought to measure a lot — three, four, five, six, seven, eighth grade. We do so in my state of Texas. One of the good things we’ve done in Texas. is we’ve got strong accountability, because you can’t cure unless you know; you can’t — you can’t solve a problem unless you diagnose it.
I strongly believe that one of the best things to encourage parental involvement also is to know that the classrooms will be safe and secure. That’s why I support a Teacher Liability Act at the federal level, that says if a teacher or principal upholds reasonable standards of classroom discipline, they can’t be sued. They can’t be sued. I think parents will be more involved with education when they know their children’s classrooms are safe and secure as well.
I also believe that we need to say to people that if you cannot meet standards, there has to be a consequence, instead of just — kind of the soft bigotry of low expectations, that there has to be a consequence. We can’t continue to shuffle children through school. And one of the consequences —
JIM LEHRER: Governor?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: — is to allow parents to have different choices.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yeah, we have a huge difference between us on this question. I’d like to start by telling you what my vision is. I see a day in the United States of America where all of our public schools are considered excellent, world class; where there are no failing schools; where the classrooms are small enough in size — number of students — so that the teacher can spend enough one-on-one time with each — with each student.
Now, that means recruiting new teachers for the public schools. It means, in my plan, hiring bonuses to get 100,000 new teachers in the public schools within the next four years. It means also helping local school districts, that sometimes find the parents of school-age children out-voted on bond issues, to give them some help with interest-free bonding authority so that we can build new schools and modernize the classrooms. We need to give teachers the training and professional development that they need to — including paid time off to go visit the classroom of a master teacher and to pick up some new skills.
I want to give every middle-class family a $10,000-a-year tax deduction for college tuition, so that — so that middle-class families will always be able to send their kids on to college I want to work for universal preschool, because we know from all the studies that the youngsters learn — kids learn more in the first few years of life than anywhere else.
Now I said there was a contrast. Governor Bush is for vouchers, and in his plan, he proposes to drain more money, more taxpayer money, out of the public schools for private school vouchers than all of the money that he proposes in his entire budget for public schools themselves, and only one in 20 students would be eligible for these vouchers, and they wouldn’t even pay the full tuition to private school. I think that’s a mistake. I don’t think we should give up on the private (sic) schools and leave kids trapped in failing schools; I think we — I think we should make it the number-one priority to make our schools the best in the world, all of them.
JIM LEHRER: Governor, what is your position on vouchers?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yeah, I appreciate that. I think any time we end with one of these attacks, it’s appropriate to respond. Here’s what I think: First of all, vouchers are up to states. If you want to do a voucher program in Missouri, fine. See, I strongly believe in local control of schools. I’m a governor of a state, and I don’t like it when the federal government tells us what to do. I believe in local control of schools.
But here’s what I’ve said. I’ve said to the extent we spend federal money on disadvantaged children, we want the schools to show us whether or not the children are learning. What’s unreasonable about that? We expect there to be standards met, and we expect there to be measurement. And if we find success, we’ll praise it. But when we find children trapped in schools that will not change and will not teach, instead of saying, “Oh, this is okay in America — just to shuffle poor kids through schools” — there has to be a consequence.
And the consequence is, that federal portion of federal money will go to the parent so the parent can go to a tutoring program or another public school or another private — or a private school. You see, there has to be a consequence. We’ve got a society that says, “Hey, the status quo is fine. Just move ’em through.” And guess who suffers.
JIM LEHRER: What is the harm on that? What’s the other side on that?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, the program that he’s proposing is not the one that he just described. Under your plan, Governor Bush, states would be required to pay vouchers to students to match the vouchers that the federal government would put up. Now here’s — and, the way it would happen is that under his plan, if a school was designated as failing, the kids would be trapped there for another three years, and then some of them would get federal vouchers, and the state would be forced to match that money.
Under my plan, if a school is failing, we work with the states to give them the authority and the resources to close down that school and reopen it right away with a new principal, a new faculty, a turn-around team of specialists who know what they’re doing. It’s based on the plan of Governor Jim Hunt in North Carolina, and it works great.
JIM LEHRER: So no vouchers under — in a Gore administration?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: If I thought that there was no alternative, then I might feel differently. But I have an obligation to fight to make sure there are no failing schools. We’ve got to turn around all — most schools are excellent. But we’ve got to make sure that all of them are.
JIM LEHRER: Andrew Kasberg (sp) has a related question on Education that’s right on this subject. Mr. Kasberg (sp), where are you? There you are. And it’s for Vice President Gore.
ANDREW KASBERG (sp): Mr. Vice President. In the school district in which I work and in countless others across the nation, we face crumbling school buildings, increased school violence, student apathy, overcrowding, lack of funding, lawsuits. The list goes on. I could mention low teacher pay, but I won’t. (Laughter.)
What can you tell me and my fellow American teachers today about your plans for our immediate future?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: What grade do you teach?
ANDREW KASBERG (sp): High school.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, oh, oh — that’s a violation of your rule, Vice President Gore.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (Chuckles.) High school. (Laughter.)
I mentioned before that —
JIM LEHRER: Sir —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — the local communities are having a harder time passing bond issues. Traditionally, if you’ve been involved in a campaign like that, you know that the parents with kids in school are the ones that turn out and vote. It’s ironic that there are now — there’s now a smaller percentage of the voters made up of parents with children than ever in American history because of the aging of our population.
But at the same time, we’ve got the largest generation of students in public schools ever. More than 90 percent of America’s children go to public schools, and the — it’s the largest number ever, this year, and they’ll break the record next year and every year for ten years running. We’ve got to do something about this, and local — it’s not enough to leave it up to the local school districts. They’re not able to do it, and our future depends upon it. Look, we’re in an information age. Our economic future depends upon whether or not our children are going to get the kind of education that let’s them go on to college, and again, I want to make it possible for all middle-class families to send their kids to college, and more Pell grants for those who are in the lower-income groups, also, and then I want to make sure that we have job training on top of that, and life-long learning, but it all starts with the public school teachers. My proposal gives $10,000 hiring bonuses for those teachers who are — who get certified to teach in the areas where they’re most needed.
Now, accountability. We basically agree on accountability. My plan requires testing of all students. It also requires something that Governor Bush’s plan doesn’t; it requires testing of all new teachers, including in the subjects that they teach. We have to start treating teachers like the professionals that they are, and give them the respect and the kind of quality of life that will draw more people into teaching ’cause we need a lot more teachers.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: When you total up all the federal spending he wants to do, it’s the largest increase in federal spending in years, and there’s just not going to be enough money.
