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Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Sponsored by ABC News - Part 1

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Date:
Location: Columbia, SC

ANNOUNCER: Eight men, one woman, vying to challenge one of history's most popular presidents, facing off for the first time on crucial questions that could make or break them on the campaign trail—protecting the country from terrorism, keeping the peace in Iraq, fixing the economy—the big questions facing America's voters.

BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS:

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO): It comes back to the most basic of human needs, health care.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): I want to be a champion for the regular people, to stand up for our values here at home.

MR. : We will -- (inaudible) -- the war on terrorism -- (inaudible) --

MR. : We would need to raise the minimum wage.

MR. : I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: (Inaudible) -- prosperity and progress.

MR. : We need a new (face ?) in America.

MR. : We're here to -- (inaudible) -- control of our country.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, tough questions and tough issues in South Carolina. First in the nation, the Democratic presidential candidates debate. Now, from the campus of the University of South Carolina, George Stephanopoulos.

MR. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Good evening and welcome to Trenton Hall, where the nine Democratic candidates for president are meeting tonight in their first debate. The man they want to replace is enormously popular. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 71 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is running the country despite the fact that nearly half say they are worse off financially than when he took office. A president with this kind of support will be tough to beat.

Here are the people who think they can do it: Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio;
Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri; the Reverend Al Sharpton of New York; Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut; former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois; former Governor Howard Dean of Vermont; Senator John Edwards of North Carolina; Senator Bob Graham of Florida; and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. The debate is divided into four parts. First, 45 minutes of open discussion that I'll direct. Second, each candidate will ask one of the others a single question. In the third round, I'll question each candidate, followed by closing statements.

Now, we have only 90 minutes for all nine candidates, so I'd ask each of them to keep their answers short, and everyone here in the audience to hold their applause. I know it's not going to be easy, but we'll give it our best shot.

And Senator Kerry, the first question goes to you. On March 19th, President Bush ordered General Tommy Franks to execute the invasion of Iraq. Was that the right decision at the right time?

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA): George, I said at the time I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity, but I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm him.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Now Governor Dean, you've criticized Senator Kerry on the campaign trail, saying he's trying
to have it both ways on the issue of Iraq. Was that answer clear enough for you?

GOVERNOR HOWARD DEAN: Let me be very clear about what I believe. I'm delighted to see Saddam Hussein gone. I appreciate the fact that we have a strong military in this country and I'd keep a strong military in this country. But I think this is the wrong war at the wrong time, because we have set a new policy of preventive war in this country and I think that was the wrong thing to do, because sooner or later, we're going to see another country copy the United States, and sooner or later we're going to have to deal with the fact that there may well be a Shi'a fundamentalist regime set up in Iraq, which would be a greater danger to the United States than Iraq is.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you believe Senator Kerry is still trying to have it both ways?

GOV. DEAN: That's not up to me to judge that. That's up to the voters to judge that, and I'm sure they will.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lieberman, something else that Governor Dean said just today to a voter—he said that Saddam was really not much of a threat to the United States and had never been one, so it may be that by getting rid of Saddam, we've actually made things more dangerous for America. Do you agree with that?

SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT): Oh, I absolutely disagree. Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States and most particularly to his neighbors. Remember, this was a man who said he wanted to rule the Arab world, and he invaded two of his neighbors in pursuit of that goal using chemical and bio—chemical weapons against them. We have evidence also over the last several years that he was cooperating with terrorists and supporting them. We did the right thing, and we gave him 12 years, and tried everything short of war to get him to keep the promises he made to disarm at the end of the Gulf War. We did the right thing in fighting this fight, and the American people will be safer as a result of it. And incidentally, no Democrat will be elected president in 2004 who is not strong on defense, and this war was a test of that—
(inaudible) --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Reverend Sharpton, who is right? Senator Lieberman or Governor Dean?

