For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
September 29, 2004
Vice President's Remarks and Q&A at a BC'04 Roundtable in Lake Elmo, Minnesota
The Machine Shed
Lake Elmo, Minnesota
8:06 A.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I want to thank all of you for coming out this morning and for giving us the chance to spend a little bit of time with you. We've done a couple of these events various places around the country. And it's a chance to sit down, have a cup of coffee and talk about the issues of the day. I usually open by making a few comments and remarks, and then we open it up, really want to have a conversation.
The unique and distinguishing feature of the event, though, is, of course, the press, which is behind us. We welcome them. We're glad they're here. I just like to remind everybody what you say is being recorded. (Laughter.) You just want to keep that in mind. We don't want anybody surprised if it shows up in the press.
But we're delighted to be here. This has been a remarkable campaign so far. And of course, Lynne and I were -- left Washington yesterday morning. We were in Dubuque, Iowa; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; stayed overnight in Minneapolis. We'll go on to Duluth from here today, and then up to -- back to Washington tonight. And then we're headed to Colorado and Wyoming this weekend. Colorado to watch the debate the President will have on Thursday night with a group of folks out there, and then on up to our home in Jackson, Wyoming, where we'll go down for the weekend, and I'll get ready for my debate next Tuesday I guess, it is.
So it has been an exciting campaign so far, needless to say. I think the issues that we're addressing are as important as any that I can recall during the course of my political career. And one of the things -- I thought I'd take a few minutes and talk about it this morning because I think it's at the heart of the campaign -- and I don't by any means want to restrict the conversation -- so after I get through with my remarks, I'm happy to talk about anything you want to get into. But at the heart of it, I think is this question of where we're going with respect to our national security strategy in the days ahead, years ahead -- that we're at one of those watershed moments in American history where we're faced with a different kind of threat than we've had to deal with previously, have been since 9/11. And that requires us to make adjustments in terms of our national security strategy, our understanding of our adversaries, what kind of military forces we field, how we posture ourselves and deal with what is a significant threat to the United States, not just for the next year or two, but probably for the next several years -- a little bit like the period right after World War II when all of a sudden we were faced with the prospects of the Cold War; having to deter Soviet aggression, build alliances -- like NATO -- to be able to contain the Soviet Union; created the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, and did a number of things that were all geared around dealing with that threat. And then those strategies really become part of our overall posture for the next 40 years, supported by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. And I think we're again at one of those -- as I say -- one of those kinds of moments now as we think about the war on terror and the threat to the United States.
And what we know since 9/11, of course, is that probably the most significant threat we can imagine now from the standpoint of America is the prospects of a group of terrorists in the middle of one of our own cities with a weapon of mass destruction, with a chemical or a biological agent, or perhaps even a nuclear weapon. And, of course, were that to happen, we would find ourselves with the prospect of perhaps hundreds of thousands of casualties in a very short period of time, far worse than anything we've seen yet -- although the attack on 9/11, obviously, when we lost 3,000 people in less than two hours that morning was the worst we'd ever had on American soil. But that's the nature of the threat -- the ultimate challenge that we face today.
To deal with that, the President, obviously, has embarked upon a very aggressive strategy in the aftermath of 9/11. We've done a lot to strengthen our defenses here at home, create the Department of Homeland Security, beef up our intelligence agencies, pass the Patriot Act to give our law enforcement personnel the tools they need in order to be able to prosecute terror, and taken a number of other steps -- Project BioShield which we just passed this past year that provides funding and authority to do a better job of creating defenses against biological attack and so forth.
But a strong defense isn't good enough. You can be successful 99 percent of the time, and if you look at the nature of the threat, if our enemy is successful just one time out of a thousand, it would be devastating in terms of its consequences for the nation. So you also have to do more than simply defend. You've also got to go on offense. And the distinguishing feature of what the President put together as the post 9/11 strategy was that we would aggressively go after the terrorists wherever they, wherever they plan and organize and train. We'll hunt them down. And secondly, that we'll aggressively confront states that sponsor terror, states that provide safe harbor, or sanctuary for terror, or have the capacity to provide deadly technology -- weapons of mass destruction -- to terrorists, a terrorist organization.
