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Des Moines Register Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate - Part 2

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Location: Des Moines, IA

So, Congressman Kucinich, I think was first here.

KUCINICH: Well, I think that every working person in America is going to be interested in the answers that have been given here about NAFTA and the WTO, because not a one of these candidates has been willing to take the position that I've taken in saying that my first act in office will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO. We've lost over 3 million manufacturing jobs in this country. The president has that authority.

I heard Governor Dean talking about NAFTA there a moment ago as if he's a spectator and not a participant. The president has the power to cancel NAFTA and the WTO. Will you, Governor Dean?

(APPLAUSE)

ANGER: OK, we're going -- we're going to go to Senator Lieberman and work our way back.

Thirty seconds.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Paul.

Look, the point on trade is, I think we've got to reject the extremism of George Bush and the extremism of Democrats who would put back walls of protectionism. And what's the extremism of George Bush? He just sits back and lets foreign countries break the rules of trade, rip off patents, copyrights, take American jobs, play with the currency.

That's wrong. As president, I'm going to fight tough against that.

But we can't create jobs by building up walls of protectionism. I looked at the stats in Iowa. One-fifth of the manufacturing jobs in this state. By the number I saw, more than 100,000 are dependent on trade.

The top two and three markets for goods from Iowa, both agricultural-grown goods and manufactured -- Canada and Mexico, the countries we're in NAFTA with. You break NAFTA, you're going to cut out tens of thousands of jobs here in Iowa.

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

Who else? Who else wants in on this? Senator Kerry? I guess everybody will.

KERRY: Well, it's interesting, because Dick Gephardt actually has said several times, quote, "I'm for free trade." And then he stands up and he suggests that all of us are culpable because we didn't vote for one or voted for another.

Look, for five years, I and others have been fighting to have labor and environment standards in trade agreements. I worked with President Clinton also to make sure we had it in the Jordan agreement. We also had it in the Vietnam side agreement.

The reason that you didn't need it in Chile is because they have high standards and they enforce them.

The important thing is, I would not support the Free Trade of the Americas Act, I would not support the Central American Free Trade Act until they have stronger standards in them. If they sent them to my desk...

ANGER: We need to keep moving.

KERRY: ... I'd veto them.

ANGER: Madam Ambassador?

MOSELEY BRAUN: Isn't the issue really one of balance? We can't afford to go the route of just protectionism that will jump-start a depression in this country nor can we afford to just give away the store, as has happened under this administration's leadership with our trade agreements.

You have to have environmental and labor standards and human rights standards in order to level the playing field for American companies so that we aren't hemorrhaging jobs as a result of our engagements with the rest of the world.

But to stand and tell the American people that protectionism will somehow or another keep jobs in this country is just not true.

ANGER: Thank you. Thank you, Madam.

Governor Dean?

DEAN: First of all, I doubt anybody on this stage is against trade. And I also doubt anybody on this stage is talking about protectionism.

I too, Dick, did not vote for NAFTA or the WTO, because I have never served in Congress.

(LAUGHTER)

But I did support the WTO -- China's entry into the WTO in 1999 because I believed it was an issue for national security. I believe in constructive engagement.

That doesn't mean these agreements don't need to be changed. We have stood up for multinational corporations in these agreements, but we have not stood up for workers' rights, environmental rights and human rights.

ANGER: Thank you.

DEAN: And until we do, trade doesn't work.

ANGER: Thank you. We're going to...

GEPHARDT: Can I respond to this? He mentioned my name, and I'd like to...

(LAUGHTER)

ANGER: Everybody is going to mention somebody's name.

(LAUGHTER)

Fifteen seconds.

GEPHARDT: This is an important point.

Look, Howard, you were for NAFTA. You came to the signing ceremony. You were for the China agreement.

This is really what we're talking about here. It's one thing to talk the talk, it's another thing to walk the walk.

ANGER: And with that, we're going to go...

GEPHARDT: We've got to get labor and environment in these treaties. And we've got to do it when the treaties are before the Congress. That's when it counts.