I — I have been a governor of a big state. I’ve made education my number one priority. That’s what governors ought to do, they ought to say this is the most important thing we do as a state. The federal government puts about 6 percent of the money up; they put about, you know, 60 percent of the strings where you’ve got to fill out paperwork. I don’t know if you have to be a paperwork filler-outer, but most of it’s because of the federal government.
What I want to do is to send flexibility and authority to the local folks so you can choose what to do with the money. One size does not fit all. I’d worry about federalizing Education, if I were you. I believe strongly that the federal government can help; they need to fund Head Start. We need to have accountability. The vice president’s plan does not have annual accountability — third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade. We need the demand on results.
I believe strongly in a teacher protection act, like I mentioned. I hear from teachers all the time about the lawsuits and the threats, respect in the classroom. Part of it’s because you can’t — you can’t control the classroom. You can’t have a consequence for somebody without fear of getting sued under federal law. So I’m going to ask the Congress to pass a Teacher Protection Act. So I believe in flexibility, I believe in a national reading initiative for local districts to access, with K through 2 diagnostic testing, curriculum that works. Phonics works, by the way; it needs to be a part of our curriculum. There needs to be flexibility for teacher training and teacher hiring with federal money.
The federal government can be a part, but — but don’t fall prey to all this stuff about money here and money there, because education is really funded at the local level; 94 percent comes from the local level.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, is the governor right when he says that you’re proposing the largest federal spending in years?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I’m so glad that I have a chance to knock that down. Look the problem is that under Governor Bush’s plan, $1.6 trillion tax cut, mostly to the wealthy, under his own budget numbers, he proposes spending more money for a tax cut just for the wealthiest one percent than all of the new money that he budgets for education, health care and national defense combined.
Now, under my plan, we will balance the budget every year. I’m not just saying this. I’m not just talking. I have helped to balance the budget for the first time in 30 years, pay down the debt. And, under my plan, in four years, as a percentage of our gross domestic product, federal spending will be the smallest that it has been in 50 years. One reason is, you know, the third biggest spending item in our budget is interest on the national debt? We get nothing for it. We keep the good faith and credit of the United States. I will pay down the debt every single year until it is eliminated, early in the next decade. That gets rid of the third biggest intrusion of the federal government in our economy.
Now because the governor has all this money for a tax cut, mostly to the wealthy, there is no money left over, so schools get testing and lawsuit reform —
JIM LEHRER: All right.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — and not much else.
JIM LEHRER: Governor, the vice president says you’re wrong.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, he’s wrong. (Chuckles.) (laughter.) Just add up all the numbers; it’s three times bigger than what President Clinton proposed. The Senate Budget Committee —
JIM LEHRER: Three times? Excuse me. Three times —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Bigger than what President Clinton proposed —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: That’s in an ad, Jim, that was knocked down by the journalists who analyzed the ad and said it was misleading
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Wait a minute. May — may I answer?
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead. (Pause.)
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: My turn?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir. (Laughter)
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Forget the journalists. He proposed more than Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis combined. This is a big spender — he is — and he ought to be proud of it. It’s part of his record. We just have a different philosophy.
Let me talk about tax relief. If you pay taxes, you ought to get tax relief. The vice president believes that only the right people ought to get tax relief. I don’t think that’s the role of the president — to pick — “you’re right, and you’re not right.” I think if you’re going to have tax relief, everybody ought to get it. And therefore, wealthy people are going to get it. But the top one percent will end up paying one-third of the Taxes in America, and they get one-fifth of the benefits. And that’s because we structured the plan so that 6 million additional American families pay no taxes If you’re a family of four making $50,000 in Missouri, you get a 50 percent cut in your federal income taxes.
What I’ve done is set priorities and funded them, and there’s extra money. And I believe the people who pay the bills ought to — ought to get some money back. It’s a difference of opinion. He wants to grow the government, and I trust you with your own money. Well, let — I wish we could spend an hour talking about trusting people because it’s the right position to take.
JIM LEHRER: Governor —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Can we extend our time?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, hold on one sec here, though — Governor, just to reverse the thing, what do you say specifically to what the vice president has said tonight — he’s said it many, many times — that your tax cut benefits the top one percent of the wealthiest Americans, and you’ve heard what he said.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Of course it does. If you pay taxes, you’re going to get a benefit. People who pay taxes will get tax relief.
JIM LEHRER: All right, then what — why shouldn’t they?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: All right —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Let me finish, please. Under my plan, if you make — the top — the wealthy people pay 62 percent of the taxes today. Afterwards they pay 64 percent. This is a fair plan. Do you know why? Because the tax code is unfair for people at the bottom end of the economic ladder. If you’re a single mother making $22,000 a year today, and you’re trying to raise two children, for every additional dollar you earn you pay a higher marginal rate on that dollar than someone making $200,000, and it’s not right, so I want to do something about that.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yeah, look —
JIM LEHRER: All right, Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Look, this isn’t about Governor Bush, it’s not about me. It is about you, and I want to come back to something I said before. If you want somebody who believes that we were better off eight years ago than we are now, and that we ought to go back to the kind of policies that we had back then, emphasizing tax cuts mainly for the wealthy, here is your man.
If you want somebody who will fight for you and who will fight to have middle class tax cuts, then I am your man. I want to be. Now, I doubt anybody here makes more than $330,000 a year. I won’t ask you, but if you do, you’re in the top one percent. If you don’t —
JIM LEHRER: It would be a violation of the rules. They couldn’t —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I’m not going to — (chuckles) — I’m not to ask — (laughter) — I’m not going to ask. But if everyone here in this audience was dead on in the middle of the middle class, then the tax cuts for every single one of you all added up would be less than the tax cut his plan would give to just one member of that top wealthiest one percent. Now, you judge for yourselves whether or not that’s fair.
JIM LEHRER: A quick — and then we’re moving on.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Good. Fifty million Americans get no tax relief under his plan —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: That’s not right.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: — and you may not be one of them; you’re just not one of the right people. And secondly, we’ve had enough fighting. It’s time to unite. You talk about eight years — in eight years they haven’t gotten anything done on Medicare, on Social Security, a patients’ bill of rights.
JIM LEHRER: All right, we’re going to —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: It’s time get something done.
