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Al Gore Versus George Bush: Who Has a Better Health Care Plan?

Aired August 28, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, the Gore and Bush prescriptions for health care. Who has the better plan? Does Bush even have a plan? And is Gore's plan too much like the failed health care proposal of Hillary Rodham Clinton?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE: in New York, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a Gore supporter; and in Flagstaff, Arizona, Congressman J.D. Hayworth, a Bush supporter.

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Campaign 2000 continues at a pre-Labor Day record-breaking pace. Both presidential contenders launched theme weeks today: Al Gore on health care, George W. Bush on education. Battleground states are also being bombed with party-produced political adds on the hot issue du jour, prescription drugs.


NARRATOR: Al Gore is taking on big drug companies to pass a real prescription-drug benefit that covers all seniors -- George Bush, siding with the big drug companies. The Gore plan: fighting for our seniors.



NARRATOR: And Al Gore, Gore opposed bipartisan reform. He's pushing a big-government plan that lets Washington bureaucrats interfere with what your doctors prescribe. The Gore prescription plan: Bureaucrats decide. The Bush prescription plan: Seniors choose.


MATALIN: Both Bush and Gore support government-subsidized drug benefits for low-income seniors, but differ over the level of government control. Politically, Gore wants more specifics from Bush, and Bush wants less government from Gore. So tonight: the politics of prescription drugs -- whose plan will prevail? Does Bush need to give more detail? And how does Gore avoid comparison to the Hillary care failure?

Welcome Back, Billy Bob.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good to be back.

MATALIN: We missed you.

PRESS: Thank you.

Congressman Hayworth, thank you for joining us on CROSSFIRE tonight.

I want to begin by asking if maybe -- I need your help, Congressman, in sorting out a mixed message I hear coming from Republicans. And I want to play two quick sound bytes for you. The first of them is the beginning of this Republican National Committee commercial that started running today to the tune of seven million bucks. Here's just the beginning. Please listen.


NARRATOR: Under Clinton-Gore, prescription-drug prices have skyrocketed. And nothing has been done. George Bush has a plan. Add a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare.


PRESS: Now, that ad says George Bush has a plan. Congressman, now I would like you to hear what Dick Cheney had to say yesterday morning on ABC's "This Week" when he was asked whether or not Bush had a plan. Here is your vice presidential nominee.


DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The specifics are being worked on right now. The policy has been laid out. And we will have announcement in the not-too-distant future of exactly what our proposal is with respect to prescription drugs.


PRESS: All right, so Congressman, the RNC says he has got a plan. Dick Cheney says he doesn't have a plan yet. We'll have one soon. Who is telling the truth?

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA: The fact is, the Republican Congress is telling the truth, because we passed a prescription-drug plan that is available to all, affordable to all, and voluntary for all, restoring choice. We have laid down the marker. Now Governor Bush will come along next week and refine that plan based on his style of executive leadership. And I would look for the principals embraced over on Senate side by John Breaux, Democrat of Louisiana, and Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee: a bipartisan, common-sense plan, much like the one we passed out of the House of Representatives.

PRESS: Well, Congressman, we know that you Republicans have that phony Breaux-Frist plan, but my question is: George Bush -- you just admitted then hat George Bush does not yet have a plan. So let me ask you my next question...

HAYWORTH: No, no, I didn't admit that at all.


PRESS; Sure you did. You said he is going to come up with it next week. I just heard you say that.

HAYWORTH: No, he is going to announce it next week. The fact is, he's spending his time talking about education this week. His plan will be there next week. But we should note for the record, Bill, that the Clinton-Gore gang had had eight years for prescription drugs. They did try to give us socialized medicine under Hillary.

And if you like socialized medicine, you will love this government bureaucracy under Al Gore that will actually cost seniors who get $500 a year in prescription drugs right now -- it will end up costing seniors more money and take away control from those seniors.