ANGER: Folks, I don't want to interrupt news being made, but we do need to keep moving, or we'll never be able to cover all our ground. But I thank you for those exchanges.

Senator Edwards, back to you. Considering the growing federal deficit, what is the earliest that Americans can expect a balanced budget under your administration, and how would you do it?

EDWARDS: That's a question -- if somebody gives you a straight answer to that question, you can't trust it...

(LAUGHTER)

... because here is the reality. The reality is, everybody on this stage is talking about spending money. They're talking about spending money on education. They're talking, in varying degrees, about spending money on health care. In my case, I'm talking about helping middle-class families be able to buy a house, be able to invest, be able to save. All that costs money.

There is a tension between spending money and reducing the federal deficit. We should be straight with people about that.

So every time you're talking about investing in things that will move America forward, get the economy going again, keep the economy going, you're also increasing the federal deficit. There are judgment calls that have to be made. So I've made those calls.

Here is what I believe I can do. I can pay for everything that I have proposed by stopping Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year; doing something I don't think anyone else up here does, raise the capital gains rate for those who make over $300,000 a year; close four corporate loopholes. Pays for everything that I want to do, plus reduces the federal deficit.

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

EDWARDS: Does not eliminate the federal deficit over the next three to four years.

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

Any follow-up from our panel?

YEPSEN: They're doing pretty good without me.

(LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: I have a follow-up for Governor Dean.

A hallmark of your campaign has been the pledge to repeal the Bush tax cuts across the board. Does this include tax cuts that are intended to provide some measure of relief for the middle class, the child tax credit or the lifting of the marriage penalty?

And specifically, what kind of tax relief are you proposing for middle class and working-class families?

DEAN: Well, we've got to look at the big picture. If you make over $1 million, you've got a $112,000 tax cut. Sixty percent of us got a $304 tax cut.

And the question I have for Americans is, did your college tuition go up more than $304 because the president cut Pell Grants in order to finance his tax cuts for his millionaire friends? How about your property taxes, did they go up more than $304 because the president wouldn't fund special ed, wouldn't fund No Child Left Behind, wouldn't fund COPS and -- how about your health care payments? Did they go up more than $304 because the president cut thousands of people all over America off health care because he wouldn't fund the states' share that they needed to continue to insure people, and that was shifted to insurance and the health care premiums?

Middle-class people did not see a tax cut. There was no middle- class tax cut. There was a Bush tax increase with tuitions, with property taxes, with health care premiums, and most middle-class people in this country are worse off because of President Bush's so- called tax cut than they are better off.

NORRIS: And tax reliefs that you might propose?

DEAN: Pardon?

NORRIS: And what kind of tax relief are you proposing for middle- and working-class families?

DEAN: We -- ultimately, we will have a program for tax fairness. But right now, I agree with John Edwards. You cannot balance the budget and tell people you're going to keep all these tax cuts. I am going to balance the budget, and I'm going to do it in the sixth or seventh year of my administration. We're also going to have health care...

(LAUGHTER)

What?

ANGER: Do you have anything else?

(LAUGHTER)

ANGER: We are going to move on...

(LAUGHTER)

... or we are never going to finish.

(CROSSTALK)

We're going to turn -- we are going to turn now to health care, and we're going to do a segment on health care. And if there's something to clean up, you have closing statements coming, I promise you, unless we get too far behind.

But thank you.

And turning now to health care, more than 43 million Americans lack health insurance, including about 8 percent of Iowans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The health care issues associated to the grain of America's baby boom generation are already paramount in Iowa. The state leads the nation in the percentage of population over 75, but brings up the rear in the percentage of federal health care dollars for the elderly.

Spending for prescription drugs in Iowa topped $267 million last year, up 18 percent from the year before. According to the Iowa poll, nearly six out of 10 Iowa caucus-goers want to see a major change in the health care system, including the way health insurance is paid for and the way medical care is delivered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Senator Kerry, what do you consider the main culprit behind the skyrocketing cost of health care, and how would you address it?

