Edited version of transcript of interview with Vice President Gore on Saturday, Dec. 4, 1999, in Portsmouth, N.H.
On his prediction he would win the Feb. 2 New Hampshire primary:
"I always have a similar formulation in discussing the prospect of victory . . . It's something like, `With the support of Gov. Shaheen and with your support and with the hard work that is coming in the days ahead we're going to finish Number 1.
"I always do it that way to avoid setting off my battery-powered hubris alarm that I have set on vibrate here, partly because I actually think that's the case. You can't predict the future, you have to motivate the future -- I mean you have to create the future in part by motivating people to share your vision of the future."
On his improved prospects:
"Yes. I think it's time to drop the hockey puck; this is a real face-off here and it's very close and it's a hard-fought contest. I'm campaigning like an underdog . . . I feel a lot of enthusiasm on the part of my supporters here. I feel like I'm connecting well with the audiences I'm addressing here and with the individuals I'm talking with here."
On whether he ever thought the Democratic nomination was slipping away:
"Hmmm. I never think about that. But certainly there was a turning point in the race in the late summer when the stiffness of the challenge and the closeness of competition played a significant role in helping me realize the need to stop thinking like a vice president running for president and start thinking and campaigning like a candidate for president who just happens to be vice president. And that may sound like a subtle shift but it made all the difference.
"Intention and focus are seemingly intangible factors, but actually are often the most important factors in determining the difference between success and failure in any human endeavor."
On changes made this fall to his campaign team and approach?
"The subtle shift -- deceptively subtle shift -- that I referred to a moment ago led to a more significant change in my ability to focus on with a single-minded intent to win this race. And not only to win the race but to communicate clearly and directly with the American people about my vision for the future of this country, my responses and attitudes toward their dreams and hopes about the future of the country.
"That in turn had further cascading consequences, one of which was my ability to see the need to shake up the campaign so that it could connect, so it could have a single focus and clearer intent." On moving his campaign headquarters to Nashville:
"I moved it to Nashville partly to downsize it in a way that would retain only those who had that focus and intent or only those who could afford to maintain that focus and intent. There were quite a lot of good people who couldn't move because of their families, but those who did could, and those who could are focused single-mindedly now on making this campaign one that connects successfully with the American people.
"That in turn led to different activities including the decision to have open meetings, the decision to challenge [former N.J. senator Bill] Bradley to debate every week. I renew that challenge at least once a week every week and I hope he will some day be willing to accept because I think that would be good for our country and good for our democracy."
"But all those changes flowed in the first instance from a relatively subtle shift that I made in significant measure because of the tough competition from senator Bradley. And also because of the total immersion in the campaign itself and the necessity of opening up to what the experience of the campaign was telling me."
On his criticism of Bill Bradley's health care proposal:
"First of all let me preface any comments about this issue with the same comment I always make in this give and take. I made it today, I try to state this every time I offer a criticism of a particular policy he has advocated -- he is a good man, I do not challenge his character in any way. He is an able person, he has a fine reputation and I like him as an individual -- okay?
"None of this is about him as a person, his character or anything like that. But the specific plans that he offers and that I offer for how to solve problems like health care ought to be debated in this campaign; the same with education, same with economic policy and across the board.
"I have challenged him to debate these plans in a give-and-take format and he has not been willing to do that. We've been doing it by long distance but I want to do it direct and face-to-face in a real debate format and I challenged him to debate once a week, every week on a different topic each week and he refuses to do that."
On Bradley's criticism of his own health plan: "My health care plan if enacted would be the boldest new change since Medicare and Medicaid. It would take us far down the road toward universal health insurance and the first step would be to provide health care to every child in America. That's the first step in my health care plan and then it moves beyond that to give health coverage to the families of those children up to 250 percent of the poverty level. And then children above and families above that level-there are about two million in families above 250 percent-they would be able to buy into the plan at a reduced rate.
"Then it provides a 25 percent tax credit for individuals who do not get health insurance at work to be able to buy their health insurance including those who have already done so. It provides small business employers with a 25 percent tax credit for each and every employee in the small business to cover their employee.
"It provides a long-term care tax credit for long-term care and features such as a national network of family care giving support centers. It also includes enactment of the health care patient's bill of rights and it provides 15 percent of the surplus to safeguard Medicare and include a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. I put out all the specifics."
On the question of whether his critique of Bradley's health plan resembles GOP attacks on President Clinton's 1993 health proposal:
"Not at all. First of all the two plans are not in any way comparable. He does not propose universal health coverage at all; he doesn't come close to universal.
