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Al Gore Holds a Town Hall Meeting at Portland State University

Aired August 30, 2000 - 2:41 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And now we're going to Portland, Oregon. We're at the Smith Memorial Center today watching a town hall meeting on health care with Democrats Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman. This is at Portland State University. Let's listen to some of what the vice president has to say.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And all this week, whether it's been on prescription drug coverage for seniors or our proposal to cover all children within the next four years, or the Patients' Bill of Rights that we're going to be talking about in more depth and detail tomorrow, we've been talking about health care and the choices that we as a nation must make if we're going to do the right thing and make it's affordable.

Today our focus is single-minded: We're talking about Medicare. Now, the prescription drug benefit that we are proposing will become a part of Medicare, with your help, but there are some even more basic choices that we, as a nation, have to confront where Medicare is concerned.

Joe mentioned that my dad played a role back in '64. That bill didn't pass the House. But in the fall of 1964 there was a landslide and Lyndon Johnson was elected to his own full term, and in February of 1965 Medicare became law.

To those who say these choices don't make a difference, listen to this fact. The day before Medicare became law, 50 percent of all America's seniors had no health insurance whatsoever. The day after Medicare became law, 95 percent of all of our seniors had health insurance. That makes a difference.


But that was 35 years ago and a lot of things have changed since then. The increasing prominence of prescription medicine has changed; that's why we need to add that benefit. But here's another change. The number of seniors is growing, the fastest-growing age group is over 85, there are 75,000 Americans over the age of 100 today. The -- I hope to eventually be one of those.


But not only is the absolute number increasing, the percentage is increasing, and the number of seniors in relation to the number of people who are in the work force paying into Medicare is also going up.

How do we adapt to that? When the baby boom generation that I'm a part of retires, starting in about 15 years, then there's going to be an even bigger shift all of a sudden. And by the year 2030, there will be 80 million Americans eligible for Medicare. That compares to 40 million today. So, it's going to double over the next 30 years.

That means that we, in this election, have to take responsibility for adjusting Medicare, strengthening Medicare, putting new resources into Medicare in order to prepare for these challenges.

Here's another change: Some of the decisions made by the Congress in the last few years, specifically the 1997 Balance Budget Act, made some cuts in Medicare -- some that were wise, but others that we now know went too far. Teaching hospitals, for example, play a unique role in our medical system, and if you starve teaching hospitals for resources, then that hurts the research and the training of new doctors. And we need to put more money back into the teaching hospitals.


Also, rural hospitals, nursing homes, home health care agencies, rehabilitative services.

Joe and I have a budget that budgets $40 billion over the next 10 years to address those specific problems that I've just mentioned, those five areas, including teaching hospitals. We have, in our budget, a specific sum of money -- if you add it all up, it's $339 billion over 10 years -- that will also prepare Medicare for the expanded Medicare population and the prescription drug benefit.

OK. If we as a nation are going to be responsible in making sure that Medicare continues to play the crucial role it plays, we have to make these choices. And that's why we're talking about it in detail.

Now here is the -- here's the first choice that I think we need to make where Medicare is concerned, to prepare for this upcoming challenge: We need to take the Medicare trust fund and take it out of the rest of the budget; put it in an ironclad lockbox with a sign that says, "Politicians: Hands off. Don't use this money for anything except Medicare." It's going to be needed. We're going to keep it there. We're going to rule it hands off.


We have made that decision. Our opponents have not. There's still time for them to do that. Let's discuss that.

I think it should be done, because otherwise you're going to have budget pressures on politicians in both political parties driving them to consider raiding the Medicare trust fund. Because until the baby boom retires, the surplus inside Medicare is going to seem like it's continuing to grow. But it needs to be protected, because we can look ahead and see very clearly that, even though it's going to build up a little bit in the next decade or so, then it's going to start being drawn down. So let's remove the temptation to raid the cookie jar and keep it for when it's going to be needed.

WATERS: Al Gore at Portland State University today, staying on message, even though he's fighting laryngitis. Today, talking about expanding Medicare for an expanding Medicare population, claiming that by the year 2030 the Medicare population will double to 80 million people and that changes have to be made. Part of that is his prescription drug plan.

CNN political analyst -- senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in Washington.

Here's a man that's into specifics.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. I think he knows, or he believes -- certainly believes that he struck oil in his acceptance speech two weeks ago when he went into a long list of detailed, precise, specific policy proposals, and it worked.

He got a tremendous convention bounce. So he stuck to that theme, and I can't tell you how many times he just used the word "specific." "I'm going to be specific." "We have specific spending plans in our specific budget about specific Medicare proposals," essentially challenging George Bush to be specific, accusing him of being vague.

WATERS: What does George W. Bush specifically have to do?


SCHNEIDER: Well, he has to come up with his own specific ideas, or at least explain why he doesn't need to do that, because right now people feel -- voters seem to feel that Bush, they know what Bush -- I'm sorry, they know -- I get their names mixed up all the time.


WATERS: So does Nader.


SCHNEIDER: What Bush needs to do is to explain to voters either what his specific plans are -- he's promised to do that next week on the issue of prescription drugs -- or why he feels it's safe not to come up with detailed plans and perhaps go with the flow.

But he's under a great deal of pressure from Al Gore right now because Gore thinks -- and I think with some evidence -- that the voters are responding to this demand for specificity.

WATERS: The polls show that the issues are a factor in the campaign, do they not? And -- but how...


WATERS: To what degree? SCHNEIDER: Well, I think there is a specific -- there is, shall we say, a specific reason why they're working so well for Al Gore. It's not because people are passionately moved or because there's a crisis in the country and they're desperate to hear what he's going to do about it.

I think it's because what Gore is doing is offering voters straight talk. The same thing John McCain did, back in February when he became a national sensation. In many ways, what Gore is doing is an imitation of McCain: I'm going to talk to you straight. There's not going to be a lot of frills and a lot of "razzmatazz." "I'm not Bill Clinton," he said. I'm not the most popular guy, I'm not charismatic. I'm just going to lay it on the table.

And in many ways, after years of Bill Clinton, the voters are going for that. They like the specificity. They like the notion that here's a guy who just puts his ideas on the table, we know what he's going to do, not a lot of frills, but it's a solid proposal. And they're beginning to wonder does George Bush have anything to match it?

WATERS: All right, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, once again from Washington. Thanks so much.



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