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Full Text of the Third Presidential Debate Between Al Gore and George W. Bush

October 17, 2000

This is the full text of the presidential debate between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore at Washington University in St. Louis. The debate was moderated by Jim Lehrer. Names of questioners are spelled phonetically.

LEHRER: Good evening from the Field House at Washington University in St. Louis. I'm Jim Lehrer of "The NewsHour" on PBS. And I welcome you to this third and final campaign 2000 debate between the Democratic candidate for president, Vice President Al Gore, and the Republican candidate, Governor George W. Bush of Texas. Let's welcome the candidates now.

(APPLAUSE)

Before proceeding tonight, we would like to observe a moment of silence in memory of Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri, who, along with his son and his former chief of staff, died in a private plane crash last night near St. Louis.

(MOMENT OF SILENCE)

LEHRER: A reminder, as we continue now, that these debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The formats and the rules were worked out by the commission and the two campaigns.

Tonight's questions will be asked by St. Louis area voters who were identified as being uncommitted by the Gallup Organization.

Earlier today, each of them wrote a question on a small card like this. Those cards were collected and then given to me this afternoon. My job under the rules of the evening was to decide the order the questions will be asked and to call on the questioners accordingly. I also have the option of asking follow-ups, which in order to get to more of the panel's questions, for the record, I plan to do sparingly and mostly for clarifications.

The audience participants are bound by the following rule: They shall not ask follow-up questions or otherwise participate in the extended discussion. And the questioner's microphone will be turned off after he or she completes asking the question. Those are the rules.

As in Winston-Salem last week, no single answer or response from a candidate can exceed two minutes.

There is an audience here in the hall, and they have promised to remain absolutely quiet as did their predecessors this year in Boston, Danville (Ky.) and Winston-Salem (N.C.).

Before we begin, a correction from last week's debate. I was wrong when I said Vice President Gore's campaign commercial had called Governor Bush a "bumbler." That specific charge was made in a press statement by Gore campaign spokesman Mark Fabiani not in a TV guide - in a TV ad.

BUSH: I'm glad you clarified that.

LEHRER: Now let's go to the first question. Of over the 130 questions we received from this panel, we will begin with one of the 19 on health issues.

And it goes to you, Mr. Vice President, and it will be asked by James Hankins.

Mr. Hankins? (ph)

QUESTION: How do you feel about HMOs and insurance companies making the critical decisions that affect people's lives instead of the medical professionals? And why are the HMOs and insurance companies not held accountable for their decisions?

GORE: Mr. Hankins, I don't feel good about it, and I think we ought to have a Patients' Bill of Rights to take the medical decisions away from the HMOs and give them back to the doctors and the nurses. I want to come back and tell you why.

But if you will forgive me, I would like to say something right now at the beginning of this debate, following on the moment of silence for Mel Carnahan and Randy Carnahan and Chris Sifford.

Tipper and I were good friends with Mel and Randy. And I know that all of us here want to extend our sympathy and condolences to Jean and the family and to the Sifford family. And I'd just like to say that this debate in a way is a living tribute to Mel Carnahan because he loved the vigorous discussion of ideas in our democracy. He was a fantastic governor of Missouri. This state became one of the top five in the nation for health care coverage for children under his leadership, one of the best in advancing all kinds of benefits for children to grow up healthy and strong.

And, of course, this debate also takes place at a time when the tragedy of the USS Cole is on our minds and hearts.

GORE: And insofar as the memorial service is tomorrow, I would like to also extend sympathy to the families of those who have died and those who are still missing and the injured.

Now, Mr. Hankins (ph), I think that the situation that you described has gotten completely out of hand. Doctors are giving prescriptions, they're recommending treatments and then their recommendations are being overruled by HMOs and insurance companies. That is unacceptable.

I support a strong national patients' bill of rights. It is actually a disagreement between us. A national law that is pending on this, the Dingell-Norwood bill, a bipartisan bill, is one that I support...

LEHRER: Times up.

GORE: ... and that the governor does not.

LEHRER: Two minutes' response, Governor Bush.

BUSH: I, too, want to extend my prayers to the, and blessings, God's blessings on the families whose lives were overturned last night. It was a tragic moment.

Actually, Mr. Vice President, it's not true. I do support a national patients' bill of rights. As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas, to get a patients' bill of rights through.

It requires a different kind of leadership style to do it though. You see, in order to get something done on behalf of the people, you have to put partisanship aside. And that's what we did in my state. We've got one of the most advanced patients' bill of rights.

It says, for example, that a woman can - doesn't have to go through a gatekeeper to go to her gynecologist.

BUSH: It says that you can't gag a doctor. A doctor can advise you. The HMO, insurance company, can't gag that doctor from giving you full advice. In this particular bill, it allows patients to chose a doctor, their own doctor if they want to.

But we did something else that was interesting. We're one of the first states that said you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage. Now, there's what's called an Independent Review Organization that you have to go through first. It says, if you've got a complaint with your insurance company, you can take your complaint to an objective body. If the objective body rules on your behalf, the insurance company must follow those rules. However, if the insurance company doesn't follow the findings of the IRO, then that becomes a cause of action in a court of law.

