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
evenings talking about them in detail.
Vice Pres. GORE: Suits me.
Mr. LEHRER: We're not going to do that. But many experts, including
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
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.
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
that it's very important to understand that cutting benefits under Social
Security means that people like Winifred Skinner from Des Moines, Iowa,
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
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
this year. The governor wants to divert $1 out of every $6 off into the
market, which means that he would drain $1 trillion out of the Social
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
I will veto anything that takes money out of Social Security for
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
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
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
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
get a better rate of return for your own money than the paltry 2 percent
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
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
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,
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
entitlement. That's how it works. And the money is used to pay the
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
come up with the money from somewhere else.
I would like to know from the governor--I know we're not supposed to ask
other questions, but I'd be interested in knowing, does that $1 trillion
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
I want to tell you, if we don't trust younger workers to manage some of
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
love mine. And the man loves his family a lot, and I appreciate that
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
stops here,' from the Oval Office desk to `The buck stops here' on the
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.
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
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
Mr. LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I think we ought to attack our country's problems,
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
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
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
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
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
be fortunate enough to earn your vote.
Mr. LEHRER: Are you saying all of this is irrelevant, Vice President Gore,
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
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
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
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
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
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
this ever since the primaries. I believe there needs to be instant
on the Internet as to who's giving to whom. I think we need to fully
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
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
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
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
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
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.
President, thank you. It's been a good, lively exchange.
Obviously we have huge differences of opinion. Mine is that I want to
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
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
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
to put our troops in all places at all times. I don't want to be the
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
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
by insisting that there be strong accountability systems.
Now my intentions are to earn your vote and earn your confidence. I'm
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
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
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
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
women of this country, middle-class families. Why? Because you are the
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
powerful forces might stand in the way.
There's a woman named Winifred Skinner here tonight from Iowa; I mentioned
earlier. She's 79 years old. She has Social Security. I'm not going to
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
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
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
at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The format then
will be more informal, more conversational, with the two candidates seated
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)
Click Here for Next Part: Analysis.
Part One | Part Two |
Part Three | Analysis