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Debate Between the Presidential Candidates:
Al Gore and George W. Bush

Boston, Massachusetts October 3, 2000


Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Analysis

Read the transcript:
Mr. LEHRER: New question on Social Security. Both of you have Social Security reform plans.

Vice Pres. GORE: Right.

Mr. LEHRER: And we could spend the rest of the evening and two or three other evenings talking about them in detail.

Vice Pres. GORE: Suits me.

Mr. LEHRER: We're not going to do that. But many experts, including Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, Vice President Gore, say that it will be impossible for either of you, essentially, to keep the system viable on its own during the coming baby-boomer retirement onslaught without either reducing benefits or increasing taxes. Do you disagree?

Vice Pres. GORE: I do disagree because if we can keep our prosperity going, if we can continue balancing the budget and paying down the debt, then the strong economy keeps generating surpluses, and here's what I would do. Here's my plan. I will keep Social Security in a lockbox, and that pays down the national debt, and the interest savings I would put right back into Social Security. That extends the life of Social Security for 55 years. Now I think that it's very important to understand that cutting benefits under Social Security means that people like Winifred Skinner from Des Moines, Iowa, who's here, would really have a much harder time because there are millions of seniors who are living almost hand-to-mouth.

And you talk about cutting benefits, I don't go along with it. I am opposed to it. I'm also opposed to a plan that diverts one out of every $6 away from the Social Security trust fund. You know, Social Security is a trust fund that pays the checks this year with the money that's paid into Social Security this year. The governor wants to divert $1 out of every $6 off into the stock market, which means that he would drain $1 trillion out of the Social Security trust fund in this generation, over the next 10 years. And Social Security, under that approach, would go bankrupt within this generation.

His leading adviser on this plan actually said that would be OK because then the Social Security trust fund could start borrowing. It would borrow up to $3 trillion. Now Social Security has never done that, and I don't think it should do that. I think it should stay in a lockbox, and I'll tell you this: I will veto anything that takes money out of Social Security for privatization or anything else other than Social Security.

Mr. LEHRER: Governor?

Gov. BUSH: Well, I thought it was interesting that on the two minutes he spent about a million and a half on my plan, which means he doesn't want you to know that what he's doing is loading up IOUs for future generations. He puts no real assets in the Social Security system. The revenues exceed the expenses in Social Security to the year 2015, which means all retirees are going to get the promises made. So for those of you who he wants to scare into the voting booth to vote for him, hear me loud and clear: A promise made will be a promise kept.

And you bet we want to allow younger workers to take some of their own money--see, that's the difference of opinion. The vice president thinks it's the government's money. The payroll taxes are your money. You ought to put it in prudent, safe investments so that $1 trillion over the next 10 years grows to be $3 trillion. The money stays within the Social Security system. It's a part of the Social Security system. He keeps claiming it's going to be out of Social Security. It's your money, it's a part of your retirement benefits. It's a fundamental difference between what we believe.

I want you to have your own asset that you can call your own. I want you to have an asset that you can pass on from one generation to the next. I want to get a better rate of return for your own money than the paltry 2 percent that the current Social Security trust gets today. So Mr. Greenspan I thought missed an opportunity to say there is a third way, and that is to get a better rate of return on the Social Security moneys coming into the trust. There's $2.3 trillion of surplus that we can use to make sure younger workers have a Social Security plan in the future, if we're smart, if we trust workers and if we understand the power of the compounding rate of interest.

Vice Pres. GORE: Here's the difference. I give a new incentive for younger workers to save their own money and invest their own money, but not at the expense of Social Security; on top of Social Security. My plan is Social Security plus. The governor's plan is Social Security minus. Your future benefits would be cut by the amount that's diverted into the stock market, and if you make bad investments, that's too bad. But even before then, the problem hits because the money contributed to Social Security this year is an entitlement. That's how it works. And the money is used to pay the benefits for seniors this year. If you cut the amount going in, $1 out of every $6, then you have to cut the value of each check by $1 out of every $6, unless you come up with the money from somewhere else.

I would like to know from the governor--I know we're not supposed to ask each other questions, but I'd be interested in knowing, does that $1 trillion come from the trust fund, or does it come from the rest of the budget?

