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Text: N.Y. Senate Debate
Wednesday, September 13, 2000 Following is the text of Wednesday night's New York Senate debate in Buffalo between Rep. Rick Lazio (R) and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The debate was moderated by NBC's Tim Russert and featured questions by Robert McCarthy of the Buffalo News and Scott Levin of WGRZ-TV 2.
Russert: Good evening and welcome to WNED-TV public television station studios in Buffalo, New York, the scene of the first Senate debate. Our candidates are here, the Republican nominee, Congressman Rick Lazio; the Democratic nominee, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
I'll be joined tonight in the questioning by Bob McCarthy of the Buffalo News and Scott Levin of WGRZ-TV 2.
Each candidate will be allowed 90 seconds to respond to a question. The other candidate will then have 45 seconds to offer a response. By a flip of the coin, the first question goes to Mrs. Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton, you have no voting record as such. People, in order to determine how you will be behave as a legislator, look to your principal policy initiative: health care. I want to ask you a couple of questions about that.
In 1993-94, you proposed a health care bill that was very controversial in this state. The man that you want to replace, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say, and I'll show you on your monitor and I'll show our voters: "The administration's solution was rationing; cut the number of doctors by a quarter, specialists by a half." And he went on to say, "Teaching hospitals would be at risk. The Finance Committee passed a bill in '94 to provide financing for the medical schools and the teaching hospitals. The Clinton administration rejected the committee bill."
Why did you propose cutting the number of doctors by 25 percent, the number of specialists by 50 percent?
Clinton: Well, Tim, let me start by saying that I'm delighted to be here this evening with you and with Bob and Scott and the audience, and I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about the important issues in this race facing New York and our country.
You know, in 1993 and 1994, we did attempt to reform our health care system to provide universal health care coverage. Now, as everyone knows, that was not successful. But we learned a lot, and I in particular learned a lot about what we can do step by step to try to reach the goal of providing quality, affordable health care.
And here in New York there isn't any more important part of the health care system than the teaching hospitals, which are really the crown jewels of the health care system.
We did propose a funding stream that would have provided additional funds to the hospitals, but we still have not done enough six, seven years later.
Senator Moynihan is absolutely right to propose a piece of legislation that would guarantee that our teaching hospitals will be funded to perform the functions that they do, which cannot be performed within the market at a profit. Namely, training our doctors and nurses and providing health care for the sickest of the sick and doing the research we all benefit from.
You know, when we made a proposal, Tim, it was to be a starting point, a basis for argument and compromise within the legislative process. But I've always been committed to ensuring that we have the specialty care that's needed, and particularly that we support our teaching hospitals.
Russert: When the 57 teaching hospitals and the 12 medical schools in the state, with the Democratic governor, Democratic senators, say the bill would have been devastating to New York health care, when you were not a New Yorker, will you now change your view that you are a New Yorker?
Clinton: Well, I wanted to emphasize that I believed in teaching hospitals then. I did have a piece in the legislation, as I recall, that would have provided funding for the teaching hospitals. And I have supported Senator Moynihan's plan, which is a plan that would provide what's called all payers payments for our teaching hospitals; that would guarantee that the places that do the work that all of us rely on for the quality of our health care system will be given the funding that they needed.
And I supported that in a different form, but I am fully committed to it now.
Russert: Mr. Lazio, your response?
Lazio: You know a New Yorker would never have made that proposal. In New York we say you've got to tell it like it is.
And the way it is, is that Mrs. Clinton has had two opportunities--two opportunities to make policy, one on health care and one on education. And on health care, it was an unmitigated disaster. Even the people in her own party ran away from it.
And worse still, it would have been a disaster for New York. It would have lead to health care rationing. It would have destroyed teaching hospitals. It would have lead to all types of unintended consequences perhaps, but the bottom line is it would have been terrible for New York.
But it didn't stop just there. Mrs. Clinton also stood silently by when the president exercised his only line item veto to hurt Medicaid going to New York. And that's the true picture in this case.
Russert: My next question is for Mr. Lazio. You, too, cast a critical vote in your career as a congressman. There is a physician and a congressman named Mr. Norwood who joined together with Democrat John Dingle and presented legislation which would allowed people--patients to sue their HMOs if they were not treated properly. There are 31 congressman in the state of New York; only three opposed that legislation. One of the three was Rick Lazio. Why?
Lazio: First of all, there's two different versions of the patients' bill of rights that I supported. And let me tell you, as somebody who has had a health care crisis in his family--my dad was a stroke victim and for many months he was in the hospital--I think I'm pretty sensitive to the need to have access to specialists and quality care. That's why the two versions that I supported had all those things.
The difference is, we don't want to drive more people onto the rolls of the uninsured. Yes, sure, a vote for that bill might have pleased some editors and some editorial boards, but it wasn't the right thing to do. Ask the real health care experts right now and they'll tell you that was bad legislation.
We need to help deal with the issue of the uninsured, because every single day 3,000 more Americans fall onto the rolls of the uninsured under this administration.
I support a strong patients' bill of rights. I support a right to sue. But I don't support unlimited damages and unlimited lawsuits.
I want to make sure that patients get the care that they need in a timely fashion. I don't want to force people to have to languish in court.
Russert: When 28 New York congressmen vote one way and you vote another way, it's suggested that you did that because you're more loyal to the leadership of the Republican Party in the House than you are to the constituents of New York.
Lazio: I don't think anybody can rationally say that, Tim. In fact, if you look at my record, it's a record of independence in the House. Whether it's standing up on the environment or on funding for the arts, on a whole range of other issues, I've been able to stake my claim and have a record that's reflective of New York.
