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Inside Politics

Bush Unveils Plan to Reform Medicare, Give Prescription Drug Coverage to Seniors

Aired September 5, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This plan will mean that every low- to moderate-income senior in America will be able to afford prescription drug benefits: every single one.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush unveils a Medicare fix-it plan, hoping to undo Al Gore's gains from that issue.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The biggest problem is there's no money to pay for it if you give away all of the surplus in the form of a giant tax cut to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.


WOODRUFF: Gore tries to put the focus on what is wrong, in his view, with the Bush plan.

We'll go beyond the spin and compare the candidates' dueling health-care prescriptions for older Americans.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off today.

We begin with the rollout of George W. Bush's plan to modernize Medicare and try to enhance prescription drug coverage. Some of the political motivation behind the plan was evident today, when Bush spent nearly half of his speech criticizing Al Gore's rival plan and the administration's record.

Details now from our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Pennsylvania, a battleground state where 16 percent of the population is 65 and older...

BUSH: By history and by choice, our nation makes a promise: We will honor our fathers and mothers by providing quality health insurance for every senior.

CROWLEY: And at a time when Al Gore has been hammering him for failing to address the problem of senior health, George Bush is trying to turn it around.

BUSH: Vice President Gore talks about the people versus the powerful. For eight years, he has been the powerful, and on health care, he has little to show for it.

CROWLEY: Bush unveiled a nearly $200 billion Medicare plan. It includes $40 billion for Medicare providers, money cut during the Clinton administration, and 110 billion for reform. Bush's aim is to provide seniors with a choice of public and private insurance plans.

BUSH: Every health care plan that participates in Medicare must offer a policy that includes prescription drugs, and every senior will get assistance to make that coverage affordable.

CROWLEY: When implemented, Bush says his Medicare program would fully pay for Medicare premiums, including prescription drugs, for senior couples making $15,200 or less, provide subsidies on a sliding scale for those above that income level, and pay for at least a quarter of the cost of every senior's prescription drug coverage.

Bush advisers say it will take a while to put some of this in place. So Bush also proposes sending $48 billion to states immediately to help pay the drug costs for low-income seniors, money that Bush says could be there as early as 2001.

BUSH: Even if the Gore plan passes, no one will get full drug benefit for eight years. That's a detail you don't hear much in his speeches.

CROWLEY: Other key points in the Bush proposal: no increase in the age of eligibility, no payroll tax increase, a catastrophic provision limiting out-of-pocket expenses of any senior to $6,000 a year, and the option of staying in the existing Medicare program enhanced by drug coverage.

BUSH: Let's give them more options. Let's not have a one-size- fits-all out of Washington. Let's say if you choose that, that's fine, but we trust you.


CROWLEY: The crux of the Bush plan is built atop a bipartisan proposal already on Capitol Hill. Bush believes by offering an array of health care coverage plans to seniors, he is also highlighting the core difference between the political beliefs of himself and Al Gore. "He trusts the bureaucracy and he trusts the government," says Bush. "I trust the American people" -- Judy. WOODRUFF: Candy, does Bush feel the people around him feel that this is an issue that Republicans have traditionally been able to win on?

CROWLEY: No. As a matter of fact, when one of the things he said in his speech today was that many people don't believe that Republicans have been all that positive about some of the Great Society programs, and he said but Medicare is an example of one of the programs that has really worked. It just needs retuning. This is not traditionally an issue that you see a Republican wining on. But as you know, it's become a huge issue here, and a lot of people believe he has to win on this issue, or you know, he loses some ground in the campaign.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Candy Crowley in Scranton, thank you.

The vice president was quick to take aim at George W. Bush's plan, a potential threat to the traction Gore has gotten from his own prescription drug proposal.

CNN's Jonathan Karl is on the road with the Gore campaign.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The vice president toured a high-tech marketing company in Columbus, Ohio to talk about his plans for the new economy, but the first thing on his mind was George W. Bush's newly minted prescription drug plan.

GORE: The biggest problem is there's no money to pay for it if you give away all of the surplus in the form of a giant tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class in a way that stops our prosperity and progress.

KARL: Gore, who had been challenging Bush for weeks to come up with a plan to give seniors prescription drug coverage, made his remarks less than two hours after Bush presented his proposal.

GORE: Nearly half of all of those who don't have coverage today would not get coverage under the plan that he's announcing today. And the second problem is it would still force seniors into HMOs that -- and managed health plans even if they don't want to go into them.

KARL: Gore would spend about $100 billion more than Bush over the next 10 years to provide drug coverage through Medicare, a proposal the vice president talks about in virtually every stump speech and has featured in TV ads.

