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Transcript of the Boston Presidential Debate


___ Debate Referee ___

Referee Washington Post staff writer Charles Babington makes the calls, examining the candidates' claims and charges from tonight's debate. Click on the "referee" icons in the text below to see Babington's analysis. Staff writers Glenn Kessler and Ceci Connolly contributed to this feature. Related Story

Bush's Experience
Taxes and Spending
Prescription Drug Coverage
Whose Medication Would Be Covered?
Federal Tax Burden
RU486 'Abortion Pill'
Gore's Tax Cutting Plan
Bush's Tax Cutting Plan
Social Security
Campaign Finance Reform

Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Following is the transcript of tonight's presidential debate between Vice President Gore (D) and Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R). The nationally televised debate was moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS.

First of three pages.

LEHRER: Good evening from the Clark Athletic Center at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. I'm Jim Lehrer of "The NewsHour" on PBS. And I welcome you to the first of three 90-minute debates between the Democratic candidate for president, Vice President Al Gore, and the Republican candidate, Governor George W. Bush of Texas.

The debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and they will be conducted within formats and rules agreed to by the commission and the two campaigns.

Tonight's will have the candidates at podiums. No answer to a question can exceed two minutes. Rebuttals are limited to one minute. But as moderator, I have the option to follow up and to extend any particular give and take another three and a half minutes. But even then, no single answer can exceed two minutes.

The candidates, under their rules, may not question each other directly. There will be no opening statements, but each candidate may have up to two minutes for a closing statement.

The questions and the subjects were chosen by me alone. I have told no one from the two campaigns or the commission or anyone else involved what they are.

They are not here to participate, only to listen.

I have asked and they have agreed to remain silent for the next 90 minutes, except for right now, when they will applaud as we welcome the two candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore.


And now, the first question. As determined by the flip of a coin, it goes to Vice President Gore.

Vice President Gore, you have questioned whether Governor Bush has the experience to be president of the United States. What exactly do you mean?

Debate Referee
GORE: Well, Jim, first of all I would like to thank the sponsors of this debate and the people of Boston for hosting the debate. I'd like to thank Governor Bush for participating. And I'd like to say I'm happy to be here with Tipper and our family.

I have actually not questioned Governor Bush's experience; I have questioned his proposals. And here's why: I think this is very important moment for our country. We have achieved extraordinary prosperity. And in this election, America has to make an important choice: Will we use our prosperity to enrich not just the few but all of our families?

I believe we have to make the right and responsible choices.

If I'm entrusted with the presidency, here are the choices that I will make: I'll balance the budget every year. I will pay down the national debt. I will put Medicare and Social Security in a lockbox and protect it. And I will cut taxes for middle class families.

I believe it's important to resist the temptation to squander our surplus. If we make the right choices, we can have a prosperity that endures and enriches all of our people.

If I'm entrusted with the presidency, I will help parents and strengthen families, because, you know, if we have prosperity that grows and grows, we still won't be successful unless we strengthen families by, for example, ensuring that children can always go to schools that are safe, by giving parents the tools to protect their children against cultural pollution.

I will make sure that we invest in our country and our families. And I mean investing in education, health care, the environment and middle class tax cuts and retirement security. That's my agenda, and that's why I think that it's not just question of experience.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, one minute rebuttal.

BUSH: Well, we do come from different places. And I come from West Texas. I've been a governor. Governor is the chief executive officer and learns how to set agendas, and I think you're going to find the difference reflect in our budgets.

I want to take one-half of the surplus and dedicate it to Social Security, one-quarter of the surplus for important projects, and I want to send one-quarter of the surplus back to the people who pay the bills. I want everybody who pays taxes to have their tax rates cut.

Now that stands in contrast to my worthy opponent's plan, which will increase the size of government dramatically. His plan is three times larger than President Clinton's proposed plan eight years ago. It's a plan that will have 200 new programs, as well--or expanded programs. It'll create 20,000 new bureaucrats. In other words, it empowers Washington.

And tonight you're going to hear that my passion and my vision is to empower Americans to be able to make decisions for themselves in their own lives.

