Sunday, February 15, 2004; 9:04 PM
The following is a complete transcript of Sunday's Democratic presidential debate held at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The debate, which included the five Democratic presidential candidates, was sponsored by Journal Communications, WTMJ-TV and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
SPEAKERS: MIKE GOUSHA, MODERATOR
CRAIG GILBERT, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL
LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR
GLORIA BORGER, "CAPITAL REPORT"
FORMER GOVERNOR HOWARD DEAN (VT) U.S. SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS (NC)
U.S. SENATOR JOHN F. KERRY (MA)
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS KUCINICH (OH)
THE REVEREND AL SHARPTON
GOUSHA: And welcome again to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Marquette University campus for tonight's Wisconsin presidential debate.
I'm Mike Gousha, I'll be your moderator tonight and also one of the panelists asking questions.
We'll be meeting the other panelists in just a moment, but first let's introduce the Democratic presidential candidates. They are: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the Reverend Al Sharpton and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.
And now let's meet the panelists who will be asking questions tonight. They are Craig Gilbert, he is the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Gloria Borger is with us tonight. She is co-host of CNBC's "Capital Report, " and is also a columnist for U.S. News and World Report. And Lester Holt is co-anchor of the MSNBC "Weekend Today " show and he's also an anchor on MSNBC.
Thanks to all of them for being with us tonight.
The ground rules for this debate are pretty straightforward, pretty simple. A panelist will have a question for one of the candidates. That candidate will then have a minute to respond. There will also be the chance for a follow-up question or, where appropriate, a rebuttal.
There are a lot of questions we want to ask tonight. There is a lot of ground that we want to cover. We want to talk about the economy. We want to talk about jobs, the war in Iraq, health care, all of those things, but we'd like to begin with a couple of questions about matters that have been in the news lately, and Senator Kerry, we'll begin with you tonight.
The White House released the president's full military records late Friday night, and a fellow guard officer from Alabama has now stepped forward to say he distinctly recalls the president reporting for duty in Alabama. Does that end the issue of whether the president fully served out his National Guard requirements?
KERRY: That's not something that I'm qualified to comment on. I have not looked at the records, I haven't seen the records, I'm not reading the records. It's not for me to make that judgment. I think that all of us today are very proud of those who serve in the National Guard.
I would say that this president regrettably has perhaps not learned some of the lessons of that period of time during which we had a very difficult war, the longest in American history and one of the most contentious.
KERRY: And one of those key lessons is in how you take a nation to war. I think this president rushed to war. I don't believe he had a plan for winning the peace. I don't think he kept his promises to America.
And most importantly, I think he's cut the VA budget and not kept faith with veterans across this country. And one of the first definitions of patriotism is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of our country. I will do that.
GOUSHA: Let me ask a follow up, Senator Kerry. The chairman of your party has charged that the president was AWOL, yet he was honorably discharged. Do you disavow that statement? Do you think your party and certain members of your party should drop this as an issue?
KERRY: I have suggested to some people who are my advocates who've gone that line of attack, it's not one that I plan to do, it's not one I have. I don't plan to do that and I've asked them not to.
But the president has to speak for his own military record. And those of you in the news media, obviously, have asked questions about it and that's where I'll let it sit.
GOUSHA: Senator Kerry, thanks very much.
The next question goes to Craig Gilbert.
GILBERT: Senator Edwards, Democrats are questioning the president about his service in the Guard and they are saying he misled the country about Iraq. Is President Bush's honesty an issue in this campaign?
EDWARDS: Yes, it is, absolutely it is. Because the-this president has said one of the most critical things, not only for a candidate for president, for the president of the United States is his integrity, whether he can be trusted.
We are in the middle, as you know, of investigating-starting an investigation, an independent investigation about why there is a disconnect between what the American people were told by the president and others and what's actually been found in Iraq.
Now, I think integrity, character are critical issues in any presidential campaign.
EDWARDS: And certainly the integrity and character of the president of the United States is at issue-no question.
GILBERT: What about military service-President Bush in the Guard, Senator Kerry in the Navy, the rest of you didn't serve in the military-does whether a candidate have military experience or not, is that relevant to this campaign for president?
EDWARDS: Of course it's relevant. I mean, we should honor the service of those who have served in the military. That includes John Kerry it includes President Bush it includes others.