JIM LEHRER: Hey, we’re going to move on now —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I’ve got to answer that, Jim. Medicare —
JIM LEHRER: What —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — I cast the tie-breaking vote to add 26 years —
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — to the life of Medicare It was due to go bankrupt in 1999. And that 50 million figure, again —
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — the newspapers, I said — you said forget the journalists, but they are the keepers of the score card and whether or not you’re using facts that aren’t right —
JIM LEHRER: Okay —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — and that fact is just not right.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of keeper’s of the score card, that’s what I’m trying to do here, Mr. Vice President — (laughter) —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yeah.
JIM LEHRER: — Governor Bush. We’re going to — we’re going to have to move on. All right, there were 12 questions on foreign and military matters, and the first one that we’re going to ask will be directed to you, Governor Bush, and David Norwood is going to ask it. Mr. Norwood, where are you? There you are.
DAVID NORWOOD: What would you make — what would make you the best candidate in office during the Middle East crisis?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’ve been a leader. I’ve been a person who has to set a clear vision and convince people to follow. I’ve got a strategy for the Middle East And first, let me say that our nation now needs to speak with one voice during this time, and I applaud the president for working hard to defuse tensions.
Our nation needs to be credible and strong. When we say we’re somebody’s friend, everybody’s got to believe it. Israel’s our friend, and we’ll stand by Israel. We need to reach out to modern Arab nations as well, to build coalitions to keep the peace.
I also need to — the next leader needs to be patient. We can’t put the Middle East peace process on our timetable. It’s got to be on the timetable of the people that we’re trying bring to the peace table. We can’t dictate the terms of peace, which means that we have to be steady. Can’t worry about polls or focus groups. Got to have a clear vision. That’s what a leader does.
A leader also understands that the United States must be strong to keep the peace. Saddam Hussein still is a threat in the Middle East. Our coalition against Saddam is unraveling. Sanctions are loosened. I — the man who may be developing weapons of mass destruction, we don’t know because inspectors aren’t in. So to answer you question, it requires a clear vision, a willingness to stand by our friends, and the credibility for people both friend and foe to understand when America says something, we mean it.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I see a future when the world is at peace, with the United States of America promoting the values of democracy and human rights and freedom all around the world. Even in Iran, they have had an election that began to bring about some change. We stand for those values, and we have to be willing to assert them.
Right now, our military is the strongest in the entire history of the world. I will — I pledge to you, I will do whatever is necessary to make sure that it stays that way. Now, what can I bring to that challenge?
When I was a young man, my father was a senator opposed to the Vietnam War. When I graduated from college, there were plenty of fancy ways to get out of going and being a part of that. I went and I volunteered, and I went to Vietnam I didn’t do the most or run the greatest risk, by a long shot, but I learned what it was like to be an enlisted man in the United States Army.
In the Congress, in the House of Representatives, I served on the House Intelligence Committee, and I worked hard to learn the subject of nuclear arms control and how we can defuse these tensions and deal with nonproliferation and deal with the problems of terrorism and these new weapons of mass destruction. Look, we’re going to face some serious new challenges in the next four years. I’ve worked on that long and hard.
When I went to the United States Senate, I asked for an assignment to the Arms Services Committee, and while I was there, I worked on a bipartisan basis — as I did in the House. I worked with former President Reagan on the modernization of our strategic weaponry. In the Senate, I was one of only 10 Democrats, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, to support Governor Bush’s dad in the Persian Gulf War Resolution.
And for the last eight years, I’ve served on the —
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — National Security Council. Could I say just one other thing here?
JIM LEHRER: No, sir. We’ll get that — I’m going to gear — the next question is to you —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Fine, I’ll wait.
JIM LEHRER: — and it’s a related — it’s a related question and it’s going to asked by Kenneth Allen. Mr. Allen?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think that he gets a — Oh, I’m sorry. You’re right. Go ahead.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Allen? Right there.
KENNETH ALLEN: Mr. Vice President, today our military forces are stretched thinner and doing more than they’ve ever done before during peacetime.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Hm.
KENNETH ALLEN: I’d like to know what you — I think we’d all like to know what you, as president, would do to ensure proper resourcing for the current mission, and/or more selectively choosing the time and place that our forces will be used around the world.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Thank you, sir.
Just to finish briefly. I started to say that for the last eight years I’ve been on the National Security Council. And last week I broke — I suspended campaigning for two days, or parts of two days, to go back and participate in the meetings that charted the president’s summit meeting that he just returned from earlier today. And our team over — our country’s team over there did a — did a great job. It’s a difficult situation. The United States has to be strong in order to make sure that we can help promote peace and security and stability, and that means keeping our military strong.
Now, I said earlier that we are the strongest military. But we need to continue improving readiness and making sure that our military personnel are adequately paid and that the combination of their pay and their benefits and their retirement as veterans is comparable to the stiff competition that’s coming in this strong economy from the private sector. And I have supported the largest pay raise in many a year, and I support another one now.
I also support modernization of our strategic and tactical weaponry. The governor has proposed skipping a generation of technology. I think that’s — I think that would be a mistake, because I think one of the ways we’ve been able to be so successful in Kosovo and Bosnia and Haiti and in other places is by having the technological edge. You know, we won that conflict in Kosovo without losing a single human life in combat — a single American life in combat.
Now, readiness. The trends before we — before I got my current job, were on the decline. The number of divisions were reduced. I argued that we should reverse that trend and take it back up. And I’m happy to tell you that we have. Now, in my budget for the next — for the next 10 years, I propose $100 billion this purpose; the governor proposes $45 billion. I propose more than twice as much because I think it’s needed.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: If this were a spending contest, I’d come in second. (Laughter.) I readily admit, I’m not going to grow the size of the federal government like he is.
Your question was deployment. It must be in the national interests. It must be in our vital interest whether we every send troops. The mission must be clear. Soldiers must understand why are we going. The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well-defined. I’m concerned that we’re over-deployed around the world. See, I think the mission has somewhat become fuzzy. Should I be fortunate enough to earn you confidence, the mission of the United States military will be to be prepared and ready to fight and win war, and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place.
There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often. The vice president mentioned my view of the long-term for the military. I want to make sure the equipment for our military is the best it can possibly be, of course. But we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to use our research and development capacities, the great technology of the United States, to make our military lighter, harder to find, more lethal. We have an opportunity really, if you think about it, if we’re smart and have got a strategic vision and a leader who understands strategic planning to make sure that we change the terms of the battlefield of the future so we can make — keep the peace. This is a peaceful nation, and I intend to keep the peace.