You know, I was also the person who sponsored legislation to help cancer patients, also the person that helped root out Medicare fraud with legislation. I've been a doer, I haven't been passive, I've gotten things done. And yes, sometimes that means you have to stand on principle even when it's not politically popular. But, in this case, we did protect patients two different ways.
The end result is, is that you've got to get the job done. You've got to make progress. And I'm proud of my record.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton, your response?
Clinton: Well, you know, Tim, listening to the congressman's response, reminds me of a word I've heard a lot of this past year: chutzpah. He stands here and tells us that he's a moderate, mainstream, independent member of Congress.
Well, in fact he was a deputy whip to Newt Gingrich. He voted to shut the government down. He voted to cut $270 billion from Medicare. He voted for the biggest education cuts in our history.
Time and time again when he's had a choice to make, particularly at the critical turning point, when our country was really on the line with Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, he stood with the Republican leadership and Newt Gingrich.
Once again, he's standing with the Republican leadership, not just against the rest of the congressional delegation, but 200 health groups, including doctors and nurses.
Russert: The next question if from Bob McCarthy of the Buffalo News.
McCarthy: Good evening Mrs. Clinton and welcome to Buffalo for tonight's debate. I'd like to start out tonight talking about something we've heard you talk about a lot over the past few months, and that's the upstate economy.
In your discussions about stimulating the upstate economy, you often cite the need to reduce the state's high local tax burden.
At the same time, some of your prominent Democratic allies in executive positions, such as Buffalo Mayor Masiello, point to a number of root causes of those high taxes: binding arbitration stemming from the Taylor (ph) law, multiple-bidding requirements from the Wicks (ph) law, or failure to enact public employee residency requirements. Granted these are Albany issues, but Masiello and top business leaders cite them as chief causes behind your concern over high local taxes.
Do you agree with the mayor on these points? And will you use your leverage as a senator and a party leader for change on these matters despite your wide backing from the state's public employee unions?
Clinton: Well, Bob, I'm a very strong supporter of the changes that are needed to stimulate the upstate economy, particularly here in western New York and in Buffalo. And many of those changes can only take place at the state and local level. That has to be left to local officials, and I would certainly work with them to remove any barriers that exist.
In addition to state and local taxes being too high, our utilities costs are too high, our transportation system is inadequate. So, we do have to confront these obstacles. But at the same time, we need targeted economic help, as well.
You know, The Buffalo News said the other day that anyone who thinks that upstate doesn't need targeted economic help is orbiting another planet. I agree with that, because what I have laid forth in my economic plan for upstate is a way to use tax credits to stimulate business, to expand the high tech industry that is coming to the Buffalo Bike Belt and other places in upstate, and to be sure that we have in place the work force training and job development capacity to fill the jobs that are going to be there in the future.
So I don't think you can pull out any one particular issue and say, "That is the problem." There's a whole range of issues that we have to address. And that's what I've tried to do in the plan that I've put forth, that I have talked about for many, many months as I've traveled around the state. And it's based on, what I'm told, by people in business and labor, in the public sector, academia, folks that I meet and talk with everywhere.
McCarthy: Could you urge scrutiny of some of these things I've mentioned despite the backing of public employee unions?
Clinton: Well, I think everybody in upstate wants to do what will work to turn the economy around. And I've set forth my ideas. I'm open to any other ideas from the mayor or anyone else.
And what I want everyone to know is that I will use my 30 years of experience, my last eight years in the White House, to bring to bear not just the votes that I cast or the speeches I make on the floor of the Senate, I'll be using everything at my disposal to try to be an effective partner to help create jobs and turn the economy around upstate.
Russert: Mr. Lazio, a response?
Lazio: Well, I have to go back to Mrs. Clinton's last remark, because it has to redefine the word chutzpah.
Mrs. Clinton, you, of all people, shouldn't try to make guilt by association. Newt Gingrich isn't running in this race, I'm running in this race. Let's talk about my record.
In this case, let me tell you, one of the most important issues that New York has right now is addressing what Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls a shortfall, a deficit. Every year we send $15 billion a year more to Washington than we get back, and it's at its worst point ever under this administration.
Let's lower taxes. Let's deregulate energy. Let's make sure we address the critical issues of transportation, like expanding Route 17 to I-86.
And let's build on my work in Congress already to get the job done.
Russert: Now the question for Congressman Lazio.
McCarthy: Yes, welcome to you also, Mr. Lazio. You recently unveiled here in Buffalo your plan for economic development in upstate New York, based mostly on tax cuts. But in some of your recent statements to The Buffalo News on the upstate economy, you seem to downplay the magnitude of the problem, emphasizing instead the improving overall job creation numbers and upstate economy that's turning around, and renewed optimism.
Are you really that satisfied with the condition of the upstate economy that you have no specific proposals targeted toward here? Are you satisfied with statistics showing upstate to be now 38th in the nation in job creation? Is the problem solved as far as you're concerned? And in addition, are you simply toeing the line of your allies in the Pataki administration who make similar claims?
Lazio: Let me say first of all, I do believe that the upstate economy here has turned the corner. I think my opponent would like people to believe that upstate is a vast, economic wasteland. It is not.
As a matter of fact, there's been great progress. And one of the reasons why this region in Erie, I think, elected Joel Giambra (ph), the new county executive, is because he ran on a platform of creating a better climate for jobs and for lower taxes.
