Here is the text of the debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards:
IFILL: OK, then we'll move on to the next question.
This one is for you, Mr. Vice President. President Bush has derided John Kerry for putting a trial lawyer on the ticket. You yourself have said that lawsuits are partly to blame for higher medical costs. Are you willing to say that John Edwards, sitting here, has been part of the problem?
CHENEY: Well, Gwen...
IFILL: Mr. Vice President?
CHENEY: First of all, I'm not familiar with his cases. My concern is specifically with what's happened to our medical care system because of rising malpractice insurance rates, because we failed to adequately reform our medical liability structure.
I was in New Mexico the other day and met with a group of OB/GYN docs.
And they were deeply concerned because they were fearful that there'd be another increase in malpractice insurance rates as a result of what they believe are frivolous lawsuits and that that would put them out of business.
And one doctor indicated that her rates have gone up so much that she's now to the point where she is screening patients. She won't take high-risk patients anymore because of the danger that that will generate a lawsuit, and a lawsuit will put her out of business.
This has had a devastating impact in a lot of communities. My home state of Wyoming, we've lost the top insurer of malpractice insurance in the state. The rates for a general practitioner have gone from $40,000 a year to $100,000 a year for an insurance policy.
We think this has a devastating impact on the quality of health care.
As I say, high risk patients don't get covered anymore. We've lost one out of eleven OB/GYN practitioners in the country. We think it can be fixed, needs to be fixed.
Now, specifically, what we need to do is cap non-economic damages, and we also think you need to limit the awards that the trial attorneys take out of all of this. Over 50 percent of the settlements go to the attorneys and for administrating overhead.
We passed medical liability reform through the House of Representatives. It's been blocked in the Senate. Senator Kerry's voted 10 times against medical liability reform, and I don't believe Senator Edwards supports it, either, not the kind that would be meaningful.
IFILL: Senator Edwards?
EDWARDS: Yes. Well let me say, first of all, I'm proud of the work I did on behalf of kids and families against big insurance companies, big drug companies and big HMOs.
We do have too many lawsuits. And the reality is there's something that we can do about it.
John Kerry and I have a plan to do something about it. We want to put more responsibility on the lawyers to require, before a case, malpractice, which the vice president just spoke about, have the case reviewed by independent experts to determine if the case is serious and meritorious before it can be filed; hold the lawyers responsible for that, certify that and hold the lawyer financially responsible if they don't do it; have a three-strikes-and-you're-out rule so that a lawyer who files three of these cases without meeting this requirement loses their right to file these cases.
That way we keep the cases out of the system that don't belong in the system. They talk about frivolous cases. We believe cases that don't belong in the system should never be in the system.
But we don't believe that we should take away the right of people like Valerie Lakey, who was the young girl who I represented, five years old, severely injured for life, on a defective swimming pool drain cover.
It turns out the company knew of 12 other children who had either been killed or severely injured by the same problem. They hid it. They didn't tell anybody. They could have fixed it with a 2-cent screw. That's wrong.
John Kerry and I are always going to stand with the Valerie Lakeys of the world, and not with the insurance companies.
IFILL: Senator Edwards, new question to you, same topic. Do you feel personally attacked when Vice President Cheney talks about liability reform and tort reform and the president talks about having a trial lawyer on the ticket?
EDWARDS: Am I personally attacked?
I think the truth is that what they're doing is talking about an issue that really doesn't have a great deal to do with what's happening with medical policy in this country, which I think is a very serious issue.
And I would be the first to say that what the vice president described a few minutes ago, problems with malpractice premiums, that's true, it's real. It's very real. What doctors talk about is very serious.
And they're getting squeezed from both sides. I mean, because, they have trouble getting reimbursed, first of all, for the care that they provide, you know, from the government or from health-care companies. And, on the flip side, their malpractice costs are going up.
That's very real, which is why we have proposed a plan to keep cases out of the system that don't belong there.
