Editor's note: This is part two of the transcript for the Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute on January 21, 2008. Click here to connect to part one or part three.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards answered questions from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Joe Johns and Suzanne Malveaux in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Monday night.
Hillary Clinton, left, Barack Obama, center, and John Edwards answer questions on Monday night.
BLITZER: We have an important issue that Suzanne wants to raise right now.
Go ahead, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you.
I would like to raise the issue of health care.
It was last June, Senator Clinton. It was the PBS forum at Howard University where you said if HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death among white women ages 25 to 34, there would be a national outcry. Obviously, you're calling attention to the need, specific need for African-American women and their health concerns.
Why is it that African-American women would be better off in your health care program?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, my health care program will cover everyone. I don't leave anybody out. It is a universal system.
It will build on the congressional plan that provides health care for members of Congress, their staffs, government employees, and therefore it is not a new system.
CLINTON: It is not government-run. It has the advantage of being proven, so that we can withstand what will be obviously the attacks coming from the Republicans, and the right, and the drug companies, and the health insurance companies.
It also will give comprehensive health care to everyone. It's especially important we do that with chronic diseases.
And, thankfully (sic) HIV/AIDS has become a chronic disease. We're able to keep people alive in the United States. We don't do enough around the world. And we don't do enough yet to get the services as quickly as necessary to a lot of our people who are not given the kind of immediate help that they deserve.
But we need a universal health care system where we manage chronic diseases, where we get prices down because we can bargain with the drug companies, where we say to the health insurance companies that they must cover everyone, they have to do it at an affordable rate.
And for people who might have some financial challenges, I am proposing health care tax credits that will make health care for everyone affordable.
And I think that that is the right way to go, because if we don't have everybody in the system, we know what will happen. We will begin to have more and more people who are uninsured.
The health care companies will continue to cherry pick. The hidden tax that comes when someone does finally show up at the emergency room will be passed onto everyone else.
So I am adamantly in favor of universal health care. And that means everybody is covered. And we will have a system to make it affordable, but it will be required, as part of shared responsibility, under a new way of making sure that we don't leave anybody out and provide quality, affordable health care for everyone.
BLITZER: I want to stay on health care. Joe Johns has a follow- up question.
Go ahead, Joe.
JOHNS: Senator Obama, we all know what universal health care is, as Senator Clinton just said, sort of the idea that everybody deserves health care. And I have not been able to sort of zero in on your position on this one question: Does your plan cover the estimated 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the country?
OBAMA: It does not.
JOHNS: Why not?
OBAMA: Well, because I think we've got limited resources. And it is important for us that, when we've got millions of U.S. citizens that aren't yet covered, it's important for us to make sure that they are provided coverage.
I do think that we have an obligation to make sure that children are covered. And we want to make sure that they are not sick in the emergency room.
But the critical issue on these various plans is, how are we going to actually get it done?
Because, you know, I respect the fact that Senator Clinton and President Clinton attempted in '93 to get health care reform passed. But I do think that they did it in the wrong way, because it was behind closed doors, and we did not enlist the American people in the process.
The only way we're going to be able to overcome the insurance companies, and the drug companies, and the HMOs who are profiting from the current system is if we are having all these negotiations in a public setting, we are very clear about who's carrying water for the drug companies and the insurance companies, and who is looking out for the families who, day to day, are struggling.
All of us, all three of us have met people every day in our travels across the country who, even if they have health care, are looking at such high premiums that effectively it's not really health insurance, it's house insurance.
They're paying premiums, in case they get hit by a car, they don't lose their home. But they never go to a doctor.
And we've got to put responsibility not just on the next president, but also on Congress to make sure it happens. And that means that we've got to have the American people clear about the choices that we face.
BLITZER: Senator Edwards, would your plan include the 12 million illegal immigrants? And if not, what happens if they get sick and they wind up in emergency rooms? Who's going to pay for that?
EDWARDS: Well, it's a good question. I think, honestly, none of our three plans cover them.
But what I have done is strengthen...
... strengthen the safety net of the public health system so that our public health clinics, our public hospitals will always be available.
And if that is married to comprehensive immigration reform, so that people who are living here undocumented actually have a chance to become American citizens, then I think they've got the opportunity to become part of the plan.
There are a couple things I want to say, though. Senator Obama spoke -- and he's right about this -- about the importance of us being straightforward and being honest during the campaign.