It's time for our nation to come together and do what's right for the people. And I think this is right for the people.

You know, I support a national patients' bill of rights, Mr. Vice President. And I want all people covered. I don't want the law to supersede good law like we've got in Texas. I think...

LEHRER: Governor, time is up, sir.

GORE: Jim?

LEHRER: Yes, sir.

GORE: We have a direct disagreement on this.

LEHRER: Just a minute, Mr. Vice President. I wanted to, you know, the way the rules go here, now, two minutes, two minutes, and then I'll decide whether we go on.

GORE: Right.

LEHRER: So what I want to make sure is we understand here is, before we go on to another question in the health area, would you agree that you two agree on a national patients' bill of rights?

GORE: Absolutely, absolutely not. I referred to the Dingell-Norwood bill. It is the bipartisan bill that is now pending in the Congress. The HMOs and the insurance companies support the other bill that's pending, the one that Republican majority has put forward.

They like it because it doesn't accomplish what I think really needs to be accomplished, to give the decisions back to the doctors and nurses and to give a right of appeal to somebody other than the HMO or insurance company, let you go the nearest emergency room without having to call an HMO before you call 911, to let you see a specialist if you need to. And it has strong bipartisan support. It is being blocked by the Republican leadership in the Congress.

And I specifically would like to know whether Governor Bush will support the Dingell-Norwood bill, which is the main one pending.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, you may answer that if you'd like. But also, I'd like to know how you see the differences between the two of you, and we need to move on.

BUSH: Well, the difference is that I can get it done.

(LAUGHTER)

That I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That's what the question in this campaign is about. It's not only what your philosophy and what your position on issues, but can you get things done.

(LAUGHTER)

And I believe I can.

LEHRER: All right...

GORE: What about the Dingell-Norwood bill?

LEHRER: All right, we're going to go now to another...

BUSH: I'm not quite through. Let me finish the...

LEHRER: All right.

BUSH: I talked about the principles and the issues that I think are important in a patients' bill of rights. Now, there's this kind of Washington, D.C., focus, well, it's in this committee or it's got this sponsor. If I'm the president, we're going to have emergency room care, we're going to have to gag orders. Women will have direct access to ob-gyn.

People'll be able to take their HMO insurance company to court. That's what I've done in Texas. And that's the kind of leadership style I'll bring to Washington.

LEHRER: All right another, the next question, also on a health issue, is from - it will be asked by Marie Payne Clappey (ph), and it goes to Governor Bush.

QUESTION: Are either of you concerned with...

BUSH: There you go. I've got...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: OK. Are either of you concerned with finding some feasible way to lower the price of pharmaceutical drugs, such as education on minimizing intake, a revamp of the FDA process or streamline the drug companies' procedures instead of just finding more money to pay for them.

BUSH: Well, that's a great question. I think one of the problems we have, particularly for seniors, is there's no prescription drug coverage in Medicare. And, therefore, when they have to try to purchase drugs, they do so on their own. There's no kind of collective bargaining; there's no power of purchasing amongst seniors.

So I think step one to make sure prescription drugs is more affordable for seniors - and those are the folks who really rely upon prescription drugs a lot these days - is to reform the Medicare system, is to have prescription drugs as an integral part of Medicare once and for all.

The problem we have today is that like the Patients' Bill of Rights, particularly with health care, there's a lot of bickering in Washington, D.C. It's kind of like a political issue as opposed to a people issue.

So what I want to do is I want to call upon Republicans and Democrats to forget all the arguing and finger-pointing and come together and take care of our senior prescription drug program that says we'll pay for the poor seniors, we'll help all seniors with prescription drugs.

BUSH: We need a $2,000 credit, rebate, for people, working people who don't have insurance. They can in the marketplace and start purchasing insurance.

We need to have, allow small businesses to write across, insurance across jurisdictional lines so small business can afford health care, small restaurants can afford health care.

And so health care needs to be affordable and available.

But we got to trust people to make decisions with their lives. In the Medicare reform I talk about, it says if you're a senior, you can stay in Medicare if you like it, and that's fine, but we're going to give you other choices to choose if you want to do so. Just like they do the federal employees, the people who work in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Congress or the United States Senate, get a variety of choices to make in their lives. And that's what we ought to do for all people in America.

LEHRER: Governor?

BUSH: Yes, sir. I'm sorry.

LEHRER: Governor?

GORE: Could I follow up, Jim?

BUSH: Not paying attention to the lights...

LEHRER: No, not right now. Not right now.

Education. We...

BUSH: Trying to find my light.

LEHRER: These folks submitted 18 questions on education, and the first is, that will be asked on education will go to you, Governor, and will be asked by Angie Pettick (ph).

Angie Pettick (ph), where are you? There she is.

Governor, right there.

BUSH: Oh, thanks. Hi, Angie.