LEHRER: So, I take it by your answer then, Mr. Vice President, that in your--an interview recently with the New York Times, when you said that you question whether vice president--or Governor Bush was experienced enough to be president, you were talking about strictly policy differences?

GORE: Yes, Jim. I said that his tax cut plan, for example, raises the question of whether it's the right choice for the country. And let me give you an example of what I mean: Under Governor Bush's tax cut proposal, he would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent than all of the new spending that he proposes for education, health care, prescription drugs and national defense, all combined. Now, I think those are the wrong priorities.

Now, under my proposal, for every dollar that I propose in spending for things like education and health care, I will put another dollar into middle class tax cuts.

And for every dollar that I spend in those two categories, I'll put two dollars toward paying down the national debt. I think it's very important to keep the debt going down and completely eliminate it.

And I also think it's very important to go to the next stage of welfare reform. Our country has cut the welfare rolls in half. I fought hard, from my days in the Senate and as vice president, to cut the welfare rolls, and we've moved millions of people in America into good jobs. But it's now time for the next stage of welfare reform and include fathers and not only mothers.

LEHRER: We're going to get to a lot of those.

Yes, go ahead, Governor.

BUSH: Well, let me just said that obviously tonight we're going to hear some phony numbers about what I think and what we ought to do. People need to know that, over the next 10 years, there's going to be $25 trillion of revenue that comes into our Treasury, and we anticipate spending $21 trillion.

BUSH: And my plan says, why don't we pass $1.3 trillion of that back to the people who pay the bills? Surely we can afford 5 percent of the $25 trillion that are coming into the Treasury to the hard-working people who pay the bills.

There's a difference of opinion. My opponent thinks the government--the surplus is the government's money. That's not what I think. I think it's the hard-working people of America's money, and I want to share some of that money with you, so you've got more money to build and save and dream for your families.

It's a difference of opinion. It's the difference between government making decisions for you and you getting more of your money to make decisions for yourself.

LEHRER: Let me just follow up, one quick question. When you hear Vice President Gore question your experience, do you read it the same way, that he's talking about policy differences only?

BUSH: Yes. I take him for his word. I mean, look, I fully recognize I'm not of Washington. I'm from Texas. And he's got a lot of experience, but so do I. And I've been the chief executive officer of the second-biggest state in the Union. And I've had a proud record of working with both Republicans and Democrats, which is what our nation needs. We need somebody who can come up to Washington and say, "Look, let's forget all the politics and all the finger-pointing and get some positive things done on Medicare and prescription drugs and Social Security." And so, I take him for his word.

GORE: Jim, if I could just respond?

LEHRER: Just quick and then we need to move on.

GORE: I know that.

Debate Referee
The governor used the phrase "phony numbers," but if you--if you look at the plan and add the numbers up, these numbers are correct. He spends more money for tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent in all of his new spending proposals for health care, prescription drugs, education and national defense, all combined.

I agree that the surplus is the American people's money; it's your money. That's why I don't think we should give nearly half of it to the wealthiest 1 percent, because the other 99 percent have had an awful lot to do with building this surplus and our prosperity.

LEHRER: All right, three-and-a-half minutes is up. New question.

BUSH: I hope it's about wealthy people.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, you have questioned--this is a companion question to the question I asked Vice President Gore.


LEHRER: You have questioned whether Vice President Gore has demonstrated the leadership qualities necessary to be president of the United States. What do you mean by that?

Debate Referee
BUSH: Well, here's what I've said: I've said, Jim, I've said that eight years ago they campaigned on prescription drugs for seniors, and four years ago they campaigned on getting prescription drugs for seniors, and now they're campaigning on getting prescription drugs for seniors. It seems like they can't get it done. Now they may blame other folks, but it's time to get somebody in Washington who is going to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get some positive things done when it comes to our seniors.

And so what I've said is, is there's been some missed opportunities. They've had a chance. They've had a chance to form consensus. I've got a plan on Medicare, for example, that's a two-stage plan that says we're going to have immediate help for seniors in what I call "Immediate Helping Hand," a $48 billion program.