PRESS: Well, Congressman, we'll get to that Hillary comment in just a second. But if -- back to the Bush thing -- why has it taken so long for George W. Bush to speak out on the subject? Why do we have to wait to next week? You have heard the stories.

HAYWORTH: That's not...

PRESS: There are seniors, who really today, Congressman, have to choose between buying food and buying drugs. There is a pharmacist today -- a pharmacist in Florida said that many of his clients actually go to veterinarians to get some of their drugs, because they can buy cheaper there than they can at a drug store. And George Bush doesn't even have a plan for it yet, hasn't even talked about it yet? Why not?

HAYWORTH: That's not true. Of course he has talked about it. And the fact is, as governor of Texas, George W. Bush and a bipartisan legislature, just voted $1.8 billion to health care. Governor Bush signed legislation that ensures almost an half-million children. Governor Bush did the work in Texas to immunize children under HMO plans. And Governor Bush, not only working as the governor of Texas -- which is still his job, you know -- is working now to focus on the plan, taking a look at what has been offered in the Senate on a bipartisan basis, taking a look at our bipartisan plan, bringing together the best features of both.

And again I would point out, Bill, it has been eight long years: the Clinton-Gore gang. Well, they gave us socialized medicine under Hillary -- pulled back from that plan when it was defeated in the Congress. And, now, now, we get the sloganeering. And -- but the facts are stubborn, Bill. And they tell us that a senior with $500 worth of prescription-drug costs right now would end up paying more under the Gore plan announced today.

And the sad fact is, the only folks fortified by this prescription-drug plan are the Washington bureaucrats. They're put on steroids to strengthen their grip on those folks. It's not good for us, Mary.

MATALIN: Congressman -- well, you're not -- just preaching to the choir.

Congressman Lowey, let me pick it up, because I want to ask the same question Bill Press did: Why do we have to wait so long? It pained me, but I went back today, and it was -- and read from the Clinton-Gore '92 campaign manifesto -- and it was eight years ago this very month that they pledged in their health care strategy, a core health care benefit prescription drugs.

And in between that promise and today's crusade, you had a beautiful plan that was put together by your own bipartisan commission, Breaux-Frist, and it was supported by none other than Joe Lieberman, the vice presidential contender, and other great Democrats like Bob Kerrey. That plan was kiboshed by this administration.

And at the time of its kibosh, its sponsor, a Democrat, Senator Breaux, had this to say: "We are not going to fix Medicare. We are going to be looking for issues to beat each other over the head once again. That is the old way of doing it. That is old politics."

This is just more Gore politics, Congresswoman. It is looking for an issue, not a solution, because there was a solution on the table, and he avoided it.

REP. NITA LOWEY (D), NEW YORK: Mary, what we want to do now is go forward. And the issue today is that George Bush doesn't have a plan. They are just running ads saying we have a prescription drug just like passed the House very narrowly. And there was no real prescription-drug plan, where Al Gore has a very clear plan that will cover all seniors. And that is the difference.

What we need is a plan that is going to prevent seniors from choosing between food and medicine. You talk about Texas. In Texas, they limit poor seniors to three prescriptions a year. What Al Gore does -- and it is a voluntary plan -- it is the plan that the Democrats wanted to pass that was blocked by J.D. Hayworth and the Republicans in the House -- will be a voluntary premium of $25. What it will do is cover all seniors under $12,000 dollars in income totally.

And above that -- and by the way, the Bush supposed plan that they are talking about that passed the House -- will only cover any senior under $12,000. What ours will do is allow seniors who may make $15,000, $16,000, $17,000. That is not exactly rich.

MATALIN: All right, Congresswoman...


LOWEY: They will pay that premium and then get covered.

MATALIN: Congresswoman, there is no issue that illustrates the differences between the party philosophies greater than this one. And I have to take issue with what you and Bill and all the Democrats have been saying about Bush: He has no plan. He hasn't talked about this. This is what the...

