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Sen. John Edwards

Morning Edition: Jan. 30, 2003

audio icon Listen to an extended version of the interview.

BOB EDWARDS, host: You've said that you want to represent "regular" people. What does that mean in terms of policies, in terms of policies that would affect peoples' lives?

Sen. JOHN EDWARDS: It means having economic proposals that instead of just lifting up people at the top, in fact lift up the entire economy and all Americans. Instead of having a tax-cut policy, for example, that President Bush has, where a huge portion goes to the top one percent of income earners in America, we have tax cuts for the middle class, tax cuts for the lower class, we have targeted tax cuts that allow people to educate their kids, that allow small businesses to provide health care. It means having a public education system where we provide incentives to get quality teachers into chronically disadvantaged areas, where it's difficult to get and retain quality teachers, where we have a program that I have suggested called College for Everyone, so that any young person who's willing to work hard, meet standards and work 10 hours a week their first year of college, can go free of tuition to a state university or a community college. It basically means that we have economic, education, health-care programs that embrace all Americans and give them the opportunity to meet their potential, and including people like the kind of families that I came from, where my Dad worked in the mill and I was the first person to go to college.

BOB EDWARDS: Run that tuition plan by me again. How exactly would that work?

Sen. EDWARDS: What happens is, if a young person... We're having an increasing problem of young people who are qualified to go to college not going to college because they can't afford it. They need to go to work, help their families, the tuition costs are escalating. So what I'm proposing is if you take college prep courses in high school, number one; number two, when you get to college you're willing to work 10 hours a week, either in community service, or on campus, for a professor, or in a normal, private-sector job, then you will be allowed to go tuition free to either a community college or a state university. And the idea is to get people who are qualified to go to college but aren't going for financial reasons into college, so that they understand what's happening, they understand that it's something they can benefit from and they know what programs are available to them.

BOB EDWARDS: That gets you through one year. What about the others?

Sen. EDWARDS: Well, the key is to get them there the first year, so they see what it is -- what the benefit is of being there, and they start to understand what the financial aid packages are, both work and loan packages that are available to them. A lot of these young people are like me, you know, this all... when I was a senior in high school, and, I didn't have anyone in my family who'd been to college; it was... it just looked like a mess. I mean, it was hard to understand what we needed to do. It was hard to understand what programs were available. And for young people, high school seniors who come from families that don't have that kind of background, what we want to do is, we want to get them to college, get them started, let them understand what programs are available to them, and also understand what it is they get from a college education.

BOB EDWARDS: There are a lot of working-class kids who don't have college prep courses available to them.

Sen. EDWARDS: Yeah, that's another part of the package. I mean, one of the things we have to do is make sure that every high school student in America has that program available to them. I mean, you can't... we certainly shouldn't discriminate against kids who happen to go to a school, you know, where they don't have that kind of preparatory curriculum available to them. We need to have that kind of college prep curriculum available in every high school in America.

BOB EDWARDS: What are you going to do about earlier education?

Sen. EDWARDS: Well, I think the single place in a young person's life where you can have the most impact is early childhood education. In North Carolina we've had a program called Smart Start, which has been enormously effective, which basically targets kids from disadvantaged families but gets them from early childhood, two years up, into a learning program, into an environment where they can get prepared to go to school. And I think every study that's ever been done has shown that that's the place, between the ages of 2 and 6, where you can have the greatest impact, long-term, on a young person's life. So I think it is very important to invest in early childhood education programs... a program like Smart Start, a program like Head Start, where, unfortunately this president has taken us in an opposite direction. We need to give kids a chance to succeed.

BOB EDWARDS: What is not going to get done in the country if there's not an Edwards administration?