That's what this upstate economy needs. It also needs new partnerships, alliances, something I've been doing down in Long Island; creating technology incubators, building on our assets in the upstate economy, which is our national labs, like in Rome, or our colleges and universities; making sure that we build good partnerships and a first-class educational system.
But it doesn't happen because of a lot of talk. It happens because you've got the ability to get the job done.
Do I think there's more work to be done? Absolutely. Do I think we're on the right path? Absolutely. Do I think I'd be a good partner for George Pataki and for people that have actually made a difference in turning some of these regions around? You betcha.
And I reject the idea that I think is a terrible image for the rest of the country and the rest of the state that somehow the upstate economy is on its knees. It's not. It does need more help. We need to address the family farms. And you know, one way we can do that is to get New York in the Dairy Compact, something that my opponent's husband's administration bitterly opposes.
McCarthy: But how do you address the fact that 45,000 people have left Erie County in the past 10 years?
Lazio: One of the things you can do is to begin to address the issue of taxation, and I think we've started to do that. George Pataki started to do that. We need to do that more at the federal level. We need to make sure that people don't pay taxes on top of income that they've already paid taxes on. We need to make sure that businesses understand that they're incentivized to invest in themselves.
And we need to focus, and as I do in my economic plan, my tax plan, Bob, and I reference you to that, that we do focus on creating more jobs through Internet access and also by building partnerships with the state of New York, a $1,000 tax credit for every job created over 20 jobs for new businesses, and those are targeted to the upstate economy.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton, your response?
Clinton: Well, again, I just have to point out that the Buffalo News, which has done a very good series of articles about the problems in the upstate economy, referred to my opponent as orbiting another planet, because I have now spent countless hours talking to parents who tell me, with tears in their eyes, that their children had to leave upstate, leave their home towns, because there weren't jobs for them. I want to help address that, not ignore it, not put happy talk on it, and I have a plan to do that.
But I also am committed to making sure we continue the national prosperity, which my opponent's plan, like George Bush's, I think would blow apart, because their large, risky tax schemes, combined with their ideas about privatizing Social Security, would use up all the surplus and prevent us from making the investments we should.
Russert: The next question is from Scott Levin of WGRZ-TV 2 in Buffalo.
Levin: Thank you, Tim.
Good evening, Mrs. Clinton.
Here in Buffalo, as I'm sure you are aware, union teachers are illegally on strike at this moment. The school board is strapped for funds, and both parents and students are caught right in the middle. Mrs. Clinton, the teachers' unions have endorsed you. Does that mean that you support their current job action even though it's illegal under New York's Taylor (ph) law?
Clinton: Well, I am hoping that they're, as we speak, negotiating and will be back in the classroom full-time without any other problems. The children deserve that and we need to get education started this year.
I'm very much committed to doing everything I can to move the education agenda forward. And I do support the idea that the teachers should be working and their action against the Taylor (ph) law is illegal, and I do not believe that that's appropriate.
But the larger issue is, what are we going to do about education? And I have put forth an education plan that is based on my years of working to reform and improve education.
Clinton: And I have very specific proposals about lowering classroom size, getting more qualified teachers into the classroom, starting a national teacher corps to recruit young people. If they're willing to teach, they would get a scholarship. As well as some mid-career people that I would like to see, perhaps, go into teaching with some incentives.
I support the 100,000 teachers from the federal government, which my opponent has opposed, which I don't understand, because we need those teachers in New York.
I also support modernizing our schools with the construction bonds that are a bipartisan piece of legislation that would be such a help to us because we could deal with our repair and construction challenges without having to raise property taxes.
So, from standards that I support, to accountability measures that I have long supported, I have a record on education that I believe I could take to the Senate and put to good use.
Levin: Mr. Lazio?
Lazio: I agree that Mrs. Clinton has got a record on education, and it's a disaster. She was responsible for educational changes in Arkansas, and you know what happened? Spending went up, taxes went up, student performance went down. As a matter of fact, it was so bad that it was at the bottom of all states.
Now, I don't think we need that Little Rock record in the Big Apple.
We need teacher testing. We need to help teachers pass that test. We need to set high standards for our children, because we want the best for them. We can't defend the status quo as my opponent does, but we've got to embrace new ideas, high standards, and expect the most from our families, our students, our teachers and their teachers.
Russert: Scott's specific question is, should the teachers be allowed to strike even though it's against the law?
Lazio: I am opposed to teachers striking where it is against the law. In this case, it has been deemed illegal. They need to get back to the classroom, and we should put as our first priority, teaching our children.
Levin: Mr. Lazio, welcome to Buffalo, as well.
Lazio: Thank you, Scott, good to be back.
Levin: Every single day of the week, thousands of Americans are crossing the border into Niagara Falls, Canada, to spend millions of their dollars at the local casino. This results in an economic boom for the Canadian economy, and an economic bust for Niagara Falls, New York. Furthermore, just two days ago, another billion-dollar casino project--that's B with billion--it was approved on the Canadian side and this will bring over 12,000 jobs to the Canadian economy.
Mr. Lazio, why not have a casino built on this side of the border to help our economy?
Lazio: Well, frankly, I don't believe that it's a good idea for us to be building casinos. I think there are some that are already here. I would allow the state of New York to make these decisions.
But in the end, I'm not a big fan of gambling. I believe, and I guess that's the way I grew up and the values that I grew up with, that people work hard, they live by the rules. There is no quick and easy game.
I understand that it's an important issue, economic development in the area, but I would not focus on the quick hit, the cheap hit in gambling. I'd focus on the kind of jobs where our children can afford to stay here, raise a family, buy their own home.
