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Special Event

Republican Response

Aired January 27, 2000 - 10:57 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president delivers his State of the Union address, but the other party, the Republicans in this case, always have an opportunity to deliver their response. Tonight, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has asked two senators to make that Republican presentation.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Good evening. I'm Susan Collins of Maine. Tonight, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee and I would like to talk with you about issues that are vital to all of us.

Our Republican agenda is driven by the simple but powerful truth that America will continue to lead the world as long as our government allows opportunity, initiative and freedom to flourish. Letting people create what they can dream has transformed our economy.

As we reflect on our economic health, we should never forget that America's recent success is, above all, a triumph of values. Americans will never let our country become rich in things and poor in spirit.

The achievements of the "dotcom" generation rest on the foundation built by our parents and our grandparents. They prevailed through the Depression, defeated the forces of fascism, and made personal freedom the hallmark of countries around the globe.

To pay tribute to those great Americans on whose shoulders we stand, we are honor-bound to keep our promise to protect Social Security. Last year, for the first time in 39 years, the federal budget was balanced without dipping into the Social Security trust fund.

We'll do it again this year, and we'll pay down even more of the national debt. We've already paid off $150 billion in the last two years. Now, our goal is to eliminate the $3.6 trillion debt entirely in the next 15 years.

To promote job growth, we'll continue to help our small businesses. That means reducing burdens like the federal "death tax," so that when parents work their whole lives to leave their children a family business, it won't have to be sold just to pay the IRS.

Taxes, in general, are simply too high. We will continue to fight for tax relief for American families so that they can keep more of what they earn.

We'll honor our commitment to our brave men and women in uniform.

Last year, the Republican Congress approved the largest increase in military pay in more than a decade. And to protect our country from terrorist nations, we will build a shield against missile attack.

As important as all these issues are, there's something else that is vital to securing our future, and that is education. Prior to coming to the Senate, I worked at Husson College in Bangor, Maine. I know first-hand the difference that education can make.

We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity, but between Silicon Valley and Wall Street, many Americans still live in the shadows of the new prosperity. New technologies, unimagined a decade ago, provide exciting opportunities for some but pose unsettling challenges to others.

As we enter the 21st century, every young American must be educated to adapt to a changing workplace, and many in our current work force must be provided with new skills to succeed in the new economy.

A good education is the ladder of opportunity. It turns dreams into reality. That's why education is at the top of the Republican agenda.

Tonight, I ask the president to join with Republicans in our commitment to bring a good education to all our children. Our Four- Point Plan for Educational Excellence will ensure that all children have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.

First, we will continue to increase federal funds for elementary and secondary education. Last year, the Republicans boosted education spending by $500 million more than the president's budget, and we added funds for children with special needs.

Second, rather than Washington dictating to communities how they should run their schools, we should listen to those who know best: our parents, our teachers and local school boards.

The debate in Washington is not about money: It is about who makes the decisions. We need a change of approach -- one that recognizes that local schools, not Washington offices, are the heart and home of education.

We will empower states and communities to use federal education dollars in the ways children need most.

I've watched my younger brother Sam serve on the school board in our hometown of Caribou, Maine. He is motivated by the same goal as parents everywhere, to get the world's best education for their children. Doesn't it make sense to have the people who know your children's names decide how best to educate them?

Republicans want what all parents want for their children's schools: more federal help, but less federal interference. Instead of imposing a one-size-fits-all straitjacket, our plan recognizes that one community may need more math teachers, while another may need better reading programs, and still others new computers.

The point is, it should be your community's decision, not Washington's.

In return for that flexibility, the Republican plan requires real accountability -- not more paperwork, but better results. Schools will be held responsible for what is truly important: improving student achievement.

Third, our plan will strengthen teaching excellence. America's teachers need our help. About one-third of our new teachers get so discouraged that they leave the profession. Many are prevented from doing their very best because they don't have a chance to get enough training in the subject they teach.

We will increase federal grants to states and communities and give them the freedom to use that money to better prepare, recruit and retain good teachers. The lessons are clear: We must encourage talented people to choose teaching as a career and keep them in the classroom.

Fourth, our plan will continue the long-time Republican support for higher education. Last year, we increased Pell Grants and student loans to open the doors to college for more low- and middle-income families. This year, we will increase the amount that families can contribute to education savings accounts to make higher education more affordable.

Education today is America's broadband to the future, a powerful conduit for achievement and success. Let us work together to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity for a bright future.

Now I'd like to call upon my friend and colleague, Dr. Bill Frist, the Senate's only physician.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: Thank you, Susan.

I'm Bill Frist. I'm a senator from the state of Tennessee, but I've spent the better part of my life working in hospitals, caring for people with heart disease. I've learned a lot by listening to my patients and to the people who work in hospitals.

Earlier tonight we heard the president talk about his latest health care proposals.

The last time he proposed a health plan was seven years ago, and then it amounted to a federal government takeover of our entire health system. It would have forced every American into a Washington-run HMO and denied them the right to choose their own doctor.

In the end, thank goodness, it was soundly defeated by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Now tonight, 84 months later, the president has unveiled a similar plan just as bad as the first. It makes government even bigger and more bloated, because each new proposal we heard about tonight -- and there were about 11 of them in health care alone -- comes with its own massive bureaucracy. And each will cost you, the taxpayer, billions more of your tax dollars: more than $1,000 for every man, woman and child.