Sen. EDWARDS: The first and foremost, globally, is the issues that affect people's day-to-day lives. How to run the economy and the federal government in a responsible way that gives real opportunity to everybody. This president will not do that, he has not done it up until now, and he will not do it. That would occur in an Edwards administration. Second, we would make significant progress toward moving away from having two school systems in America, which we largely have today.... since Brown v. Board of Education, they're not based specifically on race, although they have racial implications. It's the result now, I think, of economic conditions. And it just shouldn't be. In America we believe that every child, no matter where they live, who their family is, or what the color of their skin, is entitled to as good an education as the richest parent in America can give to their children. And in my administration I would do everything in my power to get to that place, by putting quality teachers in every classroom, by paying them well, by holding them to high standards, and by providing incentives for those teachers to go to places they otherwise would not want to go.

And third, I think besides economic... what I'd would do with the economy and the federal budget... what I would do with public education... I believe that particularly, those of us in leadership positions from the South carry a special responsibility when it comes to issues of civil rights. I have talked about it from the beginning of my campaign, I will talk about these issues throughout my campaign, including, for example, promotion of programs that lift up people who still suffer the effects of discrimination, such as the University of Michigan affirmative action program... fighting for judges, and in my case the appointment of judges, the nomination of judges, who we know will vigorously enforce the civil rights laws. And not just civil rights but equal rights. The fact that women are paid 73 cents on the dollar for work equivalent to work being done by men is unacceptable in America. I would just add, and I hope we can talk about this, I would lead America to a place in the world that instead of creating generation after generation of people who are antagonistic toward America, and in many cases hate America, that America would be respected. We can stay strong militarily, economically, politically, and we can use that strength to promote the things we really believe in, like human rights and democracy, freedom. But how we lead is enormously important, and unfortunately this president leads in a way that creates antagonism. He announces what he's gonna do and then expects others to just follow. Our European friends want us to just talk to them. They understand at the end of the day we're going to do what we have to do. What do we do in Afghanistan to help them rebuild their country? What's going to happen if Saddam is gone in a post-Saddam Iraq? The president, I was encouraged to hear last night, is now stepping to the plate on the AIDS crisis in Africa. But the world is looking to see not just whether we're going to maintain our strength, but whether we care about their peace and their prosperity. And I would say to the American people, if what we're focused on is your family's safety, your family will be safer in a world where we're strong, where we're engaged, where we're leading, but we're respected because there is no question that every family in America is safer in that kind of world.

BOB EDWARDS: But you can't see Presidents Lieberman, Gephardt, Dean or whomever doing those same things?

Sen. EDWARDS: Well, I think they bring different perspectives. I think all of us bring different perspectives and different ideas to the race. I think the Democratic primary voters are going to have to make their own judgment... I come from a different place, certainly than a number of them. As I've talked about already, coming from a working family where my Dad worked in a mill all his life and I was the first to go to college and spent my whole life fighting for the same people I grew up with... they're the reason I ran for the Senate and they're the reason I want to be president, and I think that's a different perspective than some of my colleagues that are running, and if I can be judged on the basis of my own ideas, my own vision and my own personal character, I'll be satisfied.

BOB EDWARDS: You wanted to cut the government by 10 percent. We're expanding government now. Enormously. But you would exempt Homeland Security and Defense.

Sen. EDWARDS: That's correct.

BOB EDWARDS: Which now seems to be... well, what about the other half of the government? (Chuckles.)

Sen. EDWARDS: You mean that's a big chunk of the government now. Well, I think there have been a number of studies that have indicated that just through personnel-management ... serious personnel-management programs and through the process of attrition, it would be actually relatively easy to reduce the size of the federal government, outside (of) defense and homeland defense... BOB EDWARDS: But then you'd be cutting things that are close to you... education...

Sen. EDWARDS: No... but we're talking about two different things. If we're talking about investing money into schools, doing what needs to be done to pay teachers better, doing what needs to be done to provide quality early childhood education, after-school programs, that's different than paying for a bureaucrat who's sitting in Washington, working. I will continue to fight for things, and for money, including money that will improve the quality of our education, that will improve the economy, that will provide real opportunity for people. Those are not the same thing.

BOB EDWARDS: How would you pay for your programs when we're in a time of deficits here?