And those are not casino jobs, I'm talking about the kind of jobs in advanced technology, the kind of jobs that I have focused on as a member of Congress down on Long Island. Ask the people that I represent and the partnerships that I've built to help track students so when they go out of state they have a summer job, and then a full-time job when they come back; to develop partnerships with our leading universities, like Stony Brook or St. John's, with our leading businesses.
Those are the kind of alliances that actually work. This isn't just about talk, which is what my opponent does, this is about actually getting the job done, expecting high levels of excellence, and being able to work well with others.
Clinton: Well, Scott, I know how hard the people in Niagara are working to try to turn their economy around, and if they believe that a casino would help attract more tourists back to what really was the tourism capital of America for so many decades, I would support that.
I leave that to their judgment.
But there has to be more of a strategy about the upstate economy. That's what I've been talking about.
You know, I believe that we can bring the jobs of the new economy to upstate. And if we do what is necessary--tax credits to help jobs be created, the kind of broadband deployment so that we get more infrastructure for our computer industry, creating the regional skills, alliances, commitment to work force development, as well as paying attention to agriculture and tourism--I think we can turn it around.
Russert: To both the candidates, Mrs. Clinton first, the issue of trust and character has been raised repeatedly in this campaign. Mrs. Clinton, I want to start with you.
In January of '98, you went on the "TODAY" show and talked about what had occurred at the White House. I want to play that for you and our viewers and our voters and give you a chance to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Matt Lauer, NBC's Today: So these charges came as big a shock to you as anyone?
Clinton: And to my husband. I mean, you know, he woke me up Wednesday morning and said, "You're not going to believe this."
Lauer: And so when people say there's a lot of smoke here, your message is, where there's smoke...
Clinton: There isn't any fire.
Lauer: If an American president had an adulterous liaison in the White House and lied to cover it up, should the American people ask for his resignation?
Clinton: Well, they should certainly be concerned about it.
Lauer: Should they ask for his resignation?
Clinton: Well, I think--if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Russert: Regrettably, it was proven true.
Do you regret misleading the American people? And secondly, at that--in that same interview, you said that those who were criticizing the president were part of a vast right-wing conspiracy. Amongst those eventually criticizing the president were Joe Lieberman. Would you now apologize for branding people as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy?
Clinton: Well, you know, Tim, that was a very--a very painful time for me, for my family and for our country. It is something that I regret deeply that anyone had to go through. And I wish that we all could look at it from the perspective of history, but we can't yet. We're going to have to wait until those books are written.
But from my perspective, you know, I'm very hopeful that we can go forward in a united way.
That certainly is what I've tried to do. And I've tried to be as forthcoming as I could, given the circumstances that I faced. Obviously I didn't mislead anyone. I didn't know the truth. And there's a great deal of pain associated with that. And my husband has certainly acknowledged that and made it clear that he did mislead the country, as well as his family.
But you mentioned trust, and, you know, I'm standing here running for the Senate. I didn't cast the votes that Newt Gingrich asked me to cast. I've been a steady, consistent voice on behalf on children and families and what I've worked for for 30 years. And I want to try to put that experience to work for the people of New York.
Russert: In trying to unite people however, is it appropriate to brand anyone who criticized the president as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy?
Clinton: Well, I certainly didn't mean to extend that to anyone who might criticize the president, especially after the truth came out. You know, I have the greatest respect for Senator Lieberman. I've known him for 30 years.
He and I share a lot of the same concerns, about media violence, for example.
There have been a lot of books written about this whole matter and people are free to believe whatever they choose. But I think there is strong opposition in the country to the vision that I share with many about what we'd like to do for our nation. You know, we just have a very different set of ideas about everything from the economy and education to, you know, strengthening families and providing health care, and that's what I think we should be focusing on, are those kinds of issue differences.
Russert: In your response, Mr. Lazio, would you also address your fund-raising letter of July of 2000 where you said the first lady embarrassed our country?
Lazio: I stand by that fund-raising letter. I stand by that statement. And I think that, frankly, what's so troubling here with respect to what my opponent just said is somehow that it only matters what you say when you get caught. And character and trust is about well more than that. And blaming others every time you have responsibility, unfortunately that's become a pattern, I think, for my opponent, and it's something that I reject and I believe that New Yorkers reject.
We can do well better.
Russert: Mr. Lazio, your credibility was brought into question earlier in this race when this television commercial ran throughout the state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Announcer: Lazio and Moynihan made a difference. They're from New York. They're fighting for New York. Tell Lazio and Moynihan, keep fighting for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Russert: Senator Moynihan wrote you a letter and said that you have never been photographed together, that this was misleading and was, quote, "soft money fakery." He asked you to contact the Republican leadership committee who paid for that ad, the two members of the advisory board, George Pataki, Alphonse D'Amato, and your campaign said, "We don't know how to reach them."
Lazio: Let me say first of all, that ad did not come out of my campaign. I'm taking full responsibility for everything that my campaign does, whether it's the letter that you referenced or any commercial.
The truth of the matter is, though, that I was the author and was the prime mover in the House behind the Working Sentence bill that this commercial was all about. The fact is is that it did help disabled Americans go back to work and keep their health care benefits, that it was an accomplishment, that I am a doer, that I did get the job done, that it was signed into law.
And that's the truth of the matter.
Russert: But why give the impression you're walking down the hall with Senator Moynihan when that was, in fact, dummied footage?
Lazio: Well, listen, I don't stand for that. I reject that. But that's not my commercial. We would never have created that commercial or aired that commercial.
