For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
October 28, 2004
VP's Remarks and Q&A in Waukesha, Wisconsin
Remarks by the Vice President Followed by Question and Answer at a Coffee with Community Leaders
Gyros West Corner
5:39 P.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Jim. Of course, Jim's the one who has real power. He's chairman of a committee in the House of Representatives. (Laughter.) And I'm just a Vice President. I don't even -- (Laughter.) But I served 10 years in the House with Jim. I was the congressman from Wyoming. Wyoming only had one congressman. It was a small delegation, but it was quality. (Laughter.) But I loved my time in the House and Jim and I are old colleagues, as he said, from many years ago.
I figured out the other day, Jim, my first campaign that I worked in was that 1966 campaign for Warren Knowles. And adding up now all of the campaigns where I've been active, either as a candidate or -- I guess a candidate eight times and working for -- directly for a candidate another seven times, it has been 15 elections now. This is my 15th election campaign. And I'm not sure why I did that.
MRS. CHENEY: Because you won most of them.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know why I add that up. (Laughter.) But we won some and we lost some. But it's a tremendous privilege to participate in this process, and now, obviously, to be running with the President for reelection. And it has been a remarkable year-long campaign for us. You probably didn't really notice, but we've been in 48 states. And probably we're not going to get to the other two, but we're focused in, obviously, right now in states like Wisconsin and -- because it is so important in this year's campaign.
Jim mentioned that Lynne and I spent -- I guess, it was about three years altogether in Madison. And our oldest daughter was born there. She'll join us tonight in Milwaukee. She's now the mother of four. And so Wisconsin played an important part in our lives early on. It really was where I got my political spurs, at least, where I first got actively involved in a major way not only with Warren Knowles, later on with Bill Steiger, a great congressman from the sixth district up in Oshkosh, up in that part of the country, too. Bill took me under his wing when I first went to Washington and started back there and taught me the ropes.
What we usually do in these coffees is I'll open up and talk a bit about -- I've got one subject in mind, in particular, I'd like to focus on for a few minutes, and then open it up to questions and have an opportunity to respond to your questions and comments and concerns, as well, too. The only thing that's a little unique about it, obviously, is the press is here with their cameras rolling. And I'm used to that. Not everybody is. Just a cautionary note to remind you whatever you say is going to be recorded for posterity. (Laughter.) Always -- it's sobering the first time that happened to me. (Laughter.)
But anyway, what I thought I'd do today, I'd like to take a few minutes and talk about the war on terror, and about where we are, I think, with respect to our national security issues. That's one of many issues, obviously, that's important in this campaign. For me, it's right at the heart of a decision we'll make because we're picking -- not just the President, we're picking the Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. And I also think we're at one of those times in our history where we're faced with a new threat, and we've had to adapt and adjust our strategies, come up with a new strategy really, new institutions in order to deal with that threat. It's a period not dissimilar from the period right after World War II, right after we won those victories in Europe and the Pacific. Then all of a sudden, we were faced with the Cold War; with a Soviet Union that was increasingly aggressive. It had acquired nuclear weapons. It occupied half of Europe, and supported communist insurgencies various places and so forth.
We then created the Department of Defense; created the Central Intelligence Agency, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, redesigned our own forces and put in place a strategy that then held really for the next 40 years, was supported by Republican and Democratic administrations alike, until the end of the Cold War, 1989, '90, '91 when the Soviet Union went out of business. I think we're at another one of those times. And the threat today is different because, of course, it's represented by what happened to us on 9/11. And 9/11 was a very significant event. Senator Kerry said it didn't change him very much. I think that's unfortunate. I think it's important to understand what that event represented.
It was the worst attack ever on American soil. We lost more people that day than we lost at Pearl Harbor. It showed that a handful of terrorists with no fancy equipment or anything could come into the middle of the United States, spend a lot of time here, get training here, and then for the price of a boarding pass and a box cutter, go up and do enormous damage in New York and Washington, as well as where they took United 93 in Pennsylvania.