Sen. EDWARDS: You mentioned one, which is to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy. But the bigger component for me is I would not allow the president's tax cut for the top one percent, the top two rates, to go into effect in 2004. That saves about $1.5 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. My belief is besides stimulating the economy in the short term, and I have a number of ideas about how to do that, it has to be done in the context of a long-term fiscal discipline, creating an environment for long-term economic growth. That can't happen unless we're willing to step to the plate on the tax cut. You know, even those who were for the tax cut, and I was not, when it was originally passed, circumstances have changed dramatically. We're now in a serious economic downturn, we've been attacked on our own soil, we're trying to fund a war on terrorism, we're trying to fund homeland security. In my judgment it is irresponsible, under those circumstances, to allow a tax cut for the top one percent of Americans to go into effect.

BOB EDWARDS: So how do you stimulate the economy?

Sen. EDWARDS: The way you stimulate economy is by doing things in the short term that really get the economy going, give it a shot in the arm. Specifically, I would do a $500-per-familyrefundable energy tax credit. Every family in America's going to have increased energy costs this winter. I would do that and do it immediately. Second, I would provide significantly more help for the states than the president is proposing. I would do $50 billion. We're laying off firefighters, we're laying off first responders, state budgets are in crisis all over America. They will undermine what we're trying to do at the national level to stimulate if we don't provide them with some help. I'd provide a serious, short-term bonus depreciation to businesses so they buy things they otherwise may not buy, and I'd extend unemployment insurance. What I'm suggesting would cost about $120 billion, as opposed to the president's, which is $675 billion. That's all in the first year, by the way.

BOB EDWARDS: You were a co-author of the patients' bill of rights, giving Americans more options in health care. What will you do to revive that?

Sen. EDWARDS: We're going to bring the patients' bill of rights up every time we get an opportunity on the floor of the Senate. If I were president, I would promote it as vigorously as I know how. We got a great vote in the United States Senate and got it passed through the Senate. Unfortunately, it's not the law of the land today because the president's not for it. And the president has opposed us every step of the way in trying to get a real patients' bill of rights passed.

BOB EDWARDS: What else has to be done to fix the health care system?

Sen. EDWARDS: There's lots that needs to be done. Another thing we did in the Senate that has not become law because of the opposition of the president is I helped along with some others, Sen. Schumer, Sen. McCain, helped write a bill in the Senate to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. Basically what it did is close these legal loopholes that are being used to keep generics out of the market place. The president unfortunately did not support the bill, and as a result it has not become law. It would have not only helped bring down the cost of prescription drugs for all Americans, it would have also helped deal with the serious financial crisis we have in Medicare today. The way I think about it is, for people who have health insurance, the patients' bill of rights needs to empower them to make their own health-care decisions. We need to start dealing with serious cost and affordability issues in the health-care system. One way to do it is to address the issue of the cost of prescription drugs. And then we have the issue of 40-some-odd million Americans who don't have health insurance. And we ought to today expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to include the parents of those children. We ought to follow through on an idea that was first proposed by President Clinton to allow people over the age of 55 who are not eligible for Medicare into the Medicare system, at cost, and below cost for those who can't afford it. That takes care of a significant number of the people who don't have health insurance. And in fact as we speak I'm in the process of putting together my ideas about how to address all these health-care issues in a set of proposals I'll be making in the coming months.

BOB EDWARDS: More weapons inspections or war?

Sen. EDWARDS: I have believed for a long time that Saddam Hussein is a serious threat, and that he has to disarm, or be disarmed. I've been very clear about that from the very beginning. That comes, by the way, largely from my service on the Intelligence Committee, and seeing what he's done in the past, what he's doing now to try to get weapons of mass destruction, and how he would intend to use them if he got them. He cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons and he needs to be disarmed. So I've been very clear about that. My problem with the president is that he's not made the case. He's acted here in many ways similar to the ways he's acted in the past. And it's created a lack of... He did finally go to the U.N. I think we forced him to go to the U.N., but he did go to the U.N. We got a unanimous resolution there, that was the right thing to do. We've got inspectors on the ground now. That's the right thing to do. I think it is important. I think the troops in the area, puts maximum pressure on Saddam, although I'm enormously skeptical of whether he will voluntarily disarm, and I do think it's important for us to move forward. The president needs to make this case. He should have been doing it all along, not just to the American people, but to the international community. Because for us to be successful our action, number one has to be viewed as legitimate, this goes to the heart of, putting it in the context of what I said earlier, how will the rest of the world view us, how will it view our action? Well, they're much more likely to respond positively if the president has been effectively consulting with them and making the case and bringing them to our side. But it's also important to us being successful. We don't want to be... If Saddam is gone, America does not want to be alone, or alone with Britain, responsible for helping reconstruct Iraq, for multiple reasons. It will decrease the chances of success, it puts the burden on the American taxpayer and it just, it makes us more of a target as opposed to a circumstance in which we have significant international support.