Gov. BUSH: No. There's enough money to pay seniors today in the current affairs of Social Security. The $1 trillion comes from the surplus. Surplus is more money than needed.

Let me tell you what your plan is. It's not Social Security plus. It's Social Security plus huge debt is what it is. You leave future generations with tremendous IOUs. It's time to have a leader that doesn't put off, you know, tomorrow what we should do today. It's time to have somebody to step up and say, `Look, let's let younger workers take some of their own money and, under certain guidelines, invest it in the private markets.' The safest of federal investments yields 4 percent. That's twice the amount of rate of return in the current Social Security trust.

Mr. LEHRER: All right.

Gov. BUSH: There's a fundamental difference of opinion here, folks.

Mr. LEHRER: Well...

Gov. BUSH: Younger worker after younger worker, here's my call that says I trust you. And you know what? The issue is changing because seniors now understand that the promise made will be a promise kept. But younger workers now understand we'd better have a government that trusts them, and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Vice Pres. GORE: Could I respond to that, Jim?

Mr. LEHRER: All right, new question. No.

Vice Pres. GORE: This is a big issue.

Mr. LEHRER: Listen, we're almost...

Vice Pres. GORE: This is a big issue. Could we do another round on it?

Mr. LEHRER: We're almost out of time.

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, just briefly? When FDR established Social Security, they didn't call them IOUs. They called it the full faith in credit of the United States. If you don't have trust in that, I do.

Mr. LEHRER: All right. We...

Vice Pres. GORE: And if you take it out of the surplus and the trust fund, that means the trust fund goes bankrupt, in this generation, within 20 years.

Gov. BUSH: Well, if I could...

Mr. LEHRER: Go ahead.

Gov. BUSH: This is a government that thinks a 2 percent rate of return on your money is satisfactory. It's not. This is a government that says younger workers can't possibly have their own asset. We need to think differently about the issue. We need to make sure our seniors get the promise made. But I want to tell you, if we don't trust younger workers to manage some of their own money with the Social Security surplus, to grow from $1 trillion to $3 trillion, it's going to be impossible to bridge the gap without what Mr. Gore's plan will do, causing huge payroll taxes or major benefit reductions.

Mr. LEHRER: New question.

Gov. BUSH: Yes, sir.

Mr. LEHRER: Governor Bush, are there issues of character that distinguish you from Vice President Gore?

Gov. BUSH: Well, the man loves his wife, and I appreciate that a lot. And I love mine. And the man loves his family a lot, and I appreciate that because I love my family. I think the thing that discouraged me about the vice president was uttering those famous words, `no controlling legal authority.' I felt like that there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House. I believe they've moved that sign, `The buck stops here,' from the Oval Office desk to `The buck stops here' on the Lincoln Bedroom, and that's not good for the country. It's not right.

We need to have a new look about how we conduct ourselves in office. There's a huge trust. I see it all the time when people come up to me and say, `I don't want you to let me down again.' And we can do better than the past administration has done. It's time for a fresh start. It's time for a new look. It's time for a fresh start after a season of cynicism. And so I don't know the man well, but I've been disappointed about how he and his administration has conducted the fund-raising affairs. You know, going to a Buddhist temple and then claiming it wasn't a fund-raiser is just not my view of responsibility.

Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I think we ought to attack our country's problems, not attack each other. I want to spend my time making this country even better than it is, not trying to make you out to be a bad person. You may want to focus on scandals. I want to focus on results.

As I said a couple of months ago, I stand here as my own man, and I want you to see me for who I really am. Tipper and I have been married for 30 years. We became grandparents a year and a half ago. We've got four children. I have devoted 24 years of my life to public service, and I've said this before and I'll say it again: If you entrust me with the presidency, I may not be the most exciting politician, but I will work hard for you every day. I will fight for middle-class families and working men and women, and I will never let you down.

Mr. LEHRER: So, Governor, what are you saying when you mention the fund-raising scandals or the fund-raising charges that involved Vice President Gore? What are you saying that the voters should take from that that's relevant to this election?

Gov. BUSH: I think they ought to factor it in when they make their decision in the voting booth...