QUESTION: I've heard a lot about education and the need to hold teachers and schools accountable, and I certainly agree with that. But as an individual with an educational background and also a parent, I have seen a lot of instances where the parents are unresponsive to the teachers or flat out uninvolved in their child's education. How do you intend to not only hold the teachers in schools accountable, but also hold parents accountable?

BUSH: Well, you know, it's hard to make people love one another. I wish I knew the law, because I'd darn sure sign it. I wish I knew the law that said all of us should be good parents.

One of the things the next president must do is to remind people that if we're going to have a responsible period in America, that each of us must love our children with all our heart and all our soul.

I happen to believe strong accountability encourages parental involvement, though. I think when you measure and post results on the Internet or in the town newspapers, most parents say, "Wait a minute, my child's school isn't doing what I want it to do," and therefore become involved in education.

I recognize there are some who just don't seem to care. But there are a lot of parents who feel like everything is going well in their child's school and all of a sudden they wake up and realize that, "Wait a minute, standards aren't being met." That's why I'm so strong for accountability.

I believe we ought to measure a lot, three, four, five, six, seven, eighth grade. We do so in my state of Texas. One of the good things we've done in Texas is we've got strong accountability, because you can't cure unless you know. You can't, you can't solve a problem unless you diagnose it.

I strongly believe that one of the best things to encourage parental involvement also is to know that the classrooms will be safe and secure. That's why I support a teacher liability act at the federal level, that says if a teacher or principal upholds reasonable standards of classroom discipline, they can't be sued. They can't be sued.

I think parents will be more involved with education when they know their children's classrooms are safe and secure as well.

I also believe that we need to say to people that if you cannot meet standards, there has to be a consequence, instead of just the kind of soft bigotry of low expectations, that there has to be a consequence. We can't continue to shuffle children through school. And one of the consequences is we allow parents to have different choices.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

GORE: Yes, we have a huge difference between us on this question. I'd like to start by telling you what my vision is. I see a day in the United States of America where all of our public schools are considered excellent, world class; where there are no failing schools; where the classrooms are small enough in size, number of students, so that the teacher can spend enough one-on-one time with each, with each student.

Now, that means recruiting new teachers for the public schools. It means, in my plan, hiring bonuses to get 100,000 new teachers in the public schools within the next four years. It means also helping local school districts, that sometimes find the parents of school-age children out voted on bond issues, to give them some help with interest-free bonding authority, so that we can build new schools and modernize the classrooms.

We need to give teachers the training and professional development that they need to - including paid time off to go visit the classroom of a master teacher and pick up some new skills.

I want to give every middle class family a $10,000 a year tax deduction for college tuition so that, so that middle class families will always be able to send their kids on to college.

GORE: I want to work for universal free school, because we know from all the studies that the youngsters learn, kids learn more in the first few years of life than anywhere else.

Now, I said there was a contrast. Governor Bush is for vouchers. And in his plan, he proposes to drain more money, more taxpayer money, out of the public schools for private school vouchers than all of the money that he proposes in his entire budget for public schools themselves. And only one in 20 students would be eligible for these vouchers, and they wouldn't even pay the full tuition to private school.

I think that's a mistake. I don't think we should give up on the private schools and leave kids trapped in failing schools. I think we should make it the number one priority, to make our schools the best in the world, all of them.

LEHRER: Governor, what is your position on that?

BUSH: Yes, I appreciate that. I think any time we end with one of these attacks, it's appropriate to respond. Here's what I think. First of all, vouchers are up to states. If you want to do a voucher program in Missouri, fine. See, I strongly believe in local control of schools. I'm a governor of a state and I don't like it when the federal government tell us what to do. I believe in local control of schools.

But here's what I've said. I've said to the extent we spend federal money on disadvantaged children, we want the schools to show us whether or not the children are learning. What's unreasonable about that? We expect there to be standards met, and we expect there to be measurement. And if we find success, we'll praise it.

But when we find children trapped in schools that will not change and will not teach, instead of saying, "Oh, this is OK in America, just to shuffle poor kids through schools," there has to be a consequence. And the consequence is that federal portion of federal money will go to the parent so the parent can go to a tutoring program or another public school or another private school, or a private school.

You see, there has to be a consequence. We've got a society that says, "Hey, the status quo is fine. Just move them through." And guess who suffers?

LEHRER: What's the harm on - what's the other side on vouchers?

GORE: Well, the program that he's proposing is not the one that he just described. Under your plan, Governor Bush, states would be required to pay vouchers to students, to match the vouchers that the federal government would put up. Now, here's, and, the way it would happen is that, under his plan, if a school was designated as failing, the kids would be trapped there for another three years, and then some of them would get federal vouchers, and the state would be forced to match that money.

Under my plan, if a school is failing, we work with the states to give them the authority and the resources to close down that school and reopen it right away with a new principal, a new faculty, a turnaround team of specialists who know what they're doing to - it's based on the plan of Governor Jim Hunt in North Carolina, and it works great.

LEHRER: So, no vouchers under - in a Gore administration?