BOB EDWARDS: Is the case made when stockpiles of weapons are discovered, or is the case made when there is an established link between Iraq and al Qaeda?

Sen. EDWARDS: I see this as the burden being on Saddam, not on us. Not on the weapons inspectors. He started a war. He lost. He agreed as part of the cease-fire to disarm. He has been consistently since that time evading, not meeting his obligations. And from my perspective this is not an American issue, this is an international issue. The credibility of the international community is at stake. If Saddam is allowed to completely ignore his obligations, having started a war and lost, under these circumstances, it is very difficult for the U.N. or the international community at large to have any credibility going forward. So my view of it is, if the president has evidence of a link between al Qaeda and Saddam, if they have intelligence information, the existence of weapons of mass destruction, that are being hidden, moved... that evidence needs to be heard. It needs to be heard by the American people, it needs to be heard by the international community, because we need to have others with us. He needs to make this case and it'll make us much more effective in the long run.

BOB EDWARDS: If he had such evidence, would he not share it with the intelligence committee on which you serve?

Sen. EDWARDS: Well, that's a good question. I was interested to hear in the last couple of days about the alleged connection with al Qaeda. I don't know... honestly, it's difficult for me to judge the extent to which as a member of the Intelligence Committee, we're getting the same information that the president's getting.

BOB EDWARDS: Why is that difficult?

Sen. EDWARDS: Because I don't know everything he knows. I don't have anything to compare it to. We do get information on... intelligence information on... what Saddam's doing, what his capability is, and what information is available on what he plans to do with it. But, for example, I can tell you, speaking for myself, I've certainly not seen any compelling evidence of an al Qaeda connection, as a member of the Intelligence Committee. That doesn't mean that that evidence doesn't exist.

BOB EDWARDS: It's odd that he would tell us, the American people, as he promises to do, or the world for that matter -- the Security Council -- before he tells the Intelligence Committee.

SEN. EDWARDS: Yeah, it is odd.

BOB EDWARDS: You are running for president before you've even run for re-election to the Senate. That seems a bit brash. (They both laugh) If you don't mind my saying so.

SEN. EDWARDS: I don't think it'll seem brash to regular Americans...

BOB EDWARDS: Touché.

SEN. EDWARDS: I think people in Washington may think that, because they think the test of everything is how much time you spend in Washington. I think that regular Americans and most of America doesn't think that way. I think they'll judge you based on your entire life experience, which is perfectly fair, and they'll judge you based on your own character, and your ideas.

BOB EDWARDS: Don't you have to make a choice, and have you already made it? Your seat is up next year.

SEN. EDWARDS: At some point, yes. But no, I haven't made that decision yet. I'll make that decision down the road.

BOB EDWARDS: (Inaudible.)

SEN. EDWARDS: You mean about running for re-election, is what you're asking.

BOB EDWARDS: Yes.

SEN. EDWARDS: I have not decided about that.

BOB EDWARDS: You would give up that seat?

SEN. EDWARDS: See, I think... my belief is that in order for a presidential campaign to have a chance of success in real life, it can't be about the interests of the candidate. It has to be about what you want to do for the country and what you want to do as president. It can't be just... it can't be about you. So the political calculation about what effect this has on running for re-election to the Senate and those kinds of things... it has to be about what you want to do for the country and how you want to get there. If that's not the driving force in your campaign, it's not going to be successful.


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