KERRY: I address it in my plan, and I am the only presidential candidate who has offered a plan that actually reduces health care costs for the 163 million Americans in the workplace who get their health care through work, and I do it by creating a federal fund.

I roll back the tax cut for the wealthy Americans, not the one for the middle-class Americans that Howard's not aware they got.

And I roll back a tax fund that will then pay for all the catastrophic cases in our country. That means there is a cap of $50,000 on any health-care premium that anybody's paying. The result will be premiums drop for every single person by $1,000 or more.

I will lower costs of prescription drugs by allowing bulk purchasing of Medicare. It's a disgrace what happened in Washington the last months. This is one of the biggest giveaways to the drug companies in history.

And we're going to allow importation of drugs. We're going to have accountability on the pharmacy benefit managers. I'll have an attorney general who cracks down on patent abuse.

ANGER: Thank you.

KERRY: And finally, if I can just say, we're going to allow every single American to buy into the same health-care plan that senators and congressmen give themselves.

ANGER: Congressman Kucinich, Tim Eric of Corydon, Iowa, Congressman, wants to know how you would ensure the long-term solvency of Medicare. Would you raise taxes or decrease payments to individuals?

KUCINICH: Well, actually, I intend to have Medicare for all. And that's how we're going to have a universal health-care system.

You know, right now we are already paying for a universal standard of care, but we're not getting it. This country spends about $1.4 trillion a year, 14 percent of our gross domestic product, for health care.

But where do hundreds of billions of dollars of that money go to? Corporate profits, advertising, marketing, lobbying, the cost of paperwork, 15 to 30 percent, the cost of executive salary, sometimes they're making tens of millions of dollars.

I want to take all that money and put it into a not-for-profit system where everyone would be covered, where all medically necessary procedures would be covered, including dental care, vision care, mental health care, long-term care, which is really important in Iowa, and a prescription drug benefit.

But we have to break the hold that the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies have on our health care system.

You know, hundreds of years ago, they used to treat patients by bleeding them with leeches. Well, you know, the insurance companies do that very well today.

(APPLAUSE)

ANGER: Senator Lieberman, many health-care workers are paid so little that they cannot afford insurance for their own families. How can you address this problem without adding to the already-steep cost of health care?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, I'll tell you one way we could do it -- and I want to respond to Howard Dean's outrageous statement on middle-class tax cuts -- that is to protect the middle-class tax cuts that he wants to repeal and that a lot of us Democrats fought for in Congress over the last three years.

I don't know which is worse, that he wants to repeal the tax cuts, or that he won't admit that they ever existed.

You ask the average middle-class person -- here in Iowa, average family of four saved $1,800 a year under those tax cuts.

They need that money to help pay for their insurance.

My program of health insurance would make it affordable and accessible to more than 30 million of those that don't have it today, including health-care workers, particularly those who are not unionized, who cannot afford it.

That's what strong leadership is about. I'm the only candidate up here who goes beyond the existing tax cuts and would give 98 percent of the taxpayers a new income tax cut.

That's Bill Clinton Democratic policies. That's the way we got our economy going in the '90s. And that's the way, with my leadership, we'll get it going in 2005.

ANGER: We'll go to Governor Dean.

And, Governor Dean, the next question is for you anyway, but Butch Kroger of Toledo, Iowa, wants to know why his tax dollars should go to pay for the health care of, quote, "people who make poor decisions, such as smoking, overeating, and drug use."

Should there be any limits on the care the government provides?

DEAN: I think there already are limits on the care which government provides. In my health-care plan, individuals are obligated to pay a portion of that. It's not free.

Let me just bring up one thing. All these folks are talking about they're going to do health care and they're going to balance the budget. I'm the only one that's actually ever balanced a budget here. I'm a governor. I had to submit balanced budgets and make very, very tough choices when I submit those balanced; jawbone the legislature into getting them to pass a balanced budget. We did 11 of them in a row. And we provided health insurance for nearly every child under 18 in my state.

