For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
October 21, 2004
Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A in Clio, Michigan
Big Boy Restaurant
10:55 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What I'd like to do is take a few minutes this morning and talk about what I think is one of the central issues in the campaign, and that everybody is focused on these days. But I think it's important that we touch on it, as well. And I don't mean because of the subject I'm going to talk about to limit in any the conversation we have subsequent to that. We can get into any area you want to.
But I want to spend a few minutes on the national security situation and on the global on war on terror, and on the importance of the decision we're going to make on November 2nd because we're picking not just a President, obviously, we're also picking a Commander-in-Chief, and the individual who is going to be responsible going forward for the next four years to prosecute the war on terror, and to safeguard the nation if you will. I think you can look back in our history and find times when we've come to a watershed where we suddenly were faced with a new threat, and we had to reorganize our thinking and our strategy with respect to how we defended the nation. And I think we're at one of those times now.
Another would be you go back to the period right after World War II, after we'd won great victories in the Europe and the Pacific, then within a matter of years, we were faced with the Cold War; with a Soviet Union that had acquired nuclear weapons, occupied half of Europe. And we had to put together a new strategy to deal with that. We created the Department of Defense. We created the Central Intelligence Agency. We created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- put together a strategy of deterrence that worked, and that was then supported for the next 40 years by Republican and Democratic administration alike until we prevailed in the Cold War. The Soviet Union collapsed and the war ended -- the Cold War ended.
I think the events of 9/11 faced us with another kind of equivalent period, if you will, where once again, we're now forced to develop new strategies, new institutions, new arrangements in order to guarantee the safety and security of the nation going forward. And that's the process we've been involved in for at least the last three years, ever since the events of 9/11. And it's important to remind people that 9/11 represented the worst attack ever on American soil, that we lost more people that morning than we lost at Pearl Harbor, that we've learned since that the biggest threat we face today is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us, a chemical weapon, or a biological agent of some kind, or even a nuclear weapon with the possibility that they could threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans under those circumstances, and that any strategy we're going to pursue has to be capable of defeating that threat, and of ensuring that it never happens. And that requires you to think in fairly bold terms, I think, in terms of the kind of strategy that's required going forward to prevail in that kind of a conflict.
It's also important to remember that this is a global conflict. It's not just the United States that has been hit, but our adversaries here have subsequently launched attacks in Madrid, in Casablanca, in Mombassa in East Africa, in Riyadh, in Istanbul, in Baghdad, in Jakarta, in Bali, most recently in Beslan in the old -- in the southern part of Russia, and that it is a worldwide problem. If you start from that proposition, what we -- the course we embarked upon, obviously, in connection with the events of 9/11 was first and foremost do everything we could to defend the country. We created the Department of Homeland Security. We passed the Patriot Act to give law enforcement more tools to be able to prosecute terrorists. We set up Project BioShield, which allows us to develop defenses against the potential for attack with biological weapons against the United States -- a series of steps that have -- taken to make this a more secure place and to cope with some of the vulnerabilities that clearly exist out there.
But the President also made the decision early on that a good defense wasn't good enough. Given the nature of the threat, remembering again the threat is the possibility of the terrorists in the midst of one of our cities possibly with something like a nuclear weapon or a biological agent, then you quickly come to the conclusion that you can't afford any mistakes. You can be successful 999 times out of a 1,000, but if the terrorists get through one time out of a thousand, that's too many. The consequences of that would be enormous. So you also have to go on offense.
And we made the decision early on that not only would we do everything we could to defend the country, but we would then go on offense and go after the terrorists wherever they were to be found planning, training, plotting, organizing against the United States. But also, and the third key element, going after those who sponsor terror -- go after states that have previously provided sanctuary or safe harbor for terrorists, provided training for terrorists, weapons, support of various kinds. That's a new departure. That has not been done before.
And of course, we embarked upon a course of action first in Afghanistan where we went in and took down the Taliban government, closed the training camps where terrorists -- some 20,000 terrorists trained in the late '90s, including some of those who hit us on 9/11; captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda, and of course now are involved in the fourth piece of the strategy, if you will, and that's standing up a new government to replace the one we took down in Afghanistan. Very important we do that, that we complete the task by establishing a democratically elected government in Afghanistan.