We've also got to recognize, of course, that we've had great leaders, including at times of war, who didn't have military service: Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Woodrow Wilson, some of the great presidents of the United States. But they had the other characteristics of leadership: strength, conviction, character, willingness to lead and an ability to lead and convince the American people where they needed to go.
I think, honestly, those are the most critical components. But I, along with all of the American people, certainly honor the service of those who have served in the military.
GOUSHA: Gloria Borger, next question.
BORGER: This is for Governor Dean. I'm going to turn now to the question of money and its role in politics.
You have said on "Meet the Press " that John Kerry, and this is a quote here, "Gets his money the same way George Bush does. " You've also said that they are part of the same corrupt political culture.
The Bush-Cheney campaign now has an anti-John Kerry ad on its Web site about John Kerry and special interests. It is entitled "Unprincipled. "
BORGER: Are you and the Bush campaign sounding the same theme about John Kerry?
DEAN: I think George Bush has some nerve attacking anybody about special interests. Not only has he funded his campaign through special interests, but George Bush is systematically looting the American treasury and giving it to his friends-the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs and the insurance companies.
The Medicare bill, prescription benefits for seniors supposedly to help seniors gives the majority of the money to drug companies-over $100 billion-gives significant amounts of money to the HMOs and insurance companies -- $85 billion. That is our money and he's giving it away.
The same thing with the energy bill. We see $16 billion of our money going into the oil and gas business.
The farm bill-we see two-thirds of that going to American corporate farms. I don't think George Bush has any right to attack anybody on this stage about special interest money, and certainly the Republican Party doesn't.
BORGER: But let me follow up if I might. You are saying these things about Senator John Kerry. You say that he is part of a corrupt political culture and you said it's the same one that George Bush is a part of.
DEAN: The way our campaign differs from folks from Washington is 89 percent of our money comes from small donors. We do need more campaign finance reform in this country.
The way I hope to win the Wisconsin primary is by pointing out that Wisconsin voters have elected people like Bob LaFollete and Bill Proxmire and Russ Feingold, who stood up against special interests in the Capitol. I think we have a major problem in both parties with special interest money making it impossible to do the things that we have to do such as health insurance for all Americans.
Wisconsin has a long history of voting for people like me and I hope they'll do it on Tuesday.
BORGER: Senator Kerry, I'll give you a chance to talk about the special interest money that you've raised, and why you are the best person to make the case on special interests against George Bush.
KERRY: Well, I'm the best person to make the case against George Bush because for 35 years I've had an uninterrupted record of taking on powerful special interests in American politics, beginning with when I led thousands of veterans and stood up against Richard Nixon and his war in Vietnam.
I led the fight against Ronald Reagan and his illegal, unconstitutional war in Central America. I blew the whistle on Oliver North and his private aid network. I took on Noriega, and drugs, and the CIA. I stood up against Gingrich and his efforts to attack the Clear Air, Clean Water Act. I led the fight that stopped the drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.
I am the only United States senator who has been elected four times voluntarily refusing to ever take in any one of my races one dime of Political Action Committee, special interest money. The only money I've accepted is money from individual Americans, and 1 percent of it, approximately, in my entire lifetime has come from anybody who's ever lobbied for anything.
Russ Feingold will tell you how I've stood with him and John McCain and others for campaign finance reform. Paul Wellstone and I wrote the most far-reaching campaign finance reform law in the country called the clean money, clean elections law.
And when I'm president, we will put back on the table the effort to get the money out of American politics and restore the voices of average Americans to the agenda of our country.
GOUSHA: Next question is Lester Holt.
HOLT: And my question is to Representative Kucinich. Good evening, sir.
Ed Gillespie, chairman of the RNC, says "Democrats are going to run the dirtiest campaign in history. " John Kerry's Web site responds that "the Bush White House is going to run a gutter campaign. " We've still got nine months to go here, gentlemen. Is anything political or personal off-limits in your view?
KUCINICH: I'm just hoping that Mr. Gillespie is not seeing the world in his own image. I'm hopeful that he has a desire to communicate to the American people what his party wants to do, to get people back to work, to get all the people in this country the health care they need, to enable our children to go to the public education schools that have the best education, and to enable us to bring our men and women back from Iraq.
I mean, if that's what this debate ends up being about, the American people will be well-served.
I want to say further that if the debate ends up being about the president's service record, you know, we should be worried about the National Guardsmen and Guardswomen who are in Iraq right now, who shouldn't be there.