While Gore took on Bush's drug plan, the Democratic National Committee hit the airwaves in nine key states with an ad attacking Bush's record on another health issue in Texas.


NARRATOR: Texas ranks 49th out of 50 in providing health coverage to kids. It's so bad a federal judge just ruled Texas must take immediate corrective action.


KARL: The Bush campaign called the ad a distortion of Bush's record, but a senior Gore aide said more attack ads on Bush's record as governor are in the pipeline. On Wednesday, Gore is giving what his campaign is calling a major economic policy address. The vice president is expected to outline a series of national economic goals, adding to his promise to completely pay down the national debt by the year 2012.

Aides say the speech will also present a detailed budget showing how he would reach those goals and what he'd do with the budget surplus.

Popular Ohio Republican John Kasich held a press conference down the street from Gore's event to respond to the vice president's attacks on Bush's proposed tax cut.

REP. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: What George Bush has decided to do with it is to give a big chunk of it back to the people so they then can make their own decisions based on what their needs are. Al Gore takes a whole different direction: First of all, he has approximately $800 billion in new spending, and it covers the entire waterfront of federal activities.

KARL (on camera): In presenting his own plans for the budget surplus on Wednesday, Gore is also expected to offer an analysis of Bush's plan, saying that even under the most optimistic scenario, Bush's tax and spending proposals would result in large budget deficits.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Columbus.


WOODRUFF: Now, a side-by-side comparison of the Gore and Bush prescription drug proposals.

CNN's Brooks Jackson has been going over both plans and their bottom lines.


BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Compare," he says, "my plan with his."

BUSH: I welcome the comparison, because there's a lot the vice president isn't telling you.

JACKSON: So, let's. Bush's plan costs less: $158 billion over 10 years, he estimates. Gore's plan would cost 253 billion, according to the administration, $338 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office. But Bush's plan is less generous, subsidizing just 25 percent of the cost of premiums for most. The Gore plan would cover 50 percent of premiums. And Bush's so-called "stop-loss" provision, the maximum the plan would allow seniors to pay out of pocket, starts later, limiting those expenditures to $6,000. Gore's out-of-pocket limit would be 4,000.

Bush envisions sweeping changes to the entire Medicare program, giving seniors a choice of health care plans offered by private insurance companies. Prescription coverage would be part of that broader reform.

BUSH: Every health care plan that participates in Medicare must offer a policy that includes prescription drugs.

JACKSON: Under Bush's plan, recipients could change plans every year. Under Gore's, seniors would have only one chance to decide if they are in or out at age 64 1/2.

BUSH: It's the Gore plan for life, or nothing else.

JACKSON: For the poor and nearly poor, both plans would cover virtually all prescription costs. But Bush's low-income coverage would start sooner, next year, offered through state governments who would get money from Washington. Gore's plan would be a federal program and wouldn't take effect until 2002.

For most seniors, those well above the poverty line, comparisons of actual benefits are just not possible. Bush would let the market set such variables as deductibles, co-payments and premiums. Gore's plan would pay half of prescription drug costs up to $2,000 in the first year, 5,000 in 2008.

(on camera): So Bush's plan would start more quickly for those who need it most if states respond as quickly as Bush predicts. And Bush's plan would offer more choice if private insurance companies respond the way Bush wants them to. Gore's plan would offer more detail, more certainty, and a much higher cost.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: And Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times" joins us now, also from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Ron, other than what we've just been hearing from Brooks Jackson, how does the ordinary taxpayer, the person who's approaching being a senior citizen, how do they distinguish between these two plans?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, as Brooks said, one of the key differences is that the Gore plan on prescription drugs is a national, universal plan that would apply to everyone. There is a certainty to it. You know what the benefits are. You know what the costs are. Governor Bush is actually proposing a much more fundamental overhaul of the Medicare system itself, of which prescription-drug coverage would be only one element.

He would basically transform the system into one in which the government would give everyone a fixed sum of money and allow them to go out and purchase the insurance that they want. Now, the out-of- pocket costs and the deductibles and the level of coverage would all vary based on what the private market offers and what people could afford.

And what the Gore campaign will be argued, and what Democrats have argued about this approach, is that in effect, it creates a two- tier system, because people who had more money to put in out of their own pocket could buy better coverage that provides more benefits.

WOODRUFF: Ron, who is it -- which voters is Bush aiming to reach with this plan?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, it's interesting. I mean, clearly seniors -- and the fact we're in Pennsylvania, the state with perhaps the highest proportion of the electorate -- over 60 in the country -- over 40 percent of their voters in the '98 election here were 60 or older -- is one target. But one thing we have learned in this year is that the audience for Medicare reform is broader. It includes many Baby-Boom families worrying about the care of aging parents.

