CNBC/Wall Street Journal Presidential Democratic Candidate Debate
Thursday, September 25, 2003 at Pace University's downtown campus, New York, NY  4:00-6:00 p.m. ET. 

Transcript Provided by and Reprinted with Permission of NBC
Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV  |  Main

WILLIAMS:  Welcome back, campus of Pace University in Lower Manhattan.  All 10 declared candidates, two hours, largely on the subject of the economy and all that that entails. 

WILLIAMS:  So many topics yet to come.  We have done some tabulating on time.  We know who is running ahead and behind, in terms of questions, answers and rebuttal.  It'll be reflected in our questions here in this next segment.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun to you:  What do you believe happened between the Clinton -- ambitious Clinton health care proposal and where this country is today in terms of affordable health care for all? 

MOSELEY BRAUN:  Well, there's no question in my mind but that every American wants to have universal coverage.  But the only way we can get there is with, in my opinion, a single-payer system that is decoupled from employment, that's to say, doesn't depend on employment.

The Clinton plan attempted to reconcile the public and private systems that we have now.  They are simply irreconcilable.  You cannot bring it together and make it make any sense without a whole lot of bureaucracies.

So if we go to a single-payer system, we will give our export sector, our multinationals, a competitive boost in the international markets, because right now they're carrying the cost of health care. We will give the middle class a boost in terms of their -- and working people a boost in terms of their paychecks.  We will give small businesses a real boost because they can't afford it. 

And we can do it without spending a dime more than we are presently paying at the highest level of any industrialized country in the world. 

A single-payer system really is the only way to go.  And if we take it off the payroll tax, we will provide working people with opportunity for health care.

WILLIAMS:  Let's continue our questioning with Gerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal.

SEIB:  General Clark, Congressman Gephardt has described for us here his ambitious health care program:  $200 billion a year. 

SEIB:  Others of your colleagues have smaller programs on the table.  You're the newcomer here.  Let me ask you, what would you do to improve the health care situation, to provide health care coverage, and specifically to give prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients?

CLARK:  Well, I think in this country we have to recognize we are in a health care crisis.  We've got 41 million Americans uninsured, we've got more dropping out of their insurance programs as they lose their jobs.  Even the people who have health insurance today are insecure about keeping it. 

I've been in the race about nine days, so I don't have a complete package of health care proposals, but here's what I would do.  I think as we move toward this, we need to take the existing programs, we need to build on the existing programs, we need to take the states' child health insurance program an stretch it.  We need to raise the limits on Medicaid.  We need to look at the 55 to 65 age group and help them. And we need to look at the substance that's in those proposals.

We should be doing much more with preventive and diagnostic care. We need a comprehensive preventive medicine program for this country. We call it executive fitness in the Army.  It's an executive wellness program.  Why isn't it an American wellness program? 

So we'll come out with our health proposal.  We'll move it that way.

WILLIAMS:  General, thank you. 

SEIB:  Senator Graham, any conversation about health care in this country these days turns to the price of prescription drugs.  The average price of a prescription rose 4 percent in 2002, 10 percent of 2001, 9.2 percent before that; all well above the rate of inflation. 

SEIB:  As president, do you think the government should and would it under your leadership impose any kind of price controls on prescription drugs?

GRAHAM:  Well, I can tell you this:  There will be nothing done about the price of prescription drugs as long as George W. Bush is president.  He is literally in bed with pharmaceutical companies and has made a pact to even avoid in the proposed new federal expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs anything that can be construed as holding down prices. 

I think what we need to do is, first, we need to open up competition in the pharmaceutical area through things like making it easier to get generic drugs to market, a reasonable reimportation plan.  We need to also have a plan that will assure that access to life-saving drugs are available to all Americans. 

And we can do that, among other things, by relieving the states from some of the pressure of prescription drugs for their older citizens, rather than the Republican plan, which is to stick it to the states first.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Senator.