Spending money is one thing. But spending money without a strategic plan can oftentimes be wasted. The first thing I’m going to do is ask the Secretary of Defense to set up a plan so we’re making sure we’re not spending our money on political projects, but on projects to make sure our soldiers are well paid, well housed, and have the best equipment in the world.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, another kind of gun question. It’ll be asked by Robert Lutz (sp). Mr. Lutz (sp)?
ROBERT LUTZ (sp): Governor Bush —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yes, sir?
MR. LUTZ (sp): — we’d just like to know what is your opposition to the Brady handgun bill?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Could you — I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that.
MR. LUTZ (sp): We’d like to know why you object to the Brady handgun bill, if you do object to it, because on a recent TV ad, it showed that the National Rifle Association says if you are elected, that they will be working out of your office.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well — (chuckles) —
MR. LUTZ (sp): I can just see Charlton Heston —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I don’t think the National Rifle Association ran that ad. But let me just tell you my position on guns in general, sir, if you don’t mind.
JIM LEHRER: I’m not — excuse me. I’m not sure he’s finished with his question, Governor.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Oh, I’m sorry.
MR. LUTZ (sp): Well, that kind of bothers me — you know, when I see an ad like that. I wonder if you can explain that ad to me.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, that’s fine.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I don’t think I ran the ad. I think somebody who doesn’t want me to be president might have run that ad. It’s — that wasn’t my ad, and I think it might have been one of my opponent’s ads.
Here’s what I believe, sir. I believe law-abiding citizens ought to be allowed to protect themselves and their families. I believe that we ought to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. That’s why I’m for instant background checks at gun shows. I’m for trigger locks. I think that makes sense. Matter of fact, we distributed free trigger locks in the state of Texas, so that people can get them and put them on their guns, to make their guns more safe. I think we ought to raise the age at which juveniles can have a gun
But I also believe strongly that we need to enforce laws on the books, that the best way to make sure that we keep our society safe and secure is to hold people accountable for — for breaking the law. If we catch somebody illegally selling a gun, there needs to be a consequence. If we keep — somebody, you know, illegally using a gun, there needs to be a consequence, enforcement of the law. And the federal government can help. There’s a great program called Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia, where they focused federal taxpayers money and federal prosecutors and went after people who were illegally using guns to me that’s how you make society the safest it can be, and so, yes, sometimes I agree with some of these groups in Washington and sometimes I don’t. I’m a pretty independent thinker. But one thing I’m for is a safe society, and I’m for enforcing laws on the books, and that’s what’s going to happen should I earn your confidence.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, one of — it was not one of my ads, either, Governor, but I am familiar with the statement, and it was made by one of the top-ranking officials of that organization.
Let me tell you my position. I think that some commonsense gun safety measures are certainly needed with the flood of cheap handguns that have sometimes been working their way into the hands of the wrong people. But all of my proposals are focused on that problem, gun safety. None of my proposals would have any effect on hunters or sportsmen or people who use rifles. They are aimed at the real problem — let’s make our schools safe, let’s make our neighborhoods safe, let’s have a three-day waiting period, a cooling off so we can have a background check to make sure that criminals and people who really shouldn’t have Guns that don’t get them.
But I’d like to use my remaining time on this exchange, Jim, to respond to an exchange that took place just a moment ago because a couple of times the governor has said that I am for a bigger government. Governor, I’m not. And let me tell you what the record shows. For the last eight years, I have had the challenge of running the streamlining program called Reinventing Government. And if there are any federal employees in this group, you know what that means. The federal government has been reduced in size by more than 300,000 people, and it’s now the smallest number that we have had since — the smallest in size since John Kennedy’s administration.
During the last five years, Texas’ government has gone up in size. The federal government has gone down. Texas’ government has gone up. Now, my plan for the future, I see a time when we have smaller, smarter government where you don’t have to wait in line because you can get services online — cheaper, better faster. We can do that.
JIM LEHRER: Steve Luker (sp) has a question, and it is for Vice President Gore. Mr. Luker (sp)? There you are.
STEVE LUKER (sp): Vice President Gore, the family farms are disappearing and having a hard time, even in the current positive economic environment. What steps would you or your administration take on agriculture policy developments to protect the family farms for this multifunctional service they perform?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: We’ve got a bumper crop this year, but that’s the good news. You know what the bad news is that follows on that — that prices are low. In the last several years, the so-called Freedom to Farm law has, in my view, been mostly a failure. I want to change many of its provisions.
Now, many here will — who are not involved in farming don’t — won’t follow this, so just forgive me, because the 2 percent of the country that is involved in farming is important because the rest of us wouldn’t eat except for them. And you guys have been having a hard time, and I want to fight for you. I want to change those provisions. I want to restore a meaningful safety net. And I think that you pointed the way in your comments, because when you say there are multiple things accomplished by farmers, you’re specifically including conservation and protection of the environment.; and yes, farmers are the first environmentalists. And when they decide not to plow a field that is vulnerable to soil erosion, that may cost them a little money, but it helps the environment.
I think that we ought to have an expanded conservation reserve program, and I think that the environmental benefits that come from sound management of the land ought to represent a new way for farmers to get some income that will enable them — enable you — to make sensible choices in crop rotation, and when you leave the land fallow, and the rest.
Now, I’ll go beyond that and say I think we need much more focused rural economic development programs. I see a time when the Internet-based activities are more available in the rural areas, and where the extra source of income that farm families used to have from shoe factories is replaced by an extra source of income from working in the information economy. So we need to do a lot of things, but we ought to start with a better safety net.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: (Pause.) I’d like our farmers feeding the world. We’re best — we’re the best producers in the world, and I want the farmers feeding the world. We need to open up markets. Exports are down, and every time an export number goes down, it hurts the farmer.
I want the next president to have fast track negotiating authority to open up markets around the world. We’re the best. We’re the most efficient, efficient farmers. I don’t want to use food as diplomatic weapon from this point forward. We shouldn’t be using food. It hurts the farmers. It’s not the right thing to do.
I’m for value-added processing. We need to do more work on value-added processing. You take the raw product you produce — I presume you’re a farmer — off your farm, and convert it. I think value-added processing’s important. I’m for research and development, spending research and development money so that we can use our technological base to figure out new uses for farm products.
I’m for getting rid of the death tax, completely getting rid of the death tax. One reason family farmers are forced to sell early is because of the death tax. This is a bad tax. The president shouldn’t have vetoed that bill. It’s a tax that taxes people twice. It penalizes the family farmer.