GORE: If I thought that there was no alternative, then I might feel differently. But I have an obligation to fight to make sure that there are no failing schools. We've got to turn around all - most schools are excellent. But we've got to make sure that all of them are.

LEHRER: Andrew Costburg (ph) has a related question on education that's right on this subject.

Mr. Costburg (ph) where are you? There you are.

And it's for Vice President Gore.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President...

(LAUGHTER)

... in the school district in which I work and in countless others across the nation, we face crumbling school buildings, increased school violence, student apathy, overcrowding, lack of funding, lawsuits, the list goes on. I could mention low teacher pay, but I won't.

(LAUGHTER)

GORE: You should.

QUESTION: What can you tell me and my fellow American teachers today about your plans for our immediate future?

GORE: What grade do you teach?

LEHRER: That's a violation of your rule, Vice President Gore.

QUESTION: High school.

(LAUGHTER)

GORE: I mentioned before that the local communities are having a harder time passing bond issues. Traditionally, if you've been involved in a campaign like that, you know that the parents with kids in school are the ones that turn out and vote.

It's ironic that there are now, there's now a smaller percentage of the voters made up of parents with children than ever in American history because of the aging of our population. But at the same time, we've got the largest generation of students of public schools ever. More than 90 percent of America's children go to public schools. And it's the largest number ever this year, and they'll break the record next year and every year for 10 years running. We've got to do something about this.

And local, it's not enough to leave it up to the local school districts. They're not able to do it. And our future depends upon it.

Look, we're in an information age. Our economic future depends upon whether or not our children are going to get the kind of education that lets them go on to college. And, again, I want to make it possible for all middle class families to send their kids to college, and more Pell Grants for those who are in the lower income groups also. And then I want to make sure that we have job training on top of that and lifelong learning.

But it all starts with the public school teachers. My proposal gives $10,000 hiring bonuses for those teachers who are, who get certified to teach in the areas where they're most needed.

Now, accountability. We basically agree on accountability. My plan requires testing of all students. It also requires something that Governor Bush's plan doesn't: It requires testing of all new teachers, including in the subjects that they teach.

We have to start treating teachers like the professionals that they are and give them the respect and the kind of quality of life that will draw more people into teaching, because we need a lot more teachers.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.

BUSH: When you total up all the federal spending he wants to do, it's the largest increase in federal spending in years. And there's just not going to be enough money.

I have been the governor of a big state; I've made education my number one priority. That's the, that's what governors ought to do. They ought to say this is the most important thing we do as a state.

BUSH: The federal government puts about 6 percent of the money up. They put about, you know, 60 percent of the strings, where you got to fill out paperwork. I don't know if you have to be a paperwork-filler-outer, but most of it's because of the federal government.

What I want to do is to send flexibility and authority to the local folks so you can choose what to do with the money. One size does not fit all. I'd worry about federalizing education, if I were you.

I believe strongly that the federal government can help. They need to fund Head Start. We need to have accountability. The vice president's plan does not have annual accountability, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade. We need to demand on results.

I believe strongly in a teacher protection act, like I mentioned. I hear from teachers all the time about the lawsuits and the threats, respect in the classroom. Part of it's because you can't, you can't control the classroom. You can't have a consequence for somebody, without fear of getting sued under federal law. So I'm going to ask the Congress to pass a teacher protection act.

So I believe in flexibility. I believe in a national reading initiative for local districts to access with K-2 diagnostic testing, curriculum that works. Phonics works, by the way; it needs to be a part of our curriculum. There needs to be flexibility for teacher training and teacher hiring with federal money.

You know, the federal government can be a part, but don't fall prey to all this talk about money here and money there because education is really funded at the local level; 94 percent comes from the local level.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore, is the governor right when he says that you're proposing the largest federal spending in years?

GORE: Absolutely not, absolutely not. I'm so glad that I have a chance to knock that down.

Look, the problem is that under Governor Bush's plan, $1.6 trillion tax cut mostly to the wealthy. Under his own budget numbers, he proposes spending more money for a tax cut just for the wealthiest 1 percent than all of the new money that he budgets for education, health care and national defense combined.

Now, under my plan, we will balance the budget every year. I'm not just saying this. I'm not just talking. I have helped to balance the budget for the first time in 30 years, pay down the debt.

And under my plan, in four years, as a percentage of our gross domestic product, federal spending will be the smallest that it has been in 50 years. One reason is - you know, the third biggest spending item in our budget is interest on the national debt. We get nothing for it. We keep the good faith and credit of the United States.

I will pay down the debt every single year, until it is eliminated early in the next decade. That gets rid of the third biggest intrusion of the federal government in our economy.

Now, because the governor has all this money for a tax cut, mostly to the wealthy, there is no money left over, so schools get testing and a lawsuit reform, and not much else.

LEHRER: Governor, the vice president says you're wrong.

BUSH: Well, he's wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

Just add up all the numbers; it's three times bigger than what President Clinton proposed. The Senate Budget Committee...

LEHRER: Three times - excuse me, three times...

BUSH: Bigger than what President Clinton proposed...