We're talking about health care. We've delivered health care. A third of my seniors and disabled people have a prescription benefit. We still haven't seen anything like that from Congress.

So the advantage of being a governor in a race like this is, when folks are saying, "Well, we're never going to be able to balance the budget," we can balance the budget, I did balance the budget. And we also provided health care while we were doing it. And that's the kind of president I'm going to be, as well.

ANGER: Congressman Gephardt, what about all that? Can the current employer-based system of health insurance survive, long term?

GEPHARDT: Well, first, let me say where I disagree with Howard and then where I agree with Howard.

First of all, yes, some of us have balanced budgets. I led the fight for the Clinton economic program in 1993 that brought about the first federal balanced budget. It wasn't just Vermont, it was the federal budget. It came into balance and even produced a surplus.

And I'm proud of what I did, and many on this stage helped do that, as well. And we're proud of what we did. It was a good piece of work.

But let me talk about health care. I agree with Howard on this: I think we've got to offer a real choice if we're going to beat George Bush. I am ready to say to the people of the country, "If you like the Bush tax cuts, vote for Bush. But if you want health care that can never be taken away from you, vote for me."

And my plan does it. It helps everybody. It doesn't just help some; it helps everybody in the country. And we're never going to solve the economic problems of this country until we solve the health- care problem.

Finally, I give more money to the average family than the Bush tax cuts, $3,000 as opposed to $600 a year.

ANGER: Senator Edwards, despite recent increases in federal Medicare spending, Iowa remains among the last in the nation in reimbursement for care to the elderly. Would you be willing to reduce funding for higher-population states in order to address this inequity?

EDWARDS: I'd be willing to do, as I have been in the Senate, everything that needs to be done to deal with this unfairness and this inequality. So the answer is yes to your question.

Let me go, though, to what everyone's been talking about over the last few minutes...

MOSELEY BRAUN: Except me.

EDWARDS: ... if I could -- you're going to get to talk.

(LAUGHTER)

Now, wait a minute, this is my time I'm losing.

First of all, if I can get the truth-o-meter out here again for just a minute.

John Kerry, you are not the only one who has a plan to bring down the cost of health care. I have a very clear plan about how to do that.

The answer to your question to Howard Dean is, he has no proposal to reduce the tax burden on middle-class families, which they desperately need help with.

And the reason all of this matters in context is health care is a crisis in this country. There's no doubt about that. The loss of jobs, which we talked about earlier is a crisis. The shifting of the tax burden from wealth to middle-class working families is a problem.

But all of it's part of a bigger issue which is, what's happening to most families, middle-class families in this country? They've gone from being able to save money and being financially secure 20 years ago to now having all kinds of financial problems. They're spending every dime they make. They're going into debt. As your newspaper pointed out very recently, we've got record bankruptcies here in the state of Iowa.

ANGER: Thank you.

EDWARDS: My point is simply, if I could just say this last thing, my point is simply, all of these things, health care, jobs, the cost of college tuition, they're part of the struggle of the middle...

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

EDWARDS: ... class, which we have to address.

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

And we're going to go to Senator Kerry.

KERRY: Thank you.

Let's keep the truth meter measuring. What I said was I'm the only presidential candidate who has a plan that directly addresses lowering the costs of 163 million Americans who get their health care in the workplace, and that is true. And it lowers their costs by $1,000 per person minimum.

Time magazine said it was one of the first big new ideas of the whole campaign. And what it does is provide a guarantee that workers will be able to get the savings, employers will have less cost, companies will be more competitive.

I also bring all children into the system. I provide the ability for people 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare. We'll get to 97 percent of all Americans covered by three years.

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

KERRY: And then we'll cover the rest.

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

And now to Ambassador Braun. Ambassador Braun, you can talk about anything you want in the next minute, but we do have a question for you.

(LAUGHTER)

MOSELEY BRAUN: Thank you very much.

ANGER: Local governments could save millions by importing prescription drugs from Canada, but the Food and Drug Administration says that's not safe. How would you solve that dilemma?