So, should I be fortunate enough to earn your vote, I also — I’m going to open up markets, but I also understand that farming is a part of our national security. I’m from a big farm state. We’re the second biggest state — farming state in the country. And I hear from my farmer friends all the time. The vice president’s right. By the way, every day’s Earth Day if you own the land. And I like the policies that will encourage farmers to set aside land as well for conservation purposes.
JIM LEHRER: A quick thing on the inheritance tax, because there is a difference between the two of you on this. Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yeah, I’m for a massive reform of the estate tax or the death tax.
JIM LEHRER: Estate tax.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: And under the plan that I have proposed, 80 percent of all family farms will be completely exempt from the estate tax. And the vast majority of all family businesses would be completely exempt. And all of the others would have sharply reduced. So 80 percent.
Now the problem with completely eliminating it goes back to the wealthiest 1 percent. The amount of money that has to be raised in taxes from middle class families to make up for completely eliminating that on the very wealthiest, the billionaires, that would be an extra heavy burden on middle class families. And so, let’s do it for most all, but not completely eliminate it for the very top.
JIM LEHRER: What’s the case for doing that, Governor?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Eliminating the death tax?
JIM LEHRER: Completely, for everyone.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Because people shouldn’t be taxed twice on their assets. It’s either unfair for some or unfair for all. Again, this is just a difference of opinion. If you’re from Washington, you want to pick and choose winners. I don’t think that’s the role of the president. I think if you’re going to have tax relief, everybody benefits.
Secondly, I think your plan — there’s a lot of fine print in your plan, Mr. Vice President, in all due respect. It is — I’m not so sure 80 percent of the people get the death tax. I know this — 100 percent will get it if I’m the president. I just don’t think it’s fair to tax people’s assets twice, regardless of your status. It’s a fairness issue, it’s an issue of principle, not politics.
JIM LEHRER: New issue — new issue. And the question will be asked by Joyce Kleemer (sp) of Governor Bush. Joyce Kleemer? There you are.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Hi, Joyce.
JOYCE KLEEMER (sp): Yes, hi, Governor. I’m very concerned about the morality of our country now — TV, movies, the music that our children are, you know, barraged with every day, and I want to know if there is anything that can be worked out with the — Hollywood or whoever — (chuckles) — to help get rid of some of this bad language and the whatever, you know. It’s just bringing the country down, and our children are very important to us, and we’re concerned about their education at school, we should be concerned about their Education at home, also.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yes.
JOYCE KLEEMER (sp): Thank you.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I appreciate that question. Laura and I are proud parents of teenage girls, twin daughters, and I know what you’re saying. Government ought to stand on the side of parents. Parents are teaching their children right from wrong and the message oftentimes gets undermine by the popular culture.
You bet there’s things that government can do. We can work with the entertainment industry to provide family hour. We can have filters on Internets where public money is spent; there ought to be filters in public libraries and filter in public schools so if kids get on the Internet, there’s not going to be pornography or violence coming in.
I think we ought to have character education in our schools. I know that doesn’t directly talk about Hollywood, but it does reinforce the values you’re teaching. I would greatly expand character education funding so that public schools will teach children values, values which have stood the test of time. There’s after-school money available. I think that after-school money ought to be available for faith-based programs and charitable programs that exist because somebody has heard the call to love a neighbor like you’d like to be loved yourself. That will help reinforce the values that parents teach at home as well.
I just — ours is a great land, and one of the reasons why is because we’re free, and so I don’t support censorship. But I do believe that we ought to talk plainly to the Hollywood moguls and people who produce this stuff and explain the consequences. I think we need to have rating systems that are clear. And I happen to like the idea of having technology for the TV, easy for parents to use, so you can tune-out these programs that you don’t want in your house. But I’m going to remind moms and dads, the best weapon is the off/on button and paying attention to your children, and eating dinner with them and being —
JIM LEHRER: Governor?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’m sorry.
JIM LEHRER: That’s all right.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: It’s my turn. (Laughter.)
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I care a lot about this. It’s not just movies — television, video games, music, the Internet. Parents now feel like you have to compete with the mass culture in order to raise your kids with the values that you want them to have. Tipper and I have four children. And God bless them; every one of them decided on their own to come here this evening.
I don’t want to embarrass our oldest daughter — she and her husband made us grandparents almost a year and a half ago — and yet, if she’ll forgive me, when she was little, she brought a record home that had some awful lyrics in it. And Tipper hit the ceiling. And that launched a campaign to try to get the record companies to put ratings that — warning labels for parents. And I’m so proud of what she accomplished in getting them on there.
I’ve been involved myself in negotiating and helping to move along the negotiations with the Internet service providers to get a parents’ protection page every time 95 percent of the pages come up, and a feature that allows parents to automatically check, with one click, what sites your kids have visited lately. You know, some parents are worried about those filters — (laughing) — that you’ll have to ask your kids how to put them on there. (laughter.) But if you can check up on them, then you — that’s real power.
And recently the Federal Trade Commission pointed out that some of these entertainment companies have warned parents that the material is inappropriate for children, and then they’ve turned around, behind the backs of the parents, and advertised that same adult material directly to children. That is an outrage.
Joe Lieberman and I gave them six months to clean up their act. And if they don’t do it, we’re going to ask for tougher authority on — in the hands of the FTC on the false and deceptive advertising. I’ll tell you this: I want to do something about this, respect the First Amendment, but I will do something to help you raise your kids without that garbage.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, Mr. Vice President. All right. Vice President Gore, the next question is for you, and it will be asked by Stephen Kusman (sp). Mr. Kusman (sp)? Where are you, sir? Right behind me, as well. There we go.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Right next to the last one.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Got it. Good planning.
STEPHEN KUSMAN (sp): It seems that when we hear about issues of this campaign, it’s usually Medicare or Social Security or prescription drugs. As a college professor, I hear a lot of apathy amongst young people who feel that there are no issues directed to them.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yeah. Yeah.
MR. KUSMAN (sp): And they don’t plan to vote. How do you address that?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: We’ve got to change it. I spend a good deal of time talking to young people, and in my standard speech out there on the stump, I usually end my speech by saying, “I want to ask you for something, and I want to direct it especially to the young people in the audience,” and I want to tell you what I tell them.
Sometimes people who are very idealistic and have great dreams, as young people do, are apt to stay at arm’s length from the political process, because they think their good hearts might be brittle, and if they invest their hopes and allow themselves to believe, then they’re going to be let down and disappointed. But thank goodness, we’ve always had enough people who have been willing in every generation to push past the fear of a broken heart and become deeply involved in forming a more perfect union. We’re America, and — and we believe in our future, and we know we have the ability to shape our future.