Russert: Why not call George Pataki, Alfonse D'Amato and say, "Take it off"?
Lazio: It was taken off.
Russert: At your request?
Lazio: It was not--it was taken off. I think it ran its course, as a matter of fact.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton?
Clinton: Well, I've been trying to run a campaign based on the issues not insults and I think that we've just seen a clear example of how difficult that is.
You know, there are such big differences between me and my opponent. We differ on a patients' bill of rights. He's on the side of the Republican leadership and the HMOs. I'm on the side of the American Medical Association, the Nurses Association. We differ on the prescription drug benefit for Medicare. He sides with the drug companies. I want to make sure we have a drug benefit that covers everybody at an affordable cost.
He has been on different sides of issues that are critical to the future of New York like 100,000 police officers, 100,000 teachers and the school modernization bill. But I guess that talking about the issues is something that he's not very comfortable about because he does have these votes and this record, not just back when you were deputy whip to New Gingrich, but in the last year or two.
But I think the people of New York want to know not who can write nasty fund-raising letters or clever commercials that, you know, Senator Moynihan says are fakery, but where we stand on the issues.
Russert: Next question for Mrs. Clinton from Bob McCarthy.
McCarthy: Mrs. Clinton, you will recall your recent appearance at the Laborers' Hall in Rochester where you proposed at least six new programs or investments in existing programs that would require new spending. How are you going to pay for all these new programs and investments? Yes, there are projections of surpluses, but are you sure enough of those projections to cover all of your proposals? And didn't many of these kinds of programs cause the deficit situation to begin with?
Clinton: Well, Bob, if you look at where we are on the surplus now, I'm very proud that we have a surplus instead of a deficit after, you know, seven and a half years of good economic leadership in our country. And I would like to make sure that we pay down the national debt, that we secure Social Security, we add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, we provide (inaudible) tax cuts like making it possible for people to deduct the cost of college tuition, giving families that are caring for their relatives with disabilities or Alzheimer's a long-term care tax credit, and make investments in education, the environment and health care.
I have been very careful to cost out my plan because I believe in a balanced budget. I am a New Democrat who supports a balanced budget.
And I also know that you're right. Those surpluses are projected. They're not in hand; they're not in the bank. That's why I reject the large tax cut that independent experts have said is more than a trillion dollars that my opponent has proposed, along with the privatization idea of Social Security.
In fact, the Fiscal Policy Institute said today that, if you add up everything that my opponent has proposed, he's spent the entire surplus. I don't think that's a very prudent course for our country. I reject that.
So, I would want to be sure that we would were carefully paying down the debt and taking care of our primary responsibilities before I funded anything else.
Russert: Mr. Lazio?
Lazio: Let me say, it's beyond shameless, I guess, that--you know, I guess, the tactic of naming a bunch of things and knowing that I don't have enough time to answer them is just positively Clintonesque.
But first of all let me try and address a few things. Newt Gingrich is not running. If you had a record, I suppose, you wouldn't need to use Newt Gingrich. I'm running and I have a strong New York record, number one.
Number two, I have a tax plan that is focused on New York. You may be opposed to it because you believe that people should be taxed on income that they've already been taxed on. Maybe you believe that Social Security recipients making as little as $34,000 are rich. Maybe you believe that in Arkansas, but in New York, let me tell you people making $34,000 a year are working because they have to work, not because they want to work.
And lastly, you should be the last one talking about spending all the surplus, because the National Taxpayer's Union has said that you have completely wiped out all the surplus with all the things that Bob just mentioned.
Russert: Question for Mr. Lazio from Scott Levin.
Levin: Mr. Lazio, just a few miles from the studio is Love Canal. It's an area, of course, made infamous for toxic dumping. Last week there was a brand new USA Today investigation, and it revealed 25 more sites in the state of New York and 13 right here in western New York that may have exposed government workers, unknowingly, to dangerous levels of radiation and toxic materials.
Mr. Lazio, what do you propose should be done for these workers and for the communities around here where toxic sites are still a danger?
Lazio: First of all, I, as a strong environmentalist, as somebody who has received the past endorsement, as a matter of fact, got their highest ranking, the League of Conservation Voters, the umbrella group for all environmental groups, as somebody who has written legislation to address acid rain in the Adirondacks and the cleanup of Long Island Sound, not just talked about it, but actually got the bill passed, as somebody who cares about the watershed, and as somebody who cares about this issue, I believe it's incredibly important for us to reauthorize Superfund legislation, to make sure that we have the resources that are necessary to clean up some of these sites.
Now, the administration, they've been dragging their feet. They don't really want to agree to a Superfund bill, they don't want to agree to a brownfields bill.
And my opponent, well, she's been missing in action. On the environment, her record is just thin air.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton?
Clinton: Well, I'm very proud to have the endorsement of the Sierra Club, both here in New York and nationally, as well as the endorsement of Bobby Kennedy Jr.
And I believe that I received those endorsements both because I have worked on behalf of children's health and the environment, I've stood for clean air and worked in the administration to deal with problems from asthma to trying to figure out the possible environmental causes and correlations with breast cancer, but my opponent, on the other hand, stood against funding the EPA to the extent that was needed to do the job that's required, was in the forefront of so-called regulatory reform, which would have gutted our environmental bills.
And, you know, he talked about how he shouldn't be associated with Newt Gingrich. The fact is there was a critical moment when he was with Newt Gingrich, and I believe that was against the interests of New York.