To respond to that now, in thinking about the nature of that attack, we have to contemplate, as well, the major threat we face today which is the possibility of terrorists such as those who attacked us on 9/11 coming at us with a deadlier weapon than we've ever had used against us before, that is to say we know for a fact from information that we've obtained since the attacks of 9/11, interrogations we've done with members of al Qaeda, documents that we found when we went into Afghanistan and so forth, that they're trying very hard to get their hands on chemical weapons, or a biological agent, or even a nuclear weapon; and that the biggest threat we have to contemplate today is the possibility of terrorists in the middle of one of our cities with that kind of deadly capability able the threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
And it's important to understand that, and that this is a global conflict, that they've struck not only in New York and Washington, but since then, in Madrid, in Casablanca, in Mombassa, in Istanbul, Baghdad, Jakarta, Bali, Beslan in Southern Russia. It's a global conflict.
And if you don't understand the threat, and the scale of it, and the potential here, then I don't think it's possible to put together an effective strategy to deal with it. I think George Bush has put together an effective strategy to deal with it. And what we did, of course, was to decide to do everything we could to harden the target here at home, to improve our defenses at home. And we've done a lot of that -- the Department of Homeland Security; Project BioShield, prepare us to defend against biological attack; the Patriot Act to give law enforcement the authority they need to be able to prosecute terrorists -- same kind of authority that's already available for prosecuting drug traffickers and organized crime, a series of steps that have made this a much tougher target. The President also recognized and made the decision that there's no such thing as the perfect defense, that given the nature of the threat that if you're successful 999 times out of 1,000, that one remaining time that they get through could kill you. You cannot accept even one chance in a thousand that they might successfully penetrate the defenses and launch that kind of an attack against the United States.
So we decided, and I think, correctly, that we also have to go on offense. And going on offense means using the full might and power of the United States to go after the terrorists wherever we find them, wherever they're planning and organizing and training, preparing to attack, and also -- and this was a new departure -- to go after those who support terror, to go after states that sponsor terror. We for a long time kept a list of state sponsors of terror in the State Department, but never before has the United States operated as aggressively as we have now where we will hold states that sponsor terror, or provide sanctuary or safe harbor for terror, hold them to account for the acts of the terrorists that they sponsor or support. And that's a major new departure.
But we think it's absolutely essential to be that aggressive with respect to the U.S. strategy that we put in place here if we're going to keep the terrorists off balance, if we're going to wrap up and kill as many of them as we can, if we're going to keep them off-balance so they can't launch further attacks against the United States because we know they're trying, and we know they'll continue to try.
That's the overall strategy. Of course, first we used it in Afghanistan where we went in and took down the Taliban, captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda, closed the training camps. There were some 20,000 terrorists it's estimated trained in the late 1990s, including some of those who hit us on 9/11. And then the final step, standing up a new government -- a democratically elected government in Afghanistan. A lot of people wringing their hands saying you'll never get this done. These folks aren't ready for democracy. It will never work. John Edwards is one of those, my opponent. Six months after we went into Iraq, he was wringing his hands, making speeches about how everything was turning to mush, and the Taliban were coming back, and we were descending into chaos.
Well, the Afghans set up an interim government, wrote a constitution. They registered 10 million people to vote, nearly half of them women, and two weeks ago Saturday had the first free elections in the 5,000-year history of that country. (Applause.) So they'll be -- have a new government in place by the end of the year, democratically elected. The other thing that has to happen is they have to be equipped to deal with and provide for their own security so that our guys don't have to do it any more. We're in the midst of doing that, as well, too -- standing up and training an Afghan national army and helping them get on their feet from a security standpoint. And once that's done, then the mission will be complete, and we'll be able to bring our folks home. We don't want to leave any sooner, though, than the time when we've completed the mission. We don't want to stay a day longer than necessary, but we also want to make certain that we get the job done right, and that's the effort that's underway right now.
Iraq -- slightly different situation. Saddam Hussein, of course, was a man who had started two wars, who had previously produced and used chemical weapons, and pursued other weapons of mass destruction, a man who had sponsored terror in the past, was carried as a state sponsor of terror for 15 years by our State Department, provided a base for Abu Nidal, for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, had a program of paying $25,000 for the family of suicide bombers, and of course had a relationship with al Qaeda. And we went in, took down Saddam Hussein's regime. He's in jail. I think the world is a whale of a lot of safer with the fact that he is in jail tonight, much better that that's -- (Applause.)