"His plan, according to every single independent analysis shows it does not come close to universal health coverage. Even if you define universal health coverage as 95 percent instead of 100 percent, he doesn't even come close. He doesn't even get to 90 percent. Now both of the plans we both offered cover just shy of 90 percent of American people, the difference is his plan spends three times as much because it devotes two-thirds of the money in his plan to those who already have health insurance, many of them wealthy. As a consequence it is more than a trillion dollars. By his own estimates it's $650 billion. When you add the other campaign promises he has laid out, even by his own numbers, he has already spent the entire budget surplus. By all of the independent analyses I am aware of he spends more than a trillion dollars."
On the cost of Bradley's health plan:
"He told your newspaper that he may raise taxes in order to pay for it and that he really doesn't know where the money for his plan will come from. He has said maybe giant savings will come from eliminating paperwork in the health care plan. Well, um, okay, but how much is that? Not very much. Nobody thinks that's very much. Where is the rest of it going to come? He would fall very quickly into raising taxes to give two-thirds of the new tax revenue to people who already have health insurance."
On Bradley's belief there are inequities in the current health system:
"People who have health insurance do have a subsidy. There are huge subsidies already in the tax code. You can always find some equity questions when people get different kinds of subsidies in when there are different situations. I'm trying to alleviate some of those inequities by giving individuals who do not get health insurance at work an opportunity to get the same subsidy they would get if their employers bought them health insurance.
"Beyond this, the two most serious mistakes I think he's made in the design of this plan are: number one he eliminates Medicaid, which covers 40 million Americans, many of them in dire circumstances. He proposes as a substitute for Medicaid a completely unworkable system of vouchers that are capped at $150 a month. There are people here . . . who get Medicaid coverage that cannot possibly in a million years find on the private market at anywhere close to $150 a month.
"He says that he will let these people buy into the federal employees benefits plan. Ninety-five percent of the people who have the federal employees benefits plan coverage today have plans that cost far more than $150 a month. So what is his answer to that? His answer is, `Well I may raise taxes or we may make adjustments.' What adjustments? What adjustments?"
On whether he believes Bradley is the type of person or politician who would jeopardize the health care of the poor and abolish federal nursing home standards:
"The question supposes that my inference about his attitude is more import than an objective reading of the facts of his plan. I don't know what his attitude is . . . It's really all about the objective facts of his health care plan. He eliminates Medicaid-the national standards for nursing homes are part of the Medicaid plan. If it is turned over to the states -- where's the language from his plan on turning it over to the states? I'll just give you the exact language."
"The language in his own plan says this will be given up by the federal government. It will be turned over to the states. If he does that, the national stands for nursing homes are GONE! And to use a gesture banned in the NFL, the nursing home standards are gone." (Gore sweeps his hand across his throat in a slitting motion.) And that's the objective result of his plan."
On being animated by the competition with Bradley:
"I got animated in response to the question about his attitude. The competition is healthy. Campaigns ought to be about issues. They shouldn't be about, you know, attitude or personality or style. I think that people are going to ultimately vote for someone they feel comfortable with, someone they like, someone they think has good judgment and good character and good competence and the ability to do the job of president extremely well.
"I think one of the factors that they're going to take into account is experience. And I think that a huge, emerging issue in this campaign is who has the experience to keep our prosperity going and avoid the kind of mistakes -- big mistakes that have been made in the past that have put our prosperity at risk. If we eliminate the budget surplus and put our nation right back into budget deficits again we are putting our prosperity at risk. If we don't debate that issue then we are not debating the most important issue in this campaign. Most people believe that our ability address problems like health care, environmental protection, improvements in public schools, diplomacy and foreign policy and military modernization all depend on whether we keep our prosperity going."
On the cost of other candidates' campaign proposals:
"Both senator Bradley and each of the Republican candidates have proposed the complete elimination of the budget surplus in their first campaign pledges. In the case of senator Bradley, a trillion dollar plan on health care that eliminates Medicaid and doesn't save a penny for Medicare and completely obliterates the surplus. In the case of Gov. Bush and the Republicans, a trillion dollar plus tax scheme that does the same thing in a different way.
"One of the successes in the Clinton-Gore administration has been to get economic policy and to keep the fundamentals of our economy sound. If they're going to put those fundamentals at risk I'm going to blow the whistle on them.
On the fact that he scaled back his own tax plan when challenged on whether it would eat up the surpluses:
"First of all I have kept to my determination to have every single campaign pledge and promise and proposal fit within a balanced budget. Part of the price I have had to pay for that is in reducing the size of the initial tax cut that I think is wise to include in the first budget that I offer.
[The Gore tax plan] "is between $150 and $350 billion. I'm talking about tax cuts, senator Bradley is talking about tax increases.
"Look, we have the largest surplus in the history of the United States. This is not a time when we ought to be talking about tax increases."