Gloria Borger?

BORGER:  Well, talking a little bit more about prescription drugs -- and this is for Congressman Kucinich and Senator Lieberman. 

A very big issue on Capitol Hill, as you well know, is the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.  The drug companies say you should not be able to do this because the industry needs the money in this country for research and development.  The Food and Drug Administration also says that these drugs might be unsafe. 

BORGER:  Senator Lieberman, you first:  Are you for the reimportation of drugs from Canada?

LIEBERMAN:  Yes, I have supported measures to allow for the reimportation of drugs with an FDA approval that it is safe. 

We've got a crisis here and there's something unfair happening. Look, the American pharmaceutical industry has presented us with drugs that are keeping people alive and well a lot longer than they otherwise would be.  But they're asking the American people, and the American people alone, to finance the research that leads to those drugs.  That's not fair. 

We've got to ask the Canadians who have price controls, the Europeans who have price controls, to begin to pay part of that cost.

And, of course, the best way to give prescription drugs to people at an affordable cost is to cover prescription drugs under Medicare and to cover the 41 million Americans who don't have health insurance today, because it's they who get whacked by the cost of prescription drugs, not the people who have health insurance.

WILLIAMS:  Let me jump in here just for a second.

Thirty-second rebuttal to Dr. Dean.  You're the only one here on the panel who has examined a patient, as far as we know.


Respond to what the senator said.

DEAN:  In all due respects to all the candidates here, any of whom would be better than George Bush as president, these folks have been in Washington a long time and talked about health insurance for a long time, and we have very little to show for it. 

DEAN:  In my state, 99 percent of the kids that are eligible for health insurance who are under 18, 96 percent have it.  Everybody under 150 percent of poverty, all our working poor people, have health insurance.  And a lot of seniors have prescription benefits. 

This does need to be a system that's built on what we have. We've done that in Vermont.  I'd like the opportunity to do that for the whole country.

WILLIAMS:  Governor, thank you.

Back to you, Gloria.

BORGER:  Well, Congressman Kucinich, we'll give you a chance to answer the question on the importation of drugs from Canada.

KUCINICH:  Of course, there ought to be reimportation.  But that's beside the point. 

The pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies control our health care system.  And I'm the only one on this stage who's actually introduced legislation, with Congressman Conyers and McDermott, that provides for a totally new change; that has health care for people, not for profit. 

It's called Medicare For All.  It's a single-payer program.  And it's financed by a 7.7 percent tax paid by employers.  And it covers everything.  It covers all medically necessary procedures and a wide range of benefits. 

And it's kind of surprising to have people on this stage who have plans, including Dr. Dean, that would leave 10 million Americans out. I think it's important that all Americans be covered.  And I think that it's important that people receive the ability to have complementary and alternative medicine, to have a prescription drug benefit, to have vision care and dental care and mental health care, to have long-term nursing care all covered under one Medicare For All, single-payer program.

I'm the one who has that plan.  I'm the one who's offering it. I'm the only one on this stage who can say that. 

And I want say, with the doctor advocating that, I think it's time to get a second opinion. 


WILLIAMS:  Congressman, thank you.


So many doctor puns, so little time. 


Gloria, you may continue.

BORGER:  This is for Reverend Sharpton. 

Governor Dean has called this prescription drug plan that is now pending in Congress, quote, "a political trap for Democrats." 

BORGER:  He says that it could make the Democrats look bad if they vote against a bill that they really view is a bad plan. 

Would no bill getting out of Congress be better for senior citizens than the prescription drug bill that is now pending?

SHARPTON:  I think that we must -- again, this process is about what we are going to say to the public we stand for.  And I think that we've got to quit the compromising on the principles that the party should stand for. 

So in this particular case, I agree with Governor Dean.  I have supported single-payer plan.  I think the only way you're going to solve these problems is you've got to have a national single-payer plan for everyone. 