And this is an issue that has a lot of resonance across the electorate, particularly in a period of prosperity. I mean, prescription drugs is the classic kind of issue that is moving to the fore as people see that there is more money in Washington because of the surpluses.

WOODRUFF: Ron, you've been looking at this for some time. Gore has been out there -- as you have been saying -- on this subject.


WOODRUFF: Does this now get Bush into the game, so to speak?

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean, clearly, it's not as expansive or as expensive as the Democratic program. As I said, the Gore plan is a universal plan that will apply to everyone. And the Democrats will argue that this doesn't cover enough people, particularly middle- income people, who would not see that much of a subsidy under this Bush approach, the Breaux-Frist approach that Bush has endorsed.

On the other hand, I think it is a bigger response than Democrats expected, particularly the first piece of it, Judy. The long-term reform they knew was coming. But the idea of a short-term, $48 billion, four-year program to give grants to states to cover low- income seniors, I think that was a bigger commitment than they expected, and one in which they have to ask -- the question will then become: Can Governor Bush really pay for this, with his tax cut and so forth?

WOODRUFF: Ron, to switch gears a little bit: Tomorrow, Al Gore is going to unveil what they are calling a sweeping economic plan. Is this something that we're going to be talking about that the candidates -- is this going to force George Bush to talk about this over the next few days?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, yeah. I mean, I think we really are there, where both sides are engaging on what ought to be the central issue, which is we have these unprecedented surpluses after, you know, really a generation of deficits. What do we do with them? Do we -- how much of it goes to a tax cut? How much of it goes to Medicare? How much goes to Social Security? Do you reform these programs?

This election, which in many ways, has seemed to be about -- you know, earlier, might have seemed to be about trivial differences -- is really evolving into some very fundamental and big questions. Governor Bush put on the table today reforms that would be the most basic changes in Medicare perhaps since its inception -- same thing with Social Security. And you have a very fundamental difference on the tax side, about how much of the money goes to tax cuts versus these kinds of programs.

So for the electorate, this is really evolving into some bold colors.

WOODRUFF: And more of the same coming up, Ron? I mean, we've seen it now in prescription drugs.


WOODRUFF: You say we're seeing it on taxes and the surplus.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think what -- you know, what you have -- what you have set up here is a situation in which Al Gore, on issue after issue -- as he did last week with health care -- and he will do on education, and he will do on others -- he'll say: Look, I have a plan to resolve the specific problem, because I have the money to do so. And Governor Bush doesn't, because he's allocated too much of the surplus to tax cuts.

And what Bush is going to do is what he did today. He's going to say to simply put more money into these existing programs without reforming them won't work. We need to reform the programs as well. We have to make fundamental changes in the programs, or else the money won't be spent officially and won't deliver the benefits that Gore says.

So, on the one hand, you have Gore trying to make it a spending versus tax-cut choice. And I think the Bush attempt will be to make it much more of a reform versus status quo.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, Scranton, Pennsylvania, thanks very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you soon, Ron.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: more on prescription drugs, debates, and other political matters in the presidential race, with Karen Hughes and Doug Hattaway.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: With 63 days of issues and speeches remaining in this presidential contest, we are joined now by representatives of each campaign. In just a moment, we will talk to Al Gore's deputy communications director, Doug Hattaway.

But we begin with Karen Hughes. She's communications director for George W. Bush.

Karen, first of all, what about the -- on the prescription-drug proposal: the notion that the governor's plan would subsidize 25 percent of premiums, while Al Gore's would subsidize 50 percent. It seems to me that's something a senior would focus in on right away.


Let me explain. The governor's plan provides prescription drug coverage -- an opportunity for prescription drug coverage for all seniors. It pays all the premium costs for low-income seniors and pays part of the premium costs for middle-income seniors. And then it will pay 25 percent of the premium costs for seniors at higher-income levels.

The vice president's plan, actually, when you look at details, will amount to a tax increase for more than half America's seniors, because what the vice president does is add another premium cost on top of their existing medicare premium. For the more-than-half of all seniors who currently pay less than $576 a year for prescription drugs, Al Gore's plan will actually cost them more.

Their new Medicare premium combined with their existing Medicare premium -- he puts new premium on top of the old system -- and that will add to $95 or $100 a month by the year 2008, when it's fully implemented. So Al Gore's plan will actually cost seniors more than many of them are currently paying for drugs.