But it's very important to put this in context. Because, in context, everything they're proposing, according to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, amounts to about half of 1 percent of health-care costs in this country -- half of 1 percent.
We have double-digit inflation in health care costs. We've seen the largest rise in medical costs in the last four years in the country's history: $3,500 nationally. And nobody who's watching this debate needs me to explain this to them. They know it.
Medicare premiums are up 17 percent on their watch. Again, largest increase in Medicare premiums in the history of Medicare.
We think we have a plan to keep cases that don't belong in the system out, but we also do what they haven't done.
Five million Americans have lost their health care coverage. Medical costs are skyrocketing. We have a serious health care plan to bring down costs for everybody, to cover millions more Americans and to actually stand up to drug companies and insurance companies which this administration has been unwilling to do.
IFILL: Mr. Vice President?
CHENEY: Gwen, we think lawsuit abuse is a serious problem in this country. We think we badly need tort reform.
I was in Minnesota the other day, where I visited an aircraft manufacturing plant. It's a great success story. This is a company that started 20 years ago with nothing. Today they're the second- leading producer of piston-driven aircraft in the country.
He told me that if it weren't for the increased cost of his liability insurance, in this case product liability, he could hire 200 more people in his factory. We've built into the system enormous costs as a result of our practice with respect to litigation. We have to find ways to get a handle on it.
He mentioned Medicare up 17 percent, somehow that that was something we caused. No. The 17 percent increase in Medicare premiums was the direct result of a statute adopted in 1997. John Kerry voted for it.
It establishes the formula for Part B of Medicare that says, in effect, it has to cover 25 percent of the cost of the program. And the reason the money had to go into the trust fund was to make certain that we could cover those eligible for benefits.
While you were in private practice in law and as a senator, you had the advantage of a special tax loophole, Subchapter S corporation, which you set up so you could avoid paying $600,000 in Medicare taxes that would have gone into the fund.
And it's those kinds of loopholes that necessitate a premium increase under the law that was enacted in 1997, supported by John Kerry.
IFILL: You have 30 seconds to respond.
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I have paid all the taxes that I owe.
When the vice president was CEO of Halliburton, they took advantage of every offshore loophole available. They had multiple offshore companies that were avoiding taxes.
Those are the kind of things that ought to be closed. They ought to be closed. They ought to be closed for anybody. They ought to be closed whether they're personal, and they ought to be closed whether they apply to a corporation.
But the reality is health care costs are going up every day for the American people, and I hope we're going to get a chance to talk more about health care.
IFILL: Thirty seconds, Mr. Vice President.
CHENEY: We've done a lot to reduce the cost of health care. The Medicare drug benefit that we'll be providing to seniors beginning in '06 will provide upwards to $1,300 a year to help them buy prescription drugs.
The drug savings -- drug discount card that's now available saves an estimated 15 percent to 30 percent off the cost of prescription drugs for senior citizens.
So we're moving in as many areas as we can to make certain we hold down and reduce the health care costs.
IFILL: I will talk to you about health care, Mr. Vice President. You have two minutes. But in particular, I want to talk to you about AIDS, and not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts.
What should the government's role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?
CHENEY: Well, this is a great tragedy, Gwen, when you think about the enormous cost here in the United States and around the world of the AIDS epidemic -- pandemic, really. Millions of lives lost, millions more infected and facing a very bleak future.
In some parts of the world, we've got the entire, sort of, productive generation has been eliminated as a result of AIDS, all except for old folks and kids -- nobody to do the basic work that runs an economy.
The president has been deeply concerned about it. He has moved and proposed and gotten through the Congress authorization for $15 billion to help in the international effort, to be targeted in those places where we need to do everything we can, through a combination of education as well as providing the kinds of medicines that will help people control the infection.
