Below is the text of the town-hall debate between President Bush and John Kerry:
KERRY: You rely on good military people to execute the military component of the strategy, but winning the peace is larger than just the military component.
General Shinseki had the wisdom to say, You're going to need several hundred thousand troops to win the peace. The military's job is to win the war.
A president's job is to win the peace.
The president did not do what was necessary. Didn't bring in enough nation. Didn't deliver the help. Didn't close off the borders. Didn't even guard the ammo dumps. And now our kids are being killed with ammos right out of that dump.
GIBSON: The next question is for Senator Kerry, and it comes from over here, from Randee Jacobs. You'll need a microphone.
KERRY: Is it Randee?
JACOBS: Yes, Randee.
Iran sponsors terrorism and has missiles capable of hitting Israel and southern Europe. Iran will have nuclear weapons in two to three years time.
In the event that U.N. sanctions don't stop this threat, what will you do as president?
KERRY: I don't think you can just rely on U.N. sanctions, Randee. But you're absolutely correct, it is a threat, it's a huge threat.
And what's interesting is, it's a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat.
If he'd let the inspectors do their job and go on, we wouldn't have 10 times the numbers of forces in Iraq that we have in Afghanistan chasing Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, while Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons, some 37 tons of what they called yellow cake, the stuff they use to make enriched uranium, while they're doing that, North Korea has moved from one bomb maybe, maybe, to four to seven bombs.
For two years, the president didn't even engage with North Korea, did nothing at all, while it was growing more dangerous, despite the warnings of former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who negotiated getting television cameras and inspectors into that reactor.
We were safer before President Bush came to office. Now they have the bombs and we're less safe.
So what do we do? We've got to join with the British and the French, with the Germans, who've been involved, in their initiative. We've got to lead the world now to crack down on proliferation as a whole.
But the president's been slow to do that, even in Russia.
At his pace, it's going to take 13 years to reduce and get ahold of all the loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I've proposed a plan that can capture it and contain it and clean it within four years.
And the president is moving to the creation of our own bunker- busting nuclear weapon. It's very hard to get other countries to give up their weapons when you're busy developing a new one.
I'm going to lead the world in the greatest counterproliferation effort. And if we have to get tough with Iran, believe me, we will get tough.
GIBSON: Mr. President, a minute and a half.
BUSH: That answer almost made me want to scowl.
He keeps talking about, Let the inspectors do their job. It's naive and dangerous to say that. That's what the Duelfer report showed. He was deceiving the inspectors.
Secondly, of course we've been involved with Iran.
I fully understand the threat. And that's why we're doing what he suggested we do: Get the Brits, the Germans and the French to go make it very clear to the Iranians that if they expect to be a party to the world to give up their nuclear ambitions. We've been doing that.
Let me talk about North Korea.
It is naive and dangerous to take a policy that he suggested the other day, which is to have bilateral relations with North Korea. Remember, he's the person who's accusing me of not acting multilaterally. He now wants to take the six-party talks we have -- China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States -- and undermine them by having bilateral talks.
That's what President Clinton did. He had bilateral talks with the North Koreans. And guess what happened?
He didn't honor the agreement. He was enriching uranium. That is a bad policy. Of course, we're paying attention to these. It's a great question about Iran. That's why in my speech to the Congress I said: There's an Axis of Evil, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and we're paying attention to it. And we're making progress.
GIBSON: We're going to move on, Mr. President, with a question for you. And it comes from Daniel Farley.
FARLEY: Mr. President, since we continue to police the world, how do you intend to maintain our military presence without reinstituting a draft?
BUSH: Yes, that's a great question. Thanks.
I hear there's rumors on the Internets (sic) that we're going to have a draft. We're not going to have a draft, period. The all- volunteer army works. It works particularly when we pay our troops well. It works when we make sure they've got housing, like we have done in the last military budgets.
