For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 9, 2004
Remarks by President Bush and Senator Kerry in Second 2004 Presidential Debate
St. Louis, Missouri
8:02 P.M. CDT
MODERATOR: Good evening, from the Field House at Washington University in St. Louis. I'm Charles Gibson of ABC News and Good Morning America. I welcome you to the second of the 2004 presidential debates between George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, and Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. The debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Tonight's format is going to be a bit different. We have assembled a town hall meeting. We're in the "show me" state, as everyone knows Missouri to be, so Missouri residents will ask the questions. These 140 citizens were identified by the Gallup Organization as not yet committed in this election. Now, earlier today each audience member gave me two questions on cards like this -- one they'd like to ask of the President; the other they'd like to ask the Senator. I have selected the questions to be asked and the order. No one has seen the final list of questions but me. Certainly not the candidates. No audience member knows if he or she will be called upon. Audience microphones will be turned off after a question is asked.
Audience members will address their question to a specific candidate. He'll have two minutes to answer. The other candidate will have a minute-and-a-half for rebuttal. And I have the option of extending discussion for one minute, to be divided equally between the two men. All subjects are open for discussion. And you probably know the light system by now -- green light at 30 seconds, yellow at 15, red at five, and flashing red means you're done. Those are the candidates' rules. I will hold the candidates to the time limits forcefully, but politely -- I hope.
And now, please join me in welcoming with great respect, President Bush and Senator Kerry. (Applause.)
Gentlemen, to the business at hand. The first question is for Senator Kerry, and it will come from Cheryl Otis, who is right behind me.
Q Senator Kerry, after talking to several co-workers and family and friends, I asked the ones who said they were not voting for you, why. They said that you were too wishy-washy. Do you have a reply for them?
SENATOR KERRY: Yes, I certainly do. (Laughter.) But let me just first, Cheryl, if you will, I want to thank Charlie for moderating; I want to thank Washington University for hosting us here this evening. Mr. President, it's good to be with you again this evening, sir.
Cheryl, the President didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he's really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception. And the result is that you've been bombarded with advertisements suggesting that I've changed a position on this or that or the other. Now, the three things they try to say I've changed position on are the Patriot Act -- I haven't; I support it. I just don't like the way John Ashcroft has applied it. And we're going to change a few things. The Chairman of the Republican Party thinks we ought to change a few things.
No Child Left Behind Act -- I voted for it; I support it; I support the goals. But the President has under-funded it by $28 billion. Right here in St. Louis, you've laid off 350 teachers. You're 150 -- excuse me, I think it's a little more -- about $100 million shy of what you ought to be under the No Child Left Behind Act to help your education system here. So I complain about that. I've argued that we should fully fund it. The President says I've changed my mind. I haven't changed my mind. I'm going to fully fund it.
So these are the differences. Now, the President has presided over the economy where we've lost 1.6 million jobs -- the first President in 72 years to lose jobs. I have a plan to put people back to work. That's not wishy-washy. I'm going to close the loopholes that actually encourage companies to go overseas. The President wants to keep them open. I think I'm right; I think he's wrong.
I'm going to give you a tax cut. The President gave -- the top one percent of income earners in America got $89 billion last year; more than the 80 percent of people who earn $100,000 or less all put together. I think that's wrong. That's not wishy-washy, and that's what I'm fighting for -- you.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, a minute-and-a-half.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Charlie, thank you, and thank our panelists. Senator, thank you. I can -- and thanks, Washington U., as well.
I can see why people at your workplace think he changes positions a lot, because he does. He said he voted for the $87 billion and -- or voted against it right before he voted for it. And that sends a confusing signal to people. He said he thought Saddam Hussein was a grave threat, and now said it was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein from power. No, I can see why people think that he changes position quite often, because he does.
You know, for a while, he was a strong supporter of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He saw the wisdom -- until the Democratic primary came along, and Howard Dean, the anti-war candidate, began to gain on him. And he changed positions. I don't see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics.
He just brought up the tax cut. You remember, we increased that child credit by $1000; reduced the marriage penalty; created a 10-percent tax bracket for the lower income Americans -- that, right at the middle class. He voted against it. And yet he tells you he's for a middle-class tax cut. It's -- you've got to be consistent when you're the President. There's a lot of pressures, and you've got to be firm and consistent.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, I would follow up, but we have a series of questions on Iraq, and so I will turn to the next questioner. The question for President Bush and the questioner is Robin Dahl (phonetic).
Q Mr. President, yesterday in a statement you admitted that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, but justified the invasion by stating -- I quote -- "he retained the knowledge, the materials, the means, and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction, and could have passed this knowledge to our terrorist enemies." Do you sincerely believe this to be a reasonable justification for invasion when this statement applies to so many other countries, including North Korea?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Each situation is different, Robin. And obviously, we hope that diplomacy works before you ever use force. The hardest decision a President makes is ever to use force.
