DEMOCRATIC DEBATE: Bradley, Gore Spar at the Apollo
Last night's meeting between Democratic rivals Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore at Harlem's Apollo Theater played more like a show than a traditional presidential debate, as the two candidates, flanked by "a chorus of boos, shouts and cheers," tried to one-up each other in their attacks. Speaking before a mostly black audience, the Democrats addressed a variety of issues related to the African-American community, including minority health. Bradley painted Gore as a "conservative Democrat, with a suspect history" on issues such as abortion, while Gore portrayed Bradley as "desperate and untrustworthy, asserting that his health care program endangered the elderly and AIDS patients," the New York Times reports (Nagourney, 2/22). Responding to a question about the spread of HIV/AIDS in minority communities, Gore said, "Here is the problem that you would face if the country ever had Sen. Bradley's health care proposal: 50% of all of the Americans who have HIV/AIDS now get Medicaid; 90% of all the children with HIV/AIDS get Medicaid. His proposal would eliminate the Medicaid program and replace it with a $150-a-month voucher with which you cannot purchase anything like the health care benefits that are now available under Medicaid. And a lot of the AIDS organizations have come out and criticized it as a result." But Bradley defended his plan, pointing to proposed community health centers and clinics where HIV victims could receive treatment and a planned measure that would "allow HIV-positive people to be able to get access to health care because they are now denied access." He vowed "that any health care bill that I would sign would have every Medicaid patient [on] a better health plan than Medicaid is today."
The candidates also touched on Medicare and prescription drug access, with Gore arguing that there are "two big differences between [his] health care proposal and Sen. Bradley's." Noting that the program will go bankrupt by 2015 without a surplus boost, he said, "[F]irst, [Bradley] would not give any prescription drug benefits until a senior citizen had paid $800 of her own money; and second, he doesn't put a dime into the Medicare trust fund from the surplus." He added, "I've made a proposal that will give every single person under Medicare eligibility for financial help in purchasing prescription drugs. I think it's time to take that step. ... [U]nder Sen. Bradley's plan the majority of seniors on Medicare would pay more in premiums and get absolutely nothing in return." Bradley countered that his proposal would pay for $7,500 of a $10,000 prescription drug bill, while Gore's plan would cap benefits at $1,000. "I think there's a big difference between a little bit and making sure you give people real insurance for prescription drugs," he said (New York Times transcript, 2/22).
Bradley also courted the Latino vote yesterday, speaking at a Brooklyn elementary school, where he told a mostly Latino audience that "Gore's attacks on his universal health care plan 'have cast doubt on his commitment to a basic plank of the Democratic Party, which is national health insurance.'" Arguing that "good health care is an American birthright," Bradley said that one-quarter of the nation's uninsured people are Latino (Goldschlag, New York Daily News, 2/22). Uninsured Latinos "work sometimes two jobs" but their employers "just don't provide health insurance," he said (Sengupta, New York Times, 2/22). Blacks and Latinos could comprise about 40% of the turnout for New York's March 7 primary. A Quinnipac College poll released Feb. 10 put Gore ahead of Bradley, 56% to 32%. The race is especially important to Bradley, who, as a "virtual favorite son" in the state, must win the primary (Anderson/Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, 2/22).