Russert: We have asked members of our audience and voters all across the state to e-mail us questions. The first question is from Frank Massiah (ph), who's the president of the NAACP Buffalo chapter here.
"Do you support or oppose strengthening existing public school systems rather than going to publicly funded school vouchers for private schools?"
And Keith Frum (ph) adds to that, for Mrs. Clinton, "You had the opportunity to send your daughter to a very good school. Should other families have that same opportunity who don't have the same means?"
Clinton: Well, are they here in the audience, Tim?
Russert: Yes, they are.
Clinton: I'd love to just have them maybe raise their hand so I can see who's asking the question.
I have a plan for education that builds on what needs to be done in the public school system. You know, I've now visited schools throughout the state and some of them are among the finest in the world, that you could find anywhere. But others are overcrowded, under-resourced, don't have the certified, qualified teaching staff that they need. And we're not doing the job that's required to give our children the kind of education that the 21st century demands.
That's why I've put forth a plan that I, in the Senate, would do to try to get the teachers that we need, to recruit and train them, and to provide the funds that are required for modernizing our schools as well as setting high standards, making them safe from violence, doing what is needed to give our children the kind of warm and supportive atmosphere that every young child needs.
Now, I do not support vouchers. And the reason I don't is because I don't think we can afford to siphon dollars away from our under-funded public schools. You know, when we go into a school, as I do all the time, that's built for 1,000, as I was in Queens not so long ago, where there are twice as many children, that's work for the public school system to be done.
I was at the Black Rock Academy here in Buffalo a few months ago. A wonderful old school, but it's so old, they can't figure out how to wire for computers. So, those children don't have access to what's needed.
I'd like us to do what we know works: smaller class size, discipline, qualified teachers, high standards. Let's do what we know works and not give up on public education.
Russert: Mr. Lazio?
Lazio: Sure. I unveiled a strong education plan to address the needs of New York. I said that we should begin to test teachers, but we should also try to attract and retain the very best; that we should offer scholarships to students who finish in the top 10 percent of their class, with the need to go into science and math.
I've said that we should help provide more scholarships for our young people, because I know how difficult it is to afford to pay to go to college.
Lazio: But I also believe that it's immoral to ask a child to go to a school where they can't learn or where they're not safe.
You know, Vice President Al Gore recently said that, "If I was in one of those failing school districts and I was a poor parent, I would want to have some help, too. I'd want a voucher, too."
So, if Al Gore believes that and, according to the Hunter College poll that just came out 80 percent of African-American and Hispanic parents that they need it, why should we trap poor kids in failing schools simply because the teachers' unions won't agree with it?
Russert: Would you take money from public schools in order to do that?
Lazio: Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, in my education plan, I create a new funding stream for what I call opportunity scholarships. I reserve the vast amount of money for public schools.
I'm a public school graduate. My two little girls are going to second and third grade in New York public schools. Our first responsibility is the public school system. But we need to address the one--over 100 failing schools in New York.
Russert: The next question is from Patricia Crowley (ph) who is here tonight. As a western New Yorker, she's very concerned that tax dollars are currently being distributed to New York City disproportionately and wants western New York to receive an equitable and fair amount of money.
How do you respond?
Lazio: Well, the real problem really is not that New York City gets more than it deserves; it's that New York doesn't get enough as a state. When we send $15 billion a year more to Washington in our tax dollars than we get back, something is desperately wrong.
And I'll tell you what's desperately wrong. It is, under this administration, it's at its worst point ever. And what has my opponent done about it? Absolutely nothing.
When it came to funding veterans' health, the formula changed so that money shifted from New York to down South, I had to step in to stop it. When the president exercised--the lone time he exercised his veto to hurt New York Medicaid program, what did my opponent do? She did absolutely nothing.
I've been there for New York. I believe we should be there to make sure that New York gets its fair share. But we should begin by making sure that we send fewer dollars to Washington and keep more of our tax dollars here in our own back yard to build stronger families, more modern businesses and better jobs.
Russert: People from western New York believe, Congressman, that if you're from Long Island or you're from New York City, you're going to forget about Buffalo and western New York after you're elected.
Lazio: See, I've been up here about six or seven times. They're going to see me so much over the next six years, they'll probably get sick of me.
Let me tell you, I am a New Yorker. I'm fiercely loyal to my state. My friends and my family are all here. They've been here of all their life. And this state is one that I consider my home. That's why I fight so hard for New York. That's why I fight for health care for New York, our fair share on tax dollars, our fair share on transportation dollars. I've been on the forefront.
And I'm not afraid to say I've been a partner of George Pataki, the governor. I think it's a good thing to have a partnership with the state government, to make sure that together we can deliver and protect our state.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton, Pat Crowley (ph) says western New York seems to be forgotten sometimes and New York City gets more than its fair share through her prism.
Clinton: Well, I wish what the congressman just said about his record were the case, because New York doesn't get the fair share. That $15 billion that goes to Washington creates a balance-of-payment problem, and yet, it has improved. It was worse under President Bush. It's made some improvement, but it has a long way to go. And it is one of the key issues that Senator Moynihan has worked on.
I've come forward with some specific proposals. Now that we have a surplus, I believe that we could offer a win-win solution in the Congress to change the Medicaid formula.
I talked about this first in Albany and I see the mayor is here. And they know that we don't get nearly enough to reimburse us for what we spend on Medicaid. We only get 50 percent of the cost that we should get.
Well, what we should be doing, instead of just getting 50 cents on a dollar, is getting more. And the way to do that is to provide a choice, given the surplus, so that a state like New York could have a better deal without trying to run the political gauntlet of taking money away from a state like Texas just to name one, that gets 62 cents.