But I also want to say to seniors, if you're happy with Medicare the way it is, fine, you can stay in the program. But we're going to give you additional choices just like they give federal employees in the federal employee health plan. Federal employees have got a variety of choices from which to choose, so should seniors.

And my point has been, as opposed to politicizing an issue like Medicare--in other words, holding it up as an issue, hoping somebody bites and then try to clobber them over the head with it for political purposes--this year, in the year 2000, it's time to say, let's get it done once and for all. And that's what I have been critical about the administration for.

Same with Social Security. I think there was a good opportunity to bring Republicans and Democrats together to reform the Social Security system so the seniors will never go without. Those on Social Security today will have their promise made.

But also to give younger workers the option at their choice of being able to manage some of their own money in the private sectors to make sure there's a Social Security system around tomorrow. There's a lot of young workers at our rallies we go to, that when they hear that I'm going to trust them at their option to be able to manage, under certain guidelines, some of their own money to get a better rate of return so that they'll have a retirement plan in the future, they begin to nod their heads. And they want a different attitude in Washington.

LEHRER: One minute rebuttal, Vice President Gore.

GORE: Well, Jim, under my plan, all seniors will get prescription drugs under Medicare. The governor has described Medicare as a government HMO; it's not. And let me explain the difference.

Under the Medicare prescription drug proposal I'm making, here's how it works: You go to your own doctor and your doctor chooses your prescription, and no HMO or insurance company can take those choices away from you. Then you go to your own pharmacy, you fill the prescription and Medicare pays half the cost. If you're in a very poor family or you have very high costs, Medicare will pay all the costs, a $25 premium and much better benefits than you can possibly find in the private sector.

Now here's the contrast. Ninety-five percent of all seniors would get no help whatsoever, under my opponent's plan, for the first four or five years.

Debate Referee
Now, one thing I don't understand, Jim, is, why is it that the wealthiest 1 percent get their tax cuts the first year, but 95 percent of seniors have to wait four to five years before they get a single penny?

LEHRER: Governor?

BUSH: I guess my answer to that is, the man's running on Mediscare, trying to frighten people in the voting booth. That's just not the way I think, and I that's just not my intentions. That's not my plan.

I want all seniors to have prescription drugs and Medicare. We need to reform Medicare. There have been opportunity to do so, but this administration has failed to do it.

And so seniors are going to have not only a Medicare plan where the poor seniors will have their prescriptions paid for, but there will be a variety of options.

The current system today has meant a lot for a lot of seniors, and I really appreciate the intentions of the current system. And as I mentioned, if you're happy with the system, you can stay in it.

But there's a lot of procedures that have not kept up in Medicare with the current times. There's no prescription drug benefits, there's no drug therapies, there's no preventing medicines, there's no vision care.

I mean, we need to have a modern system to help seniors. And the idea of supporting a federally controlled, 132,000-page document bureaucracy as being a compassionate way for seniors is--and the only compassionate source of care for seniors, is just not my vision.

I believe we ought to give seniors more options. I believe we ought to make the system work better. But I know this: I know it's going to require a different kind of leader to go to Washington to say to both Republicans and Democrats, "Let's come together."

You've had your chance, Vice President. You've been there for eight years and nothing has been done.

And my point is is that my plan not only trusts seniors with options, my plan sets aside $3.4 trillion for Medicare over the next 10 years. My plan also says it's going to require a new approach in Washington, D.C.

BUSH: It's going to require somebody who can work across the partisan divide.

Debate Referee
GORE: If I could respond to that? Jim, under my plan, I will put Medicare in an iron-clad lockbox and prevent the money from being used for anything other than Medicare. The governor has declined to endorse that idea, even though the Republican as well as Democratic leaders of Congress have endorsed it.

I'd be interested to see if he would this evening say that he would put Medicare in a lockbox. I don't think he will, because under his plan, if you work out the numbers, $100 billion comes out of Medicare just for the wealthiest 1 percent in the tax cut.

Now here is the difference: Some people who say the word "reform" actually mean cuts. Under the governor's plan, if you kept the same fee-for-service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18 and 47 percent. And that's the study of the congressional plan that he's modeled his proposal on by the Medicare actuaries.