GORE: That's in an ad Jim that was knocked down by the journalists who analyzed the ad and said it was misleading.

LEHRER: Go ahead.

BUSH: My turn?

(LAUGHTER)

LEHRER: Yes, sir.

BUSH: Forget the journalists. You propose more than Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis combined. In other, this is a big spender, he is. And he ought to be proud of it. It's part of his record. We just have a different philosophy.

Let me talk about tax relief. If you pay taxes, you ought to get tax relief. The vice president believes that only the right people ought to get tax relief. I don't think that's the role of the president to pick: "You're right, and you're not right."

I think if you're going to have tax relief, everybody ought to get it. And, therefore, wealthy people are going to get it. But the top 1 percent will end up paying one-third of the taxes in America and they get one-fifth of the benefits. And that's because we've structured the plan so that 6 million additional American families pay no taxes. If you're a family of four making $50,000 in Missouri, you get a 50 percent cut in your federal income taxes.

What I've done is set priorities and funded them, and there's extra money. And I believe the people who pay the bills ought to, ought to get some money back.

It's a difference of opinion. He wants to grow the government, and I trust you with your own money.

LEHRER: Well, let's...

BUSH: I wish we could spend an hour talking about trusting money. It is the right position to take.

GORE: Can we extend the time?

LEHRER: Hold on one sec here, though. The governor just reversed the thing.

What do you say specifically to what the vice president said tonight? He's said it many, many times, that your tax cut benefits the top 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans. And you've heard what he said...

BUSH: Of course, it does. If you pay taxes, you're going to get a benefit. People who pay taxes...

LEHRER: All right...

BUSH: ... will get tax relief.

LEHRER: Why shouldn't they?

GORE: All right...

BUSH: Wait. Let me finish, please.

Under my plan, if you make - the top - the wealthy people pay 62 percent of the taxes today; afterwards, they pay 64 percent. This is a fair plan. You know why? Because the tax code is unfair for people at the bottom end of the economic ladder. If you're a single mother making $22,000 a year today and you're trying to raise two children, for every additional dollar you earn you pay a higher marginal rate on that dollar than someone making $200,000, and that's not right.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

GORE: Yes...

BUSH: So I want to do something about that.

LEHRER: All right. Vice President Gore?

GORE: Look, this isn't about Governor Bush, it's not about me. It is about you. And I want to come back to something I said before.

If you want somebody who believes that we were better off eight years ago than we are now and that we ought to go back to the kind of policies that we had back then, emphasizing tax cuts mainly for the wealthy, here is your man.

If you want somebody who will fight for you and who will fight to have middle class tax cuts, then I am your man. I want to be.

Now, I doubt anybody here makes more than $330,000 a year. I won't ask you. But if you do, you're in the top 1 percent. If you don't...

LEHRER: It would be a violation of the rules. They couldn't...

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: I'm not going to...

(LAUGHTER)

I'm not going to ask - I'm not going to ask. But if everyone here in this audience was dead on in the middle of the middle class, then the tax cuts for every single one of you, all added up, would be less than the tax cut his plan would give to just one member of that top, wealthiest 1 percent. Now, you judge for yourselves whether or not that's fair.

LEHRER: A quick, and then we're moving on.

BUSH: Good. Fifty-million Americans get no tax relief under his plan.

GORE: That's not right.

BUSH: And you may not be one of them; you're just not one of the right people.

And secondly, we've had enough fighting. It's time to unite.

You talk about eight years? In eight years, they haven't gotten anything done on Medicare, on Social Security, a patients' bill of rights. It's time to get something done.

LEHRER: Hey, we're going move on now...

GORE: I've got to answer that, Jim.

Medicare, we - I cast the tie-breaking vote to add 26 years to the life of Medicare. It was due to go bankrupt in 1999.

And that $50 million figure, again, the newspapers, I said, you said forget the journalists, but they are the keepers of the scorecard and whether or not you're using facts that aren't right. And that fact is just not right.

LEHRER: Speaking of keepers of the scorecard, that's what I'm trying to do here, Mr. Vice President, Governor Bush. We're going to move on. We're going to have to move on.

All right, there were 12 questions on foreign and military matters. And the first one that we're going to ask will be directed to you Governor Bush. And David Norwood (ph) is going to ask it.

Mr. Norwood, where are you? There you are.

QUESTION: What would you make, what would make you the best candidate in office during the Middle East crisis?

BUSH: I've been a leader. I've been a person that has to set a clear vision and convince people to follow. I've got a strategy for the Middle East.

And first, let me say that our nation now needs to speak with one voice during this time. And I applaud the president for working hard to diffuse tensions.

Our nation needs to be credible and strong. When we say we're somebody's friend, everybody's got to believe it. Israel is our friend, and we'll stand by Israel. We need to reach out to modern Arab nations as well, to build coalitions to keep the peace.

I also - the next leader needs to be patient. We can't put the Middle East peace process on our timetable. It's got to be on the timetable of the people that are trying, that we're trying to bring to the peace table. We can't dictate the terms of peace, which means that we have to be steady. Can't worry about polls or focus groups. Got to have a clear vision. That's what a leader does.