And on that basis, we, of course, launched into Afghanistan and then Iraq. In Afghanistan -- took down the Taliban, closed the training camps that were in Afghanistan where they trained to kill Americans, and where some 20,000 terrorists were trained, by one estimate, in the late 1990s, and then scattered back out around the world to set up cells in as many as 50 or 60 countries. And of course, in the aftermath of all that, we closed the training camps, took down the Taliban, captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda. But we've also now stood up an interim government in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai is running it. They have registered 10 million Afghans to vote in the first elections ever, over 40 percent of those are women. And those elections will be held in about 10 days, on October 9th. And by the end of the year, there will be a democratically elected government in place in Afghanistan. And that's the last major piece of the strategy, if you will. It's not enough just to go kill terrorists, or to take down regimes, you've also got to worry about what you put in its place behind it. And the strategy, obviously, involves standing up a democratic government in Afghanistan.
Same thing in Iraq -- because we're convinced that's the best guarantee against having those once again become failed states or be the kinds of governments that develop, as did Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, or that allow them to create a breeding ground, if you will, for terrorism.
In Iraq, a different situation -- but there, again, we moved aggressively. Saddam Hussein's regime is gone. He's in jail. We've got an interim government in place now, been there for about 90 days. Prime Minister Allawi in charge -- was just in the U.S. this past week, spoke before a joint session of the Congress. There, too, they're also committed to free elections. They've already convened a national assembly, will have elections in January. That group will write a constitution, and by the end of next year, there will be a democratically elected government in place under a new constitution in Iraq. And the efforts in Iraq are tougher than in Afghanistan -- right now anyway -- in terms of the level of effort that's required from us, a continuing effort by remnants of the old regime, as well as a man named Zarqawi, who is sort of the lead terrorist there, an al Qaeda affiliate, to do everything they can to disrupt that process.
The level of violence in Iraq will be high, and possibly in Afghanistan, too, over the course of the next few months because they understand the window is closing. We actually intercepted a message that Zarqawi was sending earlier this year to a senior official of al Qaeda, an associate of Osama bin Laden's that basically talked about his strategy for prosecuting his efforts in Iraq through terrorist attacks, but said also in that, that if they ever were successful in establishing a legitimate regime that had reach across the country, that he would then have no choice but to pack his bags and move on, move out of Iraq, that the environment was such that they couldn't survive as a group under those kinds of circumstances.
So the level of violence will be high during this period of time because they're desperate. They know the window is closing. They know they've either got to derail the process now, or ultimately we'll succeed in our objectives there.
The effort in terms of what we're doing is, I think, absolutely worth it. For us to consider, or contemplate as I think some may be suggesting, some of the critics, perhaps, that it's not worth the effort, I think fails to understand the significance of what we're dealing with here. When you look at the global war on terror -- remember that it is a global threat; it's not just the U.S. that has been hit. It's just not New York and Washington. It's also Madrid, and Casablanca, and Riyadh, and Mombassa, and Istanbul, and Baghdad and Beslan, and Bali, and Jakarta. And that series of attacks, the last one in Beslan, in Russia, of course, some 350 dead -- most of them school children -- the need to deal with that global conflict is very real.
The idea that somehow we can pull back and sit behind our oceans and simply look to our defenses and not be actively and aggressively going after the terrorists and those who sponsor terror, I think misreads the situation completely. Over time we'll only see the effort to gain strength on the part of the terrorists. We run the risk that eventually they'll get their hands on those deadlier weapons that they want to use against us. And we know from past experience that that approach doesn't work because that basically is the approach we had pre-9/11.