An all-volunteer army is best suited to fight the new wars of the 21st century, which is to be specialized and to find these people as they hide around the world.
We don't need mass armies anymore. One of the things we've done is we've taken the -- we're beginning to transform our military.
And by that I mean we're moving troops out of Korea and replacing them with more effective weapons. We don't need as much manpower on the Korean Peninsula to keep a deterrent.
In Europe, we have massed troops as if the Soviet Union existed and was going to invade into Europe, but those days are over with. And so we're moving troops out of Europe and replacing it with more effective equipment.
So to answer your question is, we're withdrawing, not from the world, we're withdrawing manpower so they can be stationed here in America, so there's less rotation, so life is easier on their families and therefore more likely to be -- we'll be more likely to be able to keep people in the all-volunteer army.
One of the more important things we're doing in this administration is transformation. There are some really interesting technologies.
For instance, we're flying unmanned vehicles that can send real- time messages back to stations in the United States. That saves manpower, and it saves equipment.
It also means that we can target things easier and move more quickly, which means we need to be lighter and quicker and more facile and highly trained.
Now, forget all this talk about a draft. We're not going to have a draft so long as I am the president.
GIBSON: Senator Kerry, a minute and a half.
KERRY: Daniel, I don't support a draft.
But let me tell you where the president's policies have put us.
The president -- and this is one of the reasons why I am very proud in this race to have the support of General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Admiral William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Tony McPeak, who ran the air war for the president's father and did a brilliant job, supporting me; General Wes Clark, who won the war in Kosovo, supporting me; because they all -- and General Baca, who was the head of the National Guard, supporting me.
Why? Because they understand that our military is overextended under the president.
Our Guard and reserves have been turned into almost active duty. You've got people doing two and three rotations. You've got stop-loss policies, so people can't get out when they were supposed to. You've got a back-door draft right now.
And a lot of our military are underpaid. These are families that get hurt. It hurts the middle class. It hurts communities, because these are our first responders. And they're called up. And they're over there, not over here.
Now, I'm going to add 40,000 active duty forces to the military, and I'm going to make people feel good about being safe in our military, and not overextended, because I'm going to run a foreign policy that actually does what President Reagan did, President Eisenhower did, and others.
We're going to build alliances. We're not going to go unilaterally. We're not going to go alone like this president did.
GIBSON: Mr. President, let's extend for a minute...
BUSH: Let me just -- I've got to answer this.
GIBSON: Exactly. And with Reservists being held on duty... (CROSSTALK)
BUSH: Let me answer what he just said, about around the world.
GIBSON: Well, I want to get into the issue of the back-door draft...
BUSH: You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Silvio Berlusconi we're going alone. Tell Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland we're going alone.
There are 30 countries there. It denigrates an alliance to say we're going alone, to discount their sacrifices. You cannot lead an alliance if you say, you know, you're going alone. And people listen. They're sacrificing with us.
KERRY: Mr. President, countries are leaving the coalition, not joining. Eight countries have left it.
If Missouri, just given the number of people from Missouri who are in the military over there today, were a country, it would be the third largest country in the coalition, behind Great Britain and the United States.
That's not a grand coalition.
Ninety percent of the casualties are American. Ninety percent of the costs are coming out of your pockets.
I could do a better job. My plan does a better job. And that's why I'll be a better commander in chief.
GIBSON: The next question, Senator Kerry, is for you, and it comes from Ann Bronsing, who I believe is over in this area.
BRONSING: Senator Kerry, we have been fortunate that there have been no further terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. Why do you think this is? And if elected, what will you do to assure our safety?
KERRY: Thank you very much, Ann.
I've asked in my security briefings why that is, and I can't go into all the answers, et cetera, but let me say this to you.
This president and his administration have told you and all of us it's not a question of when, it's a question of -- excuse me -- not a question of if, it's a question of when. We've been told that.
The when I can't tell you. Between the World Trade Center bombing in, what was it, 1993 or so, and the next time was five years, seven years. These people wait. They'll plan. They plot.