Now, we're in the midst of completing the mission there. Obviously, we've got -- since June, the Iraqis have been in charge of the government. We've had the first national assembly has met. They'll have elections in January. That will be to select a constituent assembly, a group to write a constitution. And by the end of next year, they'll hold nationwide free elections under that new constitution. That's the plan that's scheduled, and the basic strategy we're working on.
Iraq is a tougher proposition, in part, because of the ongoing insurgency there, based in part on elements of the old regime, the folks that have got the most to lose by the demise of Saddam Hussein, as well as people like this guy al-Zarqawi, who is an al Qaeda affiliate. A Jordanian by birth, he was running one of the training camps in Afghanistan before we went in there. When we went into Afghanistan, he fled to Iraq. He's been operating out of there pretty much the whole time since then. He's responsible for much of the bloodshed in Iraq today -- the car bombs, and the beheadings you see sometimes. This is obviously an evil, evil man who has reestablished -- or established, depending on how you look at it, very close ties to al Qaeda just within the last couple of weeks and pledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden.
The test going forward is going to be a difficult one. I don't want to underestimate the difficulty of the effort that's underway here. There's no touchdown pass in this business. It's three yards and a cloud of dust. And the terrorists and the insurgents will do everything they can to try to disrupt the flow of progress toward those elections. They know once those elections are held, they're out of business. And they've said as much in some of the communications that we've captured Zarqawi and the bin Laden crowd. So we will continue to push very aggressively on that front in the months ahead.
Again, we're working very hard there, as well, to stand up Iraqi forces so they can take over responsibility for their own security. We should have about 125,000 trained and equipped by the end of this year. And we'll continue building that force right through next year, as well, too.
All of this has been, I think, essential in terms of sort of a forward-leaning strategy that's going to keep America safer than if we were to retreat behind our oceans, go back to sort of the pre-9/11 mind set, where we treated terrorism as a law enforcement problem. John Kerry the other day was quoted in The New York Times, he did an interview a couple Sundays ago, as saying that his objective for managing the war on terror was to get terror back to the point where it was just a nuisance. And then he compared it to illegal gambling and prostitution, that there's some sort of manageable level of terrorism out there that you can accept.
And when he said that, I asked myself, I said, well, when was terrorism ever just a nuisance? Was it four years ago when they attacked the USS Cole, nearly sunk it and killed 17 of our sailors off Yemen? Or six years ago when they simultaneously attacked two of our embassies in East Africa and killed hundreds of people, including a number of Americans? Or maybe it was 11 years ago when the first attack occurred on the World Trade Center in New York when they tried to take it down with a truck bomb in the basement? Or 1988 when they blew Pan Am 103 out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland? Or maybe 1983, when a suicide bomber driving a truckload of explosives drove into the ground floor of a building in Beirut, brought it down and killed 241 Marines?
Now, I can't think of a time when terrorism was ever just a nuisance. And I think somebody who has got that in his head, who thinks you can manage it to some acceptable level, who thinks it's primarily a law enforcement problem, doesn't get it. When you get to the point where the terrorists are killing 3,000 at a whack, you don't need a law enforcement response, you need a military response. You need to go after those who support the terrorists, as well as the terrorists themselves. (Applause.)
So that's the business we're in today. That's why this election is going to be so important on next Tuesday because we are picking the individual who is going to be our Commander-in-Chief for the next four years going forward. John Kerry is somebody obviously who wants very much to be President. You've got to want it pretty bad to work as hard as anybody has to go through one of these campaigns. But one thing he hasn't done is he hasn't talked much about his record. He hasn't talked much about his time in the United States Senate.
He spent 20 years in the Senate, and he's spending a lot of time trying to obscure, if you will, that record -- as though a little tough talk now, and a few commercials can portray a different individual than what you see if you go back and you look at that 20-year record in the Senate because that 20-year record shows that he was virtually on the wrong side of every national security issue for the last 20 years.