The truth is that there are three health care plans represented on this stage. Two are universal; one is not. His is not. Senator Clinton's is, and mine is.
EDWARDS: In order for the plan to be universal, it has to mandate coverage for everybody. And when we talk about getting it done -- and Barack just spoke, as he does often, eloquently, about taking on the drug companies, the insurance companies, I also think it's important to recognize that Senator Obama has taken more money from the drug companies than anybody. Senator Clinton has taken more money from the insurance companies than anybody.
I have not. And I am ready to take these people on.
BLITZER: All right.
OBAMA: Well, a couple of points.
BLITZER: I'm going to give both of you 30 seconds, please.
OBAMA: A couple of points. John, I think, is aware I don't take PAC money. I don't take money from federal lobbyists. I'm not taking money from their companies.
It is true that there are employees of all sorts of companies that have given to my campaign because, frankly, I've raised a lot of money, and sometimes in $25, $50, $100 donations.
But that does mean that I've gotten a bunch of money from drug lobbyists. And I think it's important to make that distinction, John.
EDWARDS: That's fair.
OBAMA: Point number two. With respect to universal coverage, understand what this debate is about. And this is a legitimate policy debate. And I respect the positions that John and Hillary have taken.
They have decided that we should mandate coverage for all adults. I believe that the problem -- and understand what that means. A mandate means that, in some fashion, everybody will be forced to buy health insurance.
Now, John has been honest that that may mean taking money out of people's paychecks in order to make sure that they're covered. Senator Clinton has not been clear about how that mandate would be enforced.
But I believe the problem is not that folks are trying to avoid getting health care; the problem is they can't afford it.
And that's why my plan emphasizes lowering costs, not only setting up a government plan so that people who don't have health insurance can buy into it and will get subsidized, but also making sure that those who have health insurance -- because, keep in mind, we've got millions of Americans all across the country who have health insurance, but are struggling with rising co-payments, deductibles, premiums.
Under George Bush, families are paying 78 percent more on health care than they were previously -- let me just finish, because this is an important policy point. We put in a catastrophic re-insurance plan that will help reduce those premiums for families by an average of about $2,500 per year.
But the last point that I think is worth making, every expert that's looked at this has said there is not a single person out there who's going to want health care who will not get it under my plan.
And it's true that some people could game the system by just waiting until they get sick and then they show up. But keep in mind that my plan also says children will be able to stay on the parents' plan up until the age of 25.
And so I don't believe that there are a whole bunch of folks out there that will not get coverage.
And, John, both you and Hillary have a hardship exemption, where, if people can't afford to buy health care, you exempt them, so that you sort of don't count them.
EDWARDS: But we would cover them. We cover them, Barack.
OBAMA: But you don't cover them.
EDWARDS: Yes, we do.
CLINTON: Yes, we do.
EDWARDS: Yes, we do. It's not true, Barack.
CLINTON: That is not true.
EDWARDS: No, no. Here's the problem. The problem with this argument is you can make exactly the same argument about Social Security.
I mean, you think about the analogy. What George Bush says is he wants people to be able to get out of the Social Security system, choose, elect to get out of the Social Security system. Well, that's exactly what this argument is.
EDWARDS: This argument is you shouldn't have to have health care. If you choose not to have health care, you shouldn't have to have it.
And that is a threshold question. It is a judgment. It's a fair policy debate.
EDWARDS: There's nothing wrong with us arguing about this, but I believe that there is not a single man, woman, and child in America who's not worthy of health care. Everybody should get health care.
BLITZER: I promised Senator Clinton she could respond as well. Try to keep it to 30 seconds.
CLINTON: Well, first of all, if you don't start out trying to get universal health care, we know -- and our members of Congress know -- you'll never get there.
If a Democrat doesn't stand for universal health care that includes every single American, you can see the consequences of what that will mean. I think it is imperative that we have plans, as both John and I do, that from the very beginning say, "You know what? Everybody has got to be covered."
There's only three ways of doing it. You can have a single-payer system, you can require employers, or you can have individual responsibility. My plan combines employers and individual responsibility, while maintaining Medicare and Medicaid.
I think that the whole idea of universal health care is such a core Democratic principle that I am willing to go to the mat for it. I've been there before. I will be there again. I am not giving in; I am not giving up; and I'm not going to start out leaving 15 million Americans out of health care.