LOWEY: He -- Cheney even said he doesn't have a plan.

MATALIN: Excuse me, can I, Congressman -- can I -- no, he didn't say that.

LOWEY: Of course.

MATALIN: He said it was going to be announced next week. Why don't you guys just say what's happening, instead of what you -- you think if you say the wrong thing long enough, loud enough, that is what people are going to believe.

Here is what George Bush said this week, which was the same thing he had said as far back as the primaries. Please let's take a listen.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that the bipartisan commission plan called Breaux-Frist is the blueprint for success. It says that seniors at their choice should be able to pick and choose amongst at variety of plans, all of which will include prescription drugs.


MATALIN: OK, Congresswoman, let me ask you this, because it really confuses me about Democrats. You are for choice. You can't get away from choice for abortion. But there's no choice in education. There is no choice in health care. Why Bush and the Republicans prefer Breaux-Frist is because it gives seniors and their doctors a choice. The quality improves as the individualized choice is what drives the plan.

LOWEY: Mary, I would love to respond to that. My district is the Bronx, Westchester, and Queens, and seniors were lured in with choices to all these HMOs. And you know what happened when we depended on the insurance company to provide all these options? They left town. And now my seniors are limited to one, maybe two of the HMOs, and they don't have coverage, they don't have prescription drugs.

What Al Gore and the Democrats are saying, we have a plan where all seniors will be covered under Medicare, and we're not going to depend upon the goodwill of the insurance companies. We saw what happened in my district when we depended on the insurance companies.

PRESS: I want to pick up there, Congressman Hayworth, on that point, because to the extent that George Bush is working on a plan -- and by the way, his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said yesterday he's going to build on the Breaux-Frist plan -- means he's not there yet, but we know what the basis is, which is, instead of making prescription drug coverage part of Medicare, as Al Gore would do, he would make it part of private insurance company policies, subsidize insurance companies to offer that, and then let seniors choose among them.

My question to you is, why do you put seniors again at the mercy of the insurance companies instead of just giving them the prescription drugs directly through Medicare?

HAYWORTH: Quite the contrary. Quite the contrary, Bill.

What we do -- and I notice the way you described it, you did a passing glance on the most important component for every American, but especially for seniors, choice: a choice of plans. You see we believe in seniors. I was just with a group of seniors in Payson, Arizona this morning. I'll meet with more tonight in Flagstaff. And what they've told me, they're very perceptive.

I had a lady stop me in the parking lot last year when all the talk started about a prescription drug plan, and she said, congressman, whatever you do, don't increase my Medicare premium so that I have the privilege of playing Ross Perot's prescription bill. And that's exactly what you folks on the left are talking about. You want government to control.

PRESS: Congressman...

HAYWORTH: You want government to control prescriptions and the medicine cabinet, and that's wrong. We give seniors choice. That's the key.

PRESS: Congressman, you know that is misleading, if I may, because you know, No. 1, that the drug coverage under Medicare, under Al Gore's plan, it is voluntary, it is not mandatory, No. 1. And you also know, No. 2, that with Medicare, the government being able to purchase the drugs with that huge consumer power, they're going to be able to drastically cut the costs, get drugs at much lower rates than the private insurance companies can...

HAYWORTH: And you know...

PRESS: ... and that's why insurance companies oppose it, right?

HAYWORTH: You know exactly what is happening here. You know exactly what is happening. If you look more closely at the Gore plan today, HCFA, the Health Care Financing Administration, would have area responsibilities. You talk about a bureaucratic chart gone haywire. What you are doing is taking the choice out of the hands of seniors. We believe there's a better way, a more effective way to help those who truly need help. That's why we passed a plan in the House of Representatives, a plan that will be refined in Governor's Bush's announcement next week, a plan built also on the bipartisan work of Democrat John Breaux and Republican Bill Frist.

You see rather than dividing people, we think it's important to bring people together, and we believe products can be offered and prescriptions can be offered that are affordable, available and voluntary. That's key.

