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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Gore unleashes on Bradley


TIME magazine

November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:10 p.m. EST (1710 GMT)

It was a different Gore campaign--and a different Al Gore--that New Hampshire voters saw rolling through their state last week. The candidate who used to be whisked away by his Secret Service detail promptly at the end of each event lingered into the night to talk with stragglers at a town-hall meeting, staying until a cleaning crew began refolding and stacking the empty metal chairs. He got around in a Suburban, not the vice-presidential limousine. Gone were the crisp navy suits, replaced by khaki pants hemmed short enough to display at least 6 in. of his shiny cowboy boots. At his belt he had clipped the proud emblem of the techno-geek: a PalmPilot.

More important, the candidate who had promised to tear up all his talking points seemed to have done it. And, for once, the audiences seemed unscripted as well. Over the course of two days, Gore took questions on everything from global warming to cloudy tapwater, from prescription drugs to extraterrestrials. As he left the state on Friday, more than 1,000 Gore volunteers bused in from 14 states were preparing to knock on 100,000 New Hampshire doors.

All of which was designed to send the state a signal--Al Gore has finally figured out he has to work for its vote. Now running even in a primary race that he had once expected to be a blowout, Gore this week will give New Hampshire voters--and the nation--their first opportunity to compare him side-by-side with the surprisingly strong insurgent Bill Bradley. Until now, Gore has largely refrained from criticizing Bradley and his proposals directly. But in a feisty interview with TIME on Friday, Gore made clear he is ready to engage the battle:

TIME: Now that Bill Bradley has begun to lay out his proposals on the issues, such as health care, how does his vision of government--what it should do and what it can solve--compare with yours?

Gore: When people have the time to analyze what he is actually proposing, they are in for a real surprise.

He proposes the elimination of Medicaid, which is a heavily negotiated, relatively generous package of health benefits for the poor, and could never be enacted in this Congress. In its place, as I understand it, he would have a mandate for parents to buy insurance in the private market with a subsidy. Will hard-pressed parents purchase benefits anywhere nearly as generous as those Medicaid provides? Will they feel like they can? Or will they be forced by circumstances to use the subsidy to get more limited care, and then use their own money for other pressing priorities that are always knocking at the door?

The cost of his plan exceeds the entire surplus and therefore takes away any chance to fix Medicare. And by opening up the Federal Employees Health Benefit plan to all comers, this would guarantee that those who have trouble purchasing health insurance elsewhere because they have high risks and high costs will come into the FEHBP, thereby driving premiums sky high.

In one fell swoop canceling Medicaid, eliminating the chance to fix Medicare and wrecking the federal employees plan--that's quite a day's work.

The ideas turn out to be bad ideas, and I don't think they'll hold up under analysis.

The approach that I'm recommending is a series of changes that build on the progress we've made. It's unacceptable for 44 million Americans not to have health insurance, but it is also unacceptable to severely damage the health care being provided to 84% of the people. What I propose is to start by ensuring every child in America would have health insurance by the end of the next President's term.

TIME: Given how critical Senator Bradley has been of welfare reform, what do you think of the poverty proposals he put forward this week?

Gore: He didn't propose to repeal it, did he? It tells me that upon closer examination, he belatedly came to the conclusion that most every other American has come to, that welfare reform is working.

Welfare reform is a success, but we can't be complacent. We have to stay with it, and we have to give the job training and child care and transportation alternatives and life-skills training that are critical to not just getting a job for people coming off welfare but empowering them with the skills and services they need to hold the job.

[Bradley's proposals were] an old-style approach that spends a lot of money but doesn't have any new ideas. [He proposes] the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. I was the author of that proposal. I wrote that, so I say, welcome aboard. That is something for which I have been the principal proponent for a long time.

TIME: Does it seem as though Bradley is looking to refight some of the battles that were fought in your party in the early 1990s?

Gore: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Fought and won--without his participation.

TIME: You say you feel you are finally "connecting"? What does that mean?

Gore: It's the result of total immersion. In past campaigns, in the final six weeks I felt something like that. It happened a year early this time.

There's another factor. As Vice President--it's been an honor to serve as Vice President for a full seven years--but anybody who serves as Vice President is honor-bound to advance the policies of the Administration and to try to help the passage of the President's policies. If you are faithful to that commitment, and somebody asks you a question about policy, you are going to spend a fraction of a second reflecting on the words you choose to make sure that you're moving the ball down the field on behalf of the team that you're a part of. That can come across as stiffness and inauthenticity. I'm not saying that's all of it. I think I have a formal manner. But the easiest thing in the world for me is just to react spontaneously and tell you what's in my heart about whatever you want to discuss.

That's what I did in the House and Senate, and that's what I'm doing now. That's another thing about these open meetings. They are completely unpredictable. You are operating without a net, and I like it.


Cover Date: November 1, 1999

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