Secondly, we have seen once again a kind of evolution here. When Senator Obama ran for the Senate, he was for single-payer and said he was for single-payer if we could get a Democratic president and Democratic Congress. As time went on, the last four or so years...
CLINTON: As time went on, the last four or so years, he said he was for single payer in principle, then he was for universal health care. And then his policy is not, it is not universal. And this is kind of like the present vote thing, because the Chicago Tribune, his hometown paper, said that all of those present votes was taking a pass. It was for political reasons.
Well, when you come up with a universal health care plan and you don't have any wiggle room left, you know that you're going to draw a lot of political heat. I am not running for president to put Band- Aids on our problems. I want to get to universal health care for every single American.
BLITZER: I have to let Senator Obama respond.
But try to be brief, 30 seconds, if possible.
(UNKNOWN): Good luck.
OBAMA: Right, exactly.
Here's the policy question: if, in fact, we are not making it affordable enough, which is what's happening right now, and you mandate on families to buy health insurance that they can't afford and if they don't buy it you fine them or in some other way take money for them -- this is what's happening...
EDWARDS: But, Barack, you're ignoring that we subsidize...
OBAMA: John, I haven't finished. John, let me finish.
EDWARDS: OK, all right, go ahead.
OBAMA: Now, what is happening in Massachusetts right now -- there are articles being written about it -- which is that folks are having to pay fines and they don't have health care. They'd rather go ahead and take the fine because they can't afford the coverage.
My core belief is that people desperately want coverage. They desperately want it, and my plan provides those same subsidies. And if they are provided those subsidies and they have good, quality care that's available, then they will purchase it. That is my belief.
Now, it's fine for us to have a debate about how the best way to get there is, but to suggest somehow that I'm not interested in having anybody covered, or to suggest, as Hillary just did, that I was in favor of single payer -- I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single payer. What I said was that if I were starting from scratch, if we didn't have a system in which employers had typically provided health care, I would probably go with a single-payer system.
What's evolved, Hillary, is your presentation of my positions, which is what's happened frequently during the course of this campaign.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
Let's move on. We have another important subject that, Joe, I want you to start off.
JOHNS: Senator Clinton, on the Iraq question, we're here in South Carolina. It's a big military state with a lot of military families. Last week, U.S. military commanders on the ground in Iraq said that Baghdad is now 75 percent secured. There's also important signs of political progress, including de-Baathification, which was basically long awaited. That, of course, was a big benchmark.
Last week, you said the next president will, quote, "have a war to end in Iraq." In light of the new military and political progress on the ground there in Iraq, are you looking to end this war or win it?
CLINTON: I'm looking to bring our troops home, starting within 60 days of my becoming president, and here's why, Joe. I have the greatest admiration for the American military. I serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. I've been to Iraq three times. I've met with the leaders of the various factions. But there is no military solution, and our young men and women should not remain as the referees of their conflict.
I believe what you're seeing happen is twofold. Of course the surge, the so-called surge, was able to pacify certain parts of Iraq. If we put enough of our men and women and equipment in, we're going to be able to have some tactical military success. But the whole purpose of the surge was to force the Iraqi government to move quickly towards the kind of resolution that only it can bring about.
I think what is motivating the Iraqi government is the debate in the political campaign here. They know they will no longer have a blank check from George Bush, that I will with draw troops from Iraq. And I believe that will put even more pressure on the Iraqis to finally make the decisions that they have to make.
It is not going to be easy. Withdrawing troops is dangerous. That's why I've been working to make sure that we knew all of the various steps we would have to take, because it's not just bringing our troops and equipment home. We have more than 100,000 civilians there, working for the embassy, working for businesses, working for charities.
We have a lot of Iraqis who sided with us, translators and drivers who put their lives on the line for American military forces. So this is complicated, but I'm committed to withdraw our troops and to put the Iraqi government on notice that their time is running out.
CLINTON: And they have to make these tough decisions.
BLITZER: I'm going to let Senator Obama respond, too.
But, Senator Edwards, Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, he supported the surge from the beginning. I think all three of you opposed the surge from the beginning. He says now the surge is working, there's military progress, the level of violence has gone down, and that the United States must not surrender in Iraq. It must win that war in Iraq.
Why do you believe Senator McCain is wrong?
EDWARDS: He's wrong because George Bush himself said the entire reason for the surge was to create an environment for political progress. Everyone from the Iraq Study Group, to even Bush recognized -- and if Bush recognizes it, man, it's really got to be out there.