After 9/11, we had to look at the world differently. After 9/11, we had to recognize that when we saw a threat, we must take it seriously before it comes to hurt us. In the old days, we'd see a threat, and we could deal with it if we felt like it, or not. But 9/11 changed it all.
I vowed to our countrymen that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. That's why we're bringing al Qaeda to justice. Seventy-five percent of them have been brought to justice. That's why I said to Afghanistan, if you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist. And the Taliban is no longer in power, and al Qaeda no longer has a place to plan.
And I saw a unique threat in Saddam Hussein, as did my opponent, because we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. And the unique threat was that he could give weapons of mass destruction to an organization like al Qaeda, and the harm they inflicted on us with airplanes would be multiplied greatly by weapons of mass destruction. And that was a serious, serious threat.
So I tried diplomacy. I went to the United Nations. But as we learned in the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions. He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason. He wanted to restart his weapons programs.
We all thought there was weapons there, Robin. My opponent thought there was weapons there. That's why he called him a grave threat. I wasn't happy when we found out there wasn't weapons, and we've got an intelligence group together to figure out why. But Saddam Hussein was a unique threat, and the world is better off without him in power. And my opponent's plans lead me to conclude that Saddam Hussein would still be in power and the world would be more dangerous.
Thank you, sir.
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, a minute-and-a-half.
SENATOR KERRY: Robin, I'm going to answer your question. I'm also going to talk -- respond to what you asked, Cheryl, at the same time.
The world is more dangerous today. The world is more dangerous today because the President didn't make the right judgments. Now, the President wishes that I had changed my mind. He wants you to believe that, because he can't come here and tell you that he's created new jobs for America; he's lost jobs. He can't come here and tell you that he's created health care for Americans because -- what, we've got 5 million Americans who have lost their health care, 96,000 of them right here in Missouri. He can't come here and tell you that he's left no child behind because he didn't fund No Child Left Behind.
So what does he do? He's trying to attack me. He wants you to believe that I can't be President. And he's trying to make you believe it because he wants you to think I change my mind.
Well, let me tell you straight up, I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I always believed he was a threat -- believed it in 1998 when Clinton was President. I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force if necessary. But I would have used that force wisely, I would have used that authority wisely, not rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. I would have brought our allies to our side. I would have fought to make certain our troops had everybody possible to help them win the mission.
This President rushed to war, pushed our allies aside, and Iran now is more dangerous, and so is North Korea with nuclear weapons. He took his eye off the ball, off of Osama bin Laden.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, I do want to follow up on this one, because there were several questions from the audience along this line.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Are we going to have a rebuttal thing back and forth?
MODERATOR: I was going to have you do it with the rebuttal. But you go ahead. (Laughter.) You're up.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Remember the last debate, my opponent said that America must pass a global test before we use force to protect ourselves. That's the kind of mind-set that says sanctions were working. That's the kind of mind-set that says let's keep it at the United Nations and hope things go well.
Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies. Sanctions were not working; the United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein.
SENATOR KERRY: The goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein; it was to remove the weapons of mass destruction. And, Mr. President, just yesterday, the Duelfer report told you and the whole world they worked. He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Mr. President. That was the objective. And if we had used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq, and right now Osama bin Laden might be in jail, or dead. That's the war against terror.
MODERATOR: We're going to have another question now, on the subject of Iraq. And I'm just going to turn to Anthony Baldi (phonetic) with a question for Senator Kerry.
Q Senator Kerry, the U.S. is preparing a new Iraq government, and we'll proceed to withdraw U.S. troops. Would you proceed with the same plans as President Bush?
SENATOR KERRY: Anthony, I would not. I have laid out a different plan because the President's plan is not working. You see that every night on television. There's chaos in Iraq. King Abdullah of Jordan said just yesterday, or the day before, you can't hold elections in Iraq with the chaos that's going on today. Senator Richard Lugar, the Republican Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that the handling of the reconstruction aid in Iraq by this administration has been "incompetent." Those are the Republican Chairman's words. Senator Hagel of Nebraska said that the handling of Iraq is "beyond pitiful, beyond embarrassing, it's in the zone of dangerous." Those are the words of two Republicans, respected, both on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Now, I have to tell you, I would do something different. I would reach out to our allies in a way that this President hasn't. He pushed them away, time and again. Pushed them away at the U.N., pushed them away individually. Two weeks ago, there was a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, which is the political arm of NATO. They discussed the possibility of a small training unit, or having a total takeover of the training in Iraq. Did our administration push for the total training of Iraq? No. Were they silent? Yes. Was there an effort to bring all the allies together around that? No. Because they've always wanted this to be an American effort. You know, they even had the Defense Department issue a memorandum saying, don't bother applying for assistance or for being part of the reconstruction if you weren't part of our original coalition.
