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THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION | EXCERPTS OF BUSH COMMENTS

'It's a Direction That Trusts People'

August 13, 2000

Excerpts from The Times interview Saturday with Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush

Q: The president in his speech Monday night [at the Democratic National Convention] is going to argue that the country is better off today than it was eight years ago. Is he correct?

A: If I was in their shoes, I'd be making the same case, [but] I don't think it is correct. Because if you look at the school system, I don't think the school system is better off. I don't think the morale in the military is better off. I don't think our standing in the world is better off. No question the stock market is higher. But prosperity hasn't reached throughout all of society. The Social Security system is not better off . . . Medicare . . . the housing programs are not better off. . . .

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Q: They will point to other things: Jobs, unemployment, deficit to surplus [in the federal budget], crime down.

A: If I was in the position of having to rebut everything they said, I would say thankfully there was a Republican Congress that helped reduce spending. And thanks for all the entrepreneurs who helped reinvent our society and our economy. And thanks for free trade. But that's the case they have to make. It's the incumbent versus the challenger. And Al Gore is the incumbent. I do not believe their case is working, but the election is a long way away.

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Q: One of the most striking lines in your [acceptance] speech was when you said, "I have no stake in the bitter quarrels of the past few years." And some conservatives have taken offense at this as basically distancing yourself or separating yourself from the impeachment effort.

A: It had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with the finger-pointing and partisan attacks and bitter--you know, the zero-sum attitude of Washington. . . .

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Q: So the fact that no impeachment managers appeared on stage [at the Republican convention] and this comment . . .

A: I wasn't thinking about the impeachment.

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Q: And your feeling is [Republicans] were justified [in pushing impeachment]? Do you think they were justified in doing what they did, the Congress?

A: Yes, I would have voted for impeachment. But . . . that's a closed chapter. It's over. Time to move on, and I think Republicans and Democrats agree that's what this election is about, who's the best man to write the next chapter.

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Q: One of the things [the Democrats] are certainly going to focus on is Social Security and your [proposal for] individual accounts. One aspect of that is they're going to say they're risky.

A: Are they going to say that to [Sen.] Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), when he's sitting out there in the Nebraska delegation? [Kerrey has pushed for partial privatization of Social Security.]

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Q: You [would use] part of the Social Security surplus to fund the accounts. Gore would take those same dollars and use it to pay down [the national] debt. There would be less debt reduction under your plan. Why is that a better use of the money?

A: Because younger workers are not going to see any Social Security without a major tax increase or a major benefit reduction if you don't allow workers to start managing some of their own money. The vice president's plan . . . is nothing more than a tax increase disguised; it delays the issue, it doesn't solve the problem. It piles up IOUs. He may pay off debt, on the other hand he borrows. There are IOUs in the [Social Security] trust. He doesn't reform the system and he piles on top of that a huge new entitlement that, if fully funded, would cost $1.7 trillion, and those are the so-called savings accounts for poor citizens, many of whom can't afford the match.

*

Q: On Medicare, you have spoken very favorably of the [Medicare Reform] commission and the . . . approach [pushed by Democratic Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee]. On the other hand, we have this big problem with health maintenance organizations pulling out of Medicare.

A: The way I like to describe it is Medicare is like a giant failed HMO unto itself. It's a controlled bureaucracy, everybody's locked into the same types of rules and regulations, the provider and the patient interface is antiquated, the patients aren't getting the benefits of the new technologies, there is no prescription drug benefit. That's why I support the concept of Breaux-Frist, which is to provide a myriad of opportunities, that there be a basic plan paid for by the government, that there be some co-pay for the wealthier folks, and all the premiums would be paid for the poorer seniors.

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Q: Are you worried that this trend we're seeing of HMOs pulling out [from Medicare] means that this may not be a viable approach?

A: I think quite the contrary, I think the reason the HMOs are pulling out is because the current approach is not a viable approach. The rules are so bound that you can't make any money.

*

Q: You said before to me: Changing tone is not enough to win an election. It's important, but it's not enough.

A: The ideas matter too.

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Q: [You're offering] a different direction?

A: It's a direction that trusts people and individuals. If you look at the majority of [my] proposals, the whole cornerstone is individuals need to be trusted with their own money, with decisions for their children, in terms of purchasing health care. There are a series of initiatives all based upon [the premise that] we understand and trust individuals to make decisions, as opposed to a Washington, D.C., mentality.

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Q: Is that what Gore [has]?

A: . . . He's a product of Washington; he thinks like Washington and he trusts Washington.

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