Now, we’ve got to address one of the biggest threats to our democracy, and that is the current Campaign financing system. And I know they say it doesn’t rank anywhere on the polls. I don’t believe — I don’t believe that’s a fair measure. I’m telling you, I will make it — I will make the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill the very first measure that I send to the Congress as president. Governor Bush opposes it. I wish that he would consider changing his mind on that, because I think that the special interests have too much power and we need to give our democracy back to the American people.
Let me tell you why. Those issues you mentioned, Social Security, prescription drugs, the big drug companies are against the prescription Drug proposal that I’ve made. The HMOs are against the patients’ rights bill, the Dingell-Norwood bill, that I support and that Governor Bush does not support. The big oil companies are against the measures to get more energy independence and renewable fuels. They ought to have their voices heard, but they shouldn’t have a big megaphone that drowns out the American people. We need campaign finance reform, and we need to shoot straight with young and old alike and tell them what the real choices are. And we can renew and rekindle the American spirit and make our future what our founders dreamed it could be. We can.
JIM LEHRER: Time. Governor Bush, two minutes.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I tell you what I hear. A lot of people are sick and tired of the bitterness in Washington, D.C., and therefore they don’t want any part of politics. They look at Washington and see people pointing fingers and casting blame and saying one thing and doing another. There’s a lot of young folks saying, you know, “Why do I want to be involved with this mess?” (Laughs.) And what I think needs to happen in order to encourage the young to become involved is to shoot straight, is to set aside the partisan differences and set an agenda that will makes sense.
Medicare, I know you talked about it, but Medicare is relevant for all of us, young and old alike. We better get it right now. Tax reform is relevant for old and young alike. I don’t think it’s the issues that turn kids off. I think it’s the tone. I think it’s the attitude. I think it’s a cynicism in Washington, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Before I decided to run, I had to resolve two issues in my mind: one, could our family endure all this business, and I came to the conclusion that our love was strong enough to be able to do it; and the other was could an administration change the tone in Washington, DC, and I believe the answer is yes — otherwise, I wouldn’t be asking for your vote.
That’s what happened in Texas. We worked together. There’s a man here in this audience named Hugo Balanga (ph). He’s the chairman of the Health Committee. He came here for a reason, to tout our record on health in Texas. He’s a Democrat. I didn’t care whether he was Republican or Democrat. What I cared about is could we work together. That’s what Washington D.C. needs. And finally, sir, to answer your question, it needs somebody in office who will tell the truth. That’s the best way to get people back in the system.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, Norma Kirby has the next question, and it’s for you.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Okay.
JIM LEHRER: Norma Kirby, where are you?
NORMA KIRBY: Right here.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Hello.
NORMA KIRBY: Hi. How will your administration address diversity, inclusiveness, and what role will affirmative action play in your overall plan?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’ve had a record of bringing people from all walks of life into my administration, and my administration is better off for it in Texas. I’m going to find people that want to serve their country, but I want a diverse administration. I think it’s important.
I’ve worked hard in the state of Texas. to make sure our institutions are — reflect the state, with good, smart policy, policy that rejects quotas — I don’t like quotas, quotas tend to pit one group of people against another, quotas are bad for America, it’s not the way America is all about — but policies that give people a helping hand so they can help themselves.
For example, in our state of Texas., I’ve worked with the legislature, both Republicans and Democrats, to pass a law that said if you come in the top 10 percent of your high school class, you’re automatically admitted to one of our — one of our higher institutions — higher institutions of learning — college, and as a result, our universities are now more diverse. It was a smart thing to do, what I called it — I labeled it “affirmative access.”
I think the contracting business in government can help — not with quotas, but help meet a goal of ownership of small businesses, for example. The contracts need to be smaller. The agencies need to be — you know, need to recruit and to work hard to find people to bid on the state contracts. I think we can do that in a way that represents what America is all about, which is equal opportunity, and an opportunity for people to realize their potential. So, to answer your question, I support — I guess the way to put it is — affirmative access. And I’ll have an administration that will make you proud.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I believe in this goal and this effort with all my heart. I believe that our future as a nation depends upon whether or not we can break down these barriers that have been used to pit group against group, and bring our people together. How do you do it? Well, you establish respect for differences. You don’t ignore differences. It’s all too easy for somebody in the majority in the population to say, “Ah, we’re just all — all the same”, without an understanding of the different life experience that you’ve had, that others have had. Once you have that understanding and mutual respect, then we can transcend the differences and embrace the highest common denominator of the American spirit.
I don’t know what “affirmative access” means. I do know what “affirmative action” means. I know that the governor is against it, and I know that I’m for it. I know what a hate crime statute pending at the national level is all about. In the aftermath of James Byrd’s death, I’m for that proposed law. The governor is against it.
I know what it means to have a commitment to diversity. I am part of an administration that has the finest record on diversity — and, incidentally, an excellent — I mean, I think our success over the last eight years has not been in spite of diversity, but because of it, because we’re able to draw on the wisdom and experience from different parts of the society that hadn’t been tapped in the same way before. And incidentally, Mel Carnahan in Missouri had the finest record on diversity of any governor in the entire history of the state of Missouri, and I want to honor that among his other achievements here.
Now I just believe that what we have to do is enforce the civil rights laws. I’m against quotas. This is — with all due respect, Governor, that’s a red herring. Affirmative action isn’t quotas. I’m against quotas. They’re illegal. They’re against the American way. Affirmative action means that you take extra steps to acknowledge the history of discrimination and injustice and prejudice, and bring all people into the American dream because it helps everybody, not just those who would directly benefit.
JIM LEHRER: Governor, what is your — are you opposed to Affirmative action?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: No, I — if affirmative action means quotas, I’m against it. If affirmative action means what I just described, what I’m for, then I’m for it. You heard what I was for. The vice president keeps saying I’m against things. You heard what I was for. And that’s what I support.
JIM LEHRER: What about — Mr. Vice President, you heard what he said.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: He said if affirmative action means quotas, he’s against it. Affirmative action doesn’t mean quotas.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Good.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Are you for it without quotas?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I may not be for your version, Mr. Vice President, but I’m for what I just described to the lady. She heard my answer.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Are you for what the Supreme Court says is a constitutional way of having affirmative action?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Jim, this —
JIM LEHRER: Let’s go on to another — another — (laughter) —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think that speaks for itself.