On whether he feels so strongly about a policy goal, as Bradley said he does of expanding health care coverage, that if the only way to accomplish it was through higher taxes would he do that:
"That's not the way I read that. The way I read that is that he has been forced to acknowledge that he has absolutely no way to pay for the plan that he has proposed and when push comes to shove he says if the paperwork savings don't pay for it and if the $2 billion mining subsidy . . . doesn't do it then he will raise taxes. When he puts that on the table in the context of a massive scheme that obliterates the entire 10-year surplus and then some, I think that says to people who know how to read campaign rhetoric is that he thinks it's very likely that that's what he's going to end up doing.
"My approach is completely different. We have the biggest surpluses in history. We have a chance to pay down the national debt and continue reducing debt service. We have a chance if we don't obliterate the surplus to keep our prosperity going. Now if he, in raising taxes in that scenario, you're talking about going through the entire surplus and then you don't have enough and you raise taxes, that's really what he's getting at. By then, before he ever got to raising taxes, our prosperity would already be dangerously at risk. Interest rates would already be pushed up. What I'm telling you is that continuing our prosperity is essential not only to the standard of living for Americans but also for the ability of our country to finance new initiatives whether in health care or education or environment or other areas.
"In the present circumstances I would have no plans whatsoever [to raise taxes.] I would have plans for targeted affordable tax cuts."
On his intensifying criticism of Bradley's agenda:
"Here's what I think is happening in the campaign dialogue. I think that he had a very strong tactical motivation to try to go as far to the left as he could in his rhetoric and in his campaign imagery. And he tried and tried to come up with a proposal for universal health insurance and couldn't figure out how to do it. And so his advisers served up to him a plan that was deeply flawed, that he made a mistake in adopting. It isn't universal health insurance, it's not even close. It doesn't improve health care, it eliminates Medicaid and puts the solvency of Medicare at enhanced risk.
"What has happened in the campaign dialogue for the last month or more is that every day a new problem with his plan has appeared. Just yesterday the HIV-AIDs community, AIDs Action based in Washington . . . put out a statement that the HIV AIDs community is strongly opposed to what the Bradley plan does because 50 percent of Americans with AIDS depend totally on Medicaid and a $150 a month voucher doesn't even begin to meet their needs. What you have is a series of situations where Sen. Bradley is forced to say well I'll make an adjustment for that. But what adjustment?
"He was in Boston to the editorial board of the Globe. A questioner points out `Well look, the cheapest option for the federal employees benefit plan is not $1,800 it's $8,000. How do you make up that difference here in this region.' He said `Oh, we'll make adjustments for that.' The Washington Post editorial board says `Hey look, what you told us is going to be the source of the money to pay for this plan doesn't seem to add up. So how are you going to fill in the gaps.' He said `I'll make adjustments for that; I may raise taxes for that one.'
"And so his initial mistake in adopting a deeply flawed plan has resulted in him going constantly on the defensive and back-peddling on the substance of the issue. At the end of the day, what most reasonable objective observers are going to conclude is you cannot fix health care in this country by eliminating Medicaid and putting the solvency of Medicare at risk and this plan is deeply flawed because the numbers don't even begin to add up. What makes more sense is the kind of plan I proposed is the kind of plan I proposed which takes us responsibly step by step toward universal health care by starting with the insurance of every child in America."
On whether the Medicaid would have continued under the Clinton health plan:
"No. But what I have said about senator Bradley's is if you eliminate Medicaid and put in its place something that is better, fine. But what he proposes to put in its place is a system of little vouchers limited to $150 a month."
On what the two or three biggest priorities of a Gore administration would be:
"To start with, keeping our prosperity going and then using it for the following goals. To bring about revolutionary improvements in our public schools through a set of specific changes aimed at reducing the size of every classroom, the number of students in a classroom. Recruiting more teachers, raising standards and making other changes embodied in the first campaign plan that I put forward, which was my education reform plan.
"Second, extending fully affordable high quality health care to every child in America before the end of the next presidential term and millions more by including the families of those with incomes of up to 250 percent of the poverty rate and the other groups that I have mentioned and heading us down the road toward universal health insurance for every American.
"Cleaning up the environment with higher standards for clean air and clean water and a leadership role to address the problem of global warming. Completing the task of reinventing government as a means of enhancing our ability reach these other goals."
On his comment about Love Canal and whether he has a tendency to embellish or exaggerate his accomplishments:
"If I gave a misimpression to anyone who heard me, I apologize. What I meant to say and tried to say what that a family in Tennessee contacted me about a specific problem with chemical waste in their well and in investigating that problem I looked around the country to see if there were any other communities where people had experienced the same kind of problem, and I found a community in upstate New York where the people there had the same kind of problem. And I had a hearing that combined the problem in Tennessee with the problem in New York state and elucidated a nationwide problem and had the first hearings on that nationwide problem."