A leader also understands that the United States must be strong to keep the peace. Saddam Hussein still is a threat in the Middle East. Our coalition against Saddam is unraveling, the sanctions are loosened. I--the man who may be developing weapons of mass destruction, we don't know because inspectors aren't in.

So to answer your question, it requires a clear vision, willingness to stand by our friends, and the credibility for people, both friend and foe, to understand when America says something, we mean it.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

GORE: I see a future when the world is at peace, with the United States of America promoting the values of democracy and human rights and freedom all around the world.

Even in Iran, they have had an election that began to bring about some change. We stand for those values. And we have to be willing to assert them. Right now, our military is the strongest in the entire history of the world. I pledge to you, I will do whatever is necessary to make sure that it stays that way.

Now, what can I bring to that challenge? When I was a young man, my father was a senator opposed to the Vietnam War. When I graduated from college, there were plenty of fancy ways to get out of going and being a part of that. I went and I volunteered and I went to Vietnam. I didn't do the most or run the gravest risk, by a long shot. But I learned what it was like to be an enlisted man in the United States Army.

In the Congress, in the House of Representatives, I served on the House Intelligence Committee. And I worked hard to learn the subject of nuclear arms control and how we can diffuse these tensions, and deal with nonproliferation, and deal with the problems of terrorism, and these new weapons of mass destruction.

Look, we're going to face some serious new challenges in the next four years. I've worked on that long and hard. When I went to the United States Senate, I asked for an assignment to the Armed Services Committee. And while I was there, I worked on a bipartisan basis, as I did in the House, I worked with former President Reagan to, on the modernization of our strategic weaponry.

In the Senate, I was one of only 10 Democrats, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, to support Governor Bush's dad in the Persian Gulf War resolution.

And for the last eight years, I've served on the National Security Council...

LEHRER: Mr. Vice President...

GORE: Could I say just one other thing here?

LEHRER: No, sir. We'll get back with you.

The next question is to you and it's a related...

LEHRER: it's a related question. It's going to be asked by Kenneth Allen (ph).

Mr. Allen (ph)?

GORE: All right. I think that he gets a, he gets a, oh, I'm sorry, you're right. Go ahead.

LEHRER: Mr. Allen (ph), right there.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, today our military forces are stretched thinner and doing more than they've ever done before during a peacetime. I'd like to know what you, I think we'd all like to know what you as president would do to ensure proper resourcing for the current mission and/or more selectively choosing the time and place that our forces will be used around the world.

GORE: Thank you, sir.

Just to finish briefly, I started to say that for the last eight years, I've been on the National Security Council. And last week I broke off - I suspended campaigning for two days or parts of two days to go back and participate in the meetings that charted the president's summit meeting that he just returned from earlier today. And our team over - our country's team over there did a great job. It's a difficult situation.

The United States has to be strong in order to make sure that we can help promote peace and security and stability, and that means keeping our military strong.

Now, I said earlier that we are the strongest military, but we need to continue improving readiness and making sure that our military personnel are adequately paid, and that the combination of their pay and their benefits and their retirement as veterans is comparable to the stiff competition that's coming in this strong economy from the private sector.

And we, I have supported the largest pay raise in many a year. And I support another one now.

I also support modernization of our strategic and tactical weaponry. The governor has proposed skipping a generation of technology. I think that's a, I think that would be a mistake because I think one of the ways we've been able to be so successful in Kosovo and Bosnia and Haiti and in other places is by having the technological edge. You know, we won that conflict in Kosovo without losing a single human life in combat, a single American life in combat.

Now, readiness. The trends before we, before I got my current job were on the decline. The number of divisions were reduced. I argued that we should reverse that trend and take it back up. And I'm happy to tell you that we have.

Now, in my budget for the next - for the next 10 years, I propose $100 billion for this purpose. The governor proposes $45 billion. I propose more than twice as much because I think it's needed.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.

BUSH: If this were a spending contest, I'd come in second.

I readily admit, I'm not going to grow the size of the federal government like he is.

Your question was deployment. It must be in the national interests. It must be in our vital interest whether we ever send troops. The mission must be clear. Soldiers must understand why we're going. The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well-defined.

I'm concerned that we're overdeployed around the world. You see, I think the mission has somewhat become fuzzy.

Should I be fortunate enough to earn your confidence, the mission of the United States military will be to be prepared and ready to fight and win war, and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place. There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often.

The vice president mentioned my view of the long term for the military. I want to make sure the equipment for our military is the best it can possibly be, of course. But we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to use our research and development capacities, the great technology of the United States, to make our military lighter, harder to find, more lethal. We have an opportunity, really, if you think about it, if we're smart and have got a strategic vision, and a leader who understands strategic planning, to make sure that we change the terms of the battlefield of the future, so that we can make - keep the peace.

This is a peaceful nation, and I intend to keep the peace.