Here in the United States, we've made significant progress. I have not heard those numbers with respect to African- American women. I was not aware that it was -- that they're in epidemic there, because we have made progress in terms of the overall rate of AIDS infection, and I think primarily through a combination of education and public awareness as well as the development, as a result of research, of drugs that allow people to live longer lives even though they are infected -- obviously we need to do more of that.
IFILL: Senator Edwards, you have 90 seconds.
EDWARDS: Well, first, with respect to what's happening in Africa and Russia and in other places around the world, the vice president spoke about the $15 billion for AIDS. John Kerry and I believe that needs to be doubled.
And I might add, on the first year of their commitment, they came up significantly short of what they had promised.
And we probably won't get a chance to talk about Africa. Let me just say a couple of things.
The AIDS epidemic in Africa, which is killing millions and millions of people and is a frightening thing not just for the people of Africa but also for the rest of the world, that, combined with the genocide that we're now seeing in Sudan, are two huge moral issues for the United States of America, which John Kerry spoke about eloquently last Thursday night.
Here at home we need to do much more. And the vice president spoke about doing research, making sure we have the drugs available, making sure that we do everything possible to have prevention. But it's a bigger question than that.
You know, we have 5 million Americans who've lost their health care coverage in the last four years; 45 million Americans without health care coverage. We have children who don't have health care coverage.
If kids and adults don't have access to preventative care, if they're not getting the health care that they need day after day after day, the possibility of not only developing AIDS and having a problem -- having a problem -- a life-threatening problem, but the problem of developing other life-threatening diseases is there every day of their lives.
IFILL: OK, we'll move on.
This goes to you, Senator Edwards, and you have two minutes.
Ten men and women have been nominees of their parties since 1976 to be vice president. Out of those ten, you have the least governmental experience of any of them.
What qualifies you to be a heartbeat away?
EDWARDS: The American people want in their president and in their vice president basically three things: They want to know that their president and their vice president will keep them safe. They want to know that they have good judgment. And they want to know that you'll tell them the truth.
John Kerry and I will tell the American people the truth.
During the time that I have served on the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, traveling to some of the places we've talked about tonight -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, Turkey -- meeting with the leaders of NATO, I have a very clear idea of what has to be done to keep this country safe.
The threats we face: terrorism, killing terrorists and stopping them before they can do damage to us, making sure that we stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
I agree with John Kerry from Thursday night, that the danger of nuclear weapons getting in the hands of terrorists is one of the greatest threats that America faces.
But the one thing that we know from this administration is -- and I -- first of all, I don't claim to have the long political resume that Vice President Cheney has. That's just the truth, and the American people know that and deserve to know it. But what we know from this administration is that a long resume does not equal good judgment.
Here are the judgments I would make: My first priority would be to keep this country safe. I would find terrorists where they are and stop them and kill them before they do harm to us.
We would stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
And we would also strengthen this military, which means providing the equipment and training that they need.
We want to raise the active-duty forces by 40,000, double the special forces so we can find terrorists where they are, and provide the kind of support for families -- health care, housing -- that they deserve while their loved ones are serving and protecting us. IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds.
CHENEY: You want me to answer a question about his qualifications?
IFILL: That was the question.
CHENEY: I see.
Well, I think the important thing in picking a vice president probably varies from president to president. Different presidents approach it in different ways.
When George Bush asked me to sign on, it obviously wasn't because he was worried about carrying Wyoming. We got 70 percent of the vote in Wyoming, although those three electoral votes turned out to be pretty important last time around.
What he said he wanted me to do was to sign on because of my experience to be a member of the team, to help him govern, and that's exactly the way he's used me.
And I think from the perspective of the nation, it's worked in our relationship, in this administration. I think it's worked in part because I made it clear that I don't have any further political aspirations myself. And I think that's been an advantage.
I think it allows the president to know that my only agenda is his agenda. I'm not worried about what some precinct committeemen in Iowa were thinking of me with respect to the next round of caucuses of 2008.
It's a very significant responsibility when you consider that at a moment's notice you may have to take over as president of the United States and make all of those decisions. It's happened several times in our history.
