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Transcript: Vice Presidential Debate in Danville, Ky.


___ 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. Post staff writer Glenn Kessler and staff researchers Lynn Davis and Meg Smith contributed to this feature.

Academic 'Achievement Gap'
Bush's Tax Cut Plan
Tax Burden
Stay-at-Home Parents
Oil Production/Capacity
Wyoming Wilderness
Social Security
Entertainment Industry

Thursday, October 3, 2000

Following is the complete transcript of the vice presidential debate between Richard B. Cheney (R) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). The moderator of the nationally televised debate was CNN's Bernard Shaw.

First of three pages.

SHAW: From historic Danville, Kentucky, good evening and welcome to this year's only vice presidential debate sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. I'm Bernard Shaw of CNN, moderator.

Tonight we come to you from Newlin Hall in the Norton Center for the Arts on the campus of Centre College. To President John Roush, the faculty here, students and community leaders statewide, we thank you for hosting this debate.

The candidates are the Republican nominee, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney of Wyoming, and the Democratic nominee, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

The commission, these candidates and their campaign staffs have agreed to the following rules: A candidate shall have two minutes to respond to the moderator's question. The other candidate shall have two minutes to comment on the question or the first candidate's answer. When I exercise the moderator's discretion of extending discussion of a question, no candidate may speak for more than two minutes at one time. This audience has been told no disruptions will be tolerated.

A prior coin toss has determined that the first question will go to the Democratic candidate.

Senator, few hard-working Americans would base their well-being on bonuses they hope to get five or 10 years from now. Why do you--and you, Secretary Cheney--predict surpluses you cannot possibly guarantee to pay for your proposed programs?

LIEBERMAN: Bernie, before I answer that very important question, let me first thank you for moderating the debate. Let me thank the wonderful people here at Centre College and throughout Kentucky for being such gracious hosts. And let me give a special thank you to the people of Connecticut, without whose support over these last 30 years I would never have had the opportunity Al Gore has given me this year. And finally, let me thank my family, that is here with me, my wife, Hadassah, our children, our siblings and my mom.

My 85-year-old mom gave me some good advice about the debate earlier today. She said, "Sweetheart," as she is prone to call me, "Remember, be positive and know that I will love you no matter what your opponent says about you."


Well, Mom, as always, that was both reassuring and wise.

I am going to be positive tonight. I'm not going to indulge in negative personal attacks. I'm going to talk about the issues that I know matter to the people of this country: education, health care, retirement security and moral values. I'm going to describe the plan that Al Gore and I have for keeping America's prosperity going and making sure that it benefits more of America's families, particularly the hard-working middle class families who have not yet fully benefited from the good times we've had.

And, Bernie, I'm going to explain tonight how we're going to do all this and remain fiscally responsible.

Let me briefly get to your question.

SHAW: You have about 10 seconds.


LIEBERMAN: All right. We're not spending any more than is projected by the experts. In fact, unlike our opponents, we're setting aside $300 billion in a reserve fund just in case those projections the nonpartisan experts make are not quite right.

We understand that balancing the budget, keeping America...

SHAW: Your time is up, Senator.

LIEBERMAN: ... out of debt is the way to keep interest rates down and the economy growing.

SHAW: Secretary Cheney.

CHENEY: Well, I, too, want to join in thanking the folks here in Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, for sponsoring this and making all of this possible.

And I am delighted to be here tonight with you, Joe. And I, too, want to avoid any personal attacks. I promise not to bring up your singing.


LIEBERMAN: Well, I promise not to sing.



I think this is an extraordinarily important decision we're going to make on November 7. We're really going to choose between what I consider to be an old way of governing ourselves of high levels of spending, high taxes, an ever more intrusive bureaucracy, or a new course, a new era, if you will. And Governor Bush and I want to offer that new course of action.

With respect to the surplus, Bernie, we've got to make some kind of forecast. We can't make 12 month decisions in this business. We're talking about the kinds of fundamental changes in programs and government that are going to affect people's lives for the next 25 or 30 years. And while it may be a little risky in some respects from an economic standpoint to try to forecast surpluses, I think it's--you have to make some planning assumption on which to proceed.

We care a great deal about the issues that are at stake here. And one of the difficulties we have, frankly, is that for the last eight years, we ignored a lot these problems. We haven't moved aggressively on Social Security. We haven't moved, for example, on Medicare. There are important issues out there that need to be resolved, and it's important for us to get on with that business. And that's what Governor Bush and I want to do.

SHAW: You alluded to problems. There's no magic bullet, Secretary Cheney. And this question is to you. No magic bullets to solve the problems of public education, but what's the next best solution?