Spending money is one thing, but spending money without a strategic plan can oftentimes be wasted.

First thing I'm going to do is ask the secretary of defense to develop a plan so we're making sure we're not spending our money on political projects, but on projects to make sure our soldiers are well-paid, well-housed and have the best equipment in the world.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, another kind of gun question. It'll be asked by Robert Lutz (ph).

Mr. Lutz (ph)?

QUESTION: Governor Bush.

BUSH: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: We'd just like to know, what is your opposition to the Brady gun - handgun bill?

BUSH: Could you, I'm sorry I didn't hear that.

QUESTION: We'd like to know why you object to the Brady handgun, if you do object to it. Because in a recent TV ad, it showed that the National Rifle Association says if you are elected that they will be working out of your office. I can just see...

BUSH: I don't think the National Rifle Association ran that ad, but let me just tell you my position on guns in general, sir, if you don't mind.

LEHRER: I'm not - excuse me, I'm not sure he's finished with his question, Governor. I'm sorry.

BUSH: Oh, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Well, actually that kind of bothers me, you know, when I see that ad like that. I wonder if you could explain that ad to me.

BUSH: Well, I don't think I ran the ad; I think somebody who doesn't want me to president might have run that ad. It's a, that wasn't my ad and I think it might have been one of my opponents' ads.

Here's what I believe, sir. I believe law-abiding citizens ought to be allowed to protect themselves and their families. I believe that we ought to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them. That's why I'm for instant background checks at gun shows. I'm for trigger locks. I think that makes sense. Matter of fact, we distributed free trigger locks in the state of Texas so that people can get them and put them on their guns to make their guns more safe.

BUSH: I think we ought to raise the age at which juveniles can have a gun.

But I also believe strongly that we need to enforce laws on the books, that the best way to make sure that we keep our society safe and secure is to hold people accountable for breaking the law. If we catch somebody illegally selling a gun, there needs to be a consequence. We keep - somebody, you know, illegally using a gun, there needs to be a consequence. Enforcement of law. And the federal government can help.

There's a great program called Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia. We focused federal taxpayers' money and federal prosecutors and went after people who were illegally using guns. To me, that's how you make society the safest it can be.

And so, yes, sometimes I agree with some of these groups in Washington and sometimes I don't. I'm a pretty independent thinker. But one thing I'm for is a safe society, and I'm for enforcing laws on the books. And that's what's going to happen should I earn your confidence.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

GORE: Well, it wasn't one of - it was not one of my ads either, Governor. But I am familiar with the statement, and it was made by one of the top ranking officials of that organization.

Let me tell you my position. I think that some common sense gun safety measures are certainly needed with the flood of cheap handguns that have sometimes been working their way into the hands of the wrong people.

But all of my proposals are focused on that problem: gun safety. None of my proposals would have any effect on hunters or sportsmen or people who use rifles.

They're aimed at the real problem. Let's make our schools safe. Let's make our neighborhoods safe. Let's have a three-day waiting period. A cooling off, so we can have a background check to make sure that criminals and people who really shouldn't have guns don't get them.

But I'd like to use my remaining time on this exchange, Jim, to respond to an exchange that took place just a moment ago, because a couple of times the governor has said that I am for a bigger government.

Governor, I'm not. And let me tell you what the record shows.

For the last eight years, I have had the challenge of running the streamlining program called Reinventing Government. And if there are any federal employees in this group, you know what that means.

The federal government has been reduced in size by more than 300,000 people, and it's now the smallest number that we have had since - the smallest in size since John Kennedy's administration. During the last five years, Texas' government has gone up in size. The federal government has gone down; Texas' government has gone up.

Now, my plan for the future, I see a time when we have smaller, smarter government, where you don't have to wait in line because you can get services online cheaper, better, faster. We can do that.

LEHRER: Steve Lukar (ph) has a question, and it is for Vice President Gore.

Mr. Lukar (ph)? There you are.

QUESTION: Vice President Gore, the family farms are disappearing and having a hard time, even in the current positive economic environment.

What steps would you or your administration take on agricultural policy developments to protect the family farms for this multifunctional service they perform?

GORE: We've got a bumper crop this year. But that's the good news. You know what the bad news is that follows on that: The prices are low.

In the last several years, the so-called Freedom to Farm Law has, in my view, been mostly a failure. I want to change many of its provisions.

Now, many here who are not involved in farming won't follow this, so just forgive me, because the 2 percent of the country that is involved in farming is important because the rest of us wouldn't eat except for them.

And you guys have been having a hard time, and I want to fight for you. I want to change those provisions. I want to restore a meaningful safety net.

And I think that you pointed the way in your comments because when you say there are multiple things accomplished by farmers, you're specifically including conservation, and protection of the environment - and yes, farmers are the first environmentalists. And when they decide not to plow a field that is vulnerable to soil erosion, that may cost them a little money, but it helps the environment.

I think that we ought to have an expanded conservation reserve program. And I think that the environmental benefits that come from sound management of the land ought to represent a new way for farmers to get some income that will enable them - enable you to make sensible choices in crop rotation and when you leave the land fallow and the rest.