I agree with the president that we have to go after them and get them wherever they are. I just think I can do that far more effectively, because the most important weapon in doing that is intelligence. You've got to have the best intelligence in the world.
And in order to have the best intelligence in the world to know who the terrorists are and where they are and what they're plotting, you've got to have the best cooperation you've ever had in the world.
Now, to go back to your question, Nikki, we're not getting the best cooperation in the world today. We've got a whole bunch of countries that pay a price for dealing with the United States of America now. I'm going to change that.
And I'm going to put in place a better homeland security effort.
Look, 95 percent of our containers coming into this country are not inspected today. When you get on an airplane, your bag is X- rayed, but the cargo hold isn't X-rayed. Do you feel safer?
This president in the last debate said, Well, that would be a big tax gap if we did that.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's his tax plan. He chose a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans over getting that equipment out into the homeland as fast as possible.
We have bridges and tunnels that aren't being secured, chemical plants, nuclear plants that aren't secured, hospitals that are overcrowded with their emergency rooms.
If we had a disaster today, could they handle it?
This president chose a tax cut over homeland security. Wrong choice.
GIBSON: Mr. President?
BUSH: That's an odd thing to say, since we've tripled the homeland security budget from $10 billion to $30 billion.
Listen, we'll do everything we can to protect the homeland.
My opponent's right, we need good intelligence. It's also a curious thing for him to say since right after 1993 he voted to cut the intelligence budget by $7.5 billion.
The best way to defend America in this world we live in is to stay on the offense. We got to be right 100 percent of the time here at home, and they got to be right once. And that's the reality.
And there's a lot of good people working hard. We're doing the best we possibly can to share information. That's why the Patriot Act was important.
The Patriot Act is vital, by the way. It's a tool that law enforcement now uses to be able to talk between each other. My opponent says he hadn't changed his position on it. No, but he's for weakening it.
I don't think my opponent has got the right view about the world to make us safe; I really don't.
First of all, I don't think he can succeed in Iraq. And if Iraq were to fail, it'd be a haven for terrorists, and there would be money and the world would be much more dangerous.
I don't see how you can win in Iraq if you don't believe we should be there in the first place. I don't see how you can lead troops if you say it's the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I don't see how the Iraqis are going to have confidence in the American president if all they hear is that it was a mistake to be there in the first place.
This war is a long, long war, and it requires steadfast determination and it requires a complete understanding that we not only chase down Al Qaida but we disrupt terrorist safe havens as well as people who could provide the terrorists with support.
GIBSON: I want to extend for a minute, Senator. And I'm curious about something you said. You said, It's not when, but if. You think it's inevitable because the sense of security is a very basic thing with everybody in this country worried about their kids.
KERRY: Well, the president and his experts have told America that it's not a question of if; it's a question of when. And I accept what the president has said. These terrorists are serious, they're deadly, and they know nothing except trying to kill.
I understand that. That's why I will never stop at anything to hunt down and kill the terrorists.
But you heard the president just say to you that we've added money.
Folks, the test is not if you've added money; the test is that you've done everything possible to make America secure. He chose a tax cut for wealthy Americans over the things that I listed to you.
GIBSON: Mr. President?
BUSH: Well, we'll talk about the tax cut for middle class here in a minute. But yes, I'm worried. I'm worried. I'm worried about our country. And all I can tell you is every day I know that there's people working overtime, doing the very best they can. And the reason I'm worried is because there's a vicious enemy that has an ideology of hate.
And the way to defeat them long-term, by the way, is to spread freedom.
Liberty can change habits. And that's what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq.
GIBSON: Mr. President, we're going to turn to questions now on domestic policy. And we're going to start with health issues.
And the first question is for President Bush and it's from John Horstman.
HORSTMAN: Mr. President, why did you block the reimportation of safer and inexpensive drugs from Canada which would have cut 40 to 60 percent off of the cost?