And of course, the terrorists learned a couple of unfortunate lessons in that period before 9/11. One, they came to believe they could hit us with impunity because they did, repeatedly -- the World Trade Center bombing, in 1993; Khobar Towers, in '96 in Saudi Arabia; 1998, East Africa -- simultaneously bombed two of our embassies; 2000, the USS Cole. If you ask yourself, what was the U.S. response to those attacks, you'll find on one occasion, we fired off a few cruise missiles at some training camps in Afghanistan to no great effect. But that basically was it. We'd go out and prosecute individuals, treat it as a law enforcement problem, but we never came to grips with the nature, the extent of the organization that was behind many of those attacks. So they came to believe they could strike us and get away with it.
The second thing they learned was that they could hit us, and if they hit us hard enough, they could change our policies because it happened a couple of times. 1983, after we lost 241 Marines in Beirut, when they bombed the barracks there, we pulled out Lebanon. 1993, in Mogadishu, in Somalia, after we lost 19 guys in a battle there one morning, we, within a matter of weeks withdrew from Somalia. So I think they believed going into 9/11, as I say, they could strike us with impunity, and they could get us to change our policy. I think they know now that it's a much tougher proposition. The American people responded overwhelmingly to the events of 9/11. And of course, George Bush is a different kind of President and absolutely determined to respond aggressively to this threat.
So the choice that we have before us, I believe, as we look at the decision we'll make on November 2nd, is which of our two candidates that are out there, the President or John Kerry, is in my mind best qualified going forward to function as Commander-in-Chief, to lead us through these difficult times, to make the very difficult decisions that are bound to come to the man in the Oval Office with respect to how we prosecute the war on terror. And I, obviously, have my preference -- (laughter) -- strong feelings that I work for the man who has gotten it right.
I think Senator Kerry, on the other hand, if I look at his record -- and I by no means disparage his military service. I praised him in my acceptance speech in New York City before the Republican Convention, that we honor his service in the military and Vietnam. We've never challenged his patriotism. I do challenge his judgment.
I think you can look at his record in the United States Senate for 20 years, and what he's said over the last two years during the course of the presidential campaign to get some idea of how he looks at these issues, of how he would address these kinds of questions, what would he do, for example, in Iraq today. And what I see is a man who has changed his position repeatedly. He's gotten to the point now where he's taken so many different positions that there isn't anything he can say today that doesn't contradict something he's already said. And the last count is at least 10 different positions he's taken with respect to the situation in Iraq.
I think what is needed in a President is clear vision, somebody who understands the nature of the threat that we face, who has a well developed strategy to deal with it, and who is consistent over time, who conveys to the American people, and to our troops, and to our adversaries what it is we're doing, and why we're doing it. And that's what I see in George W. Bush. I don't see any of that in John Kerry.
I think the posture that he's taken is more often driven by his standing in the polls, or the political pressures of the moment. He initially went out and voted for the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein and remove him, and, of course, then later on voted against the resources needed for the troops once we'd committed them to field. He later on said that given the choice, he would do exactly what he did when he voted to authorize force, and then a few days after that said, no, wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. I'm waiting to see what he'll say Thursday night. (Laughter.) It will be interesting.
But when I think about the presidency, and I've worked for four Presidents now, and I've watched two others up close, from the perspective of the Congress. It takes, it requires an individual who can make those decisions but then execute on them, and stay with them, and carry through on these difficult policies no matter what the political pressures may be out there, no matter how much heat he may take here at home, no matter what his standing in the polls might be, or what his opponents are saying about him during the course of the campaign. And George Bush has shown me exactly those qualities. And as I say, I don't see them in Senator Kerry.
Final thought, as different as the current situation is with respect to having troops committed, taking casualties. We've had nearly 1,200 people now that we've lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. And the burden always falls, obviously, on the military and on their families. It's the toughest price of all that they pay for all of us. I think the price would be far higher were we to wait, or try to avoid dealing with it now, or revert back to that pre-9/11 mind set, where we didn't treat it as a war, where we just dealt with each one of these individual attacks as a criminal enterprise. Soon or later we would have to confront this problem, and confronting it later will only raise the cost in terms of what we ultimately have to pay with respect to lives and treasure.