JIM LEHRER: The question —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: No, doesn’t speak for itself, Mr. Vice President; it speaks for the fact that there are certain rules in this that we all agreed to, but evidently rules don’t mean anything.
JIM LEHRER: The question is for you, Vice President Gore. And Lisa Key (sp) will ask it. Lisa Key (sp), where are you? There we go, sorry.
LISA KEY (sp): How will your tax proposals affect me as a middle class, 34-year-old single person with no dependents?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: If you make less than $60,000 a year, and you decide to invest $1,000 in a savings account, you’ll get a tax credit, which means in essence that the federal government will match your $1,000 with another $1,000. If you make less than $30,000 a year and you put $500 in a saving account, the federal government will match it with $1,500. If you make more than 60,000, up to 100-, you’ll still get a match, but not as generous.
You will get access to lifelong learning and education, help with tuition. If you want to get a new skill or training, if you want to purchase Health insurance, you will get help with that. If you want to participate in some of the dynamic changes that are going on in our country, you will get specific help in doing that.
If you are part of the bottom 20 percent or so of wage-earners, then you will get an expanded earned income tax credit. Now, the tax relief that I propose is directed specifically at middle-income individuals and families. And if you have a — if you have an elderly parent or grandparent who needs long-term care, then you will get help with that — $3,000 tax credit to help your expenses in taking care of a loved one who needs long-term care.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Right. Let me just say, the first — this business about the entitlement he tried to describe about savings — you know, matching savings here and matching savings there — if fully funded, it’s going to cost a whole lot of money; a lot more than we have. You’re going to get tax relief under my plan. You’re not going to be targeted in or targeted out. Everybody who pays taxes is going to get tax relief. If you take care of an elderly in your home, you’re going to get the personal exemption increased.
I think also what you need to think about is not the immediate, but what about Medicare? You get a plan that will include prescription drugs, a plan that will give you options. Now, I hope people understand that Medicare today is — is — is important, but it doesn’t keep up with the new medicines. If you’re a Medicare person, on Medicare, you don’t get the new procedures. You’re stuck in a time warp, in many ways. So it will be a modern Medicare system that trusts you to make a variety of options for you. You’re going to live in a peaceful world. It’ll be a world of peace, because we’re going to have clearer — clear-sighted foreign policy based upon a strong military, and a mission that stands by our friends; a mission that doesn’t try to be all things to all people. A judicious use of the military which well help keep the peace.
You’ll be in world, hopefully, that’s more educated, so it’s less likely you’ll be harmed in your neighborhood. See, an educated child is one much more likely to be hopeful and optimistic. You’ll be in a world in which — fits into my philosophy; you know, the harder work — the harder you work the more you can keep. It’s the American way. Government shouldn’t be a heavy hand. That’s what the federal government does to you. Should be a helping hand. And tax relief in the proposals I just described should be a good helping hand.
JIM LEHRER: Governor, the next question is for you, and Leo Anderson (sp) will ask it. Mr. Anderson (sp).
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Hi, Leo.
LEO ANDERSON (sp): How you doing, Governor?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: You want a mike?
MR. ANDERSON (sp): In one of the last debates held, the subject of capital punishment came up. And in your response to the question, you seemed to overly enjoy — as a matter of fact, proud — that Texas led the nation in execution of prisoners. Sir, did I misread your response? And are you really, really proud of the fact that Texas is number one in executions?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: No, I’m not proud of that. The death penalty is very serious business, Leo. It’s an issue that good people obviously disagree on.
I take my job seriously. And if you think I was proud of it, I think you misread me; I do. I was sworn to uphold the laws of my state. During the course of the campaign in 1994, I was asked, “Do you support the death penalty?” I said I did, if administered fairly and justly, because I believe it saves lives, Leo, I do. I think if it’s administered swiftly, justly and fairly, it saves lives.
One of the things that happens when you’re a governor — at least — oftentimes you have to make tough decisions, and you can’t let public persuasion sway you because the job is to enforce the law, and that’s what I did, sir. There have been some tough cases come across my desk. Some of the hardest moments since I’ve been the governor of the state of Texas is to deal with those cases. But my job is to ask two questions, sir: Is the person guilty of the crime, and did the person have full access to the courts of law? And I can tell you, looking at you right now, in all cases those answers were affirmative.
I’m not proud of any record. I’m proud of the fact that violent crime is down in the state of Texas I’m proud of the fact that — that we hold people accountable. But I’m not proud of any record, sir; I’m not.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I support the death penalty. I think that it has to be administered not only fairly, with attention to things like DNA evidence, which I think should be used in all capital cases, but also with very careful attention. If, for example, somebody confesses to the crime and somebody is waiting on death row, there has to be alertness, too, to say, hey, wait a minute, have we got the wrong guy? If the wrong guy is put to death, then that’s a double tragedy. Not only has an innocent person been executed, but the real perpetrator of the crime has not been held accountable for it, and in some cases, may be still at large. But I support the death penalty in the most heinous cases.
JIM LEHRER: Do both of you believe that the death penalty actually deters crime?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I do. That’s the only reason to be for it. I don’t — let me finish —
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I don’t think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don’t think that’s right. I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people’s lives.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think it is a deterrence. I know that’s a controversial view, but I do believe it’s a deterrence.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Next question is for you, Vice President Gore, and Thomas Fisher (sp) will ask it. Mr. Fisher?
THOMAS FISHER (sp): Yes, my sixth-grade class at Saint Claire School wanted to ask if all these promises you guys are making and all the pledges — will you keep them when you are in office? (Laughter.)
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yes. (Laughter.) I am a person who keeps promises, and you know, we’ve heard a lot about — from the Governor about not much being done in the last eight years, as if the promises that I made eight years ago have not been kept. Instead of high unemployment, we now have the lowest African-American unemployment, the lowest Latino unemployment ever measured, 22 million new jobs, very low unemployment nationally. Instead of ballooning the debt and multiplying it four times over, we have seen the debt actually begun to be paid down.
Here are some promises that I’ll make to you now: I will balance the budget every year. I will pay down the debt every year. I will give middle-class Americans tax cuts, meaningful ones. And I will invest in education, health care, protecting the environment and retirement security. We’ve both made promises in this campaign I promise you I will keep mine.
Let me tell you about one of the governor’s.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: (Laughs.)
