National Public Radio presidential debate

MR. SIEGEL: Do you think you could right the ship in one term, you could set our fiscal house in order in that time?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, it took — it took eight years — from '93 to 2000. It just depends upon what the conditions are once we actually are in charge.

MS. NORRIS: I just have one follow-up. You said it takes a Clinton to —

SEN. CLINTON: I did say that.

MS. NORRIS: — to clean up after a Bush. I want to give you a chance to let you respond to something that I have heard over — and my colleagues have heard over and over since we've been here. In looking at the sort of hopscotch Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton, one of the things that voters keep asking, sort of saying out loud, is, is it really prudent or appropriate for two families to control the White House for more than two decades. Your response to that?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I don't think it was prudent to have the Bush family in the White House at all. (Laughter.) That's been one of the unfortunate consequences of our recent history.

But what's great about this country is that people get to make up their minds to judge everybody who's running. There is no dynasty. There is no, you know, determination from on high. People get to vote for whomever they want or vote against whomever they want.

MR. SIEGEL: Senator Gravel, the outlook for — for your administration.

MR. GRAVEL: I think the outlook is very, very bleak. We have a $50 (trillion) to $70 trillion tax gap, and it won't be solved by any administration in a conventional fashion. The only way that I can see is by changing the culture, and the only way we can do that is by changing our system of taxation.

The income tax is very corrupt. It places the burden on the average American. If we can change to what I call a fair tax, a retail sales tax, we will then be changing the culture from a consuming culture to a savings culture.

MR. SIEGEL: It would be less regressive than the income tax — a retail tax?

MR. GRAVEL: No, it will be just as progressive. In fact, it would be much more progressive than the tax system we have today. And that will then change us from a consuming culture to a savings culture, which will bring about the wherewithal to retire not only the government debt, but the private debt, which is just as debilitating as the government debt.

MR. SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator — former Senator Mike Gravel.

Senator Obama, what's your sense of the future, economically?

SEN. OBAMA: I don't think we can balance the budget in one term because we're going to have a lot of pressing investment needs on education, on health care. But I think we can start putting ourselves on a path of fiscal sanity. That means ending the war, it means rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, it means creating transparency and how we spend money, so we're cutting pork barrel spending, we are eliminating bridges to nowhere, we are looking at how the Pentagon is allocating its resources to make us more secure, as opposed to just fatten defense contractors.

And the long term — most important — we've got to fix our health care system because that is the nightmare scenario. Medicare and Medicaid will create an enormous drag on our economy and our federal government if we don't fix it, and that involves creating a health care system that works for everybody and improves prevention on the front end.

MR. SIEGEL: Senator Obama, thank you.

Senator Chris Dodd.

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