I think that we've got to stop going with half a loaf.  I would rather have no bill and fight for something real than to continue to give people something that I think is a diluted version of what we need to have. 

Plus, I don't think that the bill in any way covers the areas that we need, in terms of giving relief to the senior citizens that we would try to address this to. 

So in this case, I think he's right, I think that we've got to stop acting as though everyone in the party agrees.  We must define policy, and this is one of those areas we must define it.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Reverend.

To Ron Insana.

INSANA:  General Clark and Senator Edwards, if I may switch to a different entitlement program, Social Security, a lot of the people, General, make their money just a few blocks from here at the New York Stock Exchange, and there was great talk many years ago about allowing Americans the opportunity to invest some of their retirement money into the stock market. 

INSANA:  However, Senator Graham has referred to the stock market as a -- simply as a lottery.  Do you share that view, or do you find an appropriate role for stock market investments in the Social Security retirement program?

CLARK:  George Bush said that he would protect Social Security, but all he's done is present tax cuts.  His tax cuts total three times the amount of money needed to make the Social Security system solvent for the next 75 years.

I'm a believer in Social Security.  I think you need to protect that system, I think you need to put the resources into it, I think you need to assure that it's solvent.  And I'll tell you why. 

First, it's right.  It's right because when people work in this country, the wealthiest country in the world, they have a right to be assured that in their elderly years they will have a minimum standard of income.

Secondly, I think it's good business practice, because in the economy we're facing in the future, we want people to move between jobs and job, we want people to move between skill and skill.  We want them to have retirement security, so they can take a chance. 

For both reasons, we need to sustain Social Security.

WILLIAMS:  Ron, I'll give you an extra 30.  Did you get the answer you wanted?

INSANA:  Not at all. 


General, would you allow, or do you favor an individual's being able to invest? 

CLARK:  Let me be more explicit.  I think it's great if individuals invest in the stock market, but not as a substitute for ensuring the solvency of Social Security.  We're going to get Social Security right first. 


And then, we're going to put in place the measures so that individuals can save and invest on top of Social Security. 

And I'm in favor of individual investment and taking care of ordinary working families.  When I was in the United States Army and I was trying to save $100 a month, that savings was important to me.

WILLIAMS:  Senator Edwards, can the stock market be a component of the Social Security retirement system?

EDWARDS:  No, I don't believe it can. 

I think we have to do a number of things.  One is, in order to lengthen the financial viability of Social Security, the single most important thing is to get away from this deficit spending that this president has put us in and move back to fiscal responsibility. 

Which means, in my judgment, what I would do as president is stop President Bush's tax cuts for the top two income tax brackets -- people who make over $200,000 a year -- close a whole group of corporate tax loopholes to generate revenue that will get us back on the path to fiscal responsibility.

I think we also ought to actually raise the capital gains rate for those who earn over $300,000 a year, so that the rate is more in line with the income tax rate paid by people who work for a living. 

But we have a train wreck coming.  We have the onslaught of the baby boomers coming.  We have government that's in deficit, getting deeper into deficit.  What we ought to do is help people save. 

EDWARDS:  We have one of the worst private savings rates in the world.  I would match dollar for dollar the savings of middle-income families to allow them to save privately to help us address this problem.

WILLIAMS:  Senator, thank you. 

All of the candidates who would use too much time in previous segments are discovering rapidly who they are.


Gloria Borger, do you want to continue the questioning? 

BORGER:  Yes. 

Well, Senator Edwards talks about a train wreck that is coming -- and this is for Congressman Gephardt and Ambassador Moseley Braun -- because whenever the future of Social Security is talked about, the issue of retirement age has always been put on the table.  People now live longer and they work longer than they did when the retirement age was set at age 65. 

So, Congressman Gephardt, why not raise it?

GEPHARDT:  Well, I was a leader of the effort in 1983 to make sure Social Security was sound out into the future.  And as part of that legislation, we raised the retirement age -- and that's in the law today -- to 67. 