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: He has promised a trillion dollars out of the Social Security Trust Fund for young working adults to invest and save on their own. But he’s promised seniors that their Social Security benefits will not be cut. And he’s promised the same trillion dollars to them. So, this is the Show-Me state. Reminds me of the line from the movie, “show me the money.” Which one of those promises will you keep, and which will you break, Governor?
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush?
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Thank you for your question. (Laughter.) There’s an old high school debating trick, which is to answer something and then attack your opponent at the end. You asked about promises. You were promised that Medicare would be reformed and that Social Security would be reformed. You were promised a middle-class tax cut in 1992. It didn’t happen.
There’s too much bitterness in Washington, there’s too much wrangling. It’s time to have a fresh start. One of the reasons I was successful as the governor of Texas is because I didn’t try to be all things to all people. When I campaigned in a race a lot of folks didn’t I think I could win — including, by the way, my mother — (laughter) — I said I’d do four things: tort reform, Education reform, welfare reform, and juvenile justice reform. And I won, and I had the will of the people in my state behind me, and then I brought folks together to get it done. And that’s what we need, I think, in this election. To me, that’s what it’s all about. I know — listen, there’s — I’m sure your sixth-grade kids are listening — “These guys will say anything to get elected.” But there’s a record, and that’s what I hope people look at. And one of my promises, there’s going to be Social Security reform.
And you bet, we need to take a trillion dollars out of that $2.4 trillion surplus — and remember, Social Security revenue exceeds expenses up until 2015. People are going to get paid. But if you’re a younger worker, if you’re younger, you better hope this country thinks different, otherwise you’re going to be faced with huge payroll taxes or reduced benefits. And you bet, we’re going to take a trillion dollars of your own money and let you invest it under safe guidelines to get a better rate of return on the money than the paltry 2 percent that the federal government gets for you today. That’s one of my promises.
But it’s going to require people to bring both Republicans and Democrats together to get it done. That’s what it requires. There was a chance to get this done; there was a bipartisan approach, but it’s been rejected. I’m going to bring them together.
JIM LEHRER: Both of you — to both of you on this subject, there are other questions that also go to this skepticism not necessarily about you, but all people in politics.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Hm.
JIM LEHRER: Why is that?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, first of all, Jim, I’d like to — I’d like to respond to what the governor just said —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: (Chuckles.)
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — because the trillion dollars that has been promised to young people has also been promised to older people. And you cannot keep both promises. If you’re in your mid-40s, under the governor’s plan, Social Security will be bankrupt by the time you retire, if he takes it out of the Social Security trust fund. Under my plan, it will be — its solvency will be extended until you’re 100. Now that is the difference.
And the governor may not want to answer that question; he may want to call it a high school debating trick. But let me tell you this: This election is not about debating tricks; it is about your future. The reason Social Security — he says it gets 2 percent. You know, it’s not a bank account; it — that just pays back money that’s invested; it is also used to give your mothers and fathers the Social Security checks that they live on. If you take a trillion dollars out of that Social Security trust fund —
JIM LEHRER: Governor —
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — how are the checks going to be — how are you going to keep faith with the seniors? Now let me come — let me come directly to your question —
JIM LEHRER: No, I think we’re — we have to go to the closing statements, and —
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, can I answer that?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: One reason people are skeptical is because people don’t answer the questions they’ve been asked. (Laughter.)
The trillion dollars comes out of the surplus, so that can you invest some of your own money. There’s just a difference of opinion. I want workers to have their own assets. It’s who you trust, government or people.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now we’re going to go to closing statements.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Great.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, you’re first. You have two minutes.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Thank you. Thank you very much, Jim. And I’ll begin by answering your questions. I — your last question. I believe that a lot of people are skeptical about people in politics today because we have seen a time of great challenge for our country since the assassination of our best leaders in the ’60s, since the Vietnam War, since Watergate, and because we need Campaign finance reform.
I’d like to tell you something about me. I keep my word. I have kept the faith. I kept the faith with my country. I volunteered for the Army. I served in Vietnam I kept the faith with my family. Tipper and I have been married for 30 years. We have devoted ourselves to our children and, now, our nearly one-and-a-half-year-old grandson. I have kept the faith with our country. Nine times I have raised my hand to take an oath to the Constitution, and I have never violated that oath.
I have not spent the last quarter-century in pursuit of personal wealth. I have spent the last quarter-century fighting for middle class working men and women in the United States of America. I believe very deeply that you have to be willing to stand up and fight, no matter what powerful forces might be on the other side. If you want somebody who is willing to fight for you, I am asking for your support and your vote and, yes, your confidence, and your willingness to believe that we can do the right thing in America and be the better for it.
We’ve made some progress during the last eight years. We have seen the strongest economy in the history of the United States, lower crime rates for eight years in a row, the highest private home ownership ever. But I’ll make you one promise here — you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, and I will keep that promise.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.
GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, Jim, I want to thank you and thank the folks here at Washington University, and Vice President, I appreciate the chance to have a good, honest dialogue about our differences of opinion. And I think, after three debates, the good people of this country understand there is a difference of opinion. It’s the difference between big federal government and somebody who’s coming from outside of Washington who will trust individuals.
I’ve got an agenda that I want to get done for the country. It’s an agenda that says we’re going to reform Medicare to make sure seniors have got prescription drugs and to give seniors different options from which they can choose. It’s an agenda that says we’re going to listen to the young voices in Social Security and say we’re going to think differently about making sure we have a system, but also fulfill the promise to the seniors in America.
A promise made will be a promise kept should I be fortunate enough to become your president.
I’m going to rebuild the military to keep the peace. I want to make sure the public school system in America fulfills its promise so that no child — not one child — is left behind. And after setting priorities, I want to give some of the — some of your money back. You see, I don’t think the surplus is the government’s money, I think it’s the people’s money. I don’t think the surplus exists because of the ingenuity and hard work of the federal government. I think it exists because of the ingenuity and hard work of the American people, and you ought to have some of this surplus so you can save and dream and build.
I look forward to the final weeks of this campaign I’m asking for your vote. For those of you for me, thanks for your help. For those of you for my opponent, please only vote once. (Laughter.) But for those who have not made up their mind, I’d like to conclude by this promise: should I be fortunate enough to become your president, when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of the land, but I will also swear to uphold the honor and the dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God.
Thank you very much.
JIM LEHRER: A closing piece of business before we go — the Debate Commission wants reaction to the three kinds of formats used in the debates this year, and you may register an opinion at their website: www.debates.org.
Thank you, Vice President Gore, Governor Bush.
From St. Louis, I’m Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.