REVEREND AL SHARPTON: Well, I'm going to be right. I think that the real issue—
(laughter) -- is the security of Americans, and if we secure Americans, I think that's the priority. I'm convinced that we could have disarmed Hussein by working with the United Nations and going through the channels that we were embarked upon. We are still here now with no weapons of mass destruction having been revealed by this administration even though they said they knew where they were. I think we have spotted a precedent that can come back to haunt us. I think we have picked up a bill that we don't know how much it's going to cost to occupy Iraq—we're talking about millions of dollars to occupy Iraq when we don't have the money for the 50 states we already occupy. I think it was the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Gephardt, can this war be called a success if those weapons of mass destruction aren't found?

REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO): I think we're going to find weapons of mass destruction. I think this was about keeping our people safe. I told the president early on in this matter, when we were meeting with him every week with the other three leaders in the Congress, that we had to try to reach bipartisan agreement, we had to try to put politics aside on these issues, and do the right thing to keep our people safe. I urged him to go to the U.N. I helped write the resolution language that said that he should go to the U.N. I'm glad he went there. I wish he would have gotten the U.N. finally with us, but getting rid of these weapons of mass destruction, and we're going to find them—they have gotten rid of—tried to get rid of them the week before we went in—but I'm convinced, and I think everybody is convinced that these weapons were there and they could have found their way into the hands of terrorists and found their way to the United States, and that's what we had to stop. MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Kerry, let me come to you for a second, because earlier this week your campaign questioned whether or not Governor Dean was fit to be commander-inchief. Do you think he's fit?

SEN. KERRY: I think Governor Dean—excuse me—made a statement which I found quite extraordinary, and I still do. He said that he said that America has to prepare for the day when we will not be the strongest military in the world. I mean, that's his statement. I didn't make it up; he said it. I disagree. I believe that a president of the United States has a solemn responsibility—

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But does that mean he's not fit to serve? SEN. KERRY: I believe that anybody who think that they have to prepare for the day that we're not the strongest is preparing for a day when we have serious problems. And I think the world has proven, and we have proven, that there is a rationale for our containing the most—the most powerful military on the face of the planet. Hopefully, George, this is important, to be used more effectively to pursue the ideals of America in a more effective way through our diplomacy so we never have to use it. And if we continue to do what presidents Kennedy and President Clinton and others did, which is pursue proliferation and reduce the threat of weapons, we can create a world in which the threat of war begins to be minimized.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me get Governor Dean's response. GOV. DEAN: This is what Senator Kerry said in January in his Georgetown address—in a world growing more, not less, interdependent, unilateralism is a formula for isolation and shrinking influence. That is what I meant and I stick by that. No commander- in-chief would ever, and I am no exception, willingly allow our military influence to shrink. Unilateralism is a mistake, that's what I said for it. I think the senator made a mistake in criticizing me. (CROSS-TALK.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me give a follow-up here for a second, because early in the campaign and this week you questioned Senator Kerry's courage. Are you prepared to make that charge to his face?

GOV. DEAN: As I said at that time, and I am, everyone respects Senator Kerry's extraordinary, heroic Vietnam record, and I do as well. However, what I would have preferred—this is 30 years later—I would have preferred, if Senator Kerry had some concerns about my fitness to serve, that he speak to me directly about that rather than through his spokesman. MR.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Let me change subjects—

SEN. KERRY: Can I -- (inaudible) --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm going to come back to you in a second, Senator Kerry, but let me get Congressman Kucinich—

REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH): I don't think there's any question about whether the United States is going to have the strongest military. We already spend more than almost the rest of the world combined for the military. The question really facing the American people is going to be can we follow a military budget that's going from 400 billion to even 500 billion by 2013, tax cuts for the wealthy, and have health care for all, and jobs for all, and education for all, and retirement security for all? The bottom line is—and the real issue here, gentlemen, and—and Senator Braun—and that is that somebody here has to say it's time to cut the waste, the fat, the bloat out of the military. I'm the only candidate who is ready to say that tonight—that there's been misspending in the Pentagon, that there's a lot of money wasted— they can't reconcile a trillion dollars in accounts, and all this goes on and no one is addressing it. And I'm saying that until you address that issue, you can talk about being the strongest, but it's not getting to the point. The point is not wasting the taxpayers' dollars and making sure the American people are going to have their needs met instead of all the money going for the military.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: (Inaudible) -- Senator Kerry.

