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CNN Today

Election 2000: Bush, Gore Lock Horns Over Medicare, Contrast Politics of Kissing

Aired September 25, 2000 - 2:34 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our CNN tracking poll is once again pointing toward a November squeaker. Could it be the Oprah kiss? Just one percentage point separates Al Gore and George W. Bush now, with the Republican leading 47 to 46 percent. The survey was taken last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Bush has gained a rather remarkable 10 points with women in the new survey. It was taken after he appeared on Oprah Winfrey's and Regis Philbin's talk shows.

The Texas governor continues to hold a strong lead with men. That's been a long term trend.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore traveled to Florida today to outline his nearly $400 billion proposal to shore up Medicare. The vice president highlights his plan and his differences with George W. Bush in a 74-page booklet called "Medicare at the Crossroads."

Now, Mr. Gore wants to put the expected Medicare surplus in a secure fund, what he calls a lockbox, to reduce the federal debt. The billions saved in interest payments could be used for Medicare. Gore also wants to eliminate co-payments and deductibles for a range of preventive care services. Among them, hepatitis B, vaccinations, colorectal and prostate cancer screenings and mammograms. Gore's plan also would require HMOs that take on Medicare recipients to do so for a two-year period instead of one.

The vice president spoke a few minutes ago in St. Petersburg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The other side seems to put a lot of trust in those HMOs, and that's simply an area where we disagree. Their plan would force seniors into HMOs and their plan would make seniors go beg the HMOs and insurance companies for prescription drug coverage, even if the HMOs don't want to provide it. If I am entrusted within the presidency, I will block any effort to turn Medicare over to the HMOs and the insurance companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: Gov. Bush is opening a three-day West Coast trip with a focus on education, but he did respond to Gore's Medicare proposal. According to the Republican nominee, as he said before, you're out of luck under the Gore plan. "You have only one choice...the one the government makes for you."

Bush presented his own Medicare outline earlier this month. His approach has private insurance companies competing with the federal government to provide Medicare services. The governor joins "LARRY KING LIVE" tomorrow night on CNN. You can watch the interview at 9:00 Eastern. That's Tuesday evening.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in Los Angeles today.

Bill, if we could, first of all to get to the heart of the matter on these Medicare proposals. Now both are out. The -- "you have only one choice" Bush claim was answered today by Gore: "Their plan would make seniors go beg the HMOs and the insurance companies for prescription drug coverage even if the HMOs don't want to provide it." That seems to be at the heart of the argument here on Medicare.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there is a very big and fundamental difference between the two of them. What Gore is proposing to do is pump a lot of money into Medicare to extend the number of services it covers, preventive services, as you just outlined, to make it a more comprehensive program, but it would still be, basically, the Medicare that we've had now for over 30 years.

Bush is proposing to, as he puts it, "modernize," reform the Medicare system by allowing some competition from private insurance companies. It turns out seniors aren't too comfortable with that. They like Medicare even though there's only one choice. It's the federal government. They like it. But other voters, younger voters, think maybe it's a good idea to have a more modern program with more choices.

WATERS: We have Gore in Florida today on Medicare. We have Bush out West where you are today talking about education. What are we to make of this geographical strategy here in the campaigns?

SCHNEIDER: We can certainly make something out of Florida, and that -- the fact is that Florida has become a real battleground state. Both campaigns are pouring a lot of money into advertising in Florida, Bush has had to go there a few times. It was supposed to be locked in for Bush, but the polls in Florida show a very close race. Some show Bush slightly ahead, some show Gore slightly ahead.

It would be a terrible embarrassment for Bush if he loses Florida because his brother is the governor and because it's usually a reliably Republican state, though it voted for Clinton in 1996. The fact that Bush is having to fight for Florida however, has meant, for most of September, his campaign was in some trouble. He cannot get elected without carrying Florida.

WATERS: Clinton and Gore had to fight pretty strenuously for Florida in '96, too.

SCHNEIDER: And they still are, as Gore is there today.

WATERS: Right. Now the CNN TODAY/Gallup question, who would you vote for? has Gore down, Bush up. It's Bush 47, Gore 46 percent. Why is -- what's going on?

SCHNEIDER: We got a race.

WATERS: Yes, we do.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Well, you know, you said it before -- I think Natalie said it -- Bush -- rather, Gore kissed his wife Tipper and went up in the polls, and last week Bush went on "Oprah," he gave her a kiss, he went up in the polls. Maybe that's it.

We do know that Gore had a not very good week last week. He made some mistakes, exaggerations. He was known for that in the past and a couple of them came back last week about his mother-in-law's prescription medicines, comparing that -- the cost of that of his dog; the kind of song he heard growing up as a child which wasn't written until he was 27 years old. And it may be that some voters saw his move on oil reserves as maybe welcome, but it looked like a political pander, the same kind of response they had when he said that Elian Gonzalez should be allowed to stay in the United States, that he'd do or say anything to get elected.

Bush had a pretty good week. He went on "Oprah," he went on "Regis," he had a cradle-to-grave them that he stuck with all week talking about his program. So the race, obviously, has tightened up a bit.

WATERS: What about this politics of kissing? I note that you've done a piece on CNN.com.

SCHNEIDER: Right.

WATERS: I believe it's kiss kiss, vote vote, elect elect.

SCHNEIDER: Right.

WATERS: How does that factor in here?

SCHNEIDER: Well, some people think that's the key to the women's vote. I'm not sure of that, but it does humanize the candidates. In both cases, I think they were making a statement. When Gore kissed his wife, that great big smooch, it was probably partly spontaneous, probably also planned. He was making a statement that he's not Bill Clinton, that he's faithful to his wife, that he's a man of serious family values.

When Gore kissed Oprah, obviously he was playing off the fact that -- I'm sorry, when Bush kissed Oprah, he was playing off the fact that Gore had not the week before and he wanted to make a statement there, that he was a different, more accessible kind of guy.

WATERS: Right.

SCHNEIDER: That may be part of it, but, frankly, the fact that women are going more for Gore than men are suggests to me a real serious difference, and that's the safety net. Gore talks about the safety net and women respond to that. WATERS: It's kind of hard to follow who's kissing who, isn't it?

(LAUGHTER)

Well, the debates...

SCHNEIDER: When Gore and Bush kiss each other, then we've got a story.

WATERS: Oh, we can't follow that. Bill Schneider out in Los Angeles, we'll talk again.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

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