EDWARDS: Even President Bush recognizes that unless the Sunni and Shia reach some political reconciliation, there cannot be stability in Iraq. And the problem with this definition and evaluation of where the progress has been made is that there has been no meaningful political progress.
There has been a little bit, in fairness. A little bit, but very little. And I don't think it changes anything.
The one thing I would say is -- and I would actually like for both of them to have a chance to respond to is this -- what I have said very clearly, all of us has said, we would end the war. And I don't have any doubt that all of us are committed to that, I don't doubt that. But how aggressively and how quickly is an important question.
And I have said in the first year that I am president, I will have all combat troops out of Iraq. All combat missions will end in Iraq, and there will be no permanent military bases in Iraq.
EDWARDS: I have not heard -- now, admittedly, just to be fair, I don't hear everything they say on the campaign trail, but I have not heard either of them say that definitively. So I would be interested in knowing whether they will commit to having all combat troops out and ending combat missions in the first year.
BLITZER: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: John, what I have said, and I've said repeatedly, is I want to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, but I want to make sure that we get all our combat troops out as quickly as we can safely. Now, the estimates are maybe that's two brigades per month. At that pace it would be some time in 2009 that we had our combat troops out, depending on whether Bush follows through on his commitment to draw down from the surge.
We don't know that yet, but understand what's at stake here. John is exactly right that the question is, how do we create a stable Iraqi government where our troops are not required to remain permanent bases in -- and a permanent occupation in Iraq?
We are spending $9 billion to $10 billion every month. That's money that could be going right here in South Carolina to lay broadband lines in rural communities, to put kids back to school.
And so when John McCain says we'll be there for 50 or 60 or 100 years, it is not just the loss of life, which is obviously the most tragic aspect of it, it's also the fact that financially it is unsustainable. We will have spent $2 trillion at least, it's estimated, by the time this whole thing is over. That's enough to have rebuilt every road, bridge, hospital, school in America, and still have money left over.
BLITZER: All right.
OBAMA: But just one last point I want to make.
We are seeing Al Qaida stronger now than at any time since 2001. That is a significant threat that has to be dealt with. Because we have been distracted, we have ended up seeing a more dangerous situation, and so we are not -- this is not just a matter of who is right and who is wrong about having gone to war or the surge. It's also, how do we deal with the future threats? And as long as we're bogged down in Iraq, we are not going to be able to deal with those future threats.
BLITZER: Senator Clinton, do you want to respond to Senator Edwards asking you whether you're ready to commit to all combat troops being out of Iraq within a year?
CLINTON: What I have said is that I will move as quickly as possible. I hope to have nearly all out within a year.
We don't know what we're going to inherent from President Bush, but there is a big problem looming on the horizon that we had better pay attention to, and that is President Bush is intent upon negotiating a long-term agreement with Iraq which would have permanent bases, permanent troop presence. And he claims he does not need to come to the United States Congress to get permission, he only needs to go to the Iraqi parliament.
That is his stated public position. He was recently in the region, and it is clear that he intends to push forward on this to try to bind the United States government and his successor to his failed policy.
I have been strongly opposed to that. We should not be planning permanent bases and long-term troop commitments.
CLINTON: Obviously, we've got to rein in...
... President Bush. And I've proposed legislation and I know that members of the Congressional Black Caucus are looking at this, as well. We need legislation in a hurry which says, "No, Mr. Bush, you are the president of the United States of America. You cannot bind our country without coming to the United States Congress." This is a treaty...
... that would have to be presented and approved, and it will not be.
BLITZER: I just want to tell the presidential candidates and everyone, we're just getting started. We're going to continue. We have to take a quick, quick commercial break.
When we come back, you're going to see a different set. We're all going to be seated up here. All the rules are going to go away. We're going to have an important conversation, an important -- whatever rules are left, that is. They're all going to go away and we're going to discuss the issues in this campaign.
Much more of our debate here when we come back.
BLITZER: We're rearranging the furniture here on the stage at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. The Senators are getting ready for part two of this debate, which will be much more informal. There will really be no rules in this part two.
We're going to go through many other substantive issues. The candidates are just getting ready to come out. They're bringing the chairs out right now. Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, Senator John Edwards will be here. We'll be going through the issues.
Much more of our coverage right after this.
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