I'm not for taking it higher than that.  I think we really create problems for people if we do that.

But let me go back to the point that really needs to be made.  We are never going to solve Social Security until we get this economy straightened out. 

There's no longer a mystery of how to do this.  We did it.  I led the fight for the Clinton economic program in 1993.  We got it through.  We didn't get a Republican vote in the House, a Republican vote in the Senate. 

GEPHARDT:  It created 22 million new jobs.  It made our unemployment go down to 3 percent.  We took a $5 trillion deficit and turned it into a $5 trillion surplus.  Why wouldn't we want to go back to that?

BORGER:  Well, back to the retirement age...


... Ambassador Moseley Braun?

MOSELEY BRAUN:  You know, I think if we are actually going to accept our generation's responsibility, that's going to mean that we give our children no less retirement security than we inherited from our parents. 

To me, that means keeping Social Security safe, that means not raising the retirement age, that means not putting on additional restrictions that would give people less upon which to fall back and retire than we inherited. 

I would point out that I was actually surprised at the first question, because, frankly, I have not heard much conversation about privatization of Social Security since Enron.  And you ask any employee from that company and what they'll tell you is that in the absence of a safety net that government guarantees, you might be finding yourself 87 years old, unable to work and unable to have any -- to take care of yourself. 

We have a responsibility to protect Social Security and retirement security.  As the only woman -- the first woman in history to serve on the Senate Finance Committee, I worked hard for retirement security and for women's pensions.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Ambassador.

A question for Governor Dean:  What is your position on raising the retirement age?

DEAN:  We shouldn't do it. 

You know, Dick Gephardt, earlier in his career considered means testing Social Security and Medicare both, something that I have never considered.  I considered raising the Social Security age possibly to 70, possibly to 68. 

DEAN:  I've rejected that.  I think Dick has since rejected means testing Social Security. 

What we're trying to do as Democrats is save Social Security and Medicare both.  And I think we've succeeded in doing that.  In fact, many of the things that I suggested in 1995, which Dick Gephardt has attacked me for, were actually incorporated into the Clinton plan to save Medicare and Social Security, and has resulted in the savings of over $200 billion.

So my view is, we do not need to raise the retirement age above 67.  We do not need to means test Social Security or Medicare. 

If we need to do anything, we may need to raise the cap on earnings in order to make Social Security solvent.

But Social Security is solvent today, and it will remain solvent if we can turn this economy around, and that's what we're all trying to do here.

WILLIAMS:  Congressman Gephardt, we would be remiss.

GEPHARDT:  Howard and I just have a basic disagreement.  He said in, I think, 1993 that Medicare was the worst federal program ever. He said that it was the worst thing that ever happened. 

He also supported, at our darkest hour -- when I was leading the fight against Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America, he was shutting the government down -- Howard, you were agreeing with the very plan that Newt Gingrich wanted to pass, which was a $270 billion cut in Medicare.

Now, you've been saying for many months that you're the head of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.  I think you're just winging it. 

This is not the view of Democrats, in my view. 

This program has been under attack from the Republicans since the beginning.  And we need a candidate against George Bush that can take the fight to him on it, not someone who agreed with the Gingrich Republicans.

WILLIAMS:  Governor Dean?

DEAN:  That is flat-out false, and I'm ashamed that you would compare me with Newt Gingrich.  Nobody up here deserves to be compared to Newt Gingrich. 


DEAN:  First of all, I did say that Medicare was a dreadful program because it's administered dreadfully. 

I've done more for health insurance, Dick Gephardt, frankly, than you ever have, because I've delivered it to a lot of seniors and a lot of young people.  And I'll stake my record on health insurance against anybody up here.

Of course, we're not going to get rid of Medicare, and you are wrong to insinuate so, but we're going to run it properly because we're going to have somebody that actually is taking care of patients running Medicare and Medicaid in the FDA so we can get the things that we need to get to patients.