And the other key is to remember that the sacrifices that we make now ultimately are going to result in a safer and more secure world for our kids and grandkids. And I think having the courage and the wisdom from the President to stand up and make these decisions, where the choice is -- and where he understands the choice is between what we're doing today and what we can achieve if we can carry through on those policies, that it's a false choice to suggest or imply it's between the sacrifice we're making today and going back to doing nothing -- going back to the period before 9/11, not being involved in Iraq, not being involved in Afghanistan, not committing the troops to prosecute the war on terror on a world basis. That's not the option. You cannot go back to pre-9/11 after what happened here, when we lost more people that morning than we lost at Pearl Harbor. You have to go forward. And the way forward is, I believe, with the policy that the President has put in place. And the American people will decide on November 2nd in a national referendum whether or not that's how they want to go forward in terms of dealing with the most important threat of our time, or whether they want to revert back to that pre-9/11 mind set, which frankly, I think best describes how our competitors look at the world.
With that, I'll stop and I'd be happy to get into those subjects or any other, take advice from my wife. She's -- (Laughter.)
MRS. CHENEY: Freely offered.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Freely offered. That's right. But again, let me thank all of you for being here this morning, and for being part of this process. (Applause.)
Q Well, Mr. Vice President, and Mrs. Cheney, I'd like to thank you for being here in Minnesota and elevating Minnesota to an important national status. We certainly want to delivery Minnesota to the Republican cause here with this election.
You said, Mr. Vice President, in your remarks that they hope -- they being the terrorists -- that they hope that by hitting us that they would get us to change our policy. It seems fair to me that if these terrorists hated us -- I don't understand that -- but hated the Western world and America pre-9/11, which caused them to try to take down our country with this attack, and the thing that struck me, and I wondered if you'd comment on it, is in changing our policy, are they thinking that we would not have educated our daughters, not allow them to go universities, perhaps close universities, change the way that the Western world has progressed in the last 500 years?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's a good question. The best guidance I can give you -- and I'm not an expert on the subject by any means; there are people out there that know a lot more about it than I do -- but when you look at the writings and the arguments that have been made by the al Qaeda organization, Osama bin Laden and his associates and fellow travelers, they obviously are operating off a very extremist view of Islam, and the Islamic faith. They represent a very small minority of Muslims in the world, obviously. They are -- they talk about wanting to reestablish what you could refer to as the Seventh Century Caliphate. This was the world as it was organized 1,200, 1,300 years, in effect, when Islam or Islamic peoples controlled everything from Portugal and Spain in the West; all through the Mediterranean to North Africa; all of North Africa; the Middle East; up into the Balkans; the Central Asian republics; the southern tip of Russia; a good swath of India; and on around to modern day Indonesia. In one sense from Bali and Jakarta on one end, to Madrid on the other. They've had attacks across that spectra of geography in the last couple of years. It is a group -- while the al Qaeda is at the center, al Qaeda in Arabic means "the base," and it's a -- there's a loose affiliation. It's not a rigid hierarchy.
You'll find for example, in various locations around the world there will be organizations like -- say in, Indonesia, the Jemaah Islamiyah, JI it's called for short. They've been responsible for the attacks on Bali that killed a couple of hundred Australians here at a tourist area a couple of years ago, blowing up the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. Most recently they set off a truck bomb outside the Australian Embassy. JI is a branch of an extremist view of Islam that's sort of home-grown. They've got their own local issues they're concerned about, but they now have a relationship with al Qaeda. A senior guy in Indonesia named Hambali went to the training camps in Afghanistan that they ran back in the '90s, subsequently received funding from al Qaeda, went back then to Indonesia, and was behind some of the major attacks there. So you've got this sort of home-grown, but nonetheless affiliated, extremist operation going now in Indonesia. You'll find the same thing if you go to Morocco, where they had the attack in Casablanca; in Turkey, Istanbul, and so forth.