Now, that's not a good way to build support and reduce the risk for our troops and make America safer. I'm going to get the training done for our troops, I'm going to get the training of Iraqis done faster, and I'm going to get our allies back to the table.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Two days ago in the Oval Office, I met with the Finance Minister from Iraq. He came to see me. And he talked about how optimistic he was and the country was about heading toward elections. Think about it. They're going from tyranny to elections. He talked about the reconstruction efforts that are beginning to take hold. He talked about the fact that Iraqis love to be free. He said he was optimistic when he came here. Then he turned on the TV and listened to the political rhetoric and all of the sudden he was pessimistic.
This is a guy who, along with others, has taken great risk for freedom. And we need to stand with him. My opponent says he has a plan. Sounds familiar because it's called the Bush plan. We're going to train troops -- and we are. We'll have 125,000 trained by the end of December. We're spending about $7 billion.
He talks about a grand idea -- let's have a summit. We're going to solve the problem in Iraq by holding a summit. And what is he going to say to those people that show up to the summit? Join me in the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place? Risk your troops in a war you've called a mistake? Nobody is going to follow somebody who doesn't believe we can succeed, and somebody who says the war where we are is a mistake. I know how these people think. I meet with them all the time. I talk to Tony Blair all the time. I talk to Silvio Berlusconi -- they're not going to follow an American President who says, follow me into a mistake. Our plan is working. We're going to make elections and Iraq is going to be free, and America will be better off for it.
MODERATOR: Do you want to follow up, Senator?
SENATOR KERRY: Yes, sir, please.
Ladies and gentlemen, the right war was Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan. That was the right place, and the right time was Tora Bora, when we had him cornered in the mountains. Now, everyone in the world knows that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That was the reason Congress gave him the authority to use force -- not after excuse to get rid of the regime.
Now we have to succeed. I've always said that. I have been consistent. Yes, we have to succeed, and I have a better plan to help us do it.
PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, we didn't find out he didn't have weapons until we got there. And my opponent thought he had weapons and told everybody he thought he had weapons. And secondly, it's a fundamental misunderstanding to say that the war on terror is only Osama bin Laden. The war on terror is to make sure that these terrorist organizations do not end up with weapons of mass destruction. That's what the war on terror is about.
Of course, we're going to find Osama bin Laden. We've already got 75 percent of his people, and we're on the hunt for him. But this is a global conflict that requires firm resolve.
MODERATOR: The next question is for President Bush and it comes from Nicki Washington (phonetic).
Q Thank you. Mr. President, my mother and sister traveled abroad this summer and, when they got back, they talked to us about how shocked they were at the intensity of aggravation that other countries had with how we handled the Iraq situation. Diplomacy is, obviously, something that we have to really work on. What is your plan to repair relations with other countries, given the current situation?
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I appreciate that. Listen, I -- we've got a great country. I love our values. And I recognize I've made some decisions that have caused people to not understand the great values of our country. I remember when Ronald Reagan was the President. He stood on principle. Some might have called that stubborn. He stood on principle, standing up to the Soviet Union. And we won that conflict. Yet at the same time, he was very -- we were very unpopular in Europe because of decisions he made.
I recognize that taking Saddam Hussein out was unpopular. But I made the decision because I thought it was in the right interests of our security. You know, I made some decisions on Israel; that's unpopular. I wouldn't deal with Arafat because I felt like he had let the former President down, and I don't think he's the kind of person that can lead toward a Palestinian state. And people in Europe didn't like that decision. And that was unpopular, but it was the right thing to do. I believe Palestinians ought to have a state, but I know they need leadership that's committed to democracy and freedom; leadership that will be willing to reject terrorism.
I made a decision not to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is where our troops could be brought to -- brought in front of a judge, an unaccounted judge. I don't think we ought to join that. That was unpopular. And so what I'm telling you is, is that sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they're right.
We'll continue to reach out. Listen, there's 30 nations involved in Iraq, some 40 nations involved in Afghanistan. People love America. Sometimes they don't like the decisions made by America, but I don't think you want a President who tries to become popular and does the wrong thing. You don't want to join the International Criminal Court just because it's popular in certain capitals in Europe.
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, a minute-and-a-half.
SENATOR KERRY: Nicki, that's a question that's been raised by a lot of people around the country. Let me address it, but also talk about the weapons the President just talked about, because every part of the President's answer just now promises you more of the same over the next four years.
The President stood right here in this hall four years ago, and he was asked a question by somebody just like you, under what circumstances would you send people to war. And his answer was, with a viable exit strategy and only with enough forces to get the job done. He didn't do that; he broke that promise. We didn't have enough forces. General Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, told him he was going to need several hundred thousand. And guess what, they retired General Shinseki for telling him that. This President hasn't listened.