SEN. KERRY: Well, let me come back—what Governor Dean said in San Francisco, not to my face, was that I didn't have the courage to stand up for gays in America. Now, I led the fight—in 1985, I was the original author of the 1985 civil rights act. I testified before the Armed Services Committee to permit gays to serve in the military as they have with me, and in every war in this country. I have been a sponsor of the hate crimes legislation, a sponsor of the -- (inaudible) -- employment discrimination legislation, and I am for civil unions. My position in fact is stronger than Governor Dean's. In addition to that, when he questions my courage, I really think that anybody who has measured the tests that I think I have performed over the last years on any number of fights in the United States Congress, as well as my service in Vietnam, that I don't need any lectures in courage from Howard Dean.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get everybody speaking—I know -- (inaudible) -- attention here, but I first want to give Governor Dean a chance to respond, and then I'm going to go right down the row -- (inaudible) --

GOV. DEAN: To set the record straight, the reporter in the San Francisco Chronicle put a correction in the following day. I did not question Senator Kerry's record on gay rights. He has a very good one.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're not going to do it now.

GOV. DEAN: No, I have no reason to. He has a good record on gay rights.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Senator Graham.

SENATOR BOB GRAHAM (D-FL): Well, first, thank you very much, George, for giving us all the opportunity to be here. (Laughter). I might say that all the people around this table are good people, they've got good values, and an intelligent agenda for dealing with America's problems. We're not fighting each other. We're trying to select one of us to be the opponent of George Bush. And so the questions, in my judgment, should particularly focus on his judgment. And in that regard, the reason I voted against authorizing the president to use force against Iraq was I thought it was too weak because it did not contain a parallel authorization for the president to use force against Hezbollah, which has killed almost 300 Americans in the Middle East. It did not authorize us to use force against Islamic Jihad or Hamas, two other violent terrorist groups who have pledge that they want to kill Americans. And they have demonstrated on September the 11th the ability to kill Americans. I think those ought to be our first priorities. MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Edwards, do you think that the president should have that authority?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): Well, can I say something first—

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.

SEN. EDWARDS: -- about the debate that's going on between the governor and Senator Kerry? First of all, I want to echo what Senator Graham said. I think it's very important for us to recognize, whatever personal differences exists, Governor Dean or Senator Kerry—either one would be a better president than the one we have. And they have -- (laughter) -- the right—(applause) -- (inaudible).

The president -- (inaudible) -- (a test ?) that we haven't talked about that the president still faces, which is what will he do in the post-Saddam Iraq? Will he in fact engage the international community in the reconstruction effort? Will he involve the United Nations? Will he involve the European Union? Will he involve NATO? Because there's an extraordinary opportunity, and—(inaudible) -- for the president, and he should be held -- (inaudible) -- we have an opportunity here to rehabilitate relationships that have been severely damaged. And we have a chance to show the world that we were in fact in Iraq for the right reasons, that we were there for the purpose of liberating the Iraqi people, that this was not about the expansion of American power, that this was not about oil. The president has that test going forward, and we ought lay this down marker down and we ought to hold him to that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Now I want to get Ambassador Moseley Braun, Senator Lieberman, and Reverend Sharpton quick comments on this subject, and then we're going to switch.

AMBASSADOR CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: All right. Well, thank you very much. I think—
(inaudible) -- we ought to talk about the cost of this war and how we can rebuild America. If we can have job fairs in Iraq, we ought to be able to have job fairs in South Carolina. The unemployment rate is up at six percent under this president.
The budget deficits have exploded. They have ruined this economy. We are not creating new jobs or new wealth in this country. There's a health care crisis. We have all these issues, and what we—what we saw as a country was an unelected president, under a mandate that I believe shouldn't have been given by the Congress because I think the Constitution—I know the Constitution, in Article 1, says very clearly that it's Congress' responsibility to declare war—but under that authority went in, and now spent in excess of $200 billion the last time we looked, and the American people are hurting.