It's not enough for us to go in and round up or kill terrorists, or go after those who've supported terror if you then turn around and walk away. You're going to have another failed state on your hands, and they'll revert back to the bad habits of the past -- a breeding ground for terror, or for other nefarious deeds. So establishing a democracy in Afghanistan is very important. It's a very hard thing to do, but they've made amazing progress -- registered 10 million people to vote, and a week ago last Saturday had the first free election in Afghanistan in the 5,000-year history of the country. (Applause.) By the end of the year, there will be a democratically elected government in place in Afghanistan. We've still got a lot of work to do there. We've got to stay as long as necessary to help them complete the mission. We're training an Afghan national army and getting them equipped so they can take on more responsibility for their own security. As soon as they're capable of handling those requirements of self government and defending themselves and securing their sovereign territory, we'll leave. We have no desire to stay a day longer than necessary. But we don't want to leave too soon.
And the situation in Iraq obviously is somewhat different. You had in Saddam Hussein a man who'd started two wars, who previously had produced and used weapons of mass destruction, had the technology for chemical and biological weapons, and had previously tried to develop nuclear weapons. You also had a government that for years has been a state sponsor of terror, had been identified and designated by our State Department as a state sponsor of terror for at least 15 years; a place where the Abu Nidal organization had operated from, Palestinian Islamic Jihad; had a relationship with al Qaeda; was paying $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers who would launch attacks into Israel -- clearly a bad actor. And of course, we went in and took down the old regime. Saddam is in jail, the world is much safer for it, and now we're in the midst of standing up a new government in Iraq. (Applause.)
That new government in Iraq would have been in business now on an interim basis just since the end of June. They will have elections in January for a constitutional assembly to write a constitution, and then by the end of next year, there should be in place in Iraq a democratically elected government, and again, a first.
The difficulty of the task is not to be underestimated. I don't want anybody to think this is an easy course. It's not. It's a very hard thing to go do what we're trying to do there, but it's absolutely essential that we get it right if we're going to change the circumstances on the ground in that part of the world and reduce the likelihood that we'll get hit like we did on 9/11. And part of the reason and one of the things to emphasize about Iraq again is remember the biggest threat is the possibility of terrorists armed with deadly weapons, Iraq represented the place where we thought there was the greatest likelihood of terrorists, on the one hand, coming together with those deadly technologies on the other because of the past history of what had happened in Iraq. And so establishing a stable government there, obviously, is just as important as what we're trying to do in Afghanistan.
Now, that's the heart or the guts, if you will, of the strategy that we're pursuing in those two countries. It is all part of the global war on terror, and it's important to recognize that there have been some other benefits that have come our way as a result of what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. First and foremost, of course, is the fact that five days after we dug Saddam out of his hole in Northern Iraq, that Moammar Ghadafi, the leader of Libya, went public and announced he was giving up all of his nuclear materials because he'd spent millions trying to acquire the capacity to build nuclear weapons. He had the uranium. He had the centrifuges to enrich the uranium. He had a design for a weapon. All of that is now under lock and here in the United States. He saw the wisdom of no longer pursuing those aspirations and contacted Tony Blair and President Bush. He didn't call the United Nations. (Laughter.) He, in effect, surrendered all of that to the United States. (Applause.)
The other thing that occurred as the result of that is that the black market network that had dealt in that illegal nuclear weapons technology, if you will, that was headed up by a man named A.Q. Khan in Pakistan has now been shut down. He's under house arrest. His suppliers' network is out of business. And it was also supplying technology -- had in the past, to both Iran and North Korea. So a significant additional event there, as well, too.
Going forward, when we think about the approach we want to take with respect to the war on terror, I think it's very important to have somebody who understands that it's a global conflict, that these are deadly adversaries, that the cost of failure is potentially enormous to a great many Americans, and we simply can't afford that. And I think it's absolutely essential we stay on offense. I don't think there's any way we can successfully prosecute this conflict if we try to retreat behind our oceans and go back to the sort of pre-9/11 mind set that says, we'll terrorism is basically a law enforcement problem. We'll go out and arrest the guy who set off the bomb and put him in jail and case closed. That's one of the reasons I found so disturbing Senator Kerry's comments in The New York Times a week ago Sunday. In the interview he did there he basically was asked about what his objectives were with respect to the war on terror, and in effect, what he said was that he wanted to get terror back to the point where it was just a nuisance, and then he used the analogy -- he said, sort of like illegal gambling or prostitution.