When he ran for Congress the first time back in the '70s, 30 years ago, he ran on the platform that the U.S. should only commit troops with U.N. authorization. I don't think you can delegate that responsibility if you're the President of the United States to anybody, including the United Nations.
1984, when he ran for the Senate, he did so on the basis of cutting out or eliminating most of the major weapons systems that the Reagan administration put in place, that were vitally keeping the peace, and that we're using to this day.
In '93, after the first attack on the World Trade Center, he was then on the Senate intelligence committee. He didn't attend a single meeting of the intelligence committee for the year after the attack, and then offered up an amendment to cut billions of dollars out of the intelligence budget when that came before on the floor of the Senate.
There is a track record there that speaks for itself. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and stood in a position to dominate the Persian Gulf and had robust programs underway in Iraq to develop chemical and biological weapons and was trying to develop a nuclear weapon, as well, and was closer than anybody knew, when the question of Desert Storm came up, and using U.S. forces to roll him back into Iraq and out of Kuwait, John Kerry voted no. That was one of those times -- he's talked about a global test in one of these debates the other night -- and not clear what he means by a global test, but presumably he means things like U.N. authorization and so forth -- well, that was a time when the U.N. had authorized it. Thirty-four other nations had committed troops right alongside us. This was when I was Secretary of Defense. I know a little bit about the venture. (Laughter.) And no matter what you did, it wasn't good enough for John Kerry to decide this was one of those times when you had to use the full might of the United States to achieve an objective.
And I just worry that a guy with his background and his approach to these issues, and his mind set, as he's talked about terror during the course of this campaign is that of someone who will not actively and aggressively pursue the war on terror. And that concerns me greatly because I really believe that that will be the test for the next President, that it's vital that we not sort of try to retreat back to that pre 9/11 period because it obviously was an illusion. There was this notion somehow the world was at peace, and we were safe, and we clearly weren't. This group had declared war on us back in 1996. And all that happened during those years when we didn't respond effectively is the terrorists came to believe two things. They came to believe they could strike us with impunity, because they did repeatedly. All we ever did was fire off a few cruise missiles at a training camp in Afghanistan.
And the other thing they came to believe was that if they hit us hard enough, they could change our policy because they did a couple of times -- Beirut, 1983; Mogadishu, in Somalia, 1993 -- times when they attacked, killed several of our people and we withdrew. So the notion that the choice is between what we're doing today and going back to some quieter peaceful time when we're not engaged aggressively, for example, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, or trying to bring democracy to those countries where we've taken down state sponsors of terror, simply isn't a viable option. That's not the trade-off. All that will happen if we do that is that the terrorists will grow bolder. They'll grow stronger. They'll have more time to try to acquire those deadlier weapons to use against us. And the cost of each attack escalates and goes up. And the ultimate cost to us of dealing with the problem will increase significantly over time if we don't address it now. It's going to be far better for us to actively and aggressively go after or adversaries now, build alliances, get other nations to work alongside us, deal with the problems of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, rather than it is to wait.
Final point I'll make, the effects of what we've done in Iraq and Afghanistan have rippled around the world. A lot of other people have noticed and watched and seen what we've done. It's no accident that five days after we captured Saddam Hussein, Moammar Ghadafi went public and announced that he was going to give up all of his weapons of mass destruction. And so all of the materials he had acquired over the years for millions of dollars, the design for a nuclear weapon, the uranium, the enrichment technology and so forth, all of that is now under lock and key here in the United States. And when he got ready to turn that stuff over and get out of the business of developing weapons of mass destruction, he didn't call the United Nations. He got hold of George Bush and Tony Blair. (Applause.)
So I think big decision for us next Tuesday. I think it's absolutely essential we get this one right. And I think the nation, frankly, will be safer and more secure for our kids and grandkids if George Bush is our Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. (Applause.)
But, Jim, I'll -- I don't know. You want to moderate this and call on folks? Or we just open it up and have people have --
CONGRESSMAN SENSENBRENNER: Let's open it up.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q Not to diminish the severity of terror, but I have a small business in Eagle. And we've used your tax cuts over the last three years to really expand our business. In fact, we've grown from 224 employees to 285 employees since you began the tax cuts and followed up with the economic recovery. In five days, we'll be putting 100,000-square foot addition onto our 134,000-square foot plant.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's good. (Applause.)
