Democratic Presidential Candidates Discuss Health Care in Debate
The 10 Democratic candidates for president "squabbled intensely" over issues including health care in a debate Thursday, the New York Times reports. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean "drew the most fire" for his stance on Medicare, while retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who entered the race last week, was "often ignored by the other candidates," according to the Times (Nagourney, New York Times, 9/26). The debate, sponsored by the Wall Street Journal and CNBC and held in New York City, was intended to focus on economic issues (Balz, Washington Post, 9/26). Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) brought up a charge that he has cited several times over the past two weeks that Dean sided with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on cutting spending for Medicare in 1995, the New York Times reports. Gephardt also said that Dean once called Medicare "the worst federal program ever" (Rosenbaum, New York Times, 9/26). Gephardt said to Dean, "When I was leading the fight against Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America, ... you were agreeing with the very plan that Newt Gingrich wanted to pass, which was a $270 billion cut in Medicare" (Dinan, Washington Times, 9/26). However, Dean said that the accusations were "flat-out false," adding, "I did say that Medicare was a dreadful program because it's administered dreadfully" (Nagourney, New York Times, 9/26). Dean told Gephardt, "To insinuate that I would get rid of Medicare is wrong, it's not helpful" (Rosenbaum, New York Times, 9/26). Dean added, "I've done more for health insurance, Dick Gephardt, frankly, than you ever have, because I've delivered it to a lot of seniors and a lot of young people. And I'll stake my record on health insurance against anybody up here" (Nagourney, New York Times, 9/26). Dean also "took shots" at Gephardt for once having suggested that wealthier Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries should receive fewer benefits, the Baltimore Sun reports (West, Baltimore Sun, 9/26). Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) defended Gephardt, saying, "I didn't hear [Gephardt] say [Dean] was like Newt Gingrich, I heard him say that he stood with Newt Gingrich when we were struggling to hold on to Medicare. That's a policy difference" (Nagourney, New York Times, 9/26).
While Clark "did nothing to hurt his nascent campaign" during the debate, he gave "little in the way of new details" about his policies, the Washington Post reports (VandeHei, Washington Post, 9/26). At several different times during the debate, Clark declined to give specific details on his policies, including those on health care, citing his recent entry into the race, according to the New York Times (Lyman, New York Times, 9/26). Clark called for "incremental improvements" in existing federal health insurance programs, the Wall Street Journal reports (Schlesinger/Harwood, Wall Street Journal, 9/26). Clark said that he would "build on existing programs" by seeking ways to "raise the limits on Medicaid" and offer more "help for the 55 to 65 age group" (Lightman, Hartford Courant, 9/26). Although Clark did not offer specifics on his health care policies, the other candidates "responded with not a whimper of protest," according to the New York Times (Lyman, New York Times, 9/26). When questioned on his allegiance to the Democratic Party in light of his previous support of Republicans, Clark said, "I am pro-choice, I am pro-affirmative action, I'm pro-environment, pro-health" (Nagourney, New York Times, 9/26).
The candidates also debated repealing tax cuts proposed by President Bush and passed by Congress in 2001 and 2003 to pay for health care and other initiatives, the Washington Post reports (VandeHei, Washington Post, 9/26). Kerry, Clark and Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), Bob Graham (Fla.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) have called for repealing only the portions of the tax cuts that affect households earning about $200,000 per year or more (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 9/26). However, Dean, Gephardt, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.) all called for a full repeal of the tax cuts. Dean said, "Tell the truth: We cannot afford all of the tax cuts, the health insurance, special (education funding) and balancing the budget" (VandeHei, Washington Post, 9/26).
The Wall Street Journal is running an online feature that allows users to view a candidate's position on a range of topics, including Medicare and prescription drug costs, medical malpractice liability caps and the uninsured and health care costs. The feature has a description of each of the issues, as well as "highlights" and "shortcomings" of each of the candidate's positions. The positions of Bush, Dean, Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry and Lieberman are included.
NPR's "Morning Edition" Friday reported on the debate, including Gephardt's criticisms of Dean for past support of Medicare cuts (Liasson, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/26). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer. NPR's "All Things Considered" Thursday also reported on the debate and the exchange between Dean, Gephardt and Kerry on Medicare (Liasson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/25). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.