Now, when he said that I thought to myself when was terrorism ever just a nuisance? When you think back to the period before 9/11, four years ago this month, was it a nuisance when we lost 17 sailors on the USS Cole off Yemen when it was attacked and nearly sunk? Or six years ago when the al Qaeda simultaneously attacked two of our embassies in East Africa, killed hundreds of people, including a number of Americans? Or was it a nuisance in '93, the first time they attacked the World Trade Center and tried to take it down, wounded about a thousand people and killed a few? Or maybe in December of '88, when Pan Am 103 was blown up in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland? Or maybe 1983, over 20 years ago -- 21 years ago this month when a truck bomber drove a truckload of explosives into the ground floor of a hotel in Beirut, Lebanon and killed 241 Marines? When you think about it, I can't think of a time when terrorism was ever just a nuisance. And I think if you've got that in your mind that there's some period we could go back to when terrorism was just a nuisance in the pre-9/11 era, it strikes me that you don't really understand the nature of the threat or the level of activity that's going to be required to defeat it. And I'm fearful that John Kerry has that kind of pre-9/11 mind set, and that, in fact, his record in the United States Senate voting on similar issues over the course of the last 20 years does not instill in me any confidence that he would aggressively pursue the war on terror the way I think it needs to be pursued. So I look back at that track record, I look at the first time he ran for Congress in the '70s when he ran on a platform that we should never commit U.S. troops without U.N. authorization, or 1984, when he ran for the Senate the first time on a platform of eliminating or reducing most of the major weapons programs that Ronald Reagan had put in place that were vital to our winning the Cold War, and our military operations since; or 1993, the period after the first World Trade Center bombing when he sat on the Senate intelligence committee, and as best I can tell didn't attend a single meeting of the intelligence committee in the year after that bombing took place, and then offered up an amendment to cut billions of dollars out of the intelligence budget at exactly the wrong time, after the bombing of the World Trade Center, an amendment that was so far out that even Ted Kennedy wouldn't support it. (Applause.)
And there was one other time that is relevant here I think when we think about that record, and that was 1990 and '91. In those days I was Secretary of Defense, and we were wrestling with the problem of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein had taken Kuwait and stood poised to dominate the Persian Gulf, and we put together a coalition, and got ready to deploy troops, had in fact, deployed troops, and went to the Congress and asked for them to vote to support the use of force to expel Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm, and John Kerry voted "no."
Now, fast-forward to the present time. We've got a situation here obviously now during the course of the campaign, where we've had, as the campaign was going forward, an important debate over the issue of what we're doing in the global war on terror, and specifically with respect to Iraq. And one of the things I found most disturbing was that he was willing to vote to commit the troops to combat, but then when the time came later on to vote for the funds to support the troops, to provide them with the equipment and the ammunition and the spare parts they needed to prosecute the mission, he voted no. And I found that very disturbing -- disturbing in a sense because he said recently just in the last couple of days out there -- you've always got to absolutely support the troops, and the troops get whatever they need, and I will support wholeheartedly. And of course, the one time when he had a chance, when it really mattered, he didn't.