So, I think the question in this race is whether or not Democrats can steer a course for America that is more in keeping with America's interests and America's values, building our relations with others, working well with others in the world, building international issues, trying to address those problems that cause war in the first place and undermine our security in the first place.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lieberman.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: George, the scrabble between Howard Dean and John Kerry may make interesting political theater, but it doesn't send the right message to the voters about our party. Our party and the American people have an important choice to make in the next year-and- ahalf or two years when we go up to November of 2004. And the fact is they're not going to choose anyone who sends the message that is other than strength on defense and homeland security. The Bible says that if the sound of the trumpet be uncertain, who will follow into battle? And I'm afraid this debate sends an uncertain message.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it the debate or is it Governor Dean's statement? What are you really saying here?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I think that both have sent an uncertain message—one in principled opposition to the war, Governor Dean; the other an ambivalence about the war which does not— will not give the people confidence about our party's willingness to make the tough decisions to protect their security in a world after September 11th. I've worked in the Armed Services Committee for 10 years to make our military the best trained, best equipped in the world. I'm the only candidate here on the stage here tonight that supported both the Gulf War and the war against Saddam Hussein, and I wrote the bill on homeland security. So, I think I'll make the American people feel safe as their next president.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I promised Reverend Sharpton he could get in, then Governor Dean.

REV. SHARPTON: Well, the same Bible, Senator Lieberman, said there's a time and place for everything—a time for war, and a time for peace. We should not just quote going to war. There's also a time to build. And I think the question is how we have a president that believes in universal health care in Iraq but doesn't believe in it in South Carolina, how he believes in rebuilding Baghdad but he doesn't believe in rebuilding Greenville. And I don't think that we are sending the wrong signal to say that Americans ought to be concerned about that. I'm proposing a $250 billion infrastructure redevelopment plan. I think Americans have the right to know that we're going to rebuild America. And while we're seeing these closed bidding contracts given to his friends, I think it takes courage to raise those questions as well. I also join Senator Graham and Senator Edwards in appealing that we not be played against each other, that particularly in our first night. Republicans are watching. Let's not -- (laughter) -- start fighting and -- (inaudible). Even though I know George is good at instigating it, we should not have the -- (inaudible) -- be that George Bush won because we were taking cheap shots at each other.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One quick word, and then we're switching subjects. Governor Dean. GOV. DEAN: First of all, let me just say, Al, if we weren't fighting with each other, you wouldn't be able to be as entertaining as you are, and I wouldn't either, so this is partly about entertainment, and there are legitimate differences.

I don't want anybody to mistake my opposition to this war because of its preventive nature for lack of toughness. I think the commander-in-chief has to be tough. I think this president is not executing the war on homeland security the way he should be. Ninety- eight percent of the containers that come into this country are uninspected. The president promised billions of dollars to states and local government which have not been delivered. We can be a lot tougher than this president is being on homeland security, and we will be.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we have a lot of other issues to deal with tonight, and I am going to switch right now, and one of the biggest ones is health care. Everyone is concerned about the rising cost of health care and health insurance. A couple of weeks ago, Congressman Gephardt put out a plan that he says is going to cover 97 percent of the American people. He covers everyone by doubling the tax deduction to employers, requiring them to give health insurance, and says he's going to pay for it by repealing almost all of the Bush tax cuts. Reverend Sharpton, you've praised it. Senator Graham, just last week on my show you said it was going a little too far, a little too fast, you wanted something more incremental. Senator Edwards, what do you think?

SEN. EDWARDS: First of all, I applaud Congressman Gephardt -- (inaudible) -- really important issue -- (inaudible). I differ with him about how to do it. I think all of us are for universal health care. What I differ with him about is taking almost a trillion dollars out of the pocket of working families making $30,000 or $40,000 a year, giving it to the biggest corporations in America, who are already providing health insurance and not insuring another additional American. I think that's taking money that people desperately need and giving it to people—the very people that we've had trouble with. We've had an enormous problem with the corporate culture in America. Working people have been severely disadvantaged as a result of the greed and the corporate culture that exists. To me—to me, this is what it feels like, it feels like saying you're in good hands with Enron. We will trust you, we will trust corporate America to do what's right for its workers, to make sure they're taken care of, even though they're already covering people.

Now, I have a set of ideas that are different than Congressman Gephardt, things that I believe in, like making sure that all children are in fact covered, making sure that all Americans have more choices, providing tax cuts to small businesses that are in fact providing health care to their employees.