MOSELEY BRAUN: We need a single-payer system that is not tied to employment, that covers every American for every health issue from wellness and prevention to prescription drugs to long-term care. We can do this within the confines of the money that we're currently spending.

Right now at almost 15 percent of GDP we spend more as Americans for health care than in any industrialized nation in the world. We are no sicker than the Japanese, the Germans, the French, the English, the New Zealanders. But the fact is, we pay more because the attempts to reconcile our public and private systems haven't worked.

If we go to a single-payer system modeled much on what the federal employees right now have, the FEHBP, we can have that kind of coverage without price controls, people can choose their providers and we can bring the costs down in line with what other countries are paying, close to 8 and 9 percent. Nobody is in double digits but us.

And so, I believe that to protect the quality of care that we have and restore the doctor or the physician, provider-patient relationship, to deal with the low wages that health care workers are currently receiving, we need to get this system resolved. Recognize...

ANGER: Thank you.

MOSELEY: ... that it's been broken for a long time. The only way to fix it is through a single-payer system.

ANGER: Thank you, Ambassador.

We're going to go now for any follow-ups.

David Yepsen?

YEPSEN: Congressman Kucinich, a lot of people in Iowa work for the health insurance industry. If we do your plan, if Congress enacted your plan, wouldn't those people all be put out of a job?

KUCINICH: No. As a matter of fact, what would happen is that the people in Iowa who have that expertise would be able to help process the paperwork for all Americans who would be covered.

YEPSEN: So they'd get a job in the federal system, you believe?

KUCINICH: Absolutely. I mean, where else -- where better to find the expertise than here in Des Moines.

And I would also say that, you know, what I'm speaking to -- listen to these figures: the head of Universal Health Systems made $20 million; WellPoint Health Networks, $19 million; Apria Healthcare, $16 million; Anthem, $15.8 million.

I mean, what's going on in America? All these health care executives are milking the system. You have people who can't get the health care they need, and these executives are walking away with the bank.

And that's why we have to go for -- to a not-for-profit system where everyone is covered, where people don't have to worry if they're working or not, where they don't have to worry about if they're rich or poor -- all people are covered.

It's time to take health care as a number-one domestic priority. And as president of the United States, I'll lead this country to create a system where we have universal single-payer health care for all.

NORRIS: Thank you, Congressman.

To Congressman Gephardt, a slightly different health question -- drug use in America. While the war on drugs often brings to mind the effort to bring the drug trade and cocaine abuse and the cocaine trade under control, particularly in urban settings, here in Iowa and in other cities across the country the biggest drug challenge is actually crystal methamphetamine.

Does current drug policy adequately address this, and how would you propose dealing with this home-grown problem, crystal meth?

GEPHARDT: Well, it's a problem not only in Iowa; it's a big problem in my state of Missouri and in a lot of other states. And it's a big problem in rural communities.

So we need to have a better policy to deal with it.

But I'll tell you what, I believe in trying to find the drug dealers, and trying to bring them in, and trying to go after the drugs that are coming in the United States. But in this case we're talking about a homemade drug here in communities all across the Midwest and in other parts of the country.

I think the ultimate answer to the drug problem lies in some other things that we are not doing well enough in this country. We've got to get people good jobs. Part of the reason people get involved in drugs is they lose hope. And my plans for building jobs I think are the best, the boldest plans out there.

We need better education of our young people. We need more mental health benefits in health insurance policies so that people will not turn to drugs when they can't get the right mental help that they need from their insurance policies. These are the things we need to do to solve the problem.

YEPSEN: Senator Kerry, since your last debate the nation has gone through the mad cow scare -- something that has real economic repercussions here in rural America. What would you do to improve the nation's food safety and food inspection system?

KERRY: I would combine -- it's a great question, Dave, and I appreciate it, because we really have a serious issue in America about what people are eating, the kinds of foods people eat. The obesity problem is growing among our children.

Frankly, the lack of knowledge among a lot of American families about what people are eating, the soda pop in our schools -- we have an enormous nutrition problem beyond just the quality of testing that's represented in the mad cow problem.

