Candidates Face Off in New Mexico
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JIM LEHRER: Now, more from last night’s debate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Eight of the nine Democratic presidential candidates attended. Reverend Al Sharpton was missing because bad weather grounded his plane in New York. In addition to the economy, the Democrats talked about Iraq, trade and health care. The debate– shown on PBS and Univision– was moderated by Maria Elena Salinas and the NewsHour’s Ray Suarez.
RAY SUAREZ: The United States is now trying to get help from the United Nations in the form of resolution to internationalize the mission in Iraq. How much decision-making power can the U.S. share, while at the same time urging other countries to share the cost and share the risk of being there?
HOWARD DEAN: Well, as you know, I believed from the beginning that we should not go into Iraq without the United Nations as our partner. And in this situation, fortunately the president is finally beginning to see the light. We cannot do this by ourselves, we cannot have an American occupation and reconstruction; we have to have reconstruction of Iraq with the United Nations, with NATO, and preferably with Muslim troops, particularly Arab- speaking troops from our allies such as Egypt and Morocco.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Do we bring back the troops, do we send more troops, or do we keep the current that are there? Congressman Gephardt, what would you do?
REP. DICK GEPHARDT: This president is a miserable failure. He is a miserable failure. (Applause) I some days just can’t believe… it’s incomprehensible to me. It is incomprehensible that we would wind up in this situation without a plan and without international cooperation to get this done. As others have said, we have worked with other nations in the world on the environmental problems that we face, on trade problems that we face, on economic problems, on terrorism, on drug trafficking. We’ve been the leader; we’ve been the one that has put the coalitions together. This president doesn’t get it. He’s a unilateralist. He thinks he knows all the answers. He doesn’t respect others. ( Cheers and applause )
RAY SUAREZ: Senator Edwards, the administration is expected to ask the Congress, and the figures vary, somewhere between $60 billion and $80 billion to continue the mission in Iraq. Will you support that spending?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: The very least, it seems to me, that the American people are entitled to is to find out how long he believes we’ll be there and what he believes it’s going to cost because one of the great benefits of bringing in our friends and allies is to relieve some of the burden from the American people.
RAY SUAREZ: Senator Kerry, you’ll also be asked about that expenditure. Will you vote to approve it?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I remember the lesson of Vietnam is that you need to be able to look a parent in the eye if you send their kids to war and be able to say to them, “we tried to do everything possible not to lose your son and daughter. We did everything available to us.” I think there’s a failure of leadership because this president did not in fact pass that test in the way he rushed to the war.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: So the economy is growing slightly; the number of jobs is continuing to decline and unemployment has risen faster than any other sector of the country. Right now it stands at 8.2 percent . What would you do as president of the United States to remedy the situation? Let’s begin with Congressman Kucinich.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We have to do everything we can to secure our manufacturing base, and that means giving a critical examination to those trade agreements that have caused a loss of hundreds of thousands, in some cases millions, of jobs in this economy.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Senator Graham, you have said that you would create new jobs by using federal funds to rebuild infrastructure, to build bridges and highways that are much needed in the country. How do you create jobs in that way across the board in all sectors?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: What we should do: One, we should repeal all of the portions of the bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which went primarily to the upper incomes. (Applause) Number two, we should use a portion of that money to give a tax break to middle-income Americans by reducing the tax on the payrolls. That’s a place where money actually will be spent, used and energize the economy.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Ambassador Moseley Braun, he’s saying to repeal the tax cuts in 2002, 2003. Do we ask people to give the money back?
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: No. No, you’ll never get it back. The point is… ( laughter ) the point is, we are witnessing for the first time in recent history embedded wealth, entrenched poverty and a shrinking middle class in America. And the only way we can turn that around is to end the trickle-down economics that have given the wealthiest Americans more money than they can even reasonably use and give people opportunity to support themselves and their families.
RAY SUAREZ: North Carolina has seen the loss of many of the jobs that we’ve been talking about. What’s the role of the president in all of this?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: We have to create jobs, and particularly in those communities where the job loss has been greatest. So what I would do is identify those places in America that have been hit the hardest, particularly by trade, and create a national venture capital fund for businesses that will locate there, give tax incentives to existing business and industry that will come there.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: As many of you know, the U.S. And Latin America have been negotiating the FTAA– the Free Trade of the Americas– that would create a free trade zone in Latin America by 2005. Let’s begin with Senator Lieberman. Do you support it?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I’m for trade, but for fair trade. Let me say the same is true with regard to fair trade for the Americas and Latin America. We have turned our back on our allies to the South. Look, all of us on the stage agree that the bush economic policy has been a powerful failure. It has stifled the American dream, has lost 3.2 million jobs 2.5 million in manufacturing. American manufacturing is bleeding.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Senator Kerry, in Mexico the salaries are a dollar a day. Can we ask Mexico to pay $5 to $10 per hour, like we do in the United States?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, we can ask them, but they’ll say no. (Laughter) I want to speak to the larger question because it’s critical. I don’t support the free trade agreement of the Americas as it is today; I don’t support the Central American free trade agreement as it is today because they do desperately need to have increased labor standards, environment standards, to bring other countries up. You can’t have trade be a rush to the bottom, and you can’t leave other nations with a one- way street, and you can’t abuse people the way it has been.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: At a time of record federal deficits, how can this country bring the number of uninsured down?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I would personally advocate that we provide first for children, then for the working poor, and third for the early retiree. If we did those three groups, we would cut by two-thirds the number of Americans who do not have health coverage. And we could do that at a cost of approximately $70 billion a year, a cost that I think is one the American people can afford and would support.
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: Amb. Braun, you have said in the past that all Americans should have health insurance through the government; that’s a national health insurance. How do you pay for it?
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: What I’ve proposed is a single-payer system that will take advantage of the fact that we are already paying 15 percent of our gross domestic product on health care, de-couple it from employment, so that it’s not a burden on job creation, it’s not a burden on small businesses. But you will have a dynamic in favor of quality that the current profit-driven system does not have.
RAY SUAREZ: Governor Dean, how would you get more of the 41 million uninsured covered?
HOWARD DEAN: Every child under 18, 99 percent eligible, 96 percent have it. Everybody under 150 percent of poverty has health insurance in my state. Every senior under 225 percent of poverty gets prescription help. Every other industrial country in the world has health insurance for all its people, and we can do that, too, if we can do that in a small state like Vermont.
RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Kucinich, how do you get more of the uninsured covered, and do you have to repeal the Bush tax cuts to do it?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: With the exception of Ms. Moseley Braun, all the others here will retain the role of private insurers. And we have to understand that the insurers– the insurance companies and the pharmaceuticals– right now, they own us. We need to take our health care system back. ( Applause ) And, you know, you can talk about balancing the budget in Vermont, but Vermont doesn’t have a military. And if you’re not going to cut the military and you’re talking about balancing the budget, then what are you going to do about social spending? Hello?
RAY SUAREZ: Senator Lieberman, how would you cover more of the uninsured? And would the bush tax cuts have to go in order to do it?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: You bet parts of the Bush tax cuts would have to go, and they ought to go. Leadership is about priorities and priorities are about values. You know, this president loves to talk about values, faith- based values, but is it really good faith-based values? Remember what the bible says about “don’t harden your heart to the poor; open your hand to them”? Is it really good faith-based values to give tax cuts of tens of thousands of dollars to millionaires in America and have nine million children without health care in this richest of all countries in the world? The answer is, of course not.
JIM LEHRER: Most of the Democratic candidates will meet again on Tuesday in Baltimore for a debate hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.