Let me just give you one quick example: There's a man here tonight named George McKinney from Milwaukee. He's 70 years old, he has high blood pressure, his wife has heart trouble. They have income of $25,000 a year. They cannot pay for their prescription drugs. And so they're some of the ones that go to Canada regularly in order to get their prescription drugs.

Under my plan, half of their costs would be paid right away. Under Governor Bush's plan, they would get not one penny for four to five years, and then they would be forced to go into an HMO or to an insurance company and ask them for coverage, but there would be no limit on the premiums or the deductibles or any other terms and conditions.

BUSH: I cannot let this go by, the old-style Washington politics, of "We're going to scare you in the voting booth."

Under my plan, the man gets immediate help with prescription drugs. It's called "Immediate Helping Hand." Instead of squabbling and finger-pointing, he gets immediate help.

Let me say something. Now, I understand--excuse me...


GORE: Jim, can I...


LEHRER: ... minutes is up, but we'll finish that.

GORE: Can I make one other point? They get $25,000 a year income. That makes them ineligible.

BUSH: Look, this is the man who's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think, not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.


It's fuzzy math. It's to scare them, trying to scare people in the voting booth.

Debate Referee
Under my tax plan, that he continues to criticize, I set a third. You know, the federal government should take more of that--no more than a third of anybody's check. But I also dropped the bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, because, by far, the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.

If you're a family of four in Massachusetts making $50,000, you get a 50 percent cut in the federal income taxes you pay. It's from $4,000 to about $2,000.

Now, the difference in our plans is, I want that $2,000 to go to you.

LEHRER: All right. Let me--hold on.

BUSH: And the vice president would like to be spending the $2,000 on your behalf.

LEHRER: One quick thing, gentlemen. These are your rules. I'm doing my best. We're way over the three-and-a-half. I have no problems with it, but we wanted--do you want to have a quick response, and we'll move on. We're already almost five minutes on this, alright?

GORE: Yes. It's just clearer--you can go to the web site and look. If you make more than $25,000 a year, you don't get a penny of help under the Bush prescription drug proposal for at least four to five years. And then you're pushed into a Medicare--into an HMO or an insurance company plan, and there's no limit on the premiums or the deductibles or any of the conditions. And the insurance companies say that it won't work and they won't offer these plans.

LEHRER: Let me ask you both this, and we'll move on, on this subject. As a practical matter, both of you want to bring prescription drugs to seniors. Correct?

BUSH: Correct.

GORE: Correct, but the difference is--the difference is I want to bring it to 100 percent, and he brings it only to 5 percent.

LEHRER: All right. All right. All right.

BUSH: That's just--that's just--that's just totally false.

LEHRER: All right. What difference does it make how...

BUSH: Wait a minute. It's just totally false for him to stand up here and say that.

Let me make sure the senior hear me loud and clear. They've had their chance to get something done. I'm going to work with both Republicans and Democrats to reform the system. All seniors will be covered. All poor seniors will have their prescription drugs paid for. In the meantime--in the meantime, we're going to have a plan to help poor seniors. And "in the meantime" could be one year or two years.

GORE: Let me--let me call your attention to the key word there. He said all "poor" seniors.

BUSH: No. Wait a minute, all seniors are covered under prescription drugs in my plan.

GORE: In the first year? In the first year?

BUSH: If we can get it done in the first year, you bet. Yours is phased in eight years.

GORE: No. No. No. No. It's a two-phased plan, Jim. And for the first four years--it takes a year to pass it. And for the first four years, only the poor are covered. Middle class seniors like George McKinney and his wife are not covered for four to five years.

LEHRER: I've got an idea.


LEHRER: You have any more to say about this, you can say it in your closing statement, so we'll move on, OK?

New question, Vice President Gore. How would you contrast your approach to preventing future--future--oil price and supply problems like we have now to the approach of Governor Bush?

GORE: Excellent question, and here's the--here's the simple difference: My plan has not only a short-term component, but also a long-term component, and it focuses not only on increasing the supply, which I think we have to do, but also on working on the consumption side.