Q Thank you. And it's greatly due to your administration's tax cuts -- the Bush-Cheney tax cuts and followed up by the economic recovery.
The question I have is are the tax rates, are the benefits from the depreciation acceleration is all that going to stay in place? Are you looking forward for me? It concerns -- it frightens me, actually, deeply to see a Democratic -- to see John Kerry and John Edwards in the White House and roll those back, and then I have to go to employees who we've hired because of the tax cuts, money that we would have sent to Washington stayed here for employment, so it scares me to think that I have to go and lay people off because we'll be sending more money back to Washington then. So I try not to think about that because I'm sure you're going to win. (Laughter.)
But what's your view on tax cuts in the future? Are you going to roll back more? Are you going to allow us to spend more of the money here in the companies?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the key -- the reason -- the biggest concern right now in the short-term would be that some of those taxes, a lot of those taxes would go back to the old levels unless we can make them permanent.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The way the Senate rules work -- and I don't mean to get into legislative minutia here. Jim understands it. But the way the Senate rules work is when we pass measures under a certain procedure called budget reconciliation, they're good for only 10 years. And at the end of 10 years, they automatically revert back to what they were at the beginning of that period, unless there's action to extend them. The reason you do budget reconciliation process is because the stuff you can pass there with 51 votes sticks. That's how we got the tax cuts in the first place. Otherwise, we end up having to break a filibuster, and we need 60 votes for that. So it's a complicated Senate procedure, basically. But what we're doing is -- and it's part of our program, is that we want to make the tax cuts that we put in place permanent. And we have extended -- just before the Congress adjourned, we extended some key provisions -- not so much that related to your situation, but the marriage penalty reduction, the child tax credit and the 10-percent bracket that we put in three years ago, we just extended and the President just into law here within the last couple of weeks.
So we've got other measures out there like the accelerate depreciation, and so forth, the top rate -- the overall rate reductions -- those phase back in over time. And what we'll try to do over the course of the next four years is to make those cuts permanent. That is, we'll have to find ways legislatively to get through the process.
It's doable. It will be a lot easier if we've got some Republicans in the United States Senate. But that's a top priority for us. I think you're absolutely right. The President understands -- and it was the heart of his effort -- that seven out of 10 new jobs in America are created by small business, and that the effort with respect to expanding the economy has to focus on that segment of the economy. And that's why I'm delighted to hear your success story.
There are some other things we can do to help, though. One of the problems we've got is the huge litigation costs that are built into our society and our economy. I talked to a guy the other day -- a couple of brothers up in Northern Minnesota run a company that manufactures piston-driven aircraft. Twenty years ago, they started. They had nothing, started from scratch. Today, they got 900 employees. But they can hire 200 more employees except for the product liability cost, their insurance that they have to pay for. And that has gotten so high because of the lack of tort reform, and the enormous cost of litigation that's built in now to everything we manufacture in our society, that if they didn't have to pay those rates that they think are pretty outrageous, they could, in fact, hire 200 more people. And I think that's true -- as I say, across the economy.
And so one of the things we'll continue to push very hard on is tort reform, litigation reform, improving our overall performance there. Obviously, John Kerry and John Edwards are not big advocates of litigation reform. (Laughter.) John Kerry has voted against it, and of course, John Edwards is a personal injury lawyer -- he is one.
Q Well, I want to thank you for the tools that you give us. They really help. And I promise you if you give us more tools, we'll give you more expansion.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, we'll do everything we can. What kind of business have you got, if I can ask?
Q It's a manufacturing company. We have four divisions -- expansion joints, interior signage, cubicle tracks and curtains for hospitals, nursing homes, that type of thing, and then -- protection products, hand rails, corner guards. So we're doing our job.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, that's a great success story, but it's the backbone of our economy.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Without question.
Q Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Anybody else?
Q Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q I just want to thank you from the African American Coalition for the wonderful programs that you and the President have brought into our community. First, the No Child Left Behind -- it is -- we're beginning to see the gap narrow in our community. It has just been wonderful. Also the opportunity for many of our children's parents to choose what schools that they will have their children to attend. It has just been absolutely fabulous. And I think education is a key in terms of empowering people, and we'd like thank you from the Africa American community for empowering us.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. That's good to hear. (Applause.)