Their objective immediately is -- and they come after us as probably the number one infidel -- is to drive the U.S. and Western influence out of what they consider to be their turf, and I think also simultaneously to try to topple to governments of those nations today. The Saudi royal family is right up there on the list, right after the United States, in terms of who they'd like to do in. They've had three assassination attempts now, I believe, on President Musharraf in Pakistan within the last year. So the targets are in many cases those established governments there, as well. That's sort of the short-term strategy.
Long-term, they'd like to reestablish control over that swath of territory. And the kind of society they want to establish is one that is governed by sharia law, the most rigid interpretation of the Koran, a system similar probably to what the Taliban ran in Afghanistan, where women have absolutely no rights. They don't work. They don't go to school. They're always full covered when they go out. It's a -- where there are punishments meted out for anybody who transgresses on the most extreme view of how their society ought to operate in accordance with, as I say, sharia law.
It is -- if you talk to John Abiziad -- John is our CENTCOM commander, the four-star who overseas our operations in that part of the world, a very talented guy, Lebanese American, speaks the language. And he's eloquent on the subject of understanding the threat that we're faced with there because of the extensive nature of this ideology. Not that many people adhere to the rigid form of it, but those that do are committed to jihad, war against the infidels, kill the nonbelievers. In many cases they'll classify as a nonbeliever somebody who is Islamic but not as extreme as they are.
So you've seen -- again, if you look at Zarqawi, the al Qaeda associate who is operating in Baghdad today, who is probably responsible for most of the major vehicle bombings, car bombings we've seen over there, his stated strategy -- we've seen it in captured documents -- is to kill Shia. He hates the Shia because the Shia are a different branch of the Islamic than the Sunni, that he represents. So it's a big, complex set of concerns and issues and understanding that are at stake here.
I don't believe they have any kind of a timetable. I think their timetable is whatever it takes, as long as it takes. And of course, they are prepared to die in the cause. They believe that if they're martyred, that they'll go straight to paradise. And so the result is, it's a deadly adversary. It's not somebody you can negotiate with. There's no arms control treaty here at the end of the day, or peace treaty that solves this problem. You have to go out and defeat them wherever they exist. And you have to also, as I say, actively and aggressively go after those elements in society, and especially governments and states that have lent them support, have allowed them to train on their territory, provided them with money, or with arms of various kinds.
And one of big problems we had was that after Osama bin Laden moved from the Sudan to Afghanistan in about '96, he set up those training camps in Afghanistan. And they cranked out, as I say by one estimate, at least 20,000 terrorists -- various places around the world, who came and were imbued in this ideology, were training in all of the various deadly arts they needed in terms of bomb-making and so forth, and then sent back into the society at large. And they operated there from about late '96 until we went in and took them down at the end of 2001, after 9/11. So those training camps are all shut down now.
And one of the reasons we've got to stand up a democratically elected government in Afghanistan is to make sure they never get opened up again. And one of the reasons you can't turn your back on Iraq and allow whatever happens there to happen, but have to work to make certain we get a democratically elected government in place is so that Iraq doesn't become that kind of breeding ground for terror, or revert back to Saddam-like government.
At the heart of that, as well, is another key part of the strategy that we've been working on now for many months is to train security forces, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, so they can take over that responsibility from our guys, so they can provide for their own security, so they can make certain that that sovereign territory of those nations is never again misused to support this extremist ideology that is so deadly from the standpoint of everything we believe in.
So you hear talk -- I hear John Kerry saying, well, I'm going to get all the troops out by X date -- it's the wrong way to approach it. We leave when we finish the mission. That's the objective. And we'll stay as long as we have to. We don't want to stay a day longer than we have to. They don't want us to stay a day longer than we have to. But we've got to stand up effective forces to take over from us, establish solid governments, get the locals into the fight, both from a security standpoint and from the standpoint of self-governance. And then we can move on. But we mustn't fall into the trap of saying, well, you've got to be out by X date. They'll just out-wait us. That won't work. The objective is to win. The objective is victory. The objective is to put in place governments and security forces that will guarantee that we never again have 19 terrorists train in camps in Afghanistan and come over here and kill 3,000 Americans.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we're big supporters of health savings accounts. The President believes in it deeply. Denny Hastert, the Speaker, has been pushing HSAs for 10 or 12 years, I know, from talking with him about it.
