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Special Event

Sen. McCain: Veterans' Health Care, Benefits 'My Highest Priority' If Elected President of the United States

Aired February 16, 2000 - 9:05 a.m. ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: John McCain now on the stage in Newberry, South Carolina, just a bit about northwest of the capital city of Columbia. We'll listen now to the senator from Arizona.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... no matter what happens, I will run nothing but a positive campaign, and one that you and my friends can be proud of, and I want you to know that.

(APPLAUSE)

And that -- and, frankly, that these young people can be proud of, because they're obviously very important. And, unfortunately today in the political process, a lot of these young people are not involved.

By the way, I see a great American there with a -- yes, ma'am -- with a copy of my book. I certainly wouldn't want to hype that book or have you hold it up. It's $24.95. It's available on Random House. You can get it on Amazon.com. But I certainly don't want you to think that I'm pushing that book. It's -- I'm very happy to tell you it's now going to be number nine this week and then number six next week on the "New York Times" best seller list, and we're very pleased that...

(APPLAUSE)

So I wrote the book before I had decided I wanted to run for president of the United States. In fact, I was leaning against it. It's about three generations, my grandfather, my father and me, who found -- who were flawed individuals who found redemption in serving our country's cause. And my hope is that one of these young people will read that book and be inspired also to be involved in our country's cause.

A good thing is happening in America today. A wonderful thing is happening thanks to -- what was that?

(LAUGHTER)

Thanks to Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation." Thanks to that book, we are beginning to appreciate the service and sacrifice of many of our veterans; thanks to especially our World War II greatest generation, as he calls them, thanks to the movie "Saving Private Ryan," which I hope every young American can see at the appropriate time to appreciate their service and sacrifice.

But the fact is that that's good news. The bad news is they're leaving us at 30,000 every month and we're -- and the great scandal in America today is that we're not giving them the health care and the benefits we promised them when they went out to serve and sacrifice. And my friends, that's a national disgrace, and I promise to fix it as president of the United States, as my highest priority.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

We're going to have to -- and my dear friends, I'd like to ask our veterans to stand if they would so that we could thank them and show them our appreciation. We thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

I thank you for that.

I want to talk just for a minute about the condition of our military. There is no more patriotic state in America than the state of South Carolina. I can prove that to you. We have the highest number of veterans per capita than any other state in America. I can prove that to you when you look at the Vietnam War Memorial and see the names of South Carolinians that are engraved on that wall. I can prove it to you by the fact that we have so many, so many South Carolinians whose bones rest in quiet groves that were once killing fields, and they usually -- and they sacrificed usually in dense of somebody's else's freedom.

And yet -- and here in South Carolina, we have a large number of military installations, we have a large number of men and women in the military, in the guard units here, the reserve units. But the real problem is that, thanks to Congress and thanks to this president and their inattention to the men and women in the military, every time we've got big problems in the military today, unlike anytime since the 1970s when Ronald Reagan came to the presidency and restored our military.

We -- the Congress of the United States pork-barrels us on every bill for defense. I identified $6.4 billion worth of wasteful pork- barrel spending: $235 million for a helicopter carrier that the Navy and Marine Corps says they neither want nor need, C-130 aircraft that 10 years ago we said we don't need any more of them, we're going to have a C-130 aircraft in every neighborhood school in America before this is over.

But the fact is, that while we do all that pork-barrel spending, the national disgrace is, the national disgrace is that we have 12,000 proud, brave, young enlisted families that are on food stamps, that are on food stamps. As president of the United States, I promise you they will be no food-stamp army, and we will bring these young men and women home from the deployments that are taking them away from their homes and families for so long. The military's half the size as it was at the time of Desert Storm. We have four times the deployments. It's time we gave them a decent and respectable lifestyle. So, my commitment to you is that our first priority is the men and women in our military and give them the respect, the dignity that they deserve, and that has a lot to do, also, with pay and benefits and good and decent living conditions.

I want to talk to you just for a minute about the surplus. The surplus that is in Washington today, as I'm sure you know, the surplus is your tax dollars, it's your tax dollars, more of which is in Washington than they are spending. The question is, the question is, is what do we do with that surplus?

Now, I believe that we need to understand that there are obligations as well as abilities associated with this surplus. I believe that working families in America need a tax cut. I think we ought to take the 15-percent tax bracket and move it up as high as we can, up to couples making $70,000 a year. I think we ought to eliminate the marriage penalty. There's no reason why people should have to pay more taxes if they're married. I think they should -- we should eliminate the earnings test, which a person over age 65 who wants to work has to pay as much as a third more in taxes on their -- on their income. I think that we ought to encourage savings by providing a family security account; you can put in as a couple as much as $6,000 and after a year you do with it whatever you want. The fact is, we need to encourage savings, because that's not a very bright spot out there.

I'm optimistic -- I'm optimistic about our economy and our prosperity, but I would remind you that this is the longest period of prosperity we've ever had in the history of this country, and for us to bank on these surpluses to be in there forever and then use it all for tax cuts I don't think is a conservative way of looking at it. I think we need to have the -- with tax cuts for working families, but I also think we ought to take 62 percent of this and put it right into the Social Security system, make it solvent and allow you to invest as much as 20 percent of your paycheck, of your payroll taxes, your payroll taxes, into investments of your choosing. Then I think we ought to put some money into Medicare, and then I think, don't you, my deer friends, we ought to attack this issue of a $3.6 trillion -- T -- trillion dollar debt that we've accumulated all these years. I think we ought to pay down the debt. Don't you think so?

(APPLAUSE)

So -- so that's what we want -- that's what we want to do, and I hope that we can as a nation understand that we, as families and we as a country, when we enter into obligations, we should fulfill those obligations. These young people in front of us and are here in this room today deserve the opportunity to have Social Security benefits as well as those who are presently receiving it.

Finally, why am I running for president of the United States? My wife, Cindy, alleges that it's because I received several sharp blows to the head while I was in prison. I don't agree with that. I'm running for president of the United States because I want to reform the institutions of government. I want to reform the military, as I just mentioned to you. I want to reform education so that every parent in America has the same ability to send their child, as wealthy parents do, to send their child to the school of their choosing.

HEMMER: John McCain talking, this morning, in Newberry, South Carolina; this after a fresh debate last night, 90 minutes seen live here on CNN. Hitting on familiar themes there: veterans, saying that is his first priority. Also talking about running a clean campaign. A very contentious debate regarding the campaign between he and -- between him and George W. Bush, the Texas governor, over the past seven days. Also taxes, the economy and the budget. A whole lot to swallow, this morning.

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