CHENEY: Well, I think public education is the solution. Our desire is to find ways to reform our educational system, to return it to its former glory. I'm a product of public schools. My family, my wife and daughters, all went to public schools. And we believe very much in the public school system.

Debate Referee
But if you look at where we are, from this standpoint in the nation, the recent exams, for example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, independent nonpartisan testing service shows that there's been no progress on reading scores in the last eight years, almost no progress on math. The achievement gap between minority and non-minority students is as big as its ever been. We've had a significant increase in spending for education nationwide, but its produced almost no positive results.

That's really unacceptable from our standpoint, because if you look at it and think about it, we now have in our most disadvantaged communities, nearly 70 percent of our fourth-graders can't read at basic level. We've graduated 15 million kids from high school in the last 15 years who can't read at basic level. They are permanently sentenced to a lifetime of failure.

And what we want to do, what Governor Bush and I want to do, is to change that. We think we know how to do it. Governor Bush has done it in Texas. We want to emphasize local controls, so that the people here in Danville, Kentucky, decide what's best for their kids.

And we want to insist on high standards. One of the worst things we can do is fail to establish high standards, in effect to say to a youngster, because of their ethnic background or their income level, we don't have the same kind of expectations from you that we have for everybody else.

And we want accountability. We have to test every child every year to know whether or not we're making progress with respect to achieving those goals and objectives. So we think it's extraordinarily important. This is probably the single most important issue in this campaign. Governor Bush has made it clear that when he's elected, this will be his number one priority as a legislative--major to submit to the Congress.

SHAW: Senator?

LIEBERMAN: Bernie, Al Gore and I are committed to making America's public schools the best in the world. And I disagree with what my opponent has said. A lot of progress has been made in recent years. Average testing scores are up and lot of extraordinary work is being done by tens of thousands of parents and teachers and administrators all around America. But there's more to be done.

And if you'll allow me, I want to go back to your last question because it leads to this question. I think both of us agree that, leaving aside the Social Security and Medicare surpluses, there's $1.8 trillion in surplus available to spend over the next 10 years. As I said before, we're being fiscally responsible about it. We're taking $300 billion off the top to put into a reserve fund. The rest of it, we're going to use for middle class tax cuts and investments in programs like education.

Now, there's a big difference here between these two tickets. Our opponents are going to spend $1.6 trillion of the $1.8 trillion surplus projected on that big tax cut that Al Gore talked about the other night so effectively.

We're saving money to invest in education. You cannot reform education and improve it in this country without spending some money. Al Gore and I have committed $170 billion for that purpose: to recruit 100,000 new teachers to reduce the size of classrooms, to help local school districts build new buildings so our children are not learning in crumbling classrooms.

And we're not just going to stop at high school. We're going to go on and give the middle class the ability to deduct up to $10,000 a year in the cost of college tuition. Now, that's a tremendous lifesaving change which will help people carry on their education and allow them to develop the kinds of skills that will help them succeed in the high tech economy of today.

CHENEY: Very important issue, Bernie. Maybe we could extend on education for a moment?

SHAW: You're asking me to invoke the moderator's discretion on further discussion?

CHENEY: I am asking you to invoke the moderator's discussion, as is your discretion.

SHAW: It is so granted.

CHENEY: Thank you, sir.


LIEBERMAN: You Honor, do I chance to respond?


SHAW: Of course you do.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

SHAW: The secretary will have two minutes, and then you will have two minutes.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

CHENEY: Let's talk about this question of the surplus, because it really drives a lot of what we're talking about here, Joe.

Debate Referee
And if you look at our proposal, we take half of the projected surplus and set it aside for Social Security, over $2.4 trillion. We take roughly a fourth of it for other urgent priorities, such as Medicare reform and education and several of these other key programs we want to support, and we take roughly one-fourth of it and return it in the form of a tax cut to the American taxpayer.

We think it is extraordinarily important to do that. But it is a fundamental difference between our two--our two approaches.

If you look, frankly, by our numbers and the numbers of the Senate Budget Committee, which has totaled up all the promises that Vice President Gore has made during the course of the campaign, they are some $900 billion in spending over and above that projected surplus already, and we still have a month to go in the campaign.

The fact is that the program that we put together we think is very responsible. The suggestion that somehow all of it is going for tax cuts isn't true. Another way to look at it is that over the course of the next 10 years we'll collect roughly $25 trillion in revenue. We want to take about 5 percent of that and return that to the American taxpayer in the form of tax relief.