BUSH: I haven't yet. Just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you.
And that's why the FDA and that's why the surgeon general are looking very carefully to make sure it can be done in a safe way. I've got an obligation to make sure our government does everything we can to protect you.
And what my worry is is that, you know, it looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a third world.
And we've just got to make sure, before somebody thinks they're buying a product, that it works. And that's why we're doing what we're doing.
Now, it may very well be here in December you'll hear me say, I think there's a safe way to do it.
There are other ways to make sure drugs are cheaper. One is to speed up generic drugs to the marketplace, quicker. Pharmaceuticals were using loopholes to keep brand -- brand drugs in place, and generics are much less expensive than brand drugs. And we're doing just that.
Another is to pass -- to get our seniors to sign up to these drug discount cards, and they're working.
Wanda Blackmore I met here from Missouri, the first time she bought drugs with her drug discount card, she paid $1.14, I think it was, for about $10 worth of drugs.
These cards make sense.
And, you know, in 2006 seniors are going to get prescription drug coverage for the first time in Medicare. Because I went to Washington to fix problems.
Medicare -- the issue of Medicare used to be called Mediscare. People didn't want to touch it for fear of getting hurt politically.
I wanted to get something done. I think our seniors deserve a modern medical system. And in 2006, our seniors will get prescription drug coverage.
Thank you for asking.
GIBSON: Senator, a minute and a half.
KERRY: John, you heard the president just say that he thought he might try to be for it.
Four years ago, right here in this forum, he was asked the same question: Can't people be able to import drugs from Canada? You know what he said? I think that makes sense. I think that's a good idea -- four years ago.
Now, the president said, I'm not blocking that. Ladies and gentlemen, the president just didn't level with you right now again.
He did block it, because we passed it in the United States Senate. We sent it over to the House, that you could import drugs. We took care of the safety issues.
We're not talking about third-world drugs. We're talking about drugs made right here in the United States of America that have American brand names on them and American bottles. And we're asking to be able to allow you to get them.
The president blocked it. The president also took Medicare, which belongs to you. And he could have lowered the cost of Medicare and lowered your taxes and lowered the costs to seniors.
You know what he did? He made it illegal, illegal for Medicare to do what the V.A. does, which is bulk purchase drugs so that you can lower the price and get them out to you lower.
He put $139 billion of windfall profit into the pockets of the drug companies right out of your pockets. That's the difference between us. The president sides with the power companies, the oil companies, the drug companies. And I'm fighting to let you get those drugs from Canada, and I'm fighting to let Medicare survive.
I'm fighting for the middle class. That is the difference.
BUSH: If they're safe, they're coming. I want to remind you that it wasn't just my administration that made the decision on safety. President Clinton did the same thing, because we have an obligation to protect you.
Now, he talks about Medicare. He's been in the United States Senate 20 years. Show me one accomplishment toward Medicare that he accomplished.
I've been in Washington, D.C., three and a half years and led the Congress to reform Medicare so our seniors have got a modern health care system. That's what leadership is all about.
KERRY: Actually, Mr. President, in 1997 we fixed Medicare, and I was one of the people involved in it.
We not only fixed Medicare and took it way out into the future, we did something that you don't know how to do: We balanced the budget. And we paid down the debt of our nation for two years in a row, and we created 23 million new jobs at the same time.
And it's the president's fiscal policies that have driven up the biggest deficits in American history. He's added more debt to the debt of the United States in four years than all the way from George Washington to Ronald Reagan put together. Go figure.
GIBSON: The next question is for Senator Kerry. And this comes from Norma-Jean Laurent.
LAURENT: Senator Kerry, you've stated your concern for the rising cost of health care, yet you chose a vice presidential candidate who has made millions of dollars successfully suing medical professionals. How do you reconcile this with the voters?