We should be worried about bringing them home, not worrying about what the president did or didn't do 30 years ago. We have to be concerned about what he's doing now. He sent those men and women there on a lie, and we have to bring them home.
HOLT: And Senator Kerry, if I could just follow up on this same line of questioning, has this campaign, in your view, already gotten too personal against you? Has it crossed any lines, inappropriate lines?
KERRY: Well, that's for the American people to judge. Let me just say that I'm prepared to stand up to any attack that they come at me with. I've been in public life since I was about 27 years old.
KERRY: I have been in very visible, tough races in the course of my life. I am ready for what they throw at me.
But I will say this to the American people: They are resorting to that already because they don't want to talk about jobs because they can't.
They don't want to talk about health care for all Americans because they don't have a plan for health care for all Americans.
They don't want to talk about the broken promise to children across this country as they are leaving millions of children behind every single day in our nation having broken the promise of No Child Left Behind.
They don't want to talk about the environment because they are going backwards on clean air and backwards on clean water.
And they don't even want to talk about the legitimate issues of international security, North Korea, the nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, global warming, AIDS on a global basis, all of which are the real sum of our leadership in the world.
Those are the issues that I will talk about. I will talk about and give America a real debate about our future. And if all they do is resort to the personal, I think the American people will see through it very, very quickly.
GOUSHA: Senator Kerry, thank you.
The next question is for Reverend Sharpton.
Reverend, thanks very much for being with us tonight. The president said he is going to meet with members of the 9/11 commission. If you were a member of the commission and not a candidate for office, what is the first question you would ask the president?
SHARPTON: I would ask him, "Where is bin Laden? "
And I would ask him why we went to Iraq and did not put all of our energies behind finding bin Laden. And I am not just saying that as a quip.
I live in New York. I was there the day the World Trade Center was attacked. A young men who is 11 years old, was at the time, stayed with my family and eight weeks dreaming every night his mother would come home. She worked there and died that day.
That night of September 11th, George Bush went on national television and promised America that we would go and get bin Laden. We are now two and a half years later. We don't have him. We've gone and spent billions of dollars in Iraq in a distraction that had nothing to do with September 11th.
And if I was in the meeting with him in the commission, I would ask him, Where is bin Laden? Why did you promise us something you couldn't deliver on? And since you couldn't deliver, you ought not be re-elected because we need a president that will protect Americans from real threats rather than imagined threats, or rather than people, who may be bad people, but were not the people that attacked us on September 11th.
GOUSHA: I want to move on and talk about the economy and jobs because we did a poll here, our TV station and the Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel, and the number one issue clearly among Wisconsin voters was the economy, it was the uncertainty about jobs.
Let's spend a few moments on that. And I want to say a couple of things before we get to the first question.
GOUSHA: This state has seen the loss of 90,000 manufacturing jobs since 1999. Just last week, Tower Automotive, a company that does business here in Milwaukee, announced that it was going to be shipping 500 jobs from Milwaukee to Mexico.
Given that backdrop, I'd like to have Craig Gilbert ask the next question.
GILBERT: Senator Kerry, a lot of people here blame trade policy for those job losses. And you voted for all of these-a lot of these trade deals, NAFTA with Mexico and permanent trade relations with China.
Given all of the jobs that have fled to China and Mexico, would you vote the same way today?
KERRY: Let me make it very clear that in those trade agreements, we passed side-bar provisions, side agreements in NAFTA on labor and environment, central agreements in the China trade agreement on surge-if there's a surge of imports, or if there's a dumping that takes place, we have things that we can do.
This administration refuses to do them, number one.
Number two, there's been a dramatic shift in the world and what has happened to jobs over the course of the last few years. Perhaps three or four years ago, I began talking about how it is critical that in any trade agreement, we now need to negotiate labor and trade, labor and environment standards.
I will order a 120-day review of all of our trade agreements. We're going to see what's working, what isn't. I will not sign a trade agreement like the Central American Free Trade Agreement or the Free Trade of Americas Act that does not now embrace enforceable labor and environment standards. And we need to be creating more jobs here in the United States of America.
I have a $50 billion package that I'll make available for manufacturing incentives and for relief for the states in order to help create the jobs we need in America, as well as a $4,000 tuition tax credit for kids to be able to go to college.