Debate Referee
We have the highest level of taxation now we've had since World War II. The average American family is paying about 40 percent in federal, state and local taxes. We think it is appropriate to return to the American people so that they can make choices themselves in how that money ought to be spent, whether they want to spend it on education or on retirement or on paying their bills. It's their choice. It's their prerogative.

We want to give them the opportunity to make those kinds of choices for themselves. And we think this is a totally reasonable approach.

SHAW: Senator?

LIEBERMAN: Bernie, let me start with the numbers. With all respect, the Senate Budget Committee estimates that Dick Cheney has just referred to are the estimates of the partisan Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee. We're using the numbers presented by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

And we start with an agreement, which is that the surplus in the Social Security fund should be locked up and used for Social Security. That's where the agreement ends.

We also agree and believe and pledge that the surplus in the Medicare trust fund should also be locked up, with a sign on it that says, "Politicians, keep your hands off."

Our opponents do not do that. In fact, they raid the Medicare trust fund to pay for, well, their tax cut and other programs that they can't afford because they've spent so much on the tax cut.

Let me come back to the remaining $1.8 trillion that we both talked about. The numbers show that $1.6 trillion goes to that big tax cut, which, as Al Gore said the other night, sends 43 percent to the top 1 percent.

But really worse than that, when you add on the other spending programs that our opponents have committed to, plus the cost of their plan to privatize Social Security, by our calculation they are $1.1 trillion in debt. And that means we go back down the road to higher interest rates, to higher unemployment, to a kind of stealth tax increase on every American family, because when interest rates go up, so too do the cost of mortgage payments, car payments, student loans, credit card transactions.

So if we've learned anything over the last eight years, it is that one of the most important things the government can do, the federal government, probably the most important, is to be fiscally responsible.

And that's why Al Gore and I are committed to balancing the budget every year. In fact, to paying off the debt by the year 2012, when, by our calculation, our opponents' economic plan still leaves America $2.8 trillion in debt.

SHAW: Time. The next question goes to you.

Gentlemen, this is the 21st century, yet on average an American working woman in our great nation earns 75 cents for each dollar earned by a working male. What do you males propose to do about it?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's a good and important question. Obviously, in our time, fortunately, great advances have been made by women achieving the kind of equality that they were too long denied. But, Bernie, your question is absolutely right. Women, actually the number I have, receive 72 cents for every dollar a man receives in a comparable job.

Al Gore and I have issued an economic plan in which we've stated specific goals for the future. And one of those goals is to eliminate the pay gap between men and women. It's unfair and it's unacceptable.

And the first way we will do that is by supporting the Equal Pay Act, which has been proposed in Congress, which gives women the right to file legal actions against employers who are not treating them fairly and not paying them equally.

Secondly, we're going to do everything we can using governmental support of business agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, to help women business owners have an opportunity to invest and begin businesses and make larger incomes themselves. And there are other civil rights and human rights laws that I think can come to play here.

So, bottom line, this is an unfair and unacceptable situation. And even though as the economy has risen in the last eight years, America's women have risen with it and received more income, until women are receiving the same amount of pay for the same job they're doing as a man receives, we've not achieved genuine equality in this country. And Al Gore and I are committed to closing that gap and achieving that equality.

You know, in so many families, women are a significant bread earner or the only bread earner, so this cause affects not only the women, but families and the children as well.

SHAW: Mr. Secretary?

CHENEY: Bernie, I certainly share the view that we ought to have equal pay for equal work regardless of someone's gender, and we've made major progress in recent years. I think we've still got a ways to go.

But I also think it's not just about the differential with respect to women. If you look, for example, at our opponents' tax proposal, they discriminate between stay-at-home moms with children that they take care of themselves and those who go to work or who, in fact, have their kids taken care of outside the home. You, in effect, as a stay-at-home mom, get no tax advantage under the Gore tax plan, as contrasted with the Bush proposal, which, in fact, provides tax relief for absolutely everybody who pays taxes.

CHENEY: And it's important to understand that the things that we're trying to change and the things that we're trying to address in the course of the campaign, what are agenda is for the future, or plans are for the future, focus very much upon giving as much control as we can to individual Americans, be they men or women, be they single or married, as much control as possible over their own lives.

Especially in the area of taxation, we want to make certain that the American people have the ability to keep more of what they earn and then they get to decide how to spend it. The proposal we have from Al Gore, basically, doesn't do that. It, in effect, lays out some 29 separate tax credits. And if you live your life the way they want you to live your life, if you do in fact behave in a certain way, then you qualify for a tax credit and at that point you get some relief.