Mr. LEHRER: In what way?

Gov. BUSH: ...who can do better job at--pardon me?

Mr. LEHRER: In what way?

Gov. BUSH: Well, I just--you know, I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life.

Mr. LEHRER: Yeah.

Gov. BUSH: I think that...

Mr. LEHRER: Go ahead. Excuse me.

Gov. BUSH: Well, I think that's part of the need for a cultural change. We need to say each of us need to be responsible for what we do, and people in the highest office of the land must be responsible for decisions they make in life. And that's the way I've conducted myself as governor of Texas, and that's the way I'll conduct myself as president of the United States, should I be fortunate enough to earn your vote.

Mr. LEHRER: Are you saying all of this is irrelevant, Vice President Gore, to this election?

Vice Pres. GORE: No. I think the American people should take into account who we are as individuals, what our experience is, what our positions on the issues are, what our proposals are. I am asking you again to see me for who I really am. I'm offering you my own vision, my own experience, my own proposals. And, incidentally, one of them is this: This current campaign financing system has not reflected credit on anybody in either party. And that's one of the reasons I've said before and I'll pledge here tonight, if I'm president, the very first bill that Joe Lieberman and I will send to the United States Congress is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

And the reason it's that important is that all of the other issues, whether prescription drugs for all seniors that are opposed by the drug companies or the Patients Bill of Rights to take the decisions away from the HMOs and give them to the doctors and nurses, opposed by the HMOs and insurance companies--all of these other proposals are going to be a lot easier to get passed for the American people if we limit the influence of special interest money and give democracy back to the American people. And I wish Governor Bush would join me this evening in endorsing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

Mr. LEHRER: Governor Bush.

Gov. BUSH: You know, this man has no credibility on the issue. As a matter of fact, I read in The New York Times where he said he co-sponsored the McCain-Feingold campaign fund-raising bill, but he wasn't in the Senate with Senator Feingold. And so--look, what you need to know about me is I'm going to uphold the law. I'm going to have an attorney general that enforces the law; that the time for campaign funding reform is after the election. This man has outspent me. The special interests are outspending me. And I I am not going to lay down my arms in the middle of a campaign for somebody who has got no credibility on the issue.

Vice Pres. GORE: Well, could...

Mr. LEHRER: Senator McCain said in--excuse me one sec...

Vice Pres. GORE: Go ahead.

Mr. LEHRER: ...Vice President Gore.

Vice Pres. GORE: Please.

Mr. LEHRER: Senator McCain said in August that it doesn't matter which one of you is president of the United States in January, there's going to be blood on the floor of the United States Senate and he's going to tie up the United States Senate until campaign finance reform is passed that includes a ban on soft money. First of all, would you support that effort by him, or would you sign a bill that is finally passed that concluded soft...

Gov. BUSH: Well, I would support an effort to ban corporate soft money and labor union soft money so long as there was dues checkoff. I've campaigned on this ever since the primaries. I believe there needs to be instant disclosure on the Internet as to who's giving to whom. I think we need to fully enforce the law. I mean, I think we need to have an attorney general that says, `If laws are broken, we'll enforce the law.' Be strict about it. Be firm about it.

Vice Pres. GORE: Look, Governor Bush, you have attacked my character and credibility, and I am not going to respond in kind. I think we ought to focus on the problems and not attack each other. And one of the serious problems--hear me well--is that our system of government is being undermined by too much influence coming from special interest money. We have to get a handle on it. And like John McCain, I have learned from experience--and it's not a new position for me. Twenty-four years ago, I supported full public financing of all federal elections.

Mr. LEHRER: Yeah.

Vice Pres. GORE: And anybody who thinks I'm just saying it'll be the first bill I send to the Congress...

Mr. LEHRER: All right.

Gov. BUSH: Let me just say one thing.

Vice Pres. GORE: ...I want you to know I care passionately about this, and I will fight until it becomes law.

Gov. BUSH: I want people to hear what he just said. He is for full public financing of congressional elections. I'm absolutely adamantly opposed to that. I don't want the government financing congressional elections.

Mr. LEHRER: And on...