Now, that's -- the No Child Left Behind Act, I think is one of the really significant pieces of legislation. It was the first one the President introduced. He ran last time around on the basis that he was going to do that. He'd had a lot of experience firsthand as Governor in Texas dealing with what he thought was a public school system that wasn't working right, that was passing students through without them acquiring the skills they needed. And you're right, it is showing progress. We've established standards and testing and increasing the accountability to parents and communities and teachers.
And what we want to be able to do now is take that same concept that we've got, I guess, K through 8 and apply it -- take it to high schools, and the secondary level. And that will be a top priority for us in the second term -- same basic lessons have been learned there. And you're right, the tests that are coming back now, the results are beginning to show that we are, in fact, closing the gap. So we need to keep doing it. And I can't think of a more important subject area for us, I guess, to continue to work on -- whether we're talking about employment and job opportunities for people, or a highly skilled work force that can attract the kind of firms and businesses that we want to have here in the United States to provide jobs, or dealing with problems in the community, or crime and so many other different issues ultimately come back to that question of education. And there's no reason in the world why our public school system can't be the best in the world. And we're working very hard to do exactly that.
Q Thank you so much.
Q Mr. Vice President -- thank you. Mrs. Cheney, Mr. President -- Vice President, it's great to meet you. I'm a small business owner, but more importantly, I was a commander on the ground in Iraq as part of Operation Iraq Freedom One. I'm a reservist. I was with the Army National Guard, a 14-month deployment -- 11 months of which were in Iraq. And I really have two quick comments regarding that. The first one, recently I was called by the VA medical center to -- I guess, PBS Frontline is looking to do a special on the transition of reservists from active duty to -- moving back into the civilian world. So I called them. I told them my story. I've had nothing but positive support from the VA program, 135 of my soldiers that went through this process, everything has been moving along great. And they decided they didn't really care to hear my story because they were really -- quote, unquote, they were looking for a negative story, not a positive success story. So unfortunately when that episode runs, we won't be talking about the great work that the VA medical team is doing right now to help OIF One and Enduring Freedom soldiers who returned home. I just want to make that point very clear.
Secondly, I was -- as a combat engineer officer, we had a number of missions throughout Southern Iraq, one of which gave us the opportunity to work very directly, closely with the Shiites, the Iraqis, as we were helping them rebuild schools, villages, and so forth. But a conversation I
had with Sheikh Nahim (ph) on the southern region in August of 2003, he'd asked me point blank, he said, are you here to complete your mission? Are you here to ensure that Saddam Hussein will not come back and the Baathists will no longer be in power? And I knew with President Bush as my Commander-in-Chief, I could look him square in the eye and say, we're here to complete this mission. And you don't have to worry.
He had a number of his family members killed in the early '90s during the Shiite revolt. And in fact, we went to the mass gave sites where he had family members buried. And so it was my honor as an officer to turn to him and say, no, this is regime change. This one is complete. And we will not leave until it's done.
And I think -- I know I speak on behalf of -- I know 80 percent of the service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, a recent survey done by The Military Times states the same thing, we support the President Bush and Cheney team to take us through the next four years. And so I know with this -- with your policy being very clear, the message is very clear for the terrorists and those who still want Saddam Hussein back in power, that we will not -- we will not give in. So thank you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for what you did for all of us.
Q I'm chairman of the Wisconsin Veterans' Coalition for Bush-Cheney '04, served in the Army for 30 years, and served for nearly 12 years as Wisconsin's Secretary of Veterans Affairs. My background gives me a pretty good feel for how the men and women who serve in uniform feel about things, and I want to make a comment about the recent discussions that have come up about the draft -- whether or not there would be a draft and so on.
