DEMOCRATIC DEBATES: Gore and Bradley Spar
Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley squared off Sunday for the second time in three days, sparring over health care during their "most heated debate" yet on NBC's "Meet the Press." On the attack against Gore, Bradley repeated a challenge he issued at Friday night's debate, demanding to know who Gore's health plan would "leave out" (Kranish, Boston Globe, 12/20). Bradley's campaign released a study Friday by three economists and health policy analysts reporting that his plan would cover 30 million people, while Gore's health plan would only insure 7 million (Sobieraj, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/18). During the Friday meeting on ABC's "Nightline," he grilled the vice president on the issue, asking him, "Will you leave out the part-time worker who doesn't have health insurance? Will you leave out the downsized middle-class industrialist who loses health insurance? Will you leave out the 40% of the people who live in poverty, who don't have any health insurance?" Noting that the "answer is very simple," Gore responded, "I won't leave out anyone" (New York Times, 12/18). Issuing his own challenge, Gore said, "I want to get universal health insurance with a step-by-step plan, and neither of us has covered everyone. ... You cancelled Medicaid" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer,12/18). Gore asked if Bradley's plan offers adequate coverage for Medicaid recipients, including people with HIV/AIDS, the disabled, the elderly and the poor (Gore release, 12/19). His criticism of Bradley's plan to replace Medicaid with "$150-a-month 'little vouchers'" prompted a terse response from the former senator, who declared, "They're not vouchers, Al. It's the federal government taking responsibility for people's health care who don't have it" (Allen/Connolly, Washington Post, 12/18). Bradley maintained that while "Medicaid looks good" from Washington's point-of-view, "if you get out in the country and you see how it's being ... applied, you find that it's not working (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/18). During the debate, the candidates also addressed Medicare, with Gore questioning Bradley on how he plans to bolster the program for the impending retirement of baby boomers (Berke, New York Times, 12/18). "Everybody knows that more money has to be made available to Medicare. ... When you eliminate the whole surplus without saving a penny for Medicare, that is a serious problem for our economy," Gore said (Weisman, Baltimore Sun, 12/18). Bradley claimed that, with current funding, the system already will be solvent until 2017 (Balz, Washington Post, 12/18). He also noted that preventive efforts and better diets and exercise would reduce Medicare costs, saving the program money (Fireman/Povich, Newsday, 12/18). "No one should doubt my commitment to making sure Medicare is solid," Bradley said. Reflecting the increasingly contentious nature of the campaign, Gore shot back, "I don't doubt your commitment, I doubt your plan" (Battenfeld/Mulvihill, Boston Herald, 12/18).
Judging the Game
This weekend's debates marked a "turning point" for Bradley, who, until recently, had been solely on the defense. Gore supporter and top New Hampshire Democrat Joe Keefe said, "There is political capital for Gore in attacking Bradley's health care plan. The fact that Bradley has had to spend so much time defending that plan is a weakness. You never want to be on defense and responding." But Bradley turned the tables on Gore several times this weekend, putting the vice president "on defense for a change" (Polman, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/19). Matching each other "volley for volley," the two candidates "got a chance to reinforce the images they want to project and their fealty to Democratic causes" (Lawrence, USA Today, 12/20). In an analysis for the Washington Post, Dan Balz noted that candidates had "different missions." Gore "had to avoid looking too negative while continuing to press his rival on the issues" and Bradley "needed to be more assertive in responding to assaults." Although there may not be drastic differences between Gore's and Bradley's policies, the debates have put forth "two strikingly different candidates to lead their party" (Washington Post, 12/18).