We're going to refocus on science and technology on the United States. We're going to do the stem cell research and all of the other kinds of commitments to science that will advance the creation of jobs here at home.
This president thinks it's enough just to raise the stock market I don't.
I think a president needs to put America back to work, and that's what I intend to do.
GILBERT: But no regrets about those votes?
KERRY: I regret the way that they haven't been enforced, sure. I think...
GILBERT: Senator Edwards, let me just turn to you first. I mean, you said the other day that there are obvious differences between you and Senator Kerry on this issue.
What are they?
EDWARDS: This is one. This is-the one you just asked about is an obvious example.
You know, Senator Kerry is entitled, as is Governor Dean, to support free trade, as they always have. The problem is there what we see happening, and it's NAFTA, which I opposed, plus a whole series of other trade agreements, have been devastating here in Wisconsin. Nobody has to tell me what the effect is of some of these bad trade agreements.
EDWARDS: I have seen it myself.
My father worked in a mill. I saw what happened when the mill in my home town closed. I saw the looks on the faces of the men and women who had worked there, many of them for decades, and had nowhere to go.
You mentioned Tower Automotive just a minute ago. I went to Tower Automotive, met with some of the employees who were about to be laid off. That vacant look, "What do I do now? I've worked hard and been responsible for decades to raise my family, done what I was supposed to. What do I do now? " It all looked very familiar to me.
And the voters of Wisconsin deserve to know this is something I will take very personally. I will stand up and fight every way I know how to protect these jobs, including the jobs that are being lost at Tower Automotive because I have lived with this my entire life and I take it very personally.
BORGER: Governor Dean, do you have something to say about what John Kerry just said-I mean, Senator Edwards?
DEAN: No, but I have something to say about what John Edwards just said.
BORGER: John Edwards, right.
DEAN: I think the free trade agreements were justified, but the problem is we've only solved half the problem. We've globalized the rights of big corporations to do business anywhere in the world. We did not globalize human rights, labor rights and environmental rights, and we need to do that.
Now, with all due respect, I'm the only person up here who's ever balanced a budget, who's ever had the kind of agreements that we create jobs.
Here's what we need to do: One, we've got to balance the budget. People do not invest in countries that don't balance their budgets. Two, we've got to do something to help small businesses and self- employed people. Small businesses and self-employed people create 70 percent of all the new jobs in America. We do virtually nothing for them. They need help with capital. They need help with health insurance. They need help with less paperwork.
If you want jobs in America, instead of giving $3 trillion tax cuts to the wealthiest people in this country, what we ought to be doing is investing in mass transit, in schools, in renewable energy, and things that create jobs now and build infrastructure so we can have more jobs later on.
BORGER: Well, Governor, let me ask you another related question. Last week, Democrats were out there criticizing the president's economic adviser who said that outsourcing was actually good for America because it keeps prices down in this country. So would you be willing to make Americans pay higher prices for goods in order to stop sending those jobs overseas?
DEAN: Yes, I've repeatedly said that. The bad news is if we do what I want to with our trade agreement, you're going to pay higher prices at Wal-Mart because their stuff is all made in China and labor costs are going to go up in China. The benefit is, though, that you're going to keep good, high-paying jobs in the United States of America and that's what this debate is all about.
BORGER: Well, Congressman Kucinich, what do you say to people here in Wisconsin who want to keep paying lower prices at Wal-Mart and don't want to lose jobs?
KUCINICH: I want the people of Wisconsin to know that my first act in office as president of the United States will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO and return to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights, human rights and environmental quality principles.
KUCINICH: That what we have here is an argument not nation-to- nation, but a series of intra-corporate transfers that are occurring where corporations are seeking cheap wages. Everyone knows this, and I'm the only one up here so far who's been willing to say that I'll cancel NAFTA and the WTO.
That's specific action that will regain real power for the American workers and for workers everywhere and to give the American people the ability to buy American-made goods.
I mean, let's face it. It's either we buy America or it's bye bye America. And I'm insisting that we have to provide a manufacturing base in this country so that people can have American- made goods to buy. They'll buy it if we make it here.
GOUSHA: Next question is for Reverend Sharpton.
HOLT: Reverend Sharpton, we've heard about canceling NAFTA. We've heard about the need to protect jobs. Are those jobs that have been lost gone forever, or as president could you bring at least some, if not all, of them back?
SHARPTON: I think you can.