But I was intrigued that -- I went and dug out some quotes from some of his colleagues in the United States Senate who voted against the war -- and he voted for the war. He voted to use force. But there were a number who didn't. But they did then, turn around, having voted against the deployment of forces, nonetheless, when the question came up of funding to support the troops, once they were committed, they supported the troops, and they supported the funding for the troops. And let me give you just a couple of quotes here. This is from Senator Dick Durbin. Senator Durbin said, we have to stand by our troops, and then voted for the funding. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the men and women putting their lives at risk to serve our country deserve our support not just with words but with deeds. And then she voted for the funding, even though she'd voted against the deployment in the first place. Senator Carl Levin, from Michigan, I will vote in favor of this bill. I do so in order to provide funds to support the American troops who are in harm's way in Iraq, and Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But not John Kerry -- not John Kerry. There were four people in the Senate who voted to commit the force, and then voted against providing them the resources they needed once they got there -- two of the four were Senator John Kerry and Senator John Edwards.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The significance of all this, I think, is that when we choose a Commander-in-Chief on November 2nd, it's very important that we choose someone who understands the nature of the enemy we face, who understands the depth of commitment that's needed in order to defeat it, who understands that we're far better off taking them on over there than we are fighting them here in the streets of our own cities, and that we will do whatever we have to do in order to complete the mission, that it's going to be far better for the United States if we do that now than if we look for ways to postpone it, or to avoid the problem. If we don't address it now, the problem will only increase. The terrorists will only grow more determined, as they did throughout the 1990s, when they went from the first attack on the World Trade Center in '93, to the final one eight years later in 2001. We saw a steady escalation of those attacks, and the risk will increase that they'll get their hands on deadlier weapons than anything we've seen them use yet. I think we need a Commander-in-Chief exactly like the one we've got -- George Bush. (Applause.)
So I hope all of you concur. I think that it's one of the most important decisions that I'll ever make in terms of votes I'll cast during the course of my career -- is the one we're going to cast on November 2nd, because I do think we are putting in place a policy that will stand us in good stead for a good many years to come, not just for the next four years, but that future administrations will find that it's the right course of action, in fact, it's the best way to guarantee the safety and security of our kids and grandkids. And that's the ultimate test of the policy. (Applause.)
And with that -- if I could stop there and then be happy to respond to questions on those subjects or anything else you guys want to get into.
MODERATOR: Did you want to begin with your question?
Q Sure. It's very nice to have you here -- and what's the baby's name?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Philip -- he'll be four months old on Election Day. (Laughter.)
MRS. CHENEY: They're very organized. (Laughter.)
Q I have a question about Medicare. And I understand that the Part B premium is going to have a 17.4 percent increase, and that Social Security is going to have a 2.3 percent increase. So if I am to receive $600 now, I would get an increase of $15 from the Social Security, but by the time Medicare takes out their increase, I will only get $3.40 of the $15-increase. And I would like hear what you can do about that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Lay out how this all works. Well, the Social Security increase is the annual regular cost of living adjustment. I think it's about 2.7 percent -- I believe?
Q Yes, between 2 percent and 3 percent, according to AARP.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right, yes, I think I saw yesterday it was around 2.6 percent, 2.7 percent. The increase of Medicare premiums for Part B is something that's mandated by statute, by a law that was passed in 1997. And it was put on the books -- as I say, this is before the President and I came back to Washington, but it was put on the books specifically to keep the Medicare trust fund solvent, to keep it whole so that it could pay the benefits that are required based on the number of people that are in it, and it also reflects the additional benefits that are going to be provided under Medicare with the reforms we've made in the Medicare program this last time around.
One of the things the President was concerned about and he committed to when we campaigned four years ago was the need to modernize Medicare. It had been put in place back in the 1960s. It would pay, for example, for heart bypass surgery, but it wouldn't pay for the prescription drugs that might allow you to avoid heart bypass surgery -- didn't pay for prescription drugs, didn't pay for other kinds of tests and so forth. So when we passed the legislation last year, the most sweeping reform of the Medicare system in -- well, since it was set up really, 40 years, we provided for among other things prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients that will kick in and begin to be provided at the beginning of '06, about 15 months from now.
In the meantime, we provided for Medicare authorized prescription drug cards that allow you to get a discount in the price of your drugs and prescriptions -- 15 percent to 30 percent is the estimate on brand-name drugs. We've already got over 4 million who have enrolled in that program. We think that's a significant plus, as well, too. And I haven't figured out the exact cost, the 17 percent increase to the premium, but it should be significantly outweighed by the increased benefit that will be provided with the prescription drug coverage when it kicks in, as I say about 15 months down the road. So it's not just an increase for the sake of an increase, it offset the Social Security cost of living adjustment. You should have a better benefit as a result of what we've done here by virtue of the increased premium that will have to be paid for Part B of Medicare. At least that's the plan.