WOODRUFF: Karen, what about the observation that -- or the criticism that Al Gore and the people around him are making of the governor's plan, that it would force seniors into HMOs even if they didn't want to do that?

HUGHES: Well, I think he is actually describing his own plan, because actually what Al Gore is doing for prescription drugs is exactly what Hillary Clinton tried to do to health care, and that's force seniors into a -- essentially a government-run HMO for prescription drugs. The government would choose what plan seniors would have to go into. Seniors would have no option, no choice, unlike Governor Bush's plan, and essentially Al Gore's plan makes Washington the nation's pharmacist.

On the other hand, Governor Bush, in addition to giving seniors an immediate helping hand, which Al Gore's plan does not do over the next four years, his fundamental reforms will give seniors long-term help, will allow every senior to choose a plan that includes prescription drug coverage. And, Judy, one of the aspects that I think has been overlooked that is really important to lots of seniors -- I know my own parents worry about this -- is Governor Bush's plan would say -- his modernized Medicare plan -- that no senior would have to incur more than $6,000 in total medical expenses in any given year, the government would pay for any costs beyond that. So no American senior would have to live in fear that they'd have to sell their house or somehow sell assets in order -- if they got a major illness -- in order to pay for the cost of that illness.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, when Al Gore says millions of seniors would be left uncovered under your plan?

HUGHES: That simply is not the case, every senior will have a choice of a prescription drug plan. Under our plan, every senior will have a choice of being able to get prescription drug coverage of plans just like federal employees, just like Al Gore's own employees in the federal government do. Our reforms are based on the federal employees' health care system in which 9 million people currently get health insurance, including Vice President Al Gore's own employees in the vice president's office.

WOODRUFF: One final question, Karen, about the debates today, both ABC and CBS announced that they would not carry debates that originated on either CNN or NBC and any other network. Does that in any way affect Governor Bush's position now on these debates?

HUGHES: Well, I think that is disappointing, Judy, for the American public. But when Governor Bush made a commitment to attend three debates, he intends to keep his commitment. As you know, Judy, on "LARRY KING LIVE," Al Gore said he accepted Larry King's offer to meet Governor Bush in a debate, and we hope that he will keep his commitment.

I think one of the things the American people are looking for in their next president is someone who will keep his commitment. So we'll have a test of that next week to see whether Al Gore meets his commitment to debate Governor Bush on "Meet the Press" and also to debate Governor Bush on "LARRY KING LIVE" here on October 3 on CNN.

WOODRUFF: All right, Karen Hughes with the Bush campaign, we thank you so much for joining us.

HUGHES: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Karen.

And now to Nashville and Doug Hattaway of the Gore campaign.

Well, let me just begin, Doug Hattaway, with -- among other things, Karen Hughes said "Washington would become the nation's pharmacist under Al Gore's plan"?

DOUG HATTAWAY, GORE DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: That's the sort of rhetoric you'd expect. I think Al Gore's plan is a very straightforward prescription drug benefit for all those on Medicare who care to take advantage of it. George Bush wants to push seniors off on the tender mercies of the HMOs and the insurance industry. And I think one of the fundamental problems of his plan is that it does leave out millions of people.

As you said, seniors are going to look at the bottom line here and they're not going to able to afford prescription drug coverage at the rates that George Bush is providing, and also, he hasn't said how he's going to pay for it. He's already overspent the on-budget surplus by $1.1 trillion. So he can't deliver on these promises he's making today.

WOODRUFF: What about another point Karen Hughes made, Doug, and that is that the Bush plan would give seniors a choice, they could go with either a private plan or the government plan, and under Al Gore's proposal, they could really only make a change once at the age of 64 and that's it?

HATTAWAY: Well, Al Gore's benefit is entirely voluntary for those who want to take advantage of it under Medicare and they can count on it. Governor -- and they could also stick with private insurance if they want to.

I think an interesting point here, the pharmaceutical industry has been attacking this approach that Al Gore wants to take because they're afraid that it will threaten their profits. Al Gore is going to take on that industry and provide this benefit to everybody on Medicare and make sure they all get a discount by using Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for lower costs. It's clear here that George Bush is really more interested in doing what the pharmaceutical industry wants rather than what our seniors need.

WOODRUFF: One other point she made, she said, in effect what Al Gore is proposing is a tax increase for seniors because you are imposing on so many of them a second premium on top of what they already pay?

HATTAWAY: I think it doesn't quite get it. This -- Medicare is like cheap insurance, if you don't need the coverage, you don't buy the coverage, so it's disingenuous to say it's being imposed on anybody. I think it shows that Governor Bush is a bit out of touch here. People -- Medicare is an important safety net for 40 million Americans, and it's really telling that Governor Bush does not put one thin dime of the surplus into protecting Medicare for the future, and he can't pay for this prescription drug benefit that he is promising today.