But let me say this: Not only would I cancel NAFTA, I've participated in those movements that opposed NAFTA in the beginning when Democrats were passing it and we raised the issue then that human rights was not part of what was being globalized.
So not only would I rescind NAFTA and the WTO, we were against it and had rallied against it in the beginning.
And the argument used that if you protect American workers it's protectionism, but if you protect American corporations it's patriotism-I think it's patriotism to protect American workers.
And I think that it is some kind of jaded proposition to say, "Should Americans want to pay more to not get products at a K-Mart from cheap labor, or even in some cases, slave labor abroad? "
That's, to me, as a descendent of slaves, like saying, "Well, let's not end slavery because the product will be where we can afford it better. " It is immoral it is against our interests it is outright indecent to work people around the world at those wages to justify K-Mart prices.
HOLT: But back to my original question: Can you bring those jobs back, and can you be specific as how you would bring them back beyond canceling NAFTA?
SHARPTON: I think we bring the jobs back, one, by canceling NAFTA two, by creating manufacturing jobs three-which would save those corporations where they can begin hiring people back-three, by creating jobs.
SHARPTON: I've proposed throughout this campaign a $250 billion- a-year infrastructure redevelopment plan: Rebuild highways, roadways, bridges, tunnels in the name of homeland security. Rebuild the ports.
I think if you create jobs, if you cut off these trade agreements and you bring these manufacturing companies back, you can bring some of those workers back. But I think you cannot do it without an unequivocal end to these free trade agreements that have exported American jobs and that have put laborers around the world at below human rights standards.
GOUSHA: Thank you.
Senator Edwards, before we go to a break, just let me ask that same question of you. Do we not, at some point, have to be honest with some of the workers who you met with...
EDWARDS: Oh, absolutely.
GOUSHA: ... and tell them that some of these jobs, many of these jobs are not coming back?
EDWARDS: That's absolutely true. I mean, we need to be completely honest with them. The truth is, some of these jobs are gone. We are not going to get them back.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't change what we're doing. It doesn't mean the trade policy we are using now is working. These environmental and labor standards in the text of the agreement, not in a side agreement, in the text of the agreement that can be enforced, really matter. That'll have an enormous impact on the flow that we are seeing now.
Changing our tax policy-the very idea that we give tax breaks to American companies who are leaving and going overseas and taking jobs with them is absolutely crazy when we are losing millions of jobs. What we should do instead is give tax breaks to American companies that, in fact, are keeping jobs right here in America.
And I will say, I think jobs is the single most important issue for voters here in Wisconsin. I have heard it every single place that I have gone. And they are looking for a president and a presidential candidate who they know will get up every day and go to work at the White House and fight for their jobs.
GOUSHA: Thank you very much, Senator.
Probably the second most important issue in this state may be health care. And when we come back, we will talk about health care with the Democratic presidential candidates.
We'll be right back.
GOUSHA: And welcome back, everyone. We've been talking about the economy, trade practices. And since we're from Wisconsin, we have to spend a little time on taxes, because Wisconsin is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 states in the country for the highest tax states.
Governor Dean, you want to repeal all of President Bush's tax cuts. How do you think that's going to win you votes in Wisconsin?
DEAN: Well, because the middle-class people never got a tax cut. If you make a million dollars a year, you got $112,000 back from the president. Sixty percent of us got $304.
And my question to Wisconsinites is, did your property taxes go up more than $304 because the president cut higher education money?
How about your health care premiums? Did they go up more than $304 because the president cut half-a-million children off health care, and a million adults? Somebody had to pay that health care, so hospitals pass it to your insurance company and then right on to you.
How about your college tuition? Did that go way up because the president cut all that money out of the budget?
The middle-class people didn't get a tax cut in this country. There was no middle-class tax cut. And I believe that the majority of the people in this country would gladly pay the same taxes they paid when Bill Clinton was president if only we could have the economy that we had when Bill Clinton was president.
GOUSHA: So you're saying to repeal the Bush tax cuts is not a tax increase on the middle class?
DEAN: That's exactly right. Since the middle-class people never got a real tax cut-they got increased college tuition, increased health care costs and increased property taxes-if you repeal the Bush tax cut, you would be able to balance the budget in this country and have jobs again, and have enough money left over to have every man, woman and child in America have health insurance, and fully fund special education, which would lower your property taxes even further.
GOUSHA: Let's go to Craig Gilbert.