If I could say one last thing, George. And the other thing is Congressman Gephardt—and I've heard very little discussion about this—no one is talking about costs. We can't deal with the health care crisis in America unless we have the backbone and courage to do what I have been doing my entire life: fighting against big corporation, pharmaceutical companies, big insurance companies, big HMOs. There's a culture—and the president works for those people—there's a culture in Washington that stands against taking them on. We have to take them on. MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me say, a very, very tough charge against Congressman Gephardt. You said taking money from working people. Do you think his plan is a tax increase on working people?

SEN. EDWARDS: I think it takes money directly out of the pockets of working people.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And gives it to corporations.

SEN. EDWARDS: I know he gives it to corporations.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Gephardt?

REP. GEPHARDT: Well, I couldn't disagree with John more. I respect his views, but he's wrong on my plan. And I think if he would read it and look at it, he would—he may agree that it's a better plan that he said.

First of all let's talk about what we are trying to do. We have got to get everybody in this country covered with good health insurance. This plan can pass, and it will do it. Let's look at two of the things he brought up. He talked about cost. I will save 5 to 7 percent a year off of the premiums that people are paying now for health care, because we'll finally take care of this problem of uncompensated care, which has been a huge problem in this country. Secondly, he says that I'm raising taxes on ordinary Americans. That's the furthest thing from the truth. I'm ensuring people are not going to lose their health insurance. I've been all over this country. People say to me all the time, "I'm worried I'm going to lose my health care, even though I haven't." People also say to me, "I don't think I can continue to afford the family coverage, or even the individual coverage." I will solve that problem. Lastly, people get their health insurance from corporations. My plan requires everybody—every company who gets the 60 percent credit to pass it along to their employees and to offer their employees plans. This is not helping the corporations. This is helping corporations give people the thing they most need, which is health insurance.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Kucinich, are you willing to raise taxes to cover everyone with health care?

REP. KUCINICH: Well, I think what we can do, we can phase in a payroll tax of 7.7 percent on all employers, and have that be a mainstay of a national health care plan. I think what needs to be said here is that we have to get the profit out of health care. And that means get the private insurance companies out of health care. And any plan that is offered to the American people that fails to do that is not going to deliver the best quality universal health care. Now, I have a bill which I introduced, which is H.R. 676 -- with John Conyers—which is Medicare for all—guaranteed, single-payer, universal health care, get profit out of health care. It's time to have health insurance for the American people, not the insurance companies.
(Applause.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lieberman. We just heard—Senator Lieberman, we just heard Congressman Kucinich is willing to raise taxes to pay for health care; Congressman Gephardt is willing to do the same thing. What's your reaction to that, and what's your plan?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I am not willing to raise taxes to pay for health insurance in the way that certainly not that Dick Gephardt has recommended.

George, this campaign presents our party again with a choice about whether we want to go backward to deal with our nation's problems like the terrible gap in health insurance for 41 million Americans; or whether we want to go forward with new ideas. We are not going to solve these problems with the kind of big-spending Democratic ideas of the past. And we can't afford them.

With all respect to Dick Gephardt, if his plan were implemented, it would take as much money out of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds as the Bush tax cut. And in that sense it would create the same deficit that the Bush tax cut does. It has no cost containment, as has been said. It does cancel the better parts of the 2001 tax cut which gave tax breaks to working Americans and middle- class Americans, reduced the marital tax penalty, increased the child care tax credit. We are not going to solve all of our problems with George Bush's big irresponsible tax cut, and we are not going to solve them all with this kind of big spending. It doesn't leave any money to invest in education, to invest in finding cures for disease, to invest in homeland security or international security.

I think a good place to start—and I think this will only happen step by step. The Congress, with all respect, would not pass the Gephardt plan ever. Therefore no single American will get insurance under it that doesn't have it now. We ought to start where Al Gore and I proposed in 2000: expand the children's health insurance program, which would have covered every child in America with health insurance by 2005, and let their parents buy into Medicaid at a cheaper rate than they can get in the private market. And that step by step is the way to do it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to the others. But he said you're going to take money from Medicare and Social Security.