The bottom line, though, is 50 million American taxpayers out there get no advantages at all out of the Gore tax proposal, whereas under the Bush plan, everybody who pays taxes will, in fact, get tax relief.

LIEBERMAN: Bernie, might I have an opportunity to respond here?

SHAW: You can respond, Senator, but I caution you gentlemen that if you do this consistently, we're not going to cover a lot of topics. And after the senator responds, you don't have to feel compelled to respond to the Senator.

CHENEY: Depends on what he says, Bernie.


Debate Referee
LIEBERMAN: Right. This is an important difference between us, and I want to try to clarify it briefly if I can. The first thing is that, in fact, the tax relief program that Al Gore and I have proposed, one of those many tax credits for the middle class that Dick just referred to, includes a $500 tax credit for stay-at-home moms, just as a way of saying we understand that you are performing a service for our society, we want you to have that tax credit.

Second, the number of 50 million Americans not benefiting from our tax cut program is absolutely wrong. It's an estimate done on an earlier form of our tax cut program, and it's just plain wrong.

And, secondly, although Governor Bush says that his tax cut program, large as it is, gives a tax cut to everybody, as the newspapers indicated earlier this week, the Joint Committee on Taxation--again, a nonpartisan group in Congress--has said that 27 million Americans don't get what the governor said they would in their tax cut program.

Again, Al Gore and I want to live within our means. We're not going to give it all away in one big tax cut, and certainly not to the top 1 percent of the public that doesn't need it now.

So we're focusing our tax cuts on the middle class, in the areas where they tell us they need it: tax credits for better and more expensive child care; tax credits for middle class families that don't have health insurance from their employers; the tax deduction I talked about earlier, a very exciting deduction for up to $10,000 a year in the cost of a college tuition; a $3,000 tax credit for the cost--well, actually, for a family member who stays home with a parent or grandparent who's ill; and a very exciting tax credit program that I hope I'll have a chance to talk about later, Bernie, that encourages savings by people early in life and any time in life by having the federal government match savings for the 75 million Americans who make $100,000 or less up to $2,000 a year.

So very brief--very briefly, if a young couple making $50,000 a year saves $1,000, the government will put another $1,000 in that account. By the time they retire, they'll not only have guaranteed Social Security, but more than $200,000 in that retirement fund. Now that's...

SHAW: You're time is up, Senator.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, sir.

CHENEY: Bernie, you have to be a CPA to understand what he just said. The fact of the matter is that the plan is so complex that an ordinary American's never going to be able to figure out what they even qualify for.

And it is a classic example of wanting to have a program, in this case a tax program, that will in fact direct people to live their lives in certain ways rather than empowering them to make decisions themselves.

It is a big difference between us. They like tax credits. We like tax reform and tax cuts.

SHAW: Mr. Secretary, this question is for you. Would you support the effort of House Republicans who want legislation to restrict distribution of the abortion drug, RU-486?

CHENEY: Bernie, the abortion issue is a very tough one, without question, and a very important one. And Governor Bush and I have emphasized that while we clearly are both pro-life, that's what we believe, that we want to look for ways to try to reduce the incidence of abortion in our society. Many on the pro-choice side have said exactly the same thing. Even Bill Clinton, who's been a supporter of abortion rights has advocated reducing abortion to make it as rare as possible.

With respect to the question of RU-486. We believe that, of course, that's its recently been approved by the FDA, that it really was a question of whether or not it was safe to be used by women. They didn't address the, sort of, the question of whether or not there should or should not be abortion in the society, so much as evaluate that particular drug.

What we'd like to be able to do is to look for ways to reach across the divide between the two points of view and find things that we can do together to reduce the incidence of abortion. We look at such things as promoting adoption as an alternative, encouraging the parental notification, and we also think banning the horrific practice of partial-birth abortions is an area where there could be agreement.

Congress has twice passed, by overwhelming margins, significant number of votes from both parties, the ban on partial-birth abortions. Twice it's been vetoed by Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Now, we would hope that eventually they would recognize that that's not a good position for them to be in.

With respect to the RU-486 proposal, at this stage, I haven't looked in particular at that particular piece of legislation. Governor Bush made it clear the other night that he did not anticipate that he would be able to go in and direct the FDA to reverse course on that particular issue, primarily because they say the decision they made was on the efficacy of the drug, not the question of whether or not we supported abortion.

LIEBERMAN: Bernie, this is a very important question and it is one on which these two tickets have dramatically different points of view. My answer is no, I would not support legislation that is being introduced in Congress to override the Food and Drug Administration decision on RU-486.