PRESS: Congressman, we're going to have to stop there. Congresswoman Nita Lowey, I hear you want to get in, and your turn is coming up right after this break. You're up first. And when we come back, we'll pick up there. Why are the drug companies so opposed to prescription drug coverage under Medicare?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

In presidential politics, the hottest new issue is a new kind of drug war: not how to stop illegal drugs, but how to pay for legal drugs, especially for seniors. Gore says make it part of Medicare; Bush says let insurance companies do it. And both sides went on TV today pushing their own proposals.

It's a big debate, and it continues here on CROSSFIRE with Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth of Arizona joining us from Flagstaff, and Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York in New York -- Mary.

MATALIN: OK, congresswoman, let's go back to these philosophical differences and why George Bush favors market incentives. Let's just -- can you just listen to what Karen Hughes had to say about what would happen if the government takes over prescription drug care?


KAREN HUGHES, BUSH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Essentially it makes the government the nation's pharmacy. It's -- Al Gore is trying to do for prescription drugs what Hillary Clinton tried to do for health care, and that's have the government control the prescription drugs. He would have the federal government be the nation's pharmacy for senior citizens.


MATALIN: OK. Congresswoman, can I just say this? You know that when the government gets involved, it drives quality down. You yourself took issue with this administration's decision to cut anti- cancer drugs being administered in doctors offices. And you said -- and I quote -- many oncologists will find it financially impossible to provide chemo services, in their offices.

You know that's what's going to happen: Quality will be driven down by the insertion of government control.

LOWEY: Mary, I just want to make three points. No. 1, when the Republican bill passed the House -- and that's the Republican plan -- the insurance companies said they don't want any part of it. No. 2, what happens if in fact they were to be part of it they would be responsible for the geographic area, what drugs are covered, what pharmacies a person can go to. And No. 3, they won't cover any one with an income higher than $12,700 a year.

HAYWORTH: That's not true.

LOWEY: Let's -- oh, yes, it is.

HAYWORTH: That's not true, Nita. You know it's not true.

LOWEY: Let me finish, J.D. I let you talked about it.

HAYWORTH: Sure, go ahead. Absolutely.

LOWEY: And I want to make the last point: We see what's happening in my district and all over the country when the insurance companies took over the health care industry through the HMOs. I have thousands of seniors who are absolutely without any coverage. And in fact, the one or two remaining HMOs are raising premiums, they're eliminating seniors. So we're talking about Al Gore, Joe Lieberman. The Democrats are talking about a plan that will work. It will be covered by Medicare. Seniors will know that they can count on that plan. And that's why we're supporting it.

MATALIN: A plan -- and portions of which you have already objected to because it's driven down quality.

Let me talk about the cost. When Medicare was first established, the projected cost of it, this government-run health care, was $9 billion. You know what it is today? $67 billion, seven times the projected cost. When government takes over, it drives not just quality down, but costs up.

LOWEY: And when the insurance industry takes over, as we've seen the HMOs, the bureaucrats, not physicians, are making the decision. I talk to seniors in my senior centers all the time. Every week I'm out there. They are fed up with the bureaucrats and the insurance companies limiting their right to care, and they are...

HAYWORTH: You know, Nita...

LOWEY: ... so worried about the fact that they can't afford these prescription drugs, which are going higher and higher, and they're limited by the insurance companies, who will be making all the decisions.

PRESS: All right, congressman, go ahead.

HAYWORTH: Nita, this is why we should join together in a bipartisan way. Let's have...

LOWEY: Let's do that.

HAYWORTH: ... a true health care bill of rights that's not a trial lawyer's right to bill.

LOWEY: Oh, come on.

HAYWORTH: Let's work on a bipartisan plan. (CROSSTALK)

LOWEY: Wait a minute.

HAYWORTH: We passed it, and the fact is we cover the neediest. We also make it affordable, voluntary...