REP. GEPHARDT: Well, it's just not the case. My plan also stimulates the economy. And I argue very strongly that the Bush tax plan has not stimulated the economy. This will allow companies to hire new people. It will put money in people's pockets, because we are going to reduce the cost of their premiums for health care, potentially having all that 60 percent go across to every employee.

Finally, you know, I think if we are going to win this election we cannot be Bush-like. We can't come along and say, Well, I'll keep half the Bush tax cut, or I'll keep three quarters of the Bush tax cut. The Bush tax cuts have failed. They are not making this economy better, they are not helping people get jobs, they are not covering anybody with health insurance.
We've got to give the people a choice. I want to give the American people a choice. If you like George Bush's tax cuts, stick with him, vote for him. But if you want to finally solve this problem that's bedeviled our people for a hundred years, let's get it done. Let's get everybody in this country covered with good health insurance. My plan will do it, and I'd like to convince my colleagues that this is the plan we ought to go for.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Dean, are you convinced? You called it "pie in the sky" last week.

GOV. DEAN: Actually I don't think it's quite as bad as John Edwards. I was pretty shocked at some of that. It's not taking money out of working people.

Here's what we ought to do. I have two advantages here. First of all, I'm a governor. And, second of all, I'm a doctor. And, third of all, we have actually done this, a lot of this, in Vermont. In Vermont, everybody under 18 has health insurance.
What I want to do is this, and it costs about half, a little less than half of the Bush tax cut.

First, everybody under 25 gets Medicaid if they want it. It worked well for us under 18 in our state. It's not expensive. Second, prescription benefit for every senior. That makes Medicare into a pretty decent policy. Third, between 25 to 65, as
Dick wants to do—subsidize small businesses -- don't give the tax cuts to the big corporations—subsidize individuals who need help buying health insurance, and that will help individuals who work for companies that don't do it. The cost is half of the Bush tax cut. It will pass, because most of the interest groups that opposed the Clinton plan will support it, and it's affordable. And it will pass down to cover—

REP. GEPHARDT: I want to—I've got to get in here, because this is a very important point. It's a point that John made as well. Just think what we say to America's people and corporations if we now reward corporations that have not given health care, that were not willing to do anything for those who have done the right thing. It's just wrong. It sends the wrong message to America's businesses. We've got to—

GOV. DEAN: This doesn't do that.

REP. GEPHARDT: We've got to be even and fair. My plan also sends money to every state and local government in this country. I want to pick, up 60 percent of their costs for their employees. One thing I learned with the Clinton plan is we've got to be fair with everybody in this country. I could pass this plan.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Edwards, why not reward the corporations that are doing the right thing?

SEN. EDWARDS: Because, first of all, let me respond to a couple of things that the congressman said. First of all, if his plan was passed, a family of four making $40,000 a year would lose $800 -- even if they already had health care. That money comes right out of their pocket. Second, the idea that this somehow will stimulate the economy is dependent on, at least in a big chunk—almost a trillion dollars, giving that money to big corporate America and assuming they are going to do the right thing. I mean, that sounds like Reaganomics to me. Are we going to assume that big corporations who we give a trillion dollars of money that ought to be in the pockets of working people are in fact going to take care of their employees? We have a fundamental disagreement.

REP. GEPHARDT: John, John—

SEN. EDWARDS: We don't disagree about—excuse me, if I could just finish here. We don't disagree about the need to address this very serious problem. We absolutely don't disagree with that. And I applaud Congressman Gephardt for talking about it. It's an important issue. It's something we as Democrats definitely need to talk about, but this is not the best way to do it.

REP. GEPHARDT: But, John, I want to say it again: I require—my plan requires every corporation to pass the 60 percent on to the employees. This is not giving them money to do something else with it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We obviously have differences here over health care—excuse me— and there also seems to be a difference over taxes. Some of you called for freezing the Bush tax cut where it is. Congressman Gephardt—he said he's willing to repeal almost all of it. Congressman Kucinich says raise the payroll tax. You know exactly if President Bush and the Republicans—on the employers—

SEN. GRAHAM: On the employers.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know what President Bush and the Republicans are going to do. They are going to come out and say, There they go again—Democrats are raising taxes. And I just have one question: Is there anyone on the stage willing to say—going to rule out raising taxes as president of any kind?