I went to meet with the members of the Security Council in the week before we voted. I went to New York. I talked to all of them to find out how serious they were about really holding Saddam Hussein accountable. I came away convinced that if we worked at it, if we were ready to work at letting Hans Blix do his job and thoroughly go through the inspections, that if push came to shove, they'd be there with us. But the President just arbitrarily brought the hammer down and said, nope, sorry, time for diplomacy is over, we're going. He rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. Ladies and gentlemen, he gave you a speech and told you he'd plan carefully, take every precaution, take our allies with us. He didn't. He broke his word.
MODERATOR: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I remember sitting in the White House, looking at those generals, saying, do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes? I remember going down in the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops -- as last resort -- looking at Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground, asking them, do we have the right plan with the right troop level? And they looked me in the eye and said, yes, sir, Mr. President. Of course, I listened to our generals. That's what a President does. A President sets the strategy and relies upon good military people to execute that strategy.
SENATOR KERRY: You rely on good military people to execute the military component of the strategy, but winning the peace is larger than just the military component. General Shinseki had the wisdom to say you're going to need several hundred thousand troops to win the peace. The military's job is to win the war. The President's job is to win the peace. The President did not do what was necessary -- didn't bring in enough nations, didn't deliver the help, didn't close off the borders, didn't even guard the ammo dumps. And now our kids are being killed with ammos right out of that dump.
MODERATOR: The next question is for Senator Kerry, and it comes from over here, from Randy Jacobs (phonetic). You'll need a microphone.
SENATOR KERRY: Is it Randy?
Q Yes, Randy. Iran sponsors terrorism and has missiles capable of hitting Israel and southern Europe. Iran will have nuclear weapons in two to three years' time. In the event that U.N. sanctions don't stop this threat, what will you do as President?
SENATOR KERRY: I don't think you can just rely on U.N. sanctions, Randy, but you're absolutely correct, it is a threat -- it's a huge threat. And what's interesting is it's a threat that has grown while the President has been preoccupied with Iraq where there wasn't a threat. If he'd let the inspectors do their job and go on, we wouldn't have ten times the numbers of forces in Iraq that we have in Afghanistan chasing Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, while Iran is moving towards nuclear weapons, some 37 tons of what they call yellow cake -- the stuff they use to make enriched uranium -- while they're doing that, North Korea has moved from one bomb, maybe -- maybe -- to four to seven bombs.
For two years the President didn't even engage with North Korea -- did nothing at all, while it was growing more dangerous, despite the warnings of people like former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who negotiated getting television cameras and inspectors into that reactor. We were safer before President Bush came to office. Now, they have the bombs and we're less safe.
So what do we do? We've got to join with the British and the French, with the Germans who've been involved in their initiative -- we've got to lead the world now to crack down on proliferation as a whole. But the President has been slow to do that even in Russia. At his pace, it's going to take 13 years to reduce and get a hold of all the loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I proposed a plan that can capture it and contain it and clean it within four years.
And the President is moving toward the creation of our own bunker-busting, nuclear weapon. It's very hard to get other countries to give up their weapons when you're busy developing a new one. I'm going to lead the world in the greatest counter-proliferation effort. And if we have to get tough with Iran, believe me, we will get tough.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, a minute-and-a-half.
PRESIDENT BUSH: That answer almost made me want to scowl. (Laughter.) He keeps talking about letting the inspectors do their job -- it's naive and dangerous to say that. That's what the Duelfer report showed. He was deceiving the inspectors.
Secondly, of course, we've been involved with Iran. I fully understand the threat. And that's why we're doing what he suggested we do -- get the Brits, the Germans and the French to go make it very clear to the Iranians that if they expect to be a party to the world, to give up their nuclear ambitions. We've been doing that.
Let me talk about North Korea. It is naive and dangerous to take a policy that he suggested the other day -- which is to have bilateral relations with North Korea. Remember, he is the person who is accusing me of not acting multilaterally. He now wants to take the six-party talks we have -- China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States -- and undermine them by having bilateral talks. That's what President Clinton did. He had bilateral talks with the North Korean, and guess what happened? He didn't honor the agreement. He was enriching uranium. That is a bad policy.
Of course, we're paying attention to these. That's a great question about Iran. That's why, in my speech to the Congress, I said there is an axis of evil, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and we're paying attention to it, and we're making progress.
MODERATOR: We're going to move on, Mr. President, with a question for you. And it comes from Daniel Farley (phonetic).
Q Mr. President, since we continue to police the world, how do you intend to maintain a military presence without re-instituting a draft?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, great question. Thanks.
I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft. We're not going to have a draft, period. The all-volunteer Army works. It works particularly when we pay our troops well. It works when we make sure they've got housing, like we have done in the last military budgets. An all-volunteer Army is best suited to fight the new wars of the 21st century, which is to be specialized and to find these people as they hide around the world. We don't need mass armies anymore.