Now, in the short term, we have to free ourselves from the domination of the big oil companies that have the ability to manipulate the price, from OPEC when they want to raise the price. And in the long term, we have to give new incentives for the development of domestic resources, like deep gas in the western Gulf, like stripper wells for oil, but also renewable sources of energy and domestic sources that are cleaner and better.

And I'm proposing a plan that will give tax credits and tax incentives for the rapid development of new kinds of cars and trucks and buses and factories and boilers and furnaces that don't have as much pollution, that don't burn as much energy and that help us get out on the cutting edge of the new technologies that will create millions of new jobs, because when we sell these new products here, we'll then be able to sell them overseas. And there's a ravenous demand for them overseas.

GORE: Now another big difference is, Governor Bush is proposing to open up our--some of our most precious environmental treasures, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to the big oil companies to go in and start producing oil there. I think that is the wrong choice. It would only give us a few months worth of oil, and the oil wouldn't start flowing for many years into the future. And I don't think it's a fair price to pay to, to destroy precious parts of America's environment.

We have to bet on the future and move beyond the current technologies to have a whole new generation of more efficient, cleaner energy technologies.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, one minute.

BUSH: Well it's an issue I know a lot about. I was a small oil person for a while in West Texas. This is an administration that's had no plan. And all of a sudden, the results of having no plan have caught up with America.

First and foremost, we got to make sure we fully fund LIHEAP, which is a way to help low-income folks, particularly here in the East, to pay for their high fuel bills.

Secondly, we need an active exploration program in America. The only way to become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil is to explore at home.

And you bet I want to open up a small part of--a part of Alaska because when that field is online, it will produce a million barrels a day. Today we import a million barrels from Saddam Hussein.

BUSH: I would rather that a million come from our own hemisphere, our own country, as opposed from Saddam Hussein.

I want to build more pipelines to move natural gas throughout this hemisphere. I want to develop the coal resources in America and have clean-coal technologies.

We've got abundant supplies of energy here in America, and we better get out there and better start exploring it, otherwise we're going to be in deep trouble in the future because of our dependency upon foreign sources of crude.

LEHRER: So, if somebody is watching tonight, listening to what the two of you just said, is it fair to say, OK, the differences between Vice President Gore and George W. Bush, Governor Bush, are the following: You are for doing something on the consumption end, you're for doing something on the production end...

GORE: Let me clarify. I'm for doing something both on the supply side and production side and on the consumption side. And let me say that I found one thing in Governor Bush's answer that we certainly agree on and that's the low-income heating assistance program, and I commend you for supporting that. I worked to get $400 million just a couple of weeks ago and to establish a permanent home heating oil reserve here in the Northeast.

Now, as for the proposals that I've worked for, for renewables and conservation and efficiency and the new technologies, the fact is, for the last few years in the Congress, we've faced a lot of opposition to them, and they've only--they've only approved about 10 percent of the agenda that I've helped to send up there.

And I think that we need to get serious about this energy crisis, both in the Congress and in the White House. And if you entrust me with the presidency, I will tackle this problem and focus on new technologies that will make us less dependent on Big Oil or foreign oil.

LEHRER: How would you draw the difference, Governor?

BUSH: Well, I would first say that he should have been tackling it for the last seven years. And secondly, the difference is that we need to explore at home. And the vice president doesn't believe in exploration, for example, in Alaska. There's a lot of shut-in gas that we need to be moving out of Alaska by pipeline.

There's an interesting issue up in the Northwest, as well. And that is whether or not we remove dams that propose hydroelectric energy. I'm against removing dams in the Northwest. I don't know where the vice president stands. But that's a renewable source of energy we need to keep in-line.

I was in coal country yesterday, in West Virginia. There's an abundant supply of coal in America. I know we can do a better job of clean-coal technologies. I'm going to ask the Congress for $2 billion to make sure that we have the cleanest coal technologies in the world.

My answer to you is, is that in the short term, we need to get after it here in America. We need to explore our resources, and we need to develop our reservoirs of domestic production. We also need to have a hemispheric energy policy where Canada and Mexico and the United States come together.

I brought this up recently with Vicente Fox, who's the newly elected president. He's a man I know from Mexico. And I talked about how best to be able to expedite the exploration of natural gas in Mexico and transport it up to the United States, so we become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil.