And I think that probably is the most important consideration in picking a vice president, somebody who could take over.
IFILL: You have 30 seconds, if you'd like to respond to that.
EDWARDS: I think the most important thing I've learned from this process is what I now know about John Kerry. I knew him before. I know him better now.
He's the one candidate who's led troops in battle. He was a prosecutor, putting people behind bars to protect neighborhoods from crime. He fought for 100,000 cops on the street, and went with John McCain to Vietnam to find out what happened to our POWs.
And the American people saw for themselves on Thursday night the strength, resolve, and backbone that I, myself, have seen in John Kerry.
He is ready to be commander in chief. IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 30 seconds to respond.
CHENEY: Well, I clearly believe that George W. Bush would be a better commander in chief. He's already done it for four years.
And he's demonstrated, without question, the conviction, the vision, the determination to win this war against terror. He understands it's a global conflict that reaches from the United States all the way around the globe to Jakarta.
And those very special qualities are vital in a commander in chief. And I think the president has them, and I'm not at all convinced his opponent does.
IFILL: Mr. Vice President, picking up on that, you both just sang the praises of the tops of your ticket.
Without mentioning them by name at all, explain to us why you are different from your opponent, starting with you, Mr. Vice President.
CHENEY: Why I am different from John Edwards. Well, in some respects, I think, probably there are more similarities than there are differences in our personal story.
I don't talk about myself very much, but I've heard Senator Edwards, and as I listen to him, I find some similarities.
I come from relatively modest circumstances. My grandfather never even went to high school. I'm the first in my family to graduate from college.
I carried a ticket in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for six years. I've been laid off, been hospitalized without health insurance. So I have some idea of the problems that people encounter.
So I think the personal stories are, in some respects, surprisingly similar.
With respect to how we've spent our careers, I obviously made a choice for public service. And I've been at it for a good long time now, except for those periods when we lost elections. And that goes with the turf, as well, too.
I'm absolutely convinced that the threat we face now, the idea of a terrorist in the middle of one of our cities with a nuclear weapon, is very real and that we have to use extraordinary measures to deal with it.
I feel very strongly that the significance of 9/11 cannot be underestimated. It forces us to think in new ways about strategy, about national security, about how we structure our forces and about how we use U.S. military power.
Some people say we should wait until we are attacked before we use force. I would argue we've already been attacked. We lost more people on 9/11 than we lost at Pearl Harbor. And I'm a very strong advocate of a very aggressive policy of going after the terrorists and those who support terror.
IFILL: Senator Edwards, you have 90 seconds.
EDWARDS: Mr. Vice President, we were attacked. But we weren't attacked by Saddam Hussein. And one thing that John Kerry and I would agree with you about is that it is...
IFILL: You just used John Kerry's name.
EDWARDS: Oh, I'm sorry. I broke the rule.
One thing that we agree about is the need to be offensive in going after terrorists.
The reality is that the best defense is a good offense, which means leading -- America returning to its proud tradition of the last 75 years, of once again leading strong coalitions so we can get at these terrorist cells where they are, before they can do damage to us and to the American people.
John Kerry made clear on Thursday night that -- I'm sorry, I broke the rule. We made clear -- we made clear on Thursday night that we will do that, and we will do it aggressively.
But there are things that need to be done to keep this country safe that have not yet been done.
For example, three years after 9/11, we find out that the administration still does not have a unified terrorist watch list. It's amazing. Three years. What are we waiting for? You know, we still don't have one list that everyone can work off of to see if terrorists are entering this country.
We're screening our passengers going onto airplanes, but we don't screen the cargo.
There are so many things that could be done to keep this country safe.
You have to be strong, and you have to be aggressive. But we also have to be smart. And there are things that have not been done that need to be done to keep the American people safe.
IFILL: Would you like to respond? Thirty seconds.
CHENEY: No. (MORE)