One of the things we've done is we've taken the -- we're beginning to transform our military. And by that I mean we're moving troops out of Korea and replacing them with more effective weapons. We don't need as much manpower on the Korean Peninsula to keep a deterrent.
In Europe, we have massed troops as if the Soviet Union existed and was going to invade into Europe. But those days are over with. And so we're moving troops out of Europe, and replacing it with more effective equipment.
So the answer to your question is, we're withdrawing -- not from the world; we're drawing manpower, so they can be stationed here in America, so there's less rotation, so life is easier on their families and, therefore, more likely to be -- we'll be more likely to keep people in the all-volunteer Army.
One of the most important things we're doing in this administration is transformation. There's some really interesting technologies. For example, we're flying unmanned vehicles that can send real-time messages back to stations in the United States. That saves manpower and it saves equipment. It also means that we can target things easier and move more quickly, which means we need to be lighter and quicker and more facile and highly trained.
Forget all this talk about a draft. We're not going to have a draft so long as I'm the President.
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, minute-and-a-half.
SENATOR KERRY: Daniel, I don't support a draft. But let me tell you where the President's policies have put us. The President -- and this is one of the reasons why I'm very proud in this race to have the support of General John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Admiral William Crowe, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Tony McPeak, who ran the air war for the President's father and did a brilliant job -- supporting me; General Wes Clark, who won the war in Kosovo -- supporting me -- because they all -- and General Baca, who was the head National Guard -- supporting me. Why? Because they understand that our military is over-extended under this President.
Our Guard and Reserves have been turned into almost active duty. You've got people doing three rotations. You've got stop-loss policies so people can't get out when they were supposed to. You've got a backdoor draft right now. And a lot of our military are underpaid. These are families that get hurt. It hurts the middle class, it hurts communities, because these are our first responders, and they're called up and they're over there, not over here.
Now, I'm going to add 40,000 active duty forces to the military. And I'm going to make people feel good about being safe in our military, and not over-extended because I'm going to run a foreign policy that actually does what President Reagan did and President Eisenhower did, and others. We're going to build alliances; we're not going to go unilaterally, we're not going to go alone like this President did.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, let's extend for a minute.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me just -- I've got to answer this.
MODERATOR: Exactly. And with Reservists being held on duty and --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me just answer what he just said about going alone.
MODERATOR: I wanted to get into the issue of the backdoor draft.
THE PRESIDENT: You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Tony Blair we're going on. Tell Silvio Berlusconi we're going alone. Tell Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland we're going alone. We've got 30 countries there. It denigrates an alliance to say we're going alone, to discount their sacrifices. You cannot lead an alliance if you say, you're going alone. And people listen. They're sacrificing with us.
SENATOR KERRY: Mr. President, countries are leaving the coalition, not joining. Eight countries have left it. If Missouri, just given the number of people from Missouri who are in the military over there today, were a country, it would be the third largest country in the coalition, behind Great Britain and the United States. That's not a grand coalition. Ninety percent of the casualties are American. Ninety percent of the costs are coming out of your pockets. I could do a better job. My plan does a better job, and that's why I'll be a better Commander-in-Chief.
MODERATOR: The next question, Senator Kerry, is for you, and it comes from Ann Bronsing (phonetic), who I believe is over in this area.
Q Senator Kerry, we have been fortunate that there have been no further terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. Why do you think this is? And if elected, what will you do to assure our safety?
SENATOR KERRY: Thank you very much, Ann. I've asked in my security briefings why that is, and I can't go into all the answers, et cetera, but let me say this to you. This President and his administration have told you and all of us it's not a question of when, it's a question of -- excuse me, not a question of if, it's a question of when. We've been told that. The when I can't tell you. Between the World Trade Center bombing in -- what was it -- 1993 or so -- and the next time was five years, seven years. These people wait, they'll plan. They plot.
I agree with the President that we have to go after them and get them wherever they are. I just think I can do that far more effectively because the most important weapon in doing that is intelligence. You've got to have the best intelligence in the world. And in order to have the best intelligence in the world, to know who the terrorists are and where they are and what they're plotting, you've got to have the best cooperation you've ever had in the world.
Now, to go back to your question, Nicki -- we're not getting the best cooperation in the world today. We've got a whole bunch of countries that pay a price for dealing with the United States of America now. I'm going to change that. And I'm going to put in place a better homeland security effort. Look, it -- 95 percent of our containers coming into this country are not inspected today. When you get on an airplane, your cart -- your bag is -- is X-rayed, but the cargo hold isn't X-rayed. Do you feel safer?
This President, in the last debate, said that that would be a big tax gap if we did that. Ladies and gentlemen, it's his tax plan. He chose a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans over getting that equipment out into the homeland as fast as possible. We have bridges and tunnels that aren't being secured; chemical plants, nuclear plants that aren't secured; hospitals that are overcrowded in their emergency rooms. If we had a disaster today, could they handle it?