This is a major problem facing America. The administration did not deal with it. It's time for a new administration to deal with the energy problem.

GORE: If I could just--just briefly, Jim, I know.

I found a couple of other things that we agree on, and we may not find that many this evening, so I wanted to emphasize them.

I strongly supply the new investments in clean-coal technology.

I made a proposal three months ago on this. And also domestic exploration, yes, but not in the environmental treasures of our country. We don't have to do that; that's the wrong choice. I know the oil companies have been itching to do that, but it is not the right thing for the future.

BUSH: No, it's the right thing for the consumers. Less dependency upon foreign sources of crude is good for consumers, and we can do so in an environmentally friendly way.

GORE: Well, can I have the last word on this?

LEHRER: New question.

BUSH: Of course.

GORE: OK. Go ahead.

LEHRER: New question. New subject.

GORE: All right.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, if elected president, would you try to overturn the FDA's approval last week of the abortion pill RU-486?

Debate Referee
BUSH: I don't think a president can do that. I was disappointed in the ruling because I think abortions ought to be more rare in America. And I'm worried that that pill will create more abortion, will cause more people to have abortions.

This is a very important topic, and it's a very sensitive topic because a lot of good people disagree on the issue. I think what the next president ought to do is to--is to promote a culture of life in America, is the life of the elderly and the life of those living all across the country, life of the unborn.

As a matter of fact, I think a noble goal for this country is that every child, born and unborn, ought to be protected in law and welcomed into life. But I know we got to change a lot of minds before we--before we get there in America.

What I do believe is, we can find good common ground on issues like parental notification or parental consent. And I know we need to ban partial-birth abortions. This is a place where my opponent and I have strong disagreements. I believe banning partial-birth abortion would be a positive step toward reducing the number of abortions in America.

This is an issue that's going to require a new attitude. We've been battling over abortion for a long period of time.

Surely this nation can come together to promote the value of life. Surely we can fight off these laws that will encourage doctors--to allow doctors to take the lives of our seniors. Surely we can work together to create a cultural life so some of these youngsters that feel like they can take a neighbor's life with a gun will understand that that's not the way America's meant to be.

And surely we can find common ground to reduce the number of abortions in America. As to the drug itself, I mentioned I was disappointed. I hope--and I'm--I hope the FDA took its time to make sure that American women will be safe who use this--who use this drug.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

GORE: Well, Jim, the FDA took 12 years. And I do support that decision. They determined it was medically safe for the women who use that drug.

Now, this is, indeed, a very important issue. First of all, on the issue of partial-birth or so-called late-term abortion, I would sign a law banning that procedure, provided that doctors have the ability to save a women's life or to act if her health is severely at risk. And that's not the main issue.

The main issue is whether or not the Roe v. Wade decision is going to be overturned. I support a woman's right to choose; my opponent does not.

It is important because the next president is going to appoint three, maybe even four, justices of the Supreme Court.

And Governor Bush has declared to the anti-choice groups that he will appoint justices in the mold of Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who are known for being the most vigorous opponents of a woman's right to choose.

Here's the difference: He trusts the government to order a woman to do what he thinks she ought to do. I trust women to make the decisions that affect their lives, their destinies and their bodies. And I think a woman's right to choose ought to be protected and defended.

LEHRER: Governor, we'll go to the Supreme Court question in a moment. But, to make sure I understand your position on RU-486, if you're elected president will you, if not through appointments to the FDA, you won't support legislation to overturn this?

BUSH: I don't think a president can even overturn it. The FDA has made its decision.

LEHRER: That means that you wouldn't throw appointments to the FDA and ask them to reappraise it?

BUSH: I think once the decisions made, it's been made, unless it's proven to be unsafe to women.

GORE: Well, Jim, you know, the question you asked, if I heard you correctly, was would he support legislation to overturn it. And if I heard the statement the day before yesterday, you said you would order--he said he would order his FDA appointee to review the decision. Now, that sounds to me a little bit different. And I just think that we ought to support the decision.

BUSH: I said I would make sure that--that women would be safe to use the drug.

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