SHAW: From historic Danville, Kentucky, good evening and welcome to this year's only vice presidential debate sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. I'm Bernard Shaw of CNN, moderator.
Tonight we come to you from Newlin Hall in the Norton Center for the Arts on the campus of Centre College. To President John Roush, the faculty here, students and community leaders statewide, we thank you for hosting this debate.
The candidates are the Republican nominee, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney of Wyoming, and the Democratic nominee, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
The commission, these candidates and their campaign staffs have agreed to the following rules:
A candidate shall have two minutes to respond to the moderator's question. The other candidate shall have two minutes to comment on the question or the first candidate's answer. When I exercise the moderator's discretion of extending discussion of a question, no candidate may speak for more than two minutes at one time. This audience has been told no disruptions will be tolerated.
A prior coin toss has determined that the first question will go to the Democratic candidate.
Senator, few hard-working Americans would base their well-being on bonuses they hope to get five or 10 years from now. Why do you and you, Secretary Cheney predict surpluses you cannot possibly guarantee to pay for your proposed programs?
LIEBERMAN: Bernie, before I answer that very important question, let me first thank you for moderating the debate. Let me thank the wonderful people here at Centre College and throughout Kentucky for being such gracious hosts. And let me give a special thank you to the people of Connecticut, without whose support over these last 30 years I would never have had the opportunity Al Gore has given me this year. And finally, let me thank my family, that is here with me, my wife, Hadassah, our children, our siblings and my mom.
My 85-year-old mom gave me some good advice about the debate earlier today. She said, "Sweetheart," as she is prone to call me, "Remember, be positive and know that I will love you no matter what your opponent says about you."
Well, Mom, as always, that was both reassuring and wise.
I am going to be positive tonight. I'm not going to indulge in negative personal attacks. I'm going to talk about the issues that I know matter to the people of this country: education, health care, retirement security and moral values. I'm going to describe the plan that Al Gore and I have for keeping America's prosperity going and making sure that it benefits more of America's families, particularly the hard-working middle class families who have not yet fully benefited from the good times we've had.
And, Bernie, I'm going texplain tonight how we're going to do all this and remain fiscally responsible.
Let me briefly get to your question.
SHAW: You have about 10 seconds.
LIEBERMAN: All right. We're not spending any more than is projected by the experts. In fact, unlike our opponents, we're setting aside $300 billion in a reserve fund just in case those projections the nonpartisan experts make are not quite right.
We understand that balancing the budget, keeping America
SHAW: Your time is up, Senator.
LIEBERMAN: out of debt is the way to keep interest rates down and the economy growing.
SHAW: Secretary Cheney.
CHENEY: Well, I, too, want to join in thanking the folks here in Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, for sponsoring this and making all of this possible.
And I am delighted to be here tonight with you, Joe. And I, too, want to avoid any personal attacks. I promise not to bring up your singing.
LIEBERMAN: Well, I promise not to sing.
I think this is an extraordinarily important decision we're going to make on November 7. We're really going to choose between what I consider to be an old way of governing ourselves of high levels of spending, high taxes, an ever more intrusive bureaucracy, or a new course, a new era, if you will. And Governor Bush and I want to offer that new course of action.
With respect to the surplus, Bernie, we've got to make some kind of forecast. We can't make 12 month decisions in this business. We're talking about the kinds of fundamental changes in programs and government that are going to affect people's lives for the next 25 or 30 years. And while it may be a little risky in some respects from an economic standpoint to try to forecast surpluses, I think it's you have to make some planning assumption on which to proceed.
We care a great deal about the issues that are at stake here. And one of the difficulties we have, frankly, is that for the last eight years, we ignored a lot (of) these problems. We haven't moved aggressively on Social Security. We haven't moved, for example, on Medicare. There are important issues out there that need to be resolved, and it's important for us to get on with that business. And that's what Governor Bush and I want to do.
SHAW: You alluded to problems. There's no magic bullet, Secretary Cheney. And this question is to you. No magic bullets to solve the problems of public education, but what's the next best solution?
CHENEY: Well, I think public education is the solution. Our desire is to find ways to reform our educational system, to return it to its former glory. I'm a product of public schools. My family, my wife and daughters, all went to public schools. And we believe very much in the public school system.
But if you look at where we are, from this standpoint in the nation, the recent exams, for example, the National Assesment of Educational Progress, independent nonpartisan testing service shows that there's been no progress on reading scores in the last eight years, almost no progress on math. The achievement gap between minority and non-minority students is as big as it's ever been. We've had a significant increase in spending for education nationwide, but it's produced almost no positive results.
That's really unacceptable from our standpoint, because if you look at it and think about it, we now have in our most disadvantaged communities, nearly 70 percent of our fourth-graders can't read at basic level. We've graduated 15 million kids from high school in the last 15 years who can't read at basic level. They are permanently sentenced to a lifetime of failure.
And what we want to do, what Governor Bush and I want to do, is to change that. We think we know how to do it. Governor Bush has done it in Texas. We want to emphasize local controls, so that the people here in Danville, Kentucky, decide what's best for their kids.
And we want to insist on high standards. One of the worst things we can do is fail to establish high standards, in effect to say to a youngster, because of their ethnic background or their income level, we don't have the same kind of expectations from you that we have for everybody else.