This President chose a tax cut over homeland security. Wrong choice.
MODERATE: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: That's an odd thing to say since we've tripled the homeland security budget from $10 billion to $30 billion. Listen, we'll do everything we can to protect the homeland. My opponent is right, we need good intelligence. It's also a curious thing for him to say, since right after 1993, he voted to cut the intelligence budget by $7.5 billion.
The best way to defend America in this world we live in is to stay on the offense. We've got to be right 100 percent of the time here at home, and they've got to be right once. And that's the -- that's the reality. And there's a lot of good people working hard. We're doing the best we possibly can to share information. That's why the Patriot Act was important. The Patriot Act is vital, by the way. It's a tool that law enforcement now uses to be able to talk between each other. My opponent says he hasn't changed his positions on it -- no, but he's for weakening it.
I don't think my opponent has got the right view about the world to make us safe, I really don't. First of all, I don't think he can succeed in Iraq. And if Iraq were to fail, it would be a haven for terrorists, and there would be money, and the world would be much more dangerous. I don't see how you can win in Iraq if you don't believe we should be there in the first place. I don't see how you can lead troops if you say it's the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't see how the Iraqis are going to have confidence in the American President if all they hear is that it was a mistake to be there in the first place.
This war is a long, long war, and it requires steadfast determination, and it requires a complete understanding that we not only chase down al Qaeda, but we disrupt terrorists safe havens, as well as people who could provide the terrorists with support.
MODERATOR: I want to extend for a minute, Senator, and I'm curious about something you said. You said it's not when, but if. You think it's inevitable? Because the sense of security is a very basic thing with everybody in this country, worried about their kids.
SENATOR KERRY: Well, the President and his experts have told America that it's not a question of if, it's a question of when. And I accept what the President has said. These terrorists are serious, they're deadly, and they know nothing except trying to kill. I understand that. That's why I will never stop at anything to hunt down and kill the terrorists. But you heard the President just say to you that we've added money. Folks, the test is not if you've added money. The test is have you done everything possible to make America secure. He chose a tax cut for wealthy Americans over the things that I listed to you.
MODERATOR: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, we'll talk about the tax cut for middle class here in a minute. But -- yes, I'm worried. I'm worried. I'm worried about our country. And all I can tell you is every day I know that there's people working overtime, doing the very best they can. And the reason I'm worried is because there's a vicious enemy that has an ideology of hate. And the way to defeat them long-term, by the way, is to spread freedom. Liberty can change habits, and that's what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, we're going to turn to questions now on domestic policy and we're going to start with health issues. And the first question is for President Bush, and it's from John Horseman (phonetic).
Q Mr. President, why did you block the reimportation of safer and inexpensive drugs from Canada, which would have cut 40-60 percent off of the cost?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I haven't yet. I just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you. And that's why the FDA, and that's why the Surgeon General are looking very carefully to make sure it can be done in a safe way. I've got an obligation to make sure our government does everything we can to protect you. And one -- my worry is that it looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a third world. We just got to make sure before somebody thinks they're buying a product, that it works. And that's why we're doing what we're doing.
Now, it may very well be, here in December you hear me say, I think there's a safe way to do it. The other way is to make sure drugs are cheaper. One is to speed up generic drugs to the marketplace -- quicker. Pharmaceuticals were using loopholes to keep brand drugs in place and generics are much less expensive than brand drugs -- and we're doing just that. Another is to get our seniors to sign up for these drug discount cards. And they're working.
Wanda Blackmore, I met here from Missouri -- the first time she bought drugs with her drug discount card she paid $1.14, I think it was, for about $10 worth of drugs. These cards make sense. And, you know, in 2006, seniors are going to get prescription drug coverage for the first time in Medicare. Because I went to Washington to fix problems. Medicare -- the issue of Medicare used to be called "Medi-scare." People didn't want to touch it for fear of getting hurt politically. I wanted to get something done. I think our seniors deserve a modern medical system. And in 2006, our seniors will get prescription drug coverage.
Thank you for asking.
MODERATE: Senator, a minute-and-a-half.
SENATOR KERRY: John, you heard the President just say that he thought he might try to be for it. Four years ago, right here in this forum, he was asked the same question -- can't people be able to import drugs from Canada. Do you know what he said? I think that makes sense -- I think that's a good idea. Four years ago.
Now, the President said, I'm not blocking that. Ladies and gentlemen, the President just didn't level with you -- right now, again. He did block it, because we passed it in the United States Senate. We sent it over to the House that you could import drugs. We took care of the safety issues. We're not talking about third-world drugs. We're talking about drugs made right here in the United States of America that have American brand names on them, in American bottles, and we're asking they be -- allow you to get them.