GILBERT: A lot of health care needs out there, seekers, prescription drugs, the uninsured kids, we've got a big budget deficit.
So let's talk a little bit about priorities, Congressman Kucinich. What would you do first? What health care need would you take care of first as president?
KUCINICH: As a member of Congress, I've introduced legislation, H.R. 676, to create a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system. Do you know that Americans are already paying for a universal standard of care? We're not getting it -- $1.6 trillion in this country goes for health spending.
Of that $1.6 trillion, $400 billion a year goes for the activities of the for-profit sector-corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, lobbying, the cost of paperwork -- 15 to 30 percent.
I want to put all that money in the for-profit sector into health care so that everyone in America is covered for all medically necessary procedures, plus dental care, vision care, mental health care, long-term care, a fully-paid prescription drug benefit.
KUCINICH: The American people can have that if they have a president who is ready to show the leadership toward that, and I am, and I will be.
GILBERT: Senator Kerry, what do you take care of first? You can't do it all. Do you take care of the uninsured? Do you get prescription drugs right? What do you do first?
KERRY: Actually, you can do a health care plan for America, and that's exactly what I've proposed.
Next to creating jobs, this is the single most important priority in the country.
Just this morning I was on West Clyburn Street at Ms. Katy's (ph) and I met a fellow who runs a business. He's got 500 employees. He told me that his health care costs-what he pays in for his employees-has gone up 46 percent last year.
There is not an American I've met who doesn't talk about the increase in premiums, co-pays, deductibles, loss of benefits.
I was very lucky last year. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I'm cured and cancer-free today because I had the best health care in the world.
Why? Two reasons: One I could afford it, and two, I'm a United States senator. And guess what? Thanks to everybody in Wisconsin and all across this country, senators and congressmen give themselves very good health care.
As president, I will roll back George Bush's tax cut for wealthy Americans, close-not raise the taxes on the middle class. I don't want to get rid of the child tax credit. That's a tax increase. I don't want to get rid of the 10 percent bracket. That's a tax increase. I don't want to reinstate the marriage penalty. That's a tax increase.
But I will roll back the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, close the loopholes for companies like Tyco that buy a $27,000 mail box in Bermuda and take $400 million off the tax rolls of America and stick everybody else with the bill.
We're going to have health care that will provide health care for 97 percent of all Americans within three years. It's affordable. I'll let the same health care plan that's available to congressmen and senators be available to every American. We'll cover every child.
And I will lower the cost of health care for that businessman and all people like him and others across this country by taking all of the catastrophic cases out of the system, paying for it with George Bush's tax cut. And we'll lower the premiums for everyone in America.
BORGER: Senator Edwards, as president, would you encourage Governor Doyle of Wisconsin to go and cut deals with Canada for cheaper prescription drugs?
EDWARDS: Oh, yes, ma'am, I would. Yes, ma'am, I would, absolutely.
We need to do everything we can to bring down the cost of prescription drugs using the power of the government to negotiate a better price, making sure we bring drugs into this country from Canada, doing something about drug company ads, which is something that I've been fighting for.
EDWARDS: One thing, though, I want us to be very careful about, you know, I listen to candidates talk about health care. They say, "Oh, we're going to cover 97 percent. Everybody is going to be covered. All the kids are going to be covered. We're going to give you all these tax cuts for the middle class, and oh, by the way, we're also going to balance the budget in the next four years. "
It's just not the truth. People need to know the truth about what we can afford and what we can't afford. They have been listening to this talk over and over and over for years. It's part of the reason they are so cynical about politics.
We need to set priorities, say what we can afford to do, which I believe I have done, both on tax cuts and on health care and on education, and then tell the American people the truth about what we can do to balance the budget, what's achievable and what's not achievable.
BORGER: Senator Edwards, what can we not afford?
EDWARDS: Well, we can afford to start down the road to universal health care, which I think is important. Dramatic steps, cover all kids, cover our most vulnerable adults, take on the insurance companies and drug companies to bring down costs.
We can afford to help working middle-class families be able to save, be able to create some security-financial security for themselves.
And the other thing we can afford, which I believe is one of the great moral issues that our country has today and you never hear anybody talk about, which is take serious steps to lift the 35 million Americans who live in poverty every day out of poverty.
It is such a moral issue for our country. We are not talking about. We need to lead on it. We need to show that we as a nation have a commitment to those who are struggling and suffering and living in poverty every day.