So I think seniors really are going to look at who is actually doing something to strengthen Medicare and who's actually put forth a plan that's going to help them get the prescription drug coverage they need.

WOODRUFF: And let me finally also ask you a question, Doug Hattaway, about the debates, you just heard Karen Hughes say that her campaign, the Bush campaign disappointed that two of the networks today announced -- CBS and ABC -- that they would not carry two of the debates as Governor Bush has proposed. Is there give in Al Gore's position on these debates?

HATTAWAY: Well, I think Governor Bush knew these networks were not going to air other networks programming during their prime-time. If he really wanted to make the debates available to the widest possible audience he would join Al Gore in the commissioned debates, the commission has asked both sides to come together to talk about this, and we have agreed to do that. I don't believe we've heard from the Bush campaign yet.

If Governor Bush really does want to have the maximum number of people tune into the debates and he really wants to work things out in a bipartisan manner, as he says, they will meet and work this out. Al Gore -- so you know the bottom line -- he wants to do those commission debates plus other debates, so he would rather do more than less, and Governor Bush seems to be wanting to do as little as possible.

WOODRUFF: All right, Doug Hattaway, of the Al Gore campaign, we thank you very much for joining us -- and earlier, Karen Hughes from the Bush campaign.

And much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Still to come...


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): After a year-long campaign with extensive news coverage, two week-long conventions and millions of dollars in ads, by October most Americans know how they're going to vote.


WOODRUFF: Our Bill Schneider on reaching voters one more time.



JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Is this mike on? Can never be too careful these days.



WOODRUFF: All joking aside, as Washington turns its attention back to the agenda on Capitol Hill.

And later...


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember Iowa, straw poll, caucuses -- Iowans have a big decision to make in November too, of course. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Our Bruce Morton on the Iowa battleground.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

World peace is a priority of the U.N. Millennium Summit getting under way in New York, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met today with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak as pressure builds for a Mideast settlement with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Barak and Arafat will meet separately tomorrow with President Clinton.

Among the 160 world leaders attending the summit, Cuban President Fidel Castro making his first visit to the United States in five years.

CNN will provide extensive coverage of the Millennium Summit, more on the players and the issues ahead on "WORLDVIEW" at the top of the hour.

Germany's defense minister was taken to a Washington hospital this afternoon after an accident involving a pop-up barricade at the Pentagon. An aide says Minister Rudolf Scharping was bleeding from the head and let. He walked without assistance into the Pentagon and was later taken to the hospital. Scharping's attache was also injured.

Philadelphia teachers have authorized a strike. The vote was unanimous. But they say that they will keep working without a contract until a strike is called by the union.

Classroom size and benefits are said to be some of the main issues. Classes are supposed to start on Thursday.

Congress wants to know when Bridgestone/Firestone and the Ford Motor Company first knew of problems with Firestone tires. Back-to- back congressional subcommittee hearings will begin tomorrow. The companies' CEOs have been called to testify.

Some customers who claim faulty tires caused them injuries will also tell their stories.

Wildfires forced the evacuation of dozens of homes outside Houston. The 300-acre blaze is among 61 now scorching several thousand acres throughout Texas. Another fire north of Dallas has burned several homes and barns.

Not helping firefighters is a relentless heat wave. Today was the 67th consecutive day without rain and the 43rd this year that temperatures exceeded 100 degrees in north-central Texas.

WOODRUFF: When INSIDE POLITICS returns, do presidential debates really make a difference? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Is this mike on? You can never be too careful these days.


Welcome to the White House.



PODESTA: Especially the people in the back.


WOODRUFF: At the White House today, a joking reference to George W. Bush's use of an expletive to describe a reporter, which was captured on videotape yesterday when Governor Bush apparently was not aware the microphone was on. It was a brief distraction from the debate over debates after Bush largely rejected the schedule proposed by a bipartisan commission.

Our Bill Schneider has been debating the merits of those presidential campaign face-offs, and you came up with some thoughts -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, I did. After a year-long campaign with extensive news coverage, two week-long conventions and millions of dollars in ads, by October most Americans know how they're going to vote. So how much difference do debates really make?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The fact is the people who pay the most attention to political news, ads and conventions are already committed to a candidate. What they see mostly reinforces their views. That's why, back in 1992, only a quarter of voters said debates made much difference in deciding their vote. But among swing voters, that figure nearly doubled.