Q Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I think it will work. I think it's milestone legislation. It also -- that same piece of legislation authorized health savings accounts which will help a lot of folks, not seniors, yes. But because it sets up a mechanism, it allows people to save tax-free and accumulate funds --
Q That's another thing I didn't quite understand.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, the HSAs will allow people to set aside money tax-free to pay out-of-pocket health care expenses, combined with a high-risk -- I'm trying to think of the exact phrase for it -- a catastrophic health insurance policy that has a minimal premium, but would cover major, major medical expenses -- at least, obviously, for people not involved in Medicare. This is for younger folks. It also will help significantly those people who do not currently have insurance, because we got about 40 million people out there that don't have any health insurance. And this is one way to do it.
We're also proposing to go forward with a tax credit that will allow business owners, small businesses, for example, to contribute to the health savings accounts of their employees to help pay some of the freight for that and make it possible, as well, for those businesses to provide benefits for their employees.
So there are a number of issues like that that we're working in the medical area and the health care area, but in Medicare, in particular, I think the most significant break-through there is the prescription drug benefits that will be provided.
Q Thank you very much.
MRS. CHENEY: Dick, could I just add one thing. You're being so nice. And I would -- because it's a nice question, you gave her a lot of information. But I watched Senator Kerry go across the country and lambaste the President about the 17 percent increase when he actually voted for it. (Laughter.) So it's --
Q That's interesting -- (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me -- Lynne has got my juices flowing now. (Laughter.) But let me mention one other thing that we're seeing in the last couple of weeks, and that's this whole notion that John Kerry is out there peddling that there's going to be some -- I think he calls it a January surprise, Social Security is suddenly at risk. Hogwash. That's just fundamentally not true. He knows it's not true. That's the most disturbing thing of all.
The President has made it very clear. Everybody I know has made it abundantly clear that Social Security is absolutely secure for the current generation of recipients and future generations of recipients. The concern people have about the program itself kicks in 20 or 30 years down the road when young people today have legitimate concerns about whether or not there will be anything there for them. And there are important issues there that need to be addressed and that we want to address.
But this notion that he's peddling now trying to scare people saying that if you reelect George Bush, Social Security is at risk is just fundamentally not true. I can think of another word to describe it. But the thing that's so disturbing about it is he knows better. He absolutely knows that there's no reason at all to fear for Social Security, that as best I can tell every member of both political parties that I've served with over the last many, many years is absolutely committed to Social Security. It's one of the great programs in the country and it is not in jeopardy.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
MODERATOR: Vice President Cheney, we have a student here. She's 17, isn't that right? And she's got a question for you.
Q Mr. Vice President, I would like to know how do your personal moral values and faith influence decisions in government, and where do you draw the line?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- my family was serious about their faith. My mother sang in the church choir. Dad was the church treasurer, as was his father before him. I grew up as a Methodist. And it has been an important part of my life, and our family's life. It's an important part of the President's life, as well, too.
But it's also important to remember that one of our great strengths as a nation, one of the great gifts we have as Americans is freedom of religion that, in fact, we do believe in the separation of church and state. And my ancestors came here many, many years ago, and the reason they came was because they were seeking freedom to worship. And that's true for a great many of those earlier generations who settled in America. So it's very important for us to preserve and protect that principle. By the same token, though, I have the sense oftentimes that there has been an effort in some quarters to sort of drive religion out of the public square, if I can put it in those terms. And I think it's perfectly appropriate for us to recognize a divine being in the course of affairs of this nation, as did the Founding Fathers, when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, or when we used to begin the opening session of every meeting of the House of Representatives with a prayer, or if you looked up over the Speaker's chair in the House, the motto: In God We Trust.
I found decisions such as the one the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made here a couple of years ago out West that we shouldn't be allowed to say "under God" when we pledge allegiance to the flag to be absolutely outrageous. I thought that was totally, totally wrong. (Applause.)
So I think it's perfectly appropriate and important that the faith play an important role in all our lives, but as individuals wish -- some won't. But I think all Americans clearly have that right. It's important that we preserve the principle of separation of church and state. But that does not mean that we should take it to the extreme that it has sometimes been taken to in an effort, I think, to sort of turn our back on the notion because I think our religious faith and religious convictions played a very important role in the founding of the country. I think it's very important to a great many Americans. And I think there's a way to be true to both concepts and principles without doing violence to either.
MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President the pastor has a question for you.
Q Thank you, Vice President Cheney for being here today, having an opportunity to address some of our issues. As I sit here and I listened before you came in to many of the concerns that are on the table today, I sat back and I thought, I am the least of my brothers to be here -- and sisters -- to offer a concern or even a question when I think about crime, and farming, and Medicaid and religion.
I'm sitting here thinking, sir, and I wonder -- I'm wearing a couple of different hats. I am an American citizen in support of this great nation, and the power -- and the party that's in office right now. I'm a man of the cloth. I'm a pastor. I am encased in mahogany skin, and I live in an area that is predominantly Democrat. And every Sunday and Wednesday, while it's relatively simple for me to address the spiritual and moral issues, the social, economic and political issues are somewhat a great challenge. The American -- the African Americans by and large were the supporters of President Lincoln for a number of years. President Roosevelt, President Kennedy, and because of economic and social conditions during those time periods, caused a party switch and change. Today, we're sitting and we're looking at abortions that are skyrocketing. One out of every three is African American. We've lost our position as the quote, unquote "number one minority" in the nation. There's some concern about minimum wage, and I've got some very passionate views on all of that. I don't know why we want a minimum wage when we should be maximizing everything that we possibly can get. Needless to say, what do you propose as the Vice President in your party to address these concerns that exist, the absence of jobs which creates the rise of crime, the jobs that are being shipped abroad, factories that are closing down? What can you say to the African Americans that desperately need to look at these issues and concerns that this party is going to do to somehow support that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Those are great questions. I think from the standpoint of what the government's role is, there's a great deal we can do. There's a lot being done. There's always more that needs to be done, I guess, to sort of start from that proposition.
The President is fond of saying that we won't be satisfied until everybody who wants to work can find a job, and that when I think about the sort of basic, fundamental problems in our society that you've laid out, whether we're talking about crime, or we're talking about the economic well-being of families, or we're talking about people being able to take
advantage of the opportunities that ought to be theirs as Americans, it usually comes back front and center to a job. A man who has got a good job can afford to take care of his family, raise his kids properly, be an active participant in the community, see to it that the local schools are responsive and accountable, participate as he wishes in faith-based organizations, and so many different things ultimately stem around that proposition of being able to be an active, effective, fully functioning member of our economy, our society.
And I think the things that we've done there -- remember that we inherited a recession, starting as the President and I took the oath of office, that that was followed shortly thereafter by the attacks of 9/11 that really shook the economy once again. We lost over a million jobs in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And we responded to that in a number of ways. Obviously, at the heart of our effort was to make some changes in the tax law that both cut rates, that made it easier for small businesses to invest in new equipment. Remember that seven out of 10 new jobs in the country are created by small businesses, and that we took a number of steps that were designed to encourage the creation of economic opportunities, to encourage people to save and invest and expand businesses wherever possible, as well as allowing people to keep more of what they earned. We doubled the child tax credit, a major boost to families -- some 43 million American families benefited from what we did to child tax credit. We altogether -- the marriage penalty, for example, we significantly reduced. Another 49 million taxpayers benefited from that.
If you believe in families, as most of us do, as sort of the building block of our society, there's no reason in the world why the tax code should punish or penalize marriage as it did. Altogether, about 111 million American taxpayers benefited from the changes we made in the tax code. And we do that in part based on a philosophy that the American people know best how to spend what they earn. And to the maximum extent possible, we want to minimize the tax burden so that they have the opportunity to keep what they earn. They'll make better, wiser decisions in terms of what is needed for their families, and also it's recognition that in the final analysis the real job-creation machine in our society is the private sector. It's all those private entrepreneurs out there. It's restaurants like the one we're in right now. It's all the businesses that people had ideas, the entrepreneurial spirit to go out and create a business, build a business, create jobs for people that are at the heart of our success.