GOUSHA: Lester Holt?
HOLT: Question to Senator Kerry and on the issue of education and regarding the No Child Left Behind Act. You voted for it. Now you are outspoken against it. Similar pattern on the Patriot Act and war.
Since the candidates seem to agree credibility is an issue, how should voters reconcile those inconsistencies, or what the chairman of the RNC called hypocrisies?
KERRY: Well, they are not inconsistent at all. The goals of the No Child Left Behind Act are worthy goals. We want to raise accountability in our schools. We want to raise standards. We want teachers to be highly certified.
But what we don't want is to have it implemented the way it is being implemented by George Bush.
KERRY: He's making it punitive. He's disrespecting teachers. And he's walked away from his own promise to fully fund No Child Left Behind.
I will change it. I will change No Child Left Behind so that it is not punitive, so that we don't have a one size fits all testing standard and turn schools into testing factories. We're going to implement it properly.
Secondly, on the Patriot Act. The problem with the Patriot Act are two words: John Ashcroft. If we had an attorney general of the United States who respected the Constitution, there's no reason in the world that you can't do the things necessary.
I will change the Patriot Act. And we have the good common sense, may I add, to put in the Patriot Act a sunset clause so it dies automatically at the end of this year and we'll change it.
But let me just say about the budget also, I have promised to not balance the budget in four years. I don't think anybody's going to do that. If they're telling you that, they can't.
I have promised to cut the deficit in half in four years, which is precisely what George Bush-what Bill Clinton did. And the same people who helped Bill Clinton put together that plan, the very same people in the White House, the Treasury Department, the OMB, are the same people who are working with me right now to put my plan together. The numbers are real. It's a promise that can be kept.
And if Americans liked the eight years of Bill Clinton's economy, they're going to love the first four years of John Kerry's.
GOUSHA: Thank you.
Anybody else up there think he can balance the budget in less than four years? I'm curious.
KUCINICH: Well, first of all, let's look at what's happening.
Over $1 trillion in tax cuts, most of it going to the wealthy, a war in Iraq that's trending toward $200 billion, a $400 billion a year Pentagon budget. What this administration is saying is, "Let them eat war. "
And what I intend to say is this, the priorities of the country will be to do something about our trade deficit, to save our jobs-that's why I have to cancel NAFTA and WTO, restart the American economy.
Reverend Sharpton and I agree on a massive public works program because the idea is you have to keep creating wealth. And you create more wealth by putting people back to work. We need to have a major energy initiative.
We can create 3 million new jobs just in changing America's economy to solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, green hydrogen. I mean, we have to start looking, how can we create new wealth in this country? At the same time, stop the waste.
A tax cut to the wealthy is waste. A war is waste. Expanded Pentagon budget is waste.
KUCINICH: I'm talking about a new direction for America. That's how you straighten out our budget.
GOUSHA: Reverend Sharpton, I'll give you a couple seconds and then I want to ask a question. Go ahead.
SHARPTON: OK, I think that the other thing that you must raise when you're discussing cutting the deficit-and I agree with Senator Kerry. No one can do it in four years. But it's also what is your priorities while you are doing deficit spending?
If my family and I are in debt, it's one thing for me in debt to invest in my two daughters' college education. It's another thing in debt for me to go to Las Vegas and roll the dice and have a gambling weekend. What this administration is doing is not only bringing us deeper in debt, they are irresponsibly spending money while we're in debt.
And I think that we need to have the right priorities in terms of job development, in terms of health care, and in terms of public education, and in urban planning.
One of the things we're not talking about is the overcrowding of cities, how we deal with housing. I hope, since we're headed to Super Tuesday, we debate an urban agenda, an urban plan, that this administration has ignored.
And Governor Dean says he's the only one up here who's balanced the budget, I'm the only one in here that all my life had to deal with deficit spending. I was born in a deficit.
GOUSHA: Let me talk about your urban agenda. I want to go back to education for a moment. All of you, as my understanding, are opposed to school vouchers, but they're very much a reality in the city of Milwaukee. There are more than 13,000 children right now who attend-they're from low-income families-they attend private schools, in some cases religious schools, at taxpayers' expense.
I'm wondering, Reverend Sharpton, what you would say to a parent who asks, "Why can't I have the same opportunity that this family with money has to send our kid to a private school? "