Swing voters rarely pay much attention to politics. Debates are one of the few ways to reach them.

You know how conventions are now commonly described as infomercials? Well, debates are the last unscripted campaign events. Voters see how the candidates perform in a spontaneous, high-pressure situation.

Is Al Gore a trustworthy leader? Is George Bush up to the job? This year's debates could resolve those doubts, or intensify them. Different kinds of debates serve different purposes. When the candidates stand behind podiums, they get a chance to lay out their positions to the audience in some detail.

SEN. BOB DOLE (R-KS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, on campaign reform itself, we're going to get it when we have a bipartisan commission, take it out of politics, get people who don't have any interest in politics but understand the issue, and let them make a recommendation to Congress.

SCHNEIDER: But formal debates often end up like dual press conferences, where candidates have limited opportunity to interact. Roundtable debates with a moderator give the candidates more chance to interact, but not much time to present their ideas.


ROSS PEROT (REF), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This would be a NAFTA that gives the people...


Now, what are the rules here? Do I answer his questions or yours?

LARRY KING, HOST: Well, mine or both. This is freewheeling.

PEROT: OK. The point being...


SCHNEIDER: Town-meeting style debates give ordinary voters a chance to make sure the candidates address their concerns, although the questioners are not professionals who can ask tough follow-up questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I ask the three of you, how can we as symbolically the children of the future president expect the two of you, the three of you to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors and your political parties?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So your question is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we focus on the issues and not the personalities and the mud?


SCHNEIDER: Three different debate formats, three different purposes.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: Gore believes he will do best in a formal debate where he can lay out detailed positions. Fine. Bush believes he will do best in a roundtable debate where he can show more of his charm and personality. Fine. Voters want to make sure their concerns are addressed. Fine.

Have one debate in each format, which is exactly what the presidential debate commission has proposed this year -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

And we are joined now by Mark Shields of CNN's "CAPITAL GANG" and David Brooks of "The Weekly Standard."

All right, gentlemen, what about this debate on debates? It's fully under way now, Bush saying he's only going to do one of the commission's three proposed debates.

David Brooks, does this give him a leg to stand on, so to speak?

DAVID BROOKS, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Not much. This is like that phase of the barroom fight where the guy says, "Let's go outside," and the other guy says, "Let's go outside, anywhere, anytime, and then they never actually go out."

I think there's only one message people are getting from this whole imbroglio, and that is that Gore wants to debate more publicly than Bush does. And that is the only message that's going to get through, and there's no way Bush can possibly win this argument.

WOODRUFF: Mark, no way he can win?

MARK SHIELDS, HOST, CNN "CAPITAL GANG": I don't think there is, Judy, and Bill Schneider's piece I thought was interesting, because it is, quite frankly, the only unrehearsed time -- it was best described, the debates were to me, by Diana Carlin of the University of Kansas. She said: It's the closest thing we have to a job interview for the two presidential nominees before the people are going to hire them, the American voters.

Ninety percent of American adults in 1960 saw at least one of the debates between Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon. So obviously, you want it on the largest possible -- I mean, Governor Bush -- with all due respect to Larry King, whom we all revere and love -- I mean, 35- million American homes do not have cable. And that's a poll tax of a sort to say that only people with cable could view it. And I guess I would add to that, the next -- I think, the kind of proposal is going to be either massed for the shut-ins or the Weather Channel where Bush will appear for a debate. And I'm not sure which.

BROOKS: Animal Planet.

WOODRUFF: So this just plays itself out for the next few weeks and Bush eventually has to back down, or...

BROOKS: Well, one of the possibilities is they dither and dither, and then it's too late to have more than one or two debates. So you get to the end of October and suddenly there is only room for one.

SHIELDS: I think that Republicans -- that I have talked to, anyway -- feel this is a loser for him, for Governor Bush. And I mean, Governor Bush upon first meeting virtually any reporter -- probably including Adam Clymer -- has a little riff he's goes through, which is: I'm not my father. My father is from West Greenwich. I'm from West Texas -- and you know, emphasizing his different roots.

His father debated six times on national -- on every television network -- I mean, once as vice president, three times as president, he debate in 1992 -- and twice in 1988 against Michael Dukakis. So, I guess he isn't his father's son. I think its going to -- I think he will have pressure to do a minimum of two of the Presidential Debate Commission debates.

BROOKS: You can pretty sure Adam Clymer won't be moderating.

SHIELDS: That is right.

WOODRUFF: "New York Times" reporters who Governor Bush made some comments of.

By the way, do you believe that that is going anywhere, the comment?

