LEHRER: Governor, did Vice President — are the vice president’s figures correct about Texas?
BUSH: Well, first of all, let me say, he’s not for a government- run health care system. I thought that’s exactly what he and Mrs. Clinton and them fought for in 1993, was a government-run health care system. It was fortunately stopped in its tracks.
Secondly, we spend $4.7 billion a year on the uninsured in the state of Texas. Our rate of uninsured, the percentage of uninsured, in Texas has gone down while the percentage of uninsured in America has gone up.
Our CHIPs program got a late start because our government meets only four months out of every two years, Mr. Vice President. May come for a shock for somebody’s been in Washington for so long, but actually limited government can work in the second largest state in the Union, and therefore Congress passes the bill after our session in 1970 — ’97 ended. We passed the enabling legislation in ’99. We’ve signed up over 110,000 children to the CHIPs program for comparable states our size. We’re signing them up fast as any other state.
And I — you can quote all the numbers you want, but I’m telling you, we care about our people in Texas, we spend a lot of money to make sure people get health care in the state of Texas, and we’re doing a better job than they are at the national level for reducing uninsured.
LEHRER: Is he right?
GORE: Well, I don’t know about the — all these percentages that he throws out. But I do know that the — I speculate that the reason why he didn’t answer your question directly as to whether my numbers were right, the facts were right, about Texas ranking dead last in families with health insurance and 49th out of 50 for both children and women, is because those facts are correct.
And as for why it happened, I’m no expert on the Texas procedures. But what my friends there tell me is that the governor opposed a measure put forward by Democrats in the legislature to expand the number of children that would be covered, and instead directed the money toward a tax cut, a significant part of which went to wealthy interests. He declared the need for a new tax cut for the oil companies in Texas an emergency need. And so the money was taken away from the CHIP program.
There’s a — you don’t have to take my word for this. There is now a federal judge’s opinion about the current management of this program, ordering the state of Texas to do some — and you should read that judge’s language about this.
They’re — I believe there are 1.4 million children in Texas who do not have health insurance, 600,000 of whom — and maybe some of those have since gotten it, but as of a year ago, 600,000 of them were actually eligible for it but they couldn’t sign up for it because of the barriers that they had to surmount.
LEHRER: Let’s let the governor respond to that.
BUSH: Well, I …
LEHRER: Are those numbers correct? Are his charges correct?
BUSH: If he’s trying to allege that I’m a hard-hearted person and I don’t care about children, he’s absolutely wrong. We spend $4.7 billion a year in the state of Texas for uninsured people, and they get health care. Now, it’s not the most efficient way to get people health care.
But I want to remind you, the number of uninsured in America during their watch has increased. And so he can make any excuse that he wants, but the facts are that we’re reducing the number of uninsured as a percentage of our population and as a percentage of the population is increasing nationally.
But somehow the allegation that we don’t care, and we’re going to get money for this interest or that interest, and not for children in the state of Texas, is just totally absurd.
And I — let me just tell you who the jury is: the people of Texas. There’s only been one governor ever elected to back-to-back four year terms and that was me. And I was able to do so with a lot of Democrat votes, nearly 50 percent of the Hispanic vote, about 27 percent of the African-American vote because people know that I’m a conservative person and a compassionate person.
So we can throw all those kinds of numbers around, I’m just telling you, our state comes together to do what’s right.
We come together, both Republicans and Democrats.
LEHRER: Let me put that directly to — to you, Vice President Gore. The reason you brought this up is that — are you suggesting that those numbers and that record will reflect the way Governor Bush will operate in this area of health insurance as president?
GORE: Yes. Yes. But it’s not a statement about his heart. I don’t claim to know his heart. I think — I think he’s a good person. I make no allegations about that. I believe him when he says that — that he has a good heart. I know enough about your story to — to admire a lot of the things that you have done as a person.
But I think it’s about his priorities. And let me tell you exactly why I think that the choice he made to give a tax cut for the oil companies and others before addressing this — I mean, if 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 had ever had in its history, wouldn’t you want to maybe use some of it climb from 50th to say 45 or 40 or something, or maybe better? I would.
Now, but here’s why it’s directly relevant, Jim, because by his own budget numbers, his proposals for spending on tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy are more than the new spending proposals that he has made for health care and education and national defense all combined, according to his own numbers. So it’s not a question of his heart, it’s — as far as I know, it’s a — it’s a question of priorities and values.
See, you know …
LEHRER: Let me just ask — let me ask …
BUSH: First of all, that’s simply not true, what he just said, of course. And secondly, I repeat …
LEHRER: What’s not true, Governor?
BUSH: That we spent — the top 1 percent receive $223 as opposed to $445 billion in new spending. The top — let’s talk about my tax plan. The top 1 percent pay — will pay one-third of all the federal income taxes, and in return get one-fifth of the benefits because — benefits, because most of the tax reductions go to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.
That stands in stark contrast, by the way, to a man who’s going to leave 50 million — 50 million — Americans out of tax relief.
We just have a different point of view. It’s a totally different point of view. He believes only the right people ought to get tax relief. I believe everybody who pays taxes ought to get tax relief.
Let me go back to Texas, for example — for a minute. We pay $4.7 billion — I can’t emphasize — tell you how much. I signed a bill that puts CHIPs in place. The bill finally came out at the end of the ’99 session. We’re working hard to sign up children. We’re doing it faster than any other — than any other state our size, comparable state. We’re making really good progress.
And our state cares a lot about our children. My priority is going to be the health of our citizens. 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.
And my case to the American people is, if you’re happy with inactivity, stay with the horse, the horse that’s up there now. But if you want change, you need to get somebody who knows how to bring Republicans and Democrats together to get positive things done for America.
LEHRER: New question, new subject.
Vice President Gore, on the environment, in your 1992 book you said, quote, “We must make the rescue of our environment the central organizing principle for civilization and there must be a wrenching transformation to save the planet.” Do you still feel that way?
GORE: I do. I think that in this 21st century, we will soon see the consequences of what’s called global warming. There was a study just a few weeks ago suggesting that in summertime the north polar ice cap will be completely gone in 50 years. Already many people see the strange weather conditions that the old-timers say they’ve never seen before in their lifetimes. And what’s happening is the level of pollution is increasing, significantly.
Now, here is the good news, Jim. If we take the leadership role and build the new technologies, like the new kinds of cars and trucks that Detroit is itching to build, then we can create millions of good new jobs by being first into the market with these new kinds of cars and trucks and other kinds of technologies.
You know, the Japanese are breathing down our necks on this. They’re moving very rapidly because they know that it is a fast- growing world market.
And some of these other countries, particularly in the developing world, their pollution is much worse than anywhere else and their people want higher standards of living, and so they’re looking for ways to satisfy their desire for a better life and still reduce pollution at the same time.
I think that holding on to the old ways and the old argument that the environment and the economy are in conflict, is really outdated. We have to be bold. We have to provide leadership.
Now, it’s true that we disagree on this.
The governor said that he doesn’t think this problem is necessarily caused by people. He’s for letting the oil companies into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Houston’s just become the smoggiest city in the country, and Texas is number one in industrial pollution.
We have a very different outlook. And I’ll tell you this, I will fight for a clean environment in ways that strengthen our economy.
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