The President blocked it. The President also took Medicare, which belongs to you, and he could have lowered the cost of Medicare and lowered your taxes and lowered the cost to seniors. You know what he did? He made it illegal, illegal for Medicare to do what the VA does, which is bulk purchase drugs so that you could lower the price and get them out to you lower. He put $139 billion of windfall profit into the pockets of the drug companies right out of your pockets.
That's the difference between us. The President sides with the power companies, the oil companies, the drug companies, and I'm fighting to let you get those drugs from Canada, and I'm fighting to let Medicare survive. I'm fighting for the middle class. That's the difference.
MODERATOR: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: If they're safe, they're coming. I want to remind you that it wasn't just my administration that made the decision on safety. President Clinton did the same thing, because we have an obligation to protect you.
Now, he talks about Medicare. He's been in the United States Senate 20 years. Show me one accomplishment toward Medicare that he accomplished. I've been in Washington, D.C. three-and-a-half years, and led the Congress to reform Medicare so our seniors have got a modern health care system. That's what leadership is all about.
SENATOR KERRY: Actually, Mr. President, in 1997, we fixed Medicare and I was one of the people involved in it. We not only fixed Medicare and took it way out into the future, we did something that you don't know how to do. We balanced the budget. And we paid down the debt of our nation for two years in a row and we created 23 million new jobs at the same time. And it's the President's fiscal policies that have driven up the biggest deficits in American history. He's added more debt to the debt of the United States in four years than all the way from George Washington to Ronald Reagan put together. Go figure.
MODERATOR: Next question is for Senator Kerry, and this comes from Norma Jean Larent (phonetic).
Q Senator Kerry, you've stated your concern for the rising cost of health care. Yet you chose the vice presidential candidate who has made millions of dollars successfully suing medical professionals. How do you reconcile this with the voters?
SENATOR KERRY: Very easily. John Edwards is the author of the Patients Bill of Rights. He wanted to give people rights. John Edwards and I support tort reform. We both believe that as lawyers -- I'm a lawyer, too, and I believe that we will be able to get a fix that has eluded everybody else, because we know how to do it. It's in my health care proposal. Go to JohnKerry.com, you can pull it off the Internet, and you'll find a tort reform plan.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, important to understand: The President and his friends tried to make a big deal out of it. Is it a problem? Yes, it's a problem. Do we need to fix it, particularly for OG/BYNs [sic] and for brain surgeons and others? Yes. But it's less than one percent of the total cost of health care. Your premiums are going up. You've gone up in Missouri about $3,500. You've gone up 64 percent. You've seen co-pays go up, deductibles go up, everything has gone up. Five million people have lost their health insurance under this President and he's done nothing about it.
I have a plan. I have a plan to lower the cost of health care for you; I have a plan to cover all children; I have a plan to let you buy into the same health care senators and congressmen give themselves; I have a plan that's going to allow people 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare early. And I have a plan that will take the catastrophic cases out of the system, off your backs, pay for it out of a federal fund, which lowers the premiums for everybody in America, makes American business more competitive, and makes health care more affordable.
Now, all of that can happen, but I have to ask you to do one thing. Join me in rolling back the President's unaffordable tax cut for people earning more than $200,000 a year. That's all. Ninety-eight percent of America, I'm giving you a tax cut and I'm giving you health care.
MODERATOR: Mr. President, a minute-and-a-half.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me see where to start here. First, the National Journal named Senator Kennedy [sic] the most liberal senator of all. And that's saying something in that bunch. You might say that took a lot of hard work.
The reason I bring that up is because he's proposed $2.2 trillion in new spending and he says he's going to tax the rich to close the tax gap. He can't. He's going to tax everybody here to fund his programs. That's just reality.
And what are his health programs? First, he says he's for medical liability reform, particularly for OB/GYNs. There was a bill on the floor of the United States Senate that he could have showed up and voted for if he's so much for it. Secondly, he says that medical liability costs only cost one percent increase. That shows a lack of understanding. Doctors practice defensive medicine because of all the frivolous lawsuits that cost our government $28 billion a year.
And, finally, he says he's going to have a novel health care plan. You know what it is? The federal government is going to run it. It is the largest increase in federal government health care, ever. And it fits with his philosophy. That's why I told you about the award he won from the National Journal. That's what liberals do: they create government-sponsored health care. Maybe you think that makes sense; I don't. Government-sponsored health care would lead to rationing. It would ruin the quality of health care in America.
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, we got several questions along this line, and I'm just curious if you'd go further on what you talked about with tort reform. Would you be favoring capping awards on pain and suffering? Would you limit attorneys' fees -- to follow up on this for a minute. Thirty seconds.