LOWEY: Why don't you ask Charlie Norwood?

HAYWORTH: ... and available to all. So, that is the way to solve this problem.

LOWEY: Why don't you ask Charles Norwood about the bipartisan bill of rights that was held up, that is being hidden someplace by both and the Senate Republicans?

HAYWORTH: We can have an effective plan.

LOWEY: We did join together with that.

PRESS: All right. I want to jump in here.

HAYWORTH: Good people can disagree, but we shouldn't have a health care...

PRESS: Members, members, please. I'm going to jump in here. I'm going to jump in here, congressman, with one last questions for you, Congressman Hayworth.


PRESS: Which is this question of why the drug companies are so insistent on opposing this plan. I think I may have the answer. Let me -- let me ask you to look quickly at the contributions made by the drug industry. Between 1993 and the year 2000, they gave a total of $28 million: 20.4 of that -- congress -- 20.5 to Republicans, 7 1/2 to Democrats. Isn't that why the drug companies...

HAYWORTH: And those probably to Joe Lieberman, I guess, right?

PRESS: ... are opposing this, congressman, and why the Republicans are siding with the drug companies? Because you're in their pockets!

HAYWORTH: No, that's not true. You know, here we go, Bill. You need to put on your mask. It's "mediscare" time again, and you conveniently omit the fact that Joseph Lieberman...

PRESS: What's wrong with Medicare?

HAYWORTH: ... your vice presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars -- so has the Democratic Party.

Look, the fact is market forces and a sensible plan that makes prescription drugs available, affordable and voluntary to all is the key.

PRESS: Congressman Hayworth, in the interest of fairness...

HAYWORTH: Choice is the key, Bill.

PRESS: Congressman, in the interest of fairness, Joseph Lieberman has taken contributions from the drug industry, and he supports Al Gore's plan and he opposes the drug industry.

HAYWORTH: Because -- you know what he side to "The Wall Street Journal"?

PRESS: Correct?

HAYWORTH: Look at "The Wall Street Journal" article two weeks ago.

PRESS: He votes against them, right?

HAYWORTH: He said, we're just saying this stuff, we really mean something else.

PRESS: Yes, sure.

HAYWORTH: Look, that wink and a nod, and the two faces of Joseph Lieberman and this gulf of credibility of the Democratic ticket...

PRESS: Whoo!

HAYWORTH: ... is especially lamentable. We ought to get together, work together.

PRESS: Whoa! Whoa!

MATALIN: Congresspersons -- congresspersons, we're not actually having bipartisanship here tonight, but that's why debate is so wonderful. Thank you, Congressman Hayworth. Thank you, Congresswoman Lowey.

LOWEY: Nice to be with you.

MATALIN: Thank you for joining us. Bill and I will be back with our closing comments on CROSSFIRE.


MATALIN: Eight years ago this month, the Clinton-Gore team promised us health care. You know what? Today, there are 8 million more uninsured Americans as a result of their health care nonplan.

You rejected a bipartisan plan because you wanted an issue. And now Gore has a plan that with co-payments and premiums will provide 13 cents a day for seniors. Progress?

PRESS: That's a wrong number and I could prove it if we had more time. But Mary, let me just tell you something. Eight years ago, the Republicans killed the Clinton health care plan. Last year, the Republicans killed the Democrats' patients' bill of rights, which included prescription drug coverage. If there is none today, blame it on the Republicans.

And let me tell you this: The Difference is at least Al Gore has a plan. George Bush doesn't have one yet. Obviously, he doesn't think it's a very important issue.

MATALIN: So this is Gore's excuse: that the Republicans, who will still be in charge of Congress and the Senate...

PRESS: You think!

MATALIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is why Gore and Clinton were thwarted. If he couldn't do it again, how is he going to do it now?

PRESS: No, Al Gore -- Al Gore has put a better plan on the table, a good plan. George has put none on the plan. None!

MATALIN: A bigger government plan.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE.



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