To insinuate that I would get rid of Medicare is wrong, it's not helpful, and we need to remember that the enemy here is George Bush, not each other.


WILLIAMS:  Reverend Sharpton, you were wanting in here, I'm going to allow you a 30-second rebuttal.

SHARPTON:  Again, I think that we can only solve this if there's a commitment to health care, generally, under a single-payer plan. And I think that the danger of all of these programs is that it doesn't cover all of us. 

And you can get on my Web site,  I'm a different Al than you hung out with before, Joe, but I'm going to win.


But the other thing is, I agree.  I hope we don't, in our distinguishing, make George Bush the winner tonight.  I think all of us have disagreed.  I think clearly we need to make sure we don't give George Bush the night by getting too personal, Hilda (ph) Howard.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)        Thank you, Reverend Sharpton. 

And to Congressman Kucinich on what needs fixing in health care.

KUCINICH:  Well, first of all the Social Security money belongs to Main Street, not to Wall Street. 

KUCINICH:  It needs to be said very clearly here that privatization is off the table.  There will be no privatization when I'm elected president.  I'll block any effort.

Furthermore, none of the other candidates has addressed the real issue here, and that is that people are retiring earlier.  They're retiring at age 62.  And so we ought to take the retirement age back to 65, take the retirement age back to 65.  The money is there. 

Right now, the Bush administration is using the surplus to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.

And Social Security, as a matter of fact, is a better investment now than the stock market.  There's a higher return.  There's guaranteed cost-of-living increases.  Privatization you have to worry about the value of your account. 

I'm saying that Social Security right now, the retirement age ought to go back to age 65.  I challenge every one of my Democratic colleagues to look at the record, look at the trust fund, it's solid through the year 2041, get that money back to workers who are retiring earlier.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Congressman. 

Our questioning will continue with Gerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal.

SEIB:  Let me switch to a different subject, which is energy and energy security, and address this question to Senator Kerry and Senator Joe Lieberman.

Just yesterday, OPEC announced a production cutback and the price of oil jumped immediately.  How can you say on one hand that there is a paramount economic and national security need to reduce dependence on imported, and specifically Middle Eastern, oil, while on the other hand oppose drilling in one section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska?

Senator Kerry, you first.

KERRY:  Because the Arctic Wildlife Refuge won't provide a drop of oil for 20 years. 

KERRY:  And because the total amount of oil, if it were to come through at the level that some people in the oil industry predict, will amount to about a 1 to 2 percent reduction in the total dependency of the United States on oil. 

We only have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves, Gerry.  There is no physical or metaphysical way for the United States of America to drill its way out of this problem.  We have to invent our way out of this problem. 

And the sooner that we have a president who understands that and begins to commit America to the science, the discovery, to the alternatives, to the renewables, to begin to press America toward the great journey toward energy independence, the better off America will be, the better our health will be, the more effective our economy would be and, frankly, the better our national security will be and the better world citizen we will be. 

I think the OPEC rise yesterday absolutely underscores the danger to the United States of this current dependency.  We need to commit ourselves to energy independence now.


SEIB:  Thank you, Senator.

Senator Lieberman, you see any other alternatives?

LIEBERMAN:  Well, I sure do. 

Look, there's been a widespread loss of confidence in George Bush's economic policies.  And the OPEC decision to cut the supply of oil shows that even George Bush's buddies in OPEC have lost confidence in his economic plans, because they based that cut in supply on a projected cut and demand because they see America in a jobless recovery. 

LIEBERMAN:  It's going to take a Democratic president to begin to create jobs again. 

And one of the ways we're going to do it with a declaration of real energy independence, so no matter how strong we are, we can't have our strength be compromised by the countries in OPEC.