BROOKS: I think it will. You know, these weird little things blow up in people's faces. I personally think it's Bush's finest hour. You know, he attacks a "New York Times" reporter. He talks the way people really do talk. If he attacked Mark Shields, he wins the election. But I think it's a sign of just a natural guy. It is the way people talk.

SHIELDS: I think that there has been an awful lot of talk in this campaign -- because it's been an issue-less campaign in large part -- about restoring dignity to the White House. I don't think we will hear that heard again from the Republican candidate. And I thought Dick Cheney, the vice presidential candidate, looked so bad in that exchange, when he says: Adam Clymer, Wall Street Journal," major-league "a"-seven-letter expletive.

WOODRUFF: "New York Times" writer.

SHIELDS: "New York Times" -- excuse me -- "New York Times" seven-letter expletive -- and Dick Cheney says: Big time, boss. You know, I mean, it was just kind of -- oh, it was just -- I mean, it was a giant sucking sound.

WOODRUFF: Prescription drugs: We now have George Bush's plan.

David, is he -- are we going to have a serious debate about this for the next few days?

BROOKS: Well, today was a serious debate. I don't know when we get back to the seven-letter-words. But today was wonk-heaven. And it really is a serious debate, sort of a conventional debate, though, between a Democratic plan which offers more coverage at greater expense, and a Republican plan with more flexibility and less coverage. And I think that is essentially is a problem for Bush, because this is the debate on Medicare we've had in Washington for the past seven or eight years.

He really could have been much more aggressive, gone after Al Gore, the populist, Al Gore who talks about Pfizer and Merck, and all the pharmaceutical companies if they are the Mongol hordes. He really could have said: This guy is a menace to all our prescription drugs, which we really value.

WOODRUFF: So instead, Mark, he's saying: I have got half of what he's offering you?

SHIELDS: I think so, Judy.

I always was reminded of the debates we used to have on new weapons systems in the country during the Cold War. Every time there was a debate about a new debate about a new weapons system, the Democrats always prefer smaller, cleaner, cheaper one that was going to being ready sometime next spring. And the Republicans say: Get a dozen of them. Charge them. And that's -- it's reverse this time.

I mean, there's no question that Gore is for a bigger plan that is more comprehensive, more expensive. And Bush is saying: We can do smaller, cleaner, cheaper. And I don't know -- the Democrats never won those debates on weapons system. I'm not sure the Republicans will win the debate on Medicare.

WOODRUFF: But on some specific points, we hear Karen Hughes saying: We offer choice. Our plan is less expensive, won't be as costly. You know, their plan is -- you know, has the pharmacists in Washington. I mean, do they win even on some of these smaller points? Are people paying enough attention?

BROOKS: Not enough people. They -- but it does contribute to the idea the Republicans don't just want to just preserve the welfare state, they want to reform it. And that is a measure that covers all sort of great society's programs.

SHIELDS: And I have to say that we're -- there's no poetry at all in this campaign. I mean, I don't know what ever happened to national mission, higher purpose. I mean, it sounds like a House race, it really does. I mean, it's the miniaturization of the presidency. And we are down really -- I think David is right, that this plan: 11C versus 12B.

BROOKS: That is what was lost when John McCain lost.

SHIELDS: That is right. That is exactly right. And Bill Bradley too.

WOODRUFF: All right, Mark Shields -- David Brooks, Mark Shields. Well, we're glad you're both still around.

SHIELDS: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, both of you.

And up next, election-year politics on Capitol Hill -- speaking of Congress -- how the races are shaping the final weeks of the 106th Congress.


WOODRUFF: In Washington today, members of Congress returned once again to the business of legislation.

From the last push by the Clinton administration to the political concerns of the GOP, our Chris Black takes a look at what is on the agenda and what is at stake.



CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT voice-over): Congress is back to work. And Democrats, led by a lame-duck president, are presenting a united front against Republican tax cuts.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Month by month and bill by bill, they are attempting to spend our projected surplus for years to come -- an estimated two-trillion dollars -- on massive and reckless tax cuts for the privileged few.

BLACK: With control of the House at stake and key Senate seats up for grabs, it is Republicans who are divided over how to minimize the political damage and avoid the label of a do-nothing Congress.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT" I think there's no doubt that the Democrats have the advantage, the president has the advantage. They are dictating the agenda.

BLACK: GOP leaders will hold strategy sessions all week, beginning with a six-hour meeting on Wednesday. First on their agenda: overriding of presidential vetoes of repeal of the marriage penalty and estate tax. Republican leaders are already shifting their focus to tax measures Democrats support, like expanding pension and retirement programs.