Gov. BUSH: And there--sorry.

Mr. LEHRER: I would just say on that wonderful note of disagreement, we have to stop here. And we want to go now to your closing statements. Governor Bush is first. You have two minutes.

Gov. BUSH: Thank you, Jim. Thank the University of Massachusetts. Mr. Vice President, thank you. It's been a good, lively exchange. Obviously we have huge differences of opinion. Mine is that I want to empower people in their own lives. I also want to go to Washington to get some positive things done. It's going to require a new spirit, a spirit of cooperation. It's going to require the ability of a Republican president to reach out across the partisan divide and to say to Democrats, `Let's come together to do what's right for America.' It's been my record as governor of Texas; it'll be how I conduct myself, if I'm fortunate enough to earn your vote, as president of the United States.

I want to finally get something done on Medicare. I want to make sure prescription drugs are available for all seniors, and I want seniors to have additional choices when it comes to choosing their health-care plans. I want to finally get something done on Social Security. I want to make sure the seniors have the promise made will be a promise kept, but I want younger workers to be able to manage some of their own money, some of their own payroll taxes in the private sector under certain guidelines to get a better rate of return on your own money.

I want to rebuild our military to keep the peace. I want to have a strong hand when it comes to the United States in world affairs. I don't want to try to put our troops in all places at all times. I don't want to be the world's policeman. I want to be the world's peacemaker by having a military of high morale and a military that's well-equipped. I want to have anti-ballistic missile systems to protect ourselves and our allies from a rogue nation that may try to hold us hostage or blackmail a friend.

I also want to make sure our education system fulfills its hope and promise. I've had a strong record of working with Democrats and Republicans in Texas to make sure no child is left behind. I understand the limited role of the federal government, but it can be a constructive role when it comes to reform by insisting that there be strong accountability systems.

Now my intentions are to earn your vote and earn your confidence. I'm asking for your vote. I want you to be on my team. And for those of you working, thanks from the bottom of my heart. And for those of you making up your mind, I'd be honored to have your support.

Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore, two minutes.

Vice Pres. GORE: I want to thank everybody who watched and listened tonight because this is, indeed, a crucial time in American history. We're at a fork in the road. We have this incredible prosperity, but a lot of people have been left behind. And we have a very important decision to make: Will we use the prosperity to enrich all of our families and not just the few? One important way of looking at this is to ask: Who are you going to fight for?

Throughout my career in public service, I have fought for the working men and women of this country, middle-class families. Why? Because you are the ones who have the hardest time paying taxes, the hardest time making ends meet. You are the ones who are making car payments and mortgage payments and doing right by your kids, and a lot of times there are powerful forces that raid against you. And make no mistake about it, they do have undue influence in Washington, DC, and it makes a difference if you have a president who will fight for you.

I know one thing about the position of president. It's the only position in our Constitution that's filled by an individual who is given the responsibility to fight not just for one state or one district or the well-connected or wealthy, but to fight for all of the people, including especially those who most need somebody who will stand up and take on whatever powerful forces might stand in the way.

There's a woman named Winifred Skinner here tonight from Iowa; I mentioned her earlier. She's 79 years old. She has Social Security. I'm not going to cut her benefits or support any proposal that would. She gets a small pension, but in order to pay for her prescription drug benefits, she has to go out seven days a week, several hours a day, picking up cans. She came all the way from Iowa in a Winnebago, with her poodle, in order to attend here tonight. And I want to tell her I am going to fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors, and I'm going to fight for the people of this country for a prosperity that benefits all.

Mr. LEHRER: And we will continue this dialogue next week on October the 11th at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The format then will be more informal, more conversational, with the two candidates seated at a table with me. The third will be October 17th at Washington University in St. Louis, and that will follow a town hall-type format.

Also ahead, the day after tomorrow, on October 5th, there's the 90-minute debate between the Democratic candidate for vice president, Senator Joe Lieberman, and the Republican candidate, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. It will be held at Center College in Danville, Kentucky. The moderator will be Bernard Shaw of CNN.

Thank you, Governor Bush, Vice President Gore. See you next week. And for now, from Boston, I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.

(Soundbite of applause)

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