And in my experience, and I think Dan would bear this out, the very reasons that will not necessitate a draft are borne out in the kind of leadership that our men and women are receiving today. As long as they have leadership that, as Dan says, knows is not going to back off, is not going to flinch, is going to continue to give them what they need, we'll support them afterwards when they become veterans. We'll continue to improve their benefits and stand behind them. Young men and women are going to want to serve in an outfit like that. And nothing short of that kind of commitment in the leadership is what it's going to take to not need a draft. And so I believe that more than ever in all of my years of experience, this resolve and not wavering in any way is more important than it has ever been.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. (Applause.)
Let me say a word about this issue of the draft, too -- another point. John Kerry is -- I frankly think he's at that point in the campaign where he will say literally anything to try to score points. And running around saying that if you elect George Bush, the draft is coming back -- that's the rumor he has tried to peddle out there. There are only two guys who supported the draft in Congress and introduced legislation to support it -- one is Charlie Rangel from New York, and the other is Fritz Hollings from South Carolina -- both Democrats. They brought it up on the floor of the House the other day for a vote, sort of said, well, we've got all this talk about draft, put your money where your mouth is, and brought it up for a vote, and I think it got two votes -- and neither one of them was Charlie Rangel. He didn't vote for his own bill. (Laughter.)
Anybody who has been involved in the military -- it was my privilege when I was Secretary of Defense -- the phenomenal quality of the organization and the people in it today, because it is all-volunteer, because the services had to adjust, frankly, the way we do business. When personnel is not a free good, then you got to attract good people who want to serve and sign up, that fundamentally changed, I'm convinced, the way each of the services looked at that whole proposition. The culture has changed. The way they're organized internally, their focus on incentives and how do you get good people to be part of your organization like you do with any other organization. And I don't know anybody who thinks that it makes sense to go back to the draft.
Some people say, well, if you have to expand the size of the army, you'll have to go back to the draft. No, we won't. We're at 1.4 million active duty today. When I was Secretary, we were 2.1 million. That's 700,000 more troops in active in uniform than we do today, and it was an all-volunteer force. So it's just a myth that John Kerry is peddling. It's like this effort that he's mounted in the last couple days now to criticize the troops for the munitions that allegedly got away from this site outside Baghdad. He doesn't even know if the munitions were there when the troops arrived. His principal foreign policy advisor, Holbrooke, is quoted as saying in the last couple of days, he doesn't know what the truth is. But Kerry is out there anyway making these charges that obviously impugn the integrity of the process, the commanders and so forth saying, well, you didn't do your job.
Right. The guys have done a hell of a job. The place was awash in munitions over there. Saddam Hussein either bought palaces with his oil money, or munitions. And we've already wrapped up over 400,000 tons of munitions of various kinds. A lot of that has been destroyed, the rest of it will be. This is a situation, clearly, where John Kerry is primarily interested in trying to score political points in the closing day of the campaign. So he's grabbed on to a headline to try to promote a story of some kind out of it. But it's not the kind of confidence-inspiring move that I would think from the standpoint of the troops that would leave you to believe this guys wants to be an effective Commander-in-Chief because he's willing, literally, to take a shot at anything if he thinks it will advance his interest -- send the troops into combat, and then vote against the funds they need for the material and the equipment they need once they get there.
So it's -- I think it's -- adds more evidence as why it's important that John Kerry not be the Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. (Applause.)
Q I want to thank you and congratulate you and the President for the leadership in turning our economy around, when the two of you came into the office, the economy was going down so badly -- followed very quickly by the attacks of 9/11. And both of you have led in putting forward some tax legislation that was mentioned earlier that had a significant impact on our business. In the last 15 months alone, we've been increasing our employment by about 33 percent. I'm going from 90 employees to 120. As a small business those tax incentives have been fantastic and have allowed us to invest in our business and invest in people and provide family-supporting jobs for this community. So I want to say thank you to that.
One of the challenges we have as a business is dealing with health care. I watched every debate. They were challenging to watch at times.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You should have been in them. (Laughter.)
Q And might I say I think you did a fantastic job in yours. (Applause.) You and the President showed the class that we should have in the leadership in our country.
But the challenge to us as a small business is health care, and the rising cost of health care. What can we as businesses do with the government to try and manage and provide reasonable health care, affordable health care to employees?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you've touched on a key element on it because I think -- if I've got the numbers correct, around 60 percent of the uninsured, people in the country today that don't have health insurance work for small businesses. And obviously, there's a lot of small businesses -- especially those starting out can't afford to provide those kinds of benefits to their employees.