I think there's a lot we could do creatively that would begin to change these funding formulas. But when it comes to western New York, I have an absolute commitment to turning the economy around, using all my contacts any way that I can. And I will be there day in and day out to get it done.
Russert: I have an e-mail question regarding Jonathan Pollard, the American naval officer who betrayed the country, was sentenced to life for espionage and treason. "The secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the director of the FBI and the head of the CIA have all said do not pardon him; do not grant him clemency. Do you support clemency for Mr. Pollard? And if so, why would you even consider it?"
Clinton: Well, Tim, what Mr. Pollard did was a terrible crime against the United States. It was a great breach of trust and national security. And he pled guilty, was convicted and is serving a very long prison term. When I looked into this, I think that everyone who had an opinion on it agrees that what he did was absolutely wrong.
The question for me is around the due process issues concerning the way that he was sentenced. It is something that I have questions about, and I believe that fair-minded people should ask similar questions. There was secret evidence put in before the court that has never been revealed; only people with high security clearance can see it.
And two men whom I respect very much have reached difference opinions based on reviewing that material. On the one hand, Senator Lieberman believes strongly that no action with respect to clemency should be granted. And Senator Schumer, who has also reviewed the material, believes that it should.
Neither my opponent nor I are in a position to have seen that material, so far as I know, so we, like every other American, are in a position of not knowing how to form an opinion about this.
But I am troubled by the due process issues that I think we should ask questions about and get further information about so that we can make our own judgment.
Russert: The writer asks, "Is there any other spy you would consider pardoning or is this just a play for Jewish votes in New York?"
Clinton: I don't know any other spy who was sentenced in the way that Mr. Pollard was. If there is such a person, I would be equally concerned about the process.
I'm not pre-judging what any outcome should be because I feel very strongly he committed a serious crime against our country, and I am very conscious of the important national security issues that are raised by what he did. But again, I will just say that it does bother me, as an American and as a lawyer, that there was evidence presented that no one has seen and I think we should ask questions about that.
Russert: Mr. Lazio?
Lazio: I just want to go back if I can to the last question because, again, it gets back to this issue of credibility.
Mrs. Clinton talks about changing the formula on Medicaid. They've had eight years to change the formula on Medicaid. And the one opportunity to help the Medicaid program in New York, the president vetoed it and my opponent stood by.
You know, whether it's the FLAN, Puerto Rican terrorists, or Jonathan Pollard, American national security should never jeopardized or undermined or even questioned because of politics.
Last--in fact, in December of 1998, President Clinton made a statement. He said that he was going to complete a review on Jonathan Pollard by January 11 of 1999, and issue an explanation as to whether or not clemency would be granted. And, of course, the president is the only one who can issue clemency.
Well, 600 days have gone by and still no answer. I think the president owes it to us to make a decision, make it public and let's get on with things.
Russert: Do you believe Mr. Pollard should be pardoned?
Lazio: Well, I believe, again, that I have not had access to the kind of classified information that's necessary. The only person who is in a position to make that decision and the only person who's got the authority to actually issue a pardon, is the president himself.
Russert: A question from Mark Hamister (ph), who is here in the audience. "Much of America is watching this race. Can both of you set an example to the rest of the country and renounce the use of soft money ads for the rest of this campaign?"
Lazio: Absolutely. As somebody who has twice voted for McCain-Feingold, who's a strong believer in campaign finance, who's got the support of the leader on the campaign finance movement, John McCain, I think it's my responsibility to try and lead on this effort.
As America looks to New York, this is an opportunity for us to be able to say, "We don't have to rely on soft money." And my campaign has not aired one commercial nor raised one dollar in soft money. My opponent has raised soft money by the bucket loads, and I guess they've learned how to raise soft money over many years.
Let me say this, though, we have an opportunity to do something important here tonight. I have right here a pledge that I sent over to my opponent. It's a ban on soft money pledge. I'm willing to say we will neither raise nor spend a dime of soft money and ask all outside groups to stay away if my opponent is willing to do the same.
And you know what, Mrs. Clinton? If you agree to do this, we'll be making a huge statement about character and trust to the rest of the country.
And let's get it done now and today. Let's make sure we bring all the press in and actually nail a deal down that we can be proud of.
Russert: No soft money and no outside groups advertising on New York television?
Lazio: Yeah. If my opponent is willing to agree to the same, I'm willing to not raise a dime of soft money, not spend a dime of soft money and call on all outside groups to stay away from this race and not spend any money in furtherance of my campaign...
Russert: And you'll make phone calls to Governor Pataki, if need be.
Lazio: Or make any phone calls.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton?
Clinton: Well, Tim, you know, back in May I made exactly that offer. I said, "Let's forego soft money, but let's also be sure we don't have these independent expenditures like the one we just talked about concerning Senator Moynihan and the fake ad." And I said, "You know, if you would do this, I would certainly abide by it."
If you will get signed agreements from all your friends who say they're raising $32 million and will not be running so-called independent ads, will not be doing push polling, will not be doing mass mailings that are filled with these outrageous personal attacks, I think we can have an agreement. I'd like to see those signed letters from all those different groups that you have counted on to flood this state.
You know, I was in the Tonawanda not so long ago, and I was at a senior center at a lunch. And an elderly woman, you know, reached up to shake my hand.
She said, "I'm so glad to see you in person because I've been getting the meanest mail about you." Well, I know that everybody in New York is getting flooded with mean mail.