I am for increasing the average fuel efficiency of our vehicles to 40 miles a gallon.  That's critical.  I'm for investing billions of dollars in creating new, alternative renewable energy technologies and giving tax credits to people who buy them. 

We can get together and make ourselves energy-independent and stronger economically.


WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Senator.

We'll go over to Ron Insana.

INSANA:  Senator Graham, the energy problems in this country don't extend only to petroleum and petroleum production.  On August 14th of this year, this area of the country and much of the rest of the East Coast suffered an enormous power blackout.

The Bush administration wants to give more control of the electrical grid to the states.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would like to see the federal government solve the problem.

Two questions:  Who do you think should solve the problem, or has jurisdiction, if you will; and how should the problem be solved?

GRAHAM:  This is another example that one of the recurring themes of the Bush administration, is to divide Americans, not bring us together.

We've just been talking about the issue, the future of Social Security; that's a division between generations in America.

The issue of who's going to pay for the cost of rebuilding our electric system is a regional conflict within America. 

GRAHAM:  We need to be looking at ways to solve problems as Americans, not as subgroups of Americans. 

The way we ought to deal with this electric grid program is through a combination of the companies, and their customers, and the federal government and the state. 

In the plan that we have presented, Opportunity For All, we provide the funds for the federal share of a massive rebuilding of not only our electric system but also our other critical transportation and urban systems upon which we and our economy are sustained.

WILLIAMS:  Senator Graham, thank you.

A brief note:  I've been asked to ask the audience again to limit applause.

And to Gloria.

BORGER:  This is to Senator Edwards, back on trade:  You know that President Bush imposed tariffs on imported steel last year. Reports are that the administration is now considering rolling back those tariffs. 

If you were president, what would you do?

EDWARDS:  I supported the tariffs as the time.  I think they were important, given the surge of steel that had come into the United States.  I think it was the right thing to do.  I supported it at the time.

We've just gotten a new report, which we're in the process of looking at -- we're examining right now. 

My reaction to what I've seen so far is it may be time to ease off on the tariffs.  It may actually be the right thing to do, given the result of the report.

I also want to say something about the exchange that took place just a few minutes ago.  We need to be really careful that our anger is not directed at each other. 

The reason I want to be president of the United States is to change the course of America, to make sure that everyone in this country gets the opportunity that they're entitled to, no matter where they live or what they color of their skin, what family they're born into.  That's the America I want to be build as president. 

EDWARDS:  And I think those of us on this stage have an obligation, not just to the Democratic Party, but to the American people to make sure we do that.

WILLIAMS:  Let me hop in for a quick rebuttal from Governor Dean. 

What do you think about internecine warfare here among Democrats?

DEAN:  I don't think we should ever have internecine warfare. And I promise never to have internecine warfare.

WILLIAMS:  How about little flashes of anger?

DEAN:  Well, little flashes of disagreement are going to happen from time to time. 

The truth is that we have fundamental policy disagreements here. And what we really need to do is confront George Bush with what he's done to this country. 

But I do think it's important that if folks are going to talk about us being like Newt Gingrich, that we're not going to stand for that.  There is nobody up here that's like Newt Gingrich, and I think we have to understand that.

WILLIAMS:  Senator Kerry, I'll give you 30 seconds, and then we really do have to...

KERRY:  Well, in defense of Dick Gephardt, I didn't hear him say he was like Newt Gingrich, I heard him say that he stood with Newt Gingrich when we were struggling to hold on to Medicare.  That's a policy difference. 

It's also a policy difference when Governor Dean says that we could balance the budget by cutting veterans' benefits, cutting Social Security, cutting defense.  "It'd be tough," he says, "but we could do it."

Now, I think these are policy difference that we need to discuss, and it's perfectly fair.

WILLIAMS:  Our discussion of policy differences and plain old policy will continue from the Lower Manhattan campus of Pace University.  Still a lot to go.  We'll talk about trade when we come back.



Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV  |  Main

Copyright 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.