The 106th Congress has only five weeks left. And Republicans say they are fearful Mr. Clinton will force them into another government shutdown just weeks before the election.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I'm concerned that the White House wants to create a mess at the end of the session for pure political reasons.

BLACK: The Senate is now debating the China trade bill, with a vote scheduled for next week. And Congress must finish spending-bills before the government runs out of money October 1st. Major policy differences still separate the two parties on health-care issues, including a patient bill of rights and prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients. A one-dollar increase in the minimum wage has a good chance of passage.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert is trying to negotiate a deal with the White House, giving up some GOP tax cuts. But Democrats say they're still far from agreement.


BLACK: The issue is being played out on Capitol Hill this month, such as Medicare prescription-drug coverage are also being debated beyond the Beltway, by Al Gore and George W. Bush, and both sides are watching closely to see how they play with the public -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Black at the Capitol, thanks.

And when we return, revisiting a key battleground: Our Bruce Morton talks to the voters of the Hawkeye state.


WOODRUFF: In Iowa, state leaders have been working to bring more immigrants and more high-tech workers to a region known primarily for large farms and early political caucuses. With that in mind, our Bruce Morton traveled to the Hawkeye state, which is once again a key battleground for the presidential hopefuls.


MORTON (voice-over): Remember Iowa? Straw poll, caucuses. Iowans have a big decision to make in November, too, of course, and we talked to four of them about that vote: Robert Hackley (ph), who has an online business selling scientific equipment; Angela Trimnell- Garrison (ph), who came from Nigeria in 1982, guidance counselor at a middle school; Dan Nissly (ph), an insurance broker; and Ljerka Vasiljevic (ph), who moved to Des Moines from Sarajevo in 1994. This will be her first election.

Issues? They have issues.

ANGELA TRIMNELL-GARRISON: I think education is pretty vital, and I think both of them have talked, discussed education and where it's going into the 21st century.

MORTON: They haven't just talked education; they've met kids, campaigned in schools here in Iowa and across the country.

Our group all cited education. Ljerka added Social Security and prescription drugs.

LJERKA VASILJEVIC: The United States of America, as rich as all of us are, should have much better than it is now.

MORTON: Bush's tax cut? ROBERT HACKLEY: People are just not real concerned. They like the economy, they think it's going great, they have a lot of disposable income. They're probably a lot more concerned about buying down the deficit than cutting taxes.

MORTON: Dan Nissly disagrees.

DAN NISSLY: I like Bush's ideas, because from my understanding of it, for the people who make less than $50,000, they would really actually see something happen.

MORTON: Defense? Foreign policy? They matter to Ljerka. U.S. troops help keep the peace in Bosnia.

VASILJEVIC: Once we do not have Americans in my town as well as in my country, we wouldn't be able to keep the peace.

NISSLY: With the fall of the Berlin Wall and some other things, the downsizing of the military, people think we're the still the -- we're the only superpower. People think we've got things in hand.

MORTON: No one mentioned the vice presidential candidates until we asked.

NISSLY: We all know Lieberman's role in the Senate, and I think having him on the ticket has maybe lent a little bit of outside respectability to the ticket.

TRIMNELL-GARRISON: The diversity that's been included in, you know, in Gore's party really does help.

MORTON: Or was Gore just playing politics, looking for respectability?

NISSLY: It was a matter of convenience as opposed to a matter of conviction.

MORTON: They agree on one thing: Debates, please.

TRIMNELL-GARRISON: I think it's very, very critical that they do have the debates, and we also see, you know, how sincere some of the issues are and that allows us to determine, you know, where to cast our votes.

HACKLEY: They can add body language.

TRIMNELL-GARRISON: Yes, body language. Yes.

HACKLEY: Expressions and so on, it tells us a lot about the candidates.

MORTON: Who will get their votes? Angela's for Gore. Robert will wait for the debates, but leans Gore. Longtime independent Dan switched his registration to Republican for this year's caucuses. He'll vote for Bush. Ljerka, undecided.

"Des Moines Register" columnist David Yepsen says she's not alone.

DAVID YEPSEN, "DES MOINES REGISTER": The average voter is out there worrying about the hot weather. Farmers are picking their crops. The kids are going back to school. There's high-school football. And maybe when the debates come around, they'll start to pay a little more attention.

MORTON: Iowa voted twice for Bill Clinton. This time? It may be too early to tell.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Des Moines.


WOODRUFF: And that is all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Tomorrow, our Candy Crowley will bring you the latest on George W. Bush's campaign swing through Wisconsin and Indiana. Also, Al Gore on the stump in Ohio and Michigan. Jonathan Karl joins us with details.

I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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