SEN. EDWARDS: All I am going to do—wait a minute—all I am going to do is put the tax rate back to where it was when Bill Clinton was president, because we did a lot better under Bill Clinton than we are under George Bush.

REP. SHARPTON: I think you've got to really distinguish between raising taxes and canceling the tax breaks that Mr. Bush is giving.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me ask about that—How do you respond when they say that?

REP. SHARPTON: First of all, I call George Bush's tax breaks, even the small amounts that he gives working-class people—it's like Jim Jones giving Kool-Aid—it tastes good, but it will kill you. (Laughter.) In the long run—in the long run, it's got the entire nation in debt. It is mortgaging our grandchildren. It will bring us to a trillion dollar debt that we cannot pay. It is something—it gives us a tip to get in, and then we have devastation. And that is not to raise taxes. That is to stop a suicidal economic plan to this economy. Let's not get confused on what we are talking about.

SEN. KERRY: Well, George, I'd like to comment also if I may on the health care, because it's important to the overall debate about the taxes and how you approach it. I want to congratulate Dick also. I think he has done us all a favor. He's done the country a favor by putting a plan on the table. But I tend to agree with my friend John Edwards. I think that there really is a transfer here. First of all, 80 percent of the people in America today who are with coverage are covered by employers. So what you are really doing is taking almost $100 billion of the $200 billion that Dick transfers to corporations, and you are not getting any guarantee of cost control. You are rewarding the companies that are already doing what we want them to do to an enormous amount, by doubling their tax credit for it, without bringing enough people back into the system that we want to bring in.

Now, I think we can provide coverage. I believe that every American ought to be able to buy in and have access to affordable health care through the same plan that the president, Congress, senators, give themselves. I will lay out how you can do that, how you can buy into Medicare from 55 years old to 64, and also how we can cover children. But, you know, just in fairness—and this is not a squabble, this is just a legitimate debate about how you get somewhere. You know, Governor Dean, who prides himself as a doctor in approaching this—and I respect that—I completely do. He did good things for children in the state of Vermont. But when became governor 90.5 percent of the citizens of Vermont were already covered by Dick Snelling. When he left as governor, 90.4 percent of the people of the state of Vermont were covered. So if you are going to approach it incrementally, you have got this problem of bringing people into the system and getting to the percentage that America ought to get to.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, well, you just made a charge against Governor Dean, so I want to give him a chance to respond.

GOV. DEAN: I don't know what figures you're looking at, but it's probably the same figures that you may have been looking at when you voted for the president's $350 billion—or your own $350 billion tax cut last week. That is silliness.
When I came into office, Governor Madeleine Kunin, not Republican Governor Dick Snelling— not that we don't have to say some nice things about Republicans here, but we should avoid it when possible -- (laughter) -- Governor Madeleine Kunin had a program that insured everybody up to the age of 6 to 225 percent of poverty. I expanded that up to the age of 18 for 300 percent of the poverty. That means if you live in a family that makes $54,000 or less in our state, everybody under the age of 18 gets coverage. In fact, senator, about 96.4 percent of all our people are covered today, something which I intend to deliver to the United States of America when you all make me president.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the last word on this subject. I do want to switch, and I want to get to a South Carolina issue. Here in the state of South Carolina it's a felony for two gay men to have sex in their own home. Senator Edwards, do you support the right of the people of South Carolina to keep that law on the books, or do you think that the Constitution, under the Constitution there's a fundamental right to privacy that protects that right?

SEN. EDWARDS: I believe there is a fundamental right to privacy. I do not believe the government belongs in people's bedrooms. I think that applies to both gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples. I mean, if one of the things that you see happening in America today— and it's not just, George, on this issue of the right to privacy—is we see people like John Ashcroft, in the name of protecting America, in the name of fighting a war on terrorism, eroding our rights to privacy, eroding our civil liberties, eroding the very heart and soul of what makes this country great. It's what ought to give us the moral authority to lead around the world. And this is—it all happens just like it's all around the edges. It's creeping. But we have to be so careful and so vigilant to make sure that America does not lose what makes America great. (Applause.)

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