One of the proposals that's kicking around, a couple of ideas that the President is pushing hard on, that we want to go forward with, when we got Medicare reform legislation passed last year, part of that was also to authorize what are called health savings accounts, where individuals can set aside money tax-free to pay their out-of-pocket medical expenses, and then combine that with a catastrophic insurance policy relatively cheap that would cover the really monster cost. You begin to get a mechanism here that would help provide coverage for folks who don't currently have it.
The proposal now is that we allow businesses to have a tax credit to be able to contribute to the health savings account of their employees. So that would be a way to get some additional resources into the area, and to provide some tax incentives, as well at the same time.
One of the areas we think has great potential is this notion of association health plans, where we would allow a group of businesses to come together and, in effect, pool their base and their needs and requirements and get the same kind of discount that a large corporation can get. Those are a couple of the ideas that are floating around. They're targeted specifically on small business in terms of trying to make it easier and cheaper and health care more accessible -- or health insurance more accessible for your employees.
We've made some other major changes -- moving to generic drugs. The President got legislation through that speeds up the conversion to generic drugs, which reduce cost. For seniors, we've got the Medicare-approved discount cards that are now available. There are about 5 million people taking advantage of that. And in January of '06, of course, the new prescription drug benefit for seniors will kick in. And I think all of those are positive developments. They don't all relate specifically to small business. But health savings accounts, the tax credits to allow the business to contribute to the health savings account, and coupled with the association health plans we think will take us down the road towards making it easier for businesses to afford health insurance coverage for their employees.
CONGRESSMAN SENSENBRENNER: The Vice President has time for one more question, and I will use my moderator's prerogative to call on Barbara Scott.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'll give short answers and we'll do two questions. We got one over here, too.
Q I was going to say very briefly, I really appreciate -- all that you've done and also President Bush. You're really top people in my eyes and in the faith community, as far as I'm concerned. That's what I base my vote is standards, high standards for people who respect the -- Americans and people with their own preferential -- as a -- just any denomination, and not specifically saying any -- denomination. But your health care plan has really helped me a lot this past year in that we have this reduction of $600 or whatever. And a lot of people are misinformed or uninformed on this issue, and for me it has really helped me a lot. It's my -- prior to that, I couldn't afford the drugs. And what I was doing is getting samples from my daughter, from my granddaughters. It was very difficult. But I really appreciate being able to drive up to a pharmacy window and pick up my prescriptions that are there. And I've got a full prescription, not a few here and a few there. It's -- there are a lot of people as I say in my category that are misinformed about this. They have all different kinds of plans, and they don't understand this plan. And personally, a lot of them don't want to hear it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's true.
Q Because they happen to be on the other side, you know? And so that's it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, well, thank you. (Applause.)
Q Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, it's an honor to be here with you tonight. My husband David and I are the parents of two boys currently in Kandahar. And we just want to say -- they have relayed to us how important the war on terror is. Election Day was very emotional for them.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I bet it was.
Q The youngest one is a combat MP. He's out in the streets every day, and he said to see the women standing line, thanking -- go USA, from the locals, they really appreciate our presence over there. He's out with the children, and all my son wants for Christmas is pencils and pens for the children. That's all he wants.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's great.
Q Because they have never had a pen or a pencil. So he's out there. The stories -- it makes me just so sad when I hear the stories from the children over there. And that's what he feels for.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's been a remarkable success story. Well, I hope you'll thank your sons for what they're doing for us.
Q It's hard. (Applause.)
Q I just wanted to say thank you -- my boys and equipping and training them to do the job they're doing. They didn't have that before. I'm grateful.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, we're grateful for your sons and for you, so thank you very much. (Applause.)
CONGRESSMAN SENSENBRENNER: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Cheney for coming. Hurry back. (Laughter.) Send the President as often as you want to.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It must be good for your economy.
Q Well, I should have bought stock in TV stations here in Wisconsin. (Laughter.) But we'll deliver the votes for you next Tuesday.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, well, let me thank everybody for being here today.
END 6:22 P.M. CDT