PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: Gore Attacks Bush’s Texas Record
The presidential candidates faced off last night at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., for their second debate, with moderator Jim Lehrer asking the candidates: "Both of you have talked much about Medicare and health care for seniors. What about the more than 40 million younger Americans who do not have health insurance right now? What would you do about that?" Vice President Al Gore criticized rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) on his health care record in the Lone Star State, while Bush focused his attacks on the Clinton-Gore administration. Gore renewed his vow to "give every single child health insurance" in America during the next four years through CHIP and attacked Bush's record in Texas, citing the state's poor rankings in insuring women and children. "I'm sorry to tell you that ... there is a record here, and Texas ranks 49th out of the 50 states ... in children with health care, 49th for women with health care and 50th for families with health care" Gore said. Bush, however, attributed the low rankings to the "late start" of Texas' CHIP. "Our CHIPs program got a late start because our government meets only four months out of every two years ... We've signed up over 110,000 children to the CHIPs ... We're doing it faster than ... any other state our size," he said. According to Gore, however, Bush slashed the budget for CHIP to fund a "new tax cut for oil companies." Gore also lamented that 600,000 of Texas' uninsured children eligible for CHIP could not enroll because of "barriers that they had to surmount." He asked, "[I]f you were the governor of a state that was dead last in health care for families, and all of a sudden you found yourself with the biggest surplus your state ever had in its history, wouldn't you want to use some of it to climb from 50th to say 45 or 40 or something, or maybe better," concluding, "I would."
Bush Loves the Uninsured
Gore also championed universal health care in America, but added, "I'm not for a government-run system," a statement Bush seized on in his rebuttal. "[H]e's not for a government-run health care system? I thought that's exactly what he and Mrs. Clinton ... fought for in 1993 ... a government-run health care system. It was fortunately stopped in its tracks," Bush said. The Texas governor also touted his own health care proposals, promising to create medical savings accounts for young workers, increase funding for community health centers and provide $2,000 tax credits for low-income families to purchase private health insurance. He said, "I think that's the very best way to go. It empowers people. It trusts people." Defending his record on health care in Texas, Bush added that the state spends $4.7 billion on the uninsured, arguing, "[T]he percentage of uninsured in Texas has gone down, while the percentage of uninsured in America has gone up. ... [Y]ou can quote all the numbers you want, but I'm telling you we care about our people in Texas."
Senior Issues Die Hard
Launching a counter attack on the record of the Clinton-Gore administration, Bush said, "These folks have had eight years to get something done in Washington, D.C., on the uninsured; they have not done it. They've had eight years to get something done on Medicare, and they have not got it done." He also promised to "do something" about Medicare, noting, "The issue's been too long on the table because it's been a political issue. It's time to bring folks together, to say that all seniors will get prescription drug coverage." Gore also pledged to provide seniors with a prescription drug benefit. "There are seniors who pay more for their prescriptions than a lot of other people, more than their pets sometimes, more sometimes than people in foreign countries." He added, "And we need to do something about that. Not with a measure that leaves the majority of them without any real basic health until the next president's term of four years is over, but right away. And that means doing it under the Medicare program." Taking a jab at Gore, Bush accused the vice president of making exaggerations about his prescription drug plan, such as "only 5% of seniors receive benefits under my Medicare reform package." Bush concluded, "[T]hat's simply not the case." The two candidates will meet for the third of three presidential debates on Oct. 17 at Washington University in St. Louis (Debate transcript, Washington Post, 10/12).