GORE-BRADLEY: Using the Media as a Debate Forum
Vice President Al Gore said Bill Bradley's health care proposal is a "misguided effort" that would "destroy Medicaid," threaten Medicare and "would never meet its goal" of guaranteed universal coverage. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he said the size of Bradley's plan -- $650 billion over 10 years -- "would make it impossible to keep Medicare afloat with money from the budget surplus." He added that Bradley's substitute for Medicaid would cut benefits, saying, "If you're going to eliminate Medicaid, take away the change to fix Medicare, destroy the federal employees health plan and still not reach universal coverage, then I'm not for that." Gore defended his own incremental approach, saying, "There's a reason there's been no simple, neat, correct answer to universal health coverage. It takes time. We have to accomplish it on a step-by-step basis."
Bradley's Communications Director Anita Dunn called Gore's attack "unfortunate," adding, "I think it's a shame that the vice president is choosing just to tear down his opponent with these negative tactics, instead of presenting his own vision of where America could go and what America could be. That's what Bill Bradley will continue to talk about in the campaign" (Zuckman, 10/5). Bradley also joined the argument, saying Gore's approach, much of which builds on existing Clinton administration proposals, "simply modifies the programs whose success rates are clearly in question." He added, in a statement, "It's clear that the current federal programs for children, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance [Program], are not achieving their goals. We have to stop nibbling around the edges and live up to the challenge of providing affordable health care to everyone in America" (AP/Nando Times, 10/4).
Newspapers across the country spouted their own opinions on the fledgling Bradley-Gore debate:
- Comparing Bradley's plan to Clinton's early proposals for universal coverage, Michael Weinstein writes in the New York Times that the difference is about "1,285 pages." Bradley's strategy of almost universal coverage is better than Clinton's, Weinstein asserts, and Bradley's plan "skipped much of [Clinton's] mess" by covering the uninsured under the existing Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which although flawed, "is good enough for Mr. Bradley." Weinstein writes that whatever the outcome of Bradley's plan, "Congress could then take a hard look at those who are left out and design a fix tailored specifically to their plight" (10/5).
- A San Jose Mercury News editorial states that "Bill Bradley deserves credit for offering a health care plan that puts the issue on the front burner." While Bradley's plan "may or may not be the best route toward universal coverage ... it is, at least, a serious proposal, with enough detail to allow intelligent debate" (10/5).
- "The way we pay for health care in this country is a mess," an editorial in the Austin American-Statesman asserts. "Most candidate proposals for health care reform have been timid, fuzzy or beside the point," but "Bradley has learned from that lesson," the editors opine. They conclude, "The breadth of the Bradley proposal should at least open up a needed debate on health issues. And it certainly makes the primaries of both parties more interesting. Status quo won't do. The politicians need to face up the health care mess" (10/5).
- While it's "refreshing" that Al Gore and Bill Bradley have taken on the "once poison" task of reforming health care, a Los Angeles Times editorial says, "one plan is, as the fairy tale says, too big and the other too small." Although they strive toward universal coverage, "both candidates dance around the core problems," the editorial asserts. Their plans are "marred by insufficient incentives to encourage individuals and employers to purchase health insurance." The editors conclude: "In health care reform, the nation and the candidates who seek to lead it can get a good -- and politically realistic -- start by focusing on the challenges faced by small business and its growing number of uninsured" (10/4).
- A Chattanooga Times & Free Press editorial also argues against Gore's and Bradley's proposals, but insists that Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist (R) has the right idea. The editors call proposals by Gore and Bradley "patchwork. Large and needed patches, but still patchwork." They are not enough to address the "stunning -- and rising -- number of uninsured Americans." Pointing out that those numbers are increasing because "employers are continuing to drop health plans," the Times & Free Press offers Sundquist's plan as a solution. Sundquist suggested a "'pay or play' plan for employers who fail to provide insurance coverage and thus drive more citizens into TennCare," Tennessee's version of Medicaid. Concluding that Sundquist's proposal is "the best path to universal coverage and fair distribution of costs," the editors write that it's "not surprising that the Democratic presidential candidates still want to juggle tax credits for piecemeal reform, but it is ironic that a Republican governor has suggested a better way, one to which too few are paying attention" (10/4).