There are other areas where clearly government has a major role to play. Long-term, I think our objective has to be to make America the best place in the world to do business so that people when they've got plants they want to expand, or products they want to manufacture or sell, they want to do it here in the United States because we have the right kind of tax policies in place to encourage it, not make it difficult. We minimize the regulatory burden to the maximum extent possible so they're not bound up in red tape that doesn't add anything productive.
We deal with our litigation problems. I was in northern Minnesota the other day talking to a business. It's a company that didn't even exist 20 years ago; two brothers went into the business of building, manufacturing piston-driven aircraft -- small, private aircraft, that they're now the second largest producer in the country. They've got 900 employees, but they would have 200 additional employees except for the enormous cost of their product liability insurance. Because of failure to reform our legal system, tort reform system, we end up -- we build into the cost of everything we produce a premium because we spend so much time in court on so many different issues. So we need tort reform.
One of the areas that we badly need to work in, and where we've done I think some very good work and there's more to be done is in the whole area of education. I suppose if there's one other thing I would chalk up there besides a job for somebody to be an active and effective participant in our society, it's a first-class education. And everybody ought to be able to get a first-class education from our public schools in this country. I went to public schools -- Lynne and I both did. Our daughters did. You ought to be able to go to public school and get a good education, and when you graduate from high school, have the requisite skills you need to be a fully, functioning member of this society -- of if you want, or if need be to move on and get additional education beyond high school, for whatever profession you want to pursue.
The President was convinced when he came to town that this was one of his top priorities. He'd had an experience as Governor of Texas of saying a public school system that wasn't working very well, that, in effect, was just passing kids through from grade to grade without their ever acquiring the math and reading skills they really needed to be effective. He tried to change that with some degree of success in Texas, brought those ideas to Washington. And one of the first -- very first bill we introduced as the No Child Left Behind Act, that was passed on a bipartisan basis. Ted Kennedy signed on. We got the good piece of legislation through. For the first time, we established federal standards. We got a system of testing in place now to test to those standards and a system of accountability so parents will know whether or not their schools are producing the desired result on a -- not just on an aggregate basis, but on a student by student basis. And we want to take that same concept now and apply it to high school. That's the next step. And in addition to that, I think the budget for '05 calls for some $73 billion for higher education. That's the federal budget. We've increased the Pell grants, which provide help for low-income students to be able to go to college. We increased the maximum amount of the individual Pell grants to reflect tuition increases, and added about a million students to the eligibility for that program as well, too. So there are whole series of things we've done, I think the sum total of which are providing and will continue to provide substantial benefits for a great many people.
That doesn't mean that the task is over with. We've got a dynamic economy. It's undergoing change. There are still soft spots around the country. We're well aware of that. Manufacturing has been one of the hardest hit. That's a long-term trend. It goes back to 1970. We lost over 500,000 jobs in the last couple of years of the Clinton administration, in manufacturing. That's something that's been going on for a long time, and we've got to put in place some of these policies to be able to counter that.
But I'm optimistic. I see -- I know there are a lot of problems out there. And of course, in your line to work, I'll bet you're in there face-to-face with them on a daily basis, ministering to the needs of the community. But I also think all that we've accomplished as a nation over the course of the last 200 and some years, the challenges that we've met and overcome. And traveling around the country now for the last several months, and I've been in 48 states during the course of this campaign, it is just a truly remarkable piece of real estate. And most of all, it's remarkable because of the people in it.
So whether you're in Florida, or Washington State, or Michigan, or Wyoming, or wherever it is, we're just enormously blessed to be Americans, and to live in this country and to have all the blessings that we do have. I sort of always start from that prospect and then figure out, well, okay, how do we make it better. But I think that's the basic attitude the President brings to the job.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President. I'm sorry that's all the time that we have for questions. But we want to thank the Vice President and his family for being in Michigan's fifth congressional district. We love you. God bless you, and thank you so much for coming.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Yes, if some of the rest of you have a question, you want to just give me a letter or drop me a line, I'll be happy to try to respond.
MRS. CHENEY: You all are terrific. Thank you for being here today. You didn't do bad either. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I really do want to thank everybody for coming out this morning. And this is an important year. We appreciate your interest and your support. And Michigan looks to me like it's going to be Bush-Cheney country. (Applause.)
END 11:40 A.M. EDT