GORE: Now, I'll go beyond that and say I think we need much more focused rural economic development programs.

I see a time when the Internet-based activities are more available in the rural areas and where the extra source of income that farm families used to have from shoe factories is replaced by an extra source of income from working in the information economy.

So we need to do a lot of things, but we ought to start with a better safety net.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, two minutes.

BUSH: I'd like our farmers feeding the world. We're the best in the - we're the best producers in the world. And I want, I want the farmers feeding the world. We need to open up markets.

Exports are down. And every time an export number goes down, it hurts the farmer.

I want the next president to have fast track negotiating authority to open up markets around the world. We're the best. We're the most efficient, efficient farmers.

I don't want to use food as a diplomatic weapon from this point forward. We shouldn't be using food. It hurts the farmers. It's not the right thing to do.

I want, I'm for value-added processing. We need more work on value-added processing. You take the raw product you produce - I presume you're a farmer - off your farm and convert it. I think value-added process is important.

I'm for research and development, spending research and development money so that we can use our technological base to figure out new uses for farm products.

I'm for getting rid of the death tax, completely getting rid of the death tax. One reason family farmers are forced to sell early is because of the death tax. This is a bad tax. The president shouldn't have vetoed that bill. It's a tax that taxes people twice, it penalizes the family farmer.

So should I be fortunate enough to earn your vote, I also, I'm going to open up markets, but I also understand that farming is a part of our national security. I'm from a big farm state, the second-biggest state - farming state in the country, and I hear from my farmer friends all the time.

The vice president's right, by the way, every day's Earth Day if you own the land, and I like the, I like the policies that'll encourage farmers to put, set aside land as well for conservation purposes.

Thank you.

LEHRER: A quick thing on the inheritance taxes. There is a difference between the two of you on this.

Vice President Gore...

GORE: Yes. I'm for a massive reform of the estate tax or the death tax.

LEHRER: OK.

GORE: And under the plan that I've proposed, 80 percent of all family farms will be completely exempt from the estate tax, and the vast majority of all family businesses would be completely exempt, and all of the others would have sharply reduced. So 80 percent.

Now, the problem with completely eliminating it goes back to the wealthiest 1 percent. The amount of money that has to be raised in taxes from middle class families to make up for completely eliminating that on the very wealthiest, the billionaires, that would - that would be an extra heavy burden on middle class families.

And so, let's do it for most all, but not completely eliminate it for the very top.

LEHRER: What's the case for doing that, Governor?

BUSH: Eliminating the death tax completely?

LEHRER: For everybody.

BUSH: Because people shouldn't be taxed twice on their assets. It's either unfair for some or unfair for all.

Again, this is just a difference of opinion. If you're from Washington, you want to pick and choose winners. I don't think that's the role of the president. I think if you've got tax relief, everybody benefits.

Secondly, I think your plan, there's a lot of fine print in your plan, Mr. Vice President, in all due respect. It is - I'm not so sure 80 percent of the people get - get the death tax. I know this, 100 percent'll get it if I, if I'm the president.

I just don't think it's fair to tax people's assets twice, regardless of your status. It's a fairness issue. It's an issue of principle, not politics.

LEHRER: New issue. New issue, and the question will be asked by Joyce Klinger (ph) of Governor Bush.

Joyce Klinger (ph)? There you are.

BUSH: Hi, Joyce.

QUESTION: Yes, hi, Governor. I'm very concerned about the morality of our country now. TV, movies, the music that our children are, are, you know, barraged with every day. And I want to know if there's anything that can be worked out with the - Hollywood or whoever to help get rid of some of this bad language and the - whatever, you know. It's just bringing the country down. And our children are very important to us. And we're concerned about their education at school. We should be concerned about their education at home, also.

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

BUSH: I appreciate that question. Laura and I are proud parents of teen-age girls, twin daughters, and I know what you're saying.

BUSH: Government ought to stand on the side of parents. Parents are teaching their children right from wrong, and the message oftentimes gets undermined by the popular culture.

You bet there's things the government can do. We can work with the entertainment industry to provide family hour. We can have filters on Internets where public money is spent. There ought to be filters in public libraries, and filters in public schools, so that if kids get on the Internet, there's not going to be pornography or violence coming in.

I think we ought to have character education in our schools. I know that doesn't directly talk about Hollywood, but it does reinforce the values you're teaching. I'd greatly expand character education funding, so that public schools will teach children values, values which have stood the test of time.

There's after-school money available. I think that after-school money ought to be available for faith-based programs, and charitable programs that exist because somebody has heard the call to love a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself. That will help reinforce the values that parents teach at home as well.

I just, ours is a great land. And one of the reasons why, is because we're free. And so, I don't support censorship. But I do believe that we ought to talk plainly to the Hollywood moguls and people who produce this stuff, and explain the consequences. I think we need to have rating systems that are clear. And I happen to like the idea of having technology for the TV, easy for parents to use, so you can tune out these programs that you don't want in your house.

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