I think if we can get signed agreements from all of your allies, when you wouldn't ask the one group to stop, but if you will get those signed agreements, then, you know, we can make a deal. But I also...
Russert: Do we have a deal, Mr. Lazio?
Lazio: I'd like to get it done today.
Russert: Will you get those signed agreements?
Lazio: I'd be happy to. But I want you to be the--I want to get it done right now. I don't want any more wiggle room. I don't want any more evasion.
The truth is, Tim, is that Mrs. Clinton has been airing millions of dollars in soft-money ads. It's the height of hypocrisy to talk about soft money when she's been raising soft money by the bucket loads out in Hollywood and spending all that money on negative advertising. Height of hypocrisy.
Let's just get this deal done right now.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton?
Lazio: Right here. Here it is. Let's sign it. It's the New York Freedom from Soft Money Pact. I signed it. We can both sit down together. We can all get all the media in here. We will make sure it's an ironclad deal.
And I'm happy to abide by anything that we all agree on. But let's get it done now. Let's not get any more wiggle room.
Russert: Mrs. Clinton, do you want to respond?
Clinton: Well, yes I certainly do. You know, I admire that. That was a wonderful performance...
Lazio: Well, why don't you sign it?
Clinton: ... and you did it very well.
Lazio: I'm not asking you to admire it. I'm asking you to sign it.
Clinton: Well, I would be happy to when you give me the signed letters...
Lazio: Right here. Right here...
Clinton: When you give me the...
Lazio: Sign it right now.
Clinton: ... well, we'll shake--we'll shake on it.
Lazio: No, I want your signature, because I think everybody wants to see you signing something that you said you were for.
I'm for it. I haven't done it. You've been violating it. Why don't you stand up and do something important for America while America is looking at New York? Why don't you show some leadership because it goes to trust and character?
Clinton: And this new radio ad from the Republican Party using soft money is not part of your campaign.
Lazio: What are we talking about here? Let's just put things in perspective.
Russert: We are out of time, we have to allow...
Lazio: $6 million, $7 million, $8 million that you've been spending...
Russert: We have to allow--we have to allow time for closing statements.
One of the more interesting questions was from Larry Meckler (ph) who said, "If you were on "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" who would be your lifeline?"
If you can answer in 10 seconds, Mrs. Clinton, I will give it to you.
Clinton: You, Tim.
Russert: Mr. Lazio?
Lazio: My wife.
Russert: Now, we have our closing statements from our candidates. By flip of the coin, Mrs. Clinton goes first.
Clinton: Well, I want to thank everyone who put on this hour, and I look forward to debating these issues and talking about them, because that's what I've tried to run is a campaign based on the issues and the real facts of what's at stake in this election.
You know, I've traveled all over the state and I just hope that New Yorkers will decide it's more important what I'm for than where I'm from. I will fight very hard with specific ideas about how to provide quality, affordable health care, modernize our schools, create good jobs in every corner of the state, including and especially upstate, and get our fair share from Washington.
I'll also fight to maintain our national prosperity by paying down the national debt and cutting the taxes that middle-class people need to be cut. I'll also work to secure Social Security and add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. I believe that we need to get the guns out of the hands of criminals, protect our environment, and preserve a woman's right to choose.
I will use the 30 years of my experience to go to work for the people of New York.
But look, I know that there may be some who think that the most important issue is who has lived here the longest. That's the test. And if that's the test, I can't pass that test.
But if you want someone who will get up every day and be on your side and fight for better schools, health care and jobs, I can pass that test. And I would be honored to serve as the senator on behalf of the people of New York.
Russert: Thank you, Mrs. Clinton.
The closing statement from Mr. Lazio.
Lazio: Thank you, Tim.
At the heart of this campaign are two critical issues: character and trust. They've come up all night. Now, the measure of someone's character and trust is not what you say, it's what you actually do. Let me point to three things that I've actually gotten done in Congress.
First, I wrote and passed sweeping housing legislation that's helped the elderly, Native Americans, the homeless, the disabled, frail elderly and new parents get access to quality housing.
Second, I've been an advocate for cancer patients in the House. I wrote and passed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act. That provides low-income women with quality cancer care for the first time.
And third, I've been the champion for the disabled. I wrote and passed the Work Incentives Improvement Act. That's historic legislation that allows disabled Americans to go back to work and keep their health care. And I got it signed into law.
Now, you've got to decide in this campaign how you define character and trust. My opponent has talked and talked, but she's done nothing for New York. I've delivered for New York. And, as that old Yankee manager, Casey Stengel, used to say, "You can check it out."
So, I look forward to your vote in November, and I thank you for being with me here tonight.
Russert: Mr. Lazio, we thank you very much.
We thank both our candidates for a very spirited and substantive discussion.
We have about 30 seconds left and I have a question which I think might be interesting.
This Sunday, the Buffalo Bills versus the New York Jets...
The Buffalo Bills versus the New York Jets, Mrs. Clinton. Who are you for?
Clinton: Well, I'm for the three New York teams, all of whom have undefeated seasons.
Russert: Not bad.
But who's the only team that plays in New York state?
Clinton: Well, that's true. It is the Bills, as you never tire of reminding me of.
Russert: Mr. Lazio, Jets or Bills?
Lazio: Only a Buffalo native would say that. I'm with my friend.
Russert: Who do you say?
Lazio: I love all three teams.
Russert: You're straddling, Mr. Lazio!
Thank you very much, from God's country, Buffalo, New York. We thank our candidates, thank our panel, we thank our audience.
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