The administration, FDA, worked 12 years on this serious problem, they made a judgment based on what was good for women's health; a doctor has to prescribe and care for a woman using it. I think it's a decision that we ought to let stand because it was made by experts.

But let me say, more generally, that the significant difference here on this issue is that Al Gore and I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose and our opponents will not. We know that this is a difficult, personal, moral, medical issue. But that is exactly why it ought to be left, under our law, to a woman, her doctor and her god.

Now, one area in which we agree, Al Gore and I, is that we believe that the government ought to do everything it can to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore the number of abortions.

And, incidentally, here there is good news to report. The number of abortions is actually down in America over the last eight years. In fact, over the last eight years the number of teenage pregnancies has dropped 20 percent. And the reason it has is that there are good programs out there that Al Gore and I will continue to support, such as family planning and programs that encourage abstinence.

But when the health of a woman is involved, I think the government has to be respectful. I supported, in fact, a bill in the Senate that would have prohibited late-term abortions, except in cases where the health or life of the mother was involved.

LIEBERMAN: I did not support the so-called partial-birth abortion bill because it would have prohibited abortion--that form of abortion at any state of the pregnancy, regardless of the effect on the health and life of the woman, and that's unacceptable.

SHAW: This question is for you, Senator.

If Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic prevails, notwithstanding the election results, would you support his overthrow?

LIEBERMAN: Well, there is good news from Belgrade today, Bernie, as you know, but it's unconfirmed. The encouraging news is that the state news agency is reporting that Mr. Kostunica is the president-elect and there are some press reports, but they're unconfirmed, that Milosevic has actually left Belgrade.

Now that is a very happy ending to a terrible story, and it's the end of a reign of terror.

It that does--if that is not confirmed and does not happen, then I think the United States, with its European allies, ought to everything we can to encourage the people of Serbia to do exactly what they've been doing over the last few days, to rise up and end this reign of terror and bring themselves--by Milosevic--and bring themselves back into the family of nations where they will be welcomed by the United States and others.

You know, I'm very proud on this night, as it appears that Milosevic is about to or has fallen, of the leadership role the United States played in the effort to stop his aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo.

I know our opponents have said that they thought that was an overreaching. It wasn't. It was a matter of principle and America's national interests and values. And the fact is that we stopped the aggression, we stopped the genocide, and therefore strengthened our relationship with our European allies in NATO and, in fact, made the United States more respected and trusted by our allies and more feared by our enemies.

I think that Vice President Gore played a critical role, passionate, purposive role, in leading the administration, along with Republican supporters like Bob Dole and John McCain, to do the right thing in the Balkans. And hopefully tonight we are seeing the final results of that bold and brave effort.

SHAW: Secretary Cheney?

CHENEY: Well, I noted, Bernie, that, like Joe, certainly I'm pleased to see what's happened in Yugoslavia today. I hope it marks the end of Milosevic. I think that probably more than anything else, it's a victory for the Serbian people. They have taken to the streets to support their democracy, to support their vote.

In some respects, this is a continuation of a process that began 10 years ago all across Eastern Europe, and it's only now arrived in Serbia. We saw it in Germany, we saw it in Romania, we saw it in Czechoslovakia, as the people of Eastern Europe rose up and made their claim for freedom. And I think we all admire that.

I think with respect to how this process has been managed most recently, we want to do everything we can to support Mr. Milosevic's departure. Certainly, though, that would not involve committing U.S. troops. I do think it's noteworthy that there appears to be an effort under way to get the Russians involved.

I noted the other night, for example, Tuesday night in the debate in Boston, Governor Bush suggested exactly that, that we ought to try to get the Russian's involved to exercise some leverage over the Serbians and Al Gore pooh-poohed it. But now it's clear from the press that in fact that's exactly what they were doing. That it's--that Governor Bush was correct in his assessment and his recommendation.

He has supported the administration on Kosovo. He lobbied actively against passage of the Byrd-Warner provision, which would have set a specific deadline, one they felt was too soon for forcing U.S. troops out. So he's been supportive of the policy that we've seen with respect to Yugoslavia, and I think he deserves a lot of credit for that.

I'd go beyond that. I think this is an opportunity for the United States to test President Putin of Russia, that in fact now is the time when we ought to find out whether or not he is indeed committed to democracy, whether or not he's willing to support the forces of freedom in democracy diplomatically in the area there of Eastern Europe. And it's a test for him, in effect, or whether he represents the old guard in the Soviet Union.

One of the most important challenges we face as a nation is how we manage that process of integrating those 150 million Eastern Europeans into the security and economic framework of Europe.

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