And we want accountability. We have to test every child every year to know whether or not we're making progress with respect to achieving those goals and objectives. So we think it's extraordinarily important. This is probably the single most important issue in this campaign. Governor Bush has made it clear that when he's elected, this will be his number one priority as a legislative major to submit to the Congress.
LIEBERMAN: Bernie, Al Gore and I are committed to making America's public schools the best in the world. And I disagree with what my opponent has said. A lot of progress has been made in recent years. Average testing scores are up and a lot of extraordinary work is being done by tens of thousands of parents and teachers and administrators all around America. But there's more to be done.
And if you'll allow me, I want to go back to your last question because it leads to this question. I think both of us agree that, leaving aside the Social Security and Medicare surpluses, there's $1.8 trillion in surplus available to spend over the next 10 years. As I said before, we're being fiscally responsible about it. We're taking $300 billion off the top to put into a reserve fund. The rest of it, we're going to use for middle class tax cuts and investments in programs like education.
Now, there's a big difference here between these two tickets. Our opponents are going to spend $1.6 trillion of the $1.8 trillion surplus projected on that big tax cut that Al Gore talked about the other night so effectively.
We're saving money to invest in education. You cannot reform education and imrove it in this country without spending some money. Al Gore and I have committed $170 billion for that purpose: to recruit 100,000 new teachers to reduce the size of classrooms, to help local school districts build new buildings so our children are not learning in crumbling classrooms.
And we're not just going to stop at high school. We're going to go on and give the middle class the ability to deduct up to $10,000 a year in the cost of college tuition. Now, that's a tremendous lifesaving change which will help people carry on their education and allow them to develop the kinds of skills that will help them succeed in the high tech economy of today.
CHENEY: Very important issue, Bernie. Maybe we could extend on education for a moment?
SHAW: You're asking me to invoke the moderator's discretion on further discussion?
CHENEY: I am asking you to invoke the moderator's discussion, as is your discretion.
SHAW: It is so granted.
CHENEY: Thank you, sir.
LIEBERMAN: Your Honor, do I get a chance to respond?
SHAW: Of course you do.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you.
SHAW: The secretary will have two minutes, and then you will have two minutes.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you.
CHENEY: Let's talk about this question of the surplus, because it really drives a lot of what we're talking about here, Joe.
And if you look at our proposal, we take half of the projected surplus and set it aside for Social Security, over $2.4 trillion. We take roughly a fourth of it for other urgent priorities, such as Medicare reform and education and several of these other key programs we want to support, and we take roughly one-fourth of it and return it in the form of a tax cut to the American taxpayer.
CHENEY: We think it is extraordinarily important to do that. But it is a fundamental difference between our two our two approaches.
If you look, frankly, by our numbers and the numbers of the Senate Budget Committee, which has totaled up all the promises that Vice President Gore has made during the course of the campaign, they are some $900 billion in spending over and above that projected surplus already, and we still have a month to go in the campaign.
The fact is that the program that we put together we think is very responsible. The suggestion that somehow all of it is going for tax cuts isn't true. Another way to look at it is that over the course of the next 10 years we'll collect roughly $25 trillion in revenue. We want to take about 5 percent of that and return that to the American taxpayer in the form of tax relief.
We have the highest level of taxation now we've had since World War II. The average American family is paying about 40 percent in federal, state and local taxes. We think it is appropriate to return to the American people so that they can make choices themselves in how that money ought to be spent, whether they want to spend it on education or on retirement or on aying their bills. It's their choice. It's their prerogative.
We want to give them the opportunity to make those kinds of choices for themselves. And we think this is a totally reasonable approach.
LIEBERMAN: Bernie, let me start with the numbers. With all respect, the Senate Budget Committee estimates that Dick Cheney has just referred to are the estimates of the partisan Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee.
We're using the numbers presented by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
And we start with an agreement, which is that the surplus in the Social Security fund should be locked up and used for Social Security. That's where the agreement ends.
We also agree and believe and pledge that the surplus in the Medicare trust fund should also be locked up, with a sign on it that says, Politicians, keep your hands off.
Our opponents do not do that. In fact, they raid the Medicare trust fund to pay for, well, their tax cut and other programs that they can't afford because they've spent so much on the tax cut.
Let me come back to the remaining $1.8 trillion that we both talked about. The numbers show that $1.6 trillion goes to that big tax cut, which, as Al Gore said the other night, sends 43 percent to the top 1 percent.
But really worse than that, when you add on the other spending programs that our opponents have committed to, plus the cost of their plan to privatize Social Security, by our calculation they are $1.1 trillion in debt. And that means we go back down the road to higher interest rates, to higher unemployment, to a kind of stealth tax increase on every American family, because when interest rates go up, so too do the cost of mortgage payments, car payments, student loans, credit card transactions.
So if we've learned anything over the last eight years, it is that one of the most important things the government can do, the federal government, probably the most important, is to be fiscally responsible.
And that's why Al Gore and I are committed to balancing the budget every year. In fact, to paying off the debt by the year 2012, when, by our calculation, our opponents' economic plan still leaves America $2.8 trillion in debt.
SHAW: Time. The next question goes to you.