SENATOR KERRY: Yeah, I think we should look at the punitive and we should have some limitations. But, look, what's really important, Charlie, is the President's just trying to scare everybody here. We're throwing labels around. I mean, compassionate conservative? What does that mean? Cutting 500,000 kids from after-school programs? Cutting 365,000 kids from health care? Running up the biggest deficits in American history? Mr. President, you're batting 0 for 2. I mean, seriously. Labels don't mean anything. What means something is do you have a plan. And I want to talk about my plan some more. I hope we can.
MODERATOR: We'll get to that in just a minute. Thirty seconds.
PRESIDENT BUSH: What does matter is the plan. He said he is for -- you're now for capping punitive damages? That's odd. You should have shown up on the floor in the Senate and voted for it then. Medical liability issues are a problem, a significant problem. He's been in the United States Senate for 20 years, and he hadn't addressed it. We passed it out of the House of Representatives. Guess where it stuck? It stuck in the Senate because the trial lawyers won't act on it, and he put a trial lawyer on the ticket.
MODERATOR: The next question is for President Bush, and it comes from Matthew O'Brien (phonetic).
Q Mr. President, you have enjoyed a Republican majority in the House and Senate for most of your presidency. In that time, you've not vetoed a single spending bill. Excluding $120 billion spent in Iran and Afghan -- I'm sorry, Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been $700 billion spent and not paid for by taxes. Please explain how the spending you have approved and not paid for is better for the American people than the spending proposed for your opponent.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Right. Thank you for that. We have a deficit. We have a deficit because this country went into a recession. You might remember the stock market started to decline dramatically six months before I came to office, and then the bubble of the 1990s popped. And that cost us revenue. That cost us revenue.
Secondly, we're at war. And I'm going to spend what it takes to win the war -- more than just $120 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. We've got to pay our troops more -- we have. We've increased money for ammunition and weapons and pay and homeland security. I just told this lady over here we spent -- went from $10 billion to $30 billion to protect the homeland. I think we have an obligation to spend that kind of money.
Plus, we cut taxes for everybody. Everybody got tax relief -- so they get out of the recession. I think if you raise taxes during a recession, you head to depression. I come from the school of thought that says when people have more money in their pocket during tough economic times, it increases demand or investment. Small businesses begin to grow and jobs are added. We found out today that over the past 13 months, we've added 1.9 million new jobs in the last 13 months. I proposed a plan, detailed budget, that shows us cutting the deficit in half by five years.
And you're right, I haven't vetoed any spending bills because we work together. Non-homeland, non-defense, discretionary spending was at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than one percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control. Like you, I'm concerned about the deficit. But I am not going to short-change our troops in harm's way. And I'm not going to run up taxes which will cost this economy jobs.
Thank you for your question.
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, a minute-and-a-half.
SENATOR KERRY: Let me begin by saying that my health care plan is not what the President described. It is not a government take-over. You have choice. Choose your doctor, choose your plan. The government has nothing to do with it. In fact, it doesn't ask you to do anything -- if you don't want to take it, you don't have to. If you like your high premiums, you keep them. That's the way we leave it.
Now, with respect to the deficit, the President was handed a $5.6 trillion surplus, ladies and gentlemen. That's where he was when he came into office. We now have a $2.6 trillion deficit. This is the biggest turnaround in the history of the country. He's the first President in 72 years to lose jobs. He talked about war. This is the first time the United States of America has ever had a tax cut when we're at war. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, others knew how to lead. They knew how to ask the American people for the right things.
One percent of America -- the highest one percent of income earners in America got $89 billion of tax cut last year. One percent of America got more than the 80 percent of America that earned from $100,000 down. The President thinks it's more important to fight for that top one percent, than to fight for fiscal responsibility and to fight for you.
I want to put money in your pocket. I am -- I have a proposal for a tax cut for all people earning less than the $200,000. The only people affected in my plan are the top income earners of America.
MODERATOR: I heard you both say -- I have heard you both say during the campaign -- I just heard you say it -- that you're going to cut the deficit by a half in four years. But I didn't hear one thing in the last three and a half minutes that would indicate how either one of you do that.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Look at the budget. One is, make sure Congress doesn't overspend. But let me talk back about where we've been. The stock market was declining six months prior to my arrival. It was the largest stock market correction -- one of the largest in history -- which foretold a recession. Because we cut taxes on everybody -- remember, we ran up the child credit by $1,000, we reduced the marriage penalty, we created a 10-percent bracket -- everybody who pays taxes got relief. The recession was one of the shortest in our nation's history.
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, 30 seconds.
SENATOR KERRY: After 9/11, after the recession had ended, the President asked for another tax cut and promised 5.6 million jobs would be created. He lost 1.6 million, ladies and gentlemen. And most of that tax cut went to the wealthiest people in the country. He came and asked for a tax cut -- we wanted a tax cut to kick the economy into gear. Do you know what he presented us with? A $25-billion giveaway to the biggest corporations in America, including a $254-million refund check to Enron. Wrong priorities. You are my priority.