During my surgical fellowship, I worked in England for the British National Health Service, and I saw first-hand the rationing, the lack of choice, the long waits and the denial of care for seniors. I learned that socialized medicine -- whether in England or in Canada, where patients are fleeing to the U.S. for treatment -- just does not work. In fact, if David Letterman had lived in Canada, he'd still be waiting for his heart surgery.

But I think we all know that America's health care system can be better. Costs are climbing. Too many people can't get insurance or breakthrough drugs.

Too many heavy-handed HMOs tell doctors how to do their jobs. And yet we should remember that Americans still enjoy the best and most advanced health care in the world. That's why people from all over the globe come here for their latest treatments.

If you have diabetes, or arthritis, or high blood pressure, chances are medicines that you're taking weren't even around 10 years ago. Today we live longer and stay healthier than ever before.

So a lot is good. A lot is working. But we still have to make it even better.

As Republicans in Congress, we're determined not to be guided by bigger government, but by your freedom to choose your kind of health care and to select the doctor of your choice.

Already, because of Republican efforts, 5 million more children now have access to health care; if you change jobs, you can now take your health insurance with you; new mothers can leave the hospital when their doctor, not some bureaucrat, says they're ready; and we're doubling medical research for more and better cures.

A great start, but not enough.

As a doctor, I've cared for thousands of seniors. I know Medicare is their lifeline, their security. But this 35-year-old program, with 130,000 pages of regulations, creates waste and abuse, and leaves our seniors with confusing red tape and heartache.

Worst of all, Medicare doesn't even include the mainstay of modern medicine: outpatient prescription drugs.

The answer is not government-dictated price controls that stop life-saving research or forcing the 65 percent of seniors who now have drug coverage to pay more or give up what they have. Instead, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together with a plan to build on two simple principles: choice and security.

It lets people choose the type of medical plan that is best for them, including prescription drugs. No senior citizen, no mother, no person with a disability will ever be told by a bureaucrat what plan to pick, what doctor to see or what service they can receive.

But just last year, the president said no to this plan put forth by the National Bipartisan Medicare Commission, the very commission the president and Congress appointed to save Medicare.

However, I'm proud to say that I've asked for and received full assurances today from our majority leader, Trent Lott, that he is prepared to bring this needed bipartisan legislation to the Senate floor within two weeks. For this to happen, Mr. President, all we need is for you to tell the American people "Yes" to this Democrat and Republican plan to fix Medicare, so that people like my fellow Tennessean, Patricia Brown, whom we honor in the Gallery this evening, will have the vital prescription drug coverage she needs.

And tonight, to show you and others that we are sincere and that we mean business, Republicans take a first step toward making Medicare stronger. To guarantee that seniors can rely on Medicare forever, we will add it to the Social Security lockbox, which will lock away the surplus for both Social Security and Medicare. We will not let anyone spend your Medicare money.

We believe that neither HMOs nor the government should be practicing medicine. That's why Congress will, for the first time, send the president a real patients' bill of rights with strong patient protections. In our plan, if you're denied the treatment that you and your doctor decide is right, you'll get a quick appeal to an independent doctor.

Unlike the president, we see lawsuits as a last resort, not the first, because as every American knows, your sick child needs to see a doctor, not a lawyer.

During the Clinton years, the number of individuals without insurance has increased by 6 million people. But with the plan we announced yesterday, we will finally make it easier for low- and middle-income families to buy the coverage of their choice.

I believe we will dramatically improve medical care in America.

How could anyone not be hopeful with what we've seen? Just look at our ability to correct heart defects in children, to halt the progression of osteoporosis, and to treat breast and prostate cancer. Soon we'll see revolutionary new treatments for conditions like Alzheimer's, sickle cell anemia and schizophrenia.

But all of these innovations require freedom, because progress and freedom go hand in hand.

You know, my father was a family doctor for 55 years. As a young boy making house calls with him, I remember his stethoscope, his doctor's black bag, and best of all, his wonderful and compassionate heart. But these were his only tools. Just one generation later, he would join me on my surgical rounds and he'd witness the miraculous new technologies and medicines that allowed us to transplant hearts and to give new life.

It's all possible because Americans are blessed with the spirit to dream, the freedom to explore and the work ethic to produce.

And so tonight, Mr. President, I ask you to put your trust in the American people, in their creativity, in their resourcefulness, in their ability to achieve free of government interference.

Mr. President, please, no more red tape. Instead, give us a health plan that includes choice and security. The American people deserve no less.

On behalf of Senator Collins and myself thank you for being with us. Good-night and may God bless all of you in our great nation.

COLLINS: Good-night.

BLITZER: Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine giving the Republican response in about 15 minutes, focusing mostly on education and health care.

Bob Franken, you were watching. You were listening.

Why did the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, ask these two senators to deliver the Republican response to the president's State of the Union address.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually you could read a lot into this. These are two voices of Republican moderates, particularly Susan Collins, but Bill Frist too. And of course, Collins, however, talked about the same Republican opposition to some of the proposals of the president. Of course, she emphasized education. And the big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats has been whether in fact the money that is passed out to local school districts should include federal policies or whether the money should be distributed under local and state auspices with few restrictions.

Now we get to Dr. Bill Frist, Senator Frist, Republican from Tennessee. He is the only physician in the Senate, as we heard just a moment ago. He talked about the various health care proposals. But underlying it is the debate over how much control there should be in the private sector, how many choices there should be for the people who take advantage of these programs and how much should in fact be controlled by the federal government. It's a classic debate.

There's also the question about patient care reform and the fight over how much lawyers should have ultimately. That kind of fight we had last year. We can expect this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, Bob Franken.

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