Mad cow is pretty straightforward. Everybody I've met in Iowa scratches their heads and says, "Why is it that a carcass, a downed cow, that has been tested gets processed and goes into the system?" Now we're going to change that. It shouldn't, it never should have. If you're going to test, you want the results of the test before it goes in. But we also need to create a tracking system.

But the most important thing that we need to do is begin to join the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration, and begin to get them talking about what Americans are exposed to.

And Dennis is correct. The corporatization of our agriculture, the pressures that fight backward against common-sense moves is really what this fight is about, taking on special interests and restoring power to people so that...

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

KERRY: ... common sense is put in place about food, about tracking, about chemicals...

ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

KERRY: ... and all of those things.

ANGER: Let's look at schools.

And just as an aside, you've been doing a lot of these debates. We know that you can keep your answers to about a minute.

(LAUGHTER)

We're going to look at schools now. The budget difficulties faced by schools and by states around the nation are taking a toll. That includes Iowa, where school districts are laying off teachers and eliminating programs because of a recent state funding cut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Adding the burden, educators say, is the cost of implementing new federal standards known as the No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress did not fully fund.

Iowa educators and parents also are concerned about the future of federal funding and oversight for education of at-risk preschoolers. The Head Start program, which serves over 1 million children nationwide and about 8,800 in Iowa, has faced criticism and budget cuts.

State universities around the country, including Iowa, also are facing the prospect of increasing tuition in response to a lack of state aid. This year, tuition for state residents rose by more than 20 percent at Iowa universities after several years of hefty increases, at a time when federal aid for college students has declined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANGER: Congressman Kucinich, Beth Walling of Polk City, Iowa, points out that Iowa leads the country in the percentage of working parents with children under 5; yet most child-care providers earn low wages, and many teachers in the federal Head Start program are not certified.

What would you do to improve early child-care education for all students?

KUCINICH: I've introduced legislation to create a universal pre- kindergarten program. And that legislation would make it possible for every young person, ages 3, 4 and 5, to have access to full child care, five days a week. And that would create the conditions which would enable children to receive reading skills, educational skills in nutrition.

Also, we have to keep in mind that this program would cost about $60 billion. I would fund that with a 15 percent cut in the Pentagon, cutting out the wasteful spending that I spoke about.

Now furthermore, we have to understand our responsibility to fully fund education at all levels. And I want to go back to something I said at the beginning of this debate. The Bush budget is now cutting funds across the board, and education is going to get cut again.

As long as we're spending $155 billion in Iraq in the last nine months, as long as the Pentagon budget keeps expanding beyond $400 billion, all of our domestic needs are going to be wiped out. And that's why I insist that we have to get out of Iraq. We have to bring the U.N. in and get the U.S. out. I have the only plan that...

ANGER: Thank you.

KUCINICH: ... will enable us to rescue our domestic priorities.

ANGER: Thank you.

Candidates, many of you have criticized the new federal accountability standards for schools -- the No Child Left Behind Act. Senator Lieberman, what alternatives would you propose to penalizing schools whose students fail to meet national standards?

LIEBERMAN: Let me say first that in this area George Bush has broken a series of promises. The first was to end unfunded mandates. He hasn't done that with special education. In fact, he added a new unfunded mandate when he refused to fund the No Child Left Behind Act. Result? Local property taxpayers are either paying more money in property taxes or our children are not getting the education that they should.

Let me say a word on behalf of the No Child Left Behind Act, because I know it's easy in a political context to attack it. It didn't start with George Bush. It started with Teddy Kennedy and George Miller and Evan Bayh and me.

And it was all about having the federal government do a better job at helping lower-income kids, who are so often overlooked in our schools today, get a better education. That's why we set the standards.

Bush didn't give the money to help meet the standards. I will fully fund No Child Left Behind, and I'll listen to the teachers and the principals about changing some of the requirements.

But anybody who says they're going to pull back and repeal No Child Left Behind is turning their back on the students, and particularly the low-income students of America. I won't do that.

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