KERRY: Very easily. John Edwards is the author of the Patients' Bill of Rights. He wanted to give people rights. John Edwards and I support tort reform. We both believe that, as lawyers -- I'm a lawyer, too. And I believe that we will be able to get a fix that has alluded everybody else because we know how to do it.
It's in my health-care proposal. Go to johnkerry.com. You can pull it off of the Internet. And you'll find a tort reform plan.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, important to understand, the president and his friends try to make a big deal out of it. Is it a problem? Yes, it's a problem. Do we need to fix it, particularly for OGBYNs (sic) and for brain surgeons and others? Yes.
But it's less than 1 percent of the total cost of health care.
Your premiums are going up. You've gone up, in Missouri, about $3,500. You've gone up 64 percent. You've seen co-pays go up, deductibles go up. Everything's gone up.
Five million people have lost their health insurance under this president. He's done nothing about it.
I have a plan. I have a plan to lower the cost of health care for you. I have a plan to cover all children. I have a plan to let you buy into the same health care senators and congressmen give themselves.
I have a plan that's going to allow people 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare early.
KERRY: And I have a plan that will take the catastrophic cases out of the system, off your backs, pay for it out of a federal fund, which lowers the premiums for everybody in America, makes American business more competitive and makes health care more affordable.
Now, all of that can happen, but I have to ask you to do one thing: Join me in rolling back the president's unaffordable tax cut for people earning more than $200,000 a year. That's all.
Ninety-eight percent of America, I'm giving you a tax cut and I'm giving you health care.
GIBSON: Mr. President, a minute and a half.
BUSH: Let me see where to start here.
First, the National Journal named Senator Kennedy the most liberal senator of all. And that's saying something in that bunch. You might say that took a lot of hard work.
The reason I bring that up is because he's proposed $2.2 trillion in new spending, and he says he going to tax the rich to close the tax gap.
He can't. He's going to tax everybody here to fund his programs. That's just reality.
And what are his health programs? First, he says he's for medical liability reform, particularly for OB/GYNs. There's a bill on the floor of the United States Senate that he could have showed up and voted for if he's so much for it.
Secondly, he says that medical liability costs only cause a 1 percent increase. That shows a lack of understanding. Doctors practice defensive medicine because of all the frivolous lawsuits that cost our government $28 billion a year.
And finally, he said he's going to have a novel health care plan. You know what it is? The federal government is going to run it.
It's the largest increase in federal government health care ever. And it fits with his philosophy. That's why I told you about the award he won from the National Journal.
That's what liberals do. They create government-sponsored health care. Maybe you think that makes sense. I don't. Government-sponsored health care would lead to rationing. It would ruin the quality of health care in America.
GIBSON: Senator Kerry, we got several questions along this line, and I'm just curious if you'd go further on what you talked about with tort reform. Would you be favoring capping awards on pain and suffering? Would you limit attorney's fees?
KERRY: A follow-up...
GIBSON: Yes. A follow-up on this for...
KERRY: Yes, I think we should look at the punitive and we should have some limitations.
But look, what's really important, Charlie, is the president is just trying to scare everybody here with throwing labels around. I mean, compassionate conservative, what does that mean? Cutting 500,000 kids from after-school programs, cutting 365,000 kids from health care, running up the biggest deficits in American history.
Mr. President, you're batting 0 for 2.
I mean, seriously -- labels don't mean anything. What means something is: Do you have a plan? And I want to talk about my plan some more -- I hope we can.
GIBSON: We'll get to that in just a minute.
Thirty seconds, President Bush.
BUSH: You're right, what does matter is a plan. He said he's for -- you're now for capping punitive damages?
That's odd. You should have shown up on the floor in the Senate and voted for it then.
Medical liability issues are a problem, a significant problem. He's been in the United States Senate for 20 years and he hasn't addressed it.
We passed it out of the House of Representatives. Guess where it's stuck? It's stuck in the Senate, because the trial lawyers won't act on it. And he put a trial lawyer on the ticket.