Basically -- I don't know if everybody understands how they work -- it basically allows you to set aside tax-free money to pay for your medical expenses. And if you don't spend it, you can ultimately use the money for your own purposes, and the whole thing is tax-free. We are talking about provision that would allow tax credit to go an employer, a small business, for example, that wants to contribute up to $500 to their employee's health savings account, another way to help, in terms of -- those costs, or perhaps pay for the premiums of a catastrophic health policy.
What it does among other things is, of course, it should assist in helping people get coverage who don't have coverage now. But it also changes the dynamic in terms of the way the marketplace works, the health cost. And people will understand that they've got a direct financial stake in what they spend for health care, and also in terms of what they're able to save by making wiser choices and being actively involved in those decisions. It's one of the theories that's involved in it, as well, too. So we think it is significant.
One of the things that -- as we talk about the whole health care -- and I know many of you are in a small business of one kind or another, of you look at the issue of the number of Americans who are uninsured, who don't have health insurance, you've got -- about 60 percent of them are employed by small businesses, either are -- have their own small business or are employees of a small business. So things we can go with respect to small business that make it easier for the owners to be able to help pay those benefits for their customers -- or for their employees is one of the most effective ways we can address the problem of getting health insurance to people who don't have it.
One of the things that we think is very important is the whole notion of association health plans, where we'd allow small businesses to come together and pool their interest in order to achieve the same kind of discounts in terms of getting the health insurance that a large corporation can get. We think that's a significant way to go, as well, too.
Plus, we think the whole tax policy that we've pursued is vital in terms of helping small business meet some these costs, both with respect to keeping rates down, the expensing provisions we put through a couple of years ago, those kinds of things that are important, as well.
Q I would like to thank Mrs. Cheney for her commitments to education in general, specifically to my alma mater St. John's College in Annapolis. But the point I would like to address is whether economic health, economic growth, and national security are really different issues. It seems to me (inaudible) a strong economy was what really won us the Cold War, as much as our military strength.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't disagree with that at all. I think that they go hand-in-glove. Under most circumstances, you're not going to have the kind of robust military capability we need -- or it's going to be tougher to afford, if we have an economy that's stagnant. And I think economic growth underlies so much of what we do as a government, and as a society, whether we're talking about how we meet the long-term needs and requirements of the Social Security system, how we finance essential government services that all of us think are essential and adequate -- education system, public schools and so forth -- whether or not we've got the resources we need in order to be able to fund robust military capability ultimately turns on the health of the economy. And there's a reason why the United States is the dominate power in the world today, and it's not just our military. But part of it is tied into our ideas and our philosophy and our style of government. But it's also tied into the fact that we've got the most dynamic economy in the world. We grow faster over a sustained period of time for more people, provide greater prosperity for more people than any other nation in the history of the world. And we've got to preserve that, and protect it, encourage it, make certain that going forward, we're able to sustain that same kind of progress. And that's, in part, what makes it possible for us to do all the things we've been able to do to promote our interests and to defend the United States. I think you're absolutely right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we're -- there are several areas that you need to address. Obviously, we've talked about health savings accounts. And one of the areas that I come across frequently as an area of concern is the whole problem of malpractice insurance and medical liability reform. Several times during the course of the campaign, I've spent time -- sat with a group like this the other day, it was down on Albuquerque. And
several of the people there were docs who were having a difficult time because the way the medical liability system works, their medical malpractice insurance is going up dramatically.
I know in my home state of Wyoming, within about three years, the cost in insurance for a general practitioner has gone from $40,000 a year to $100,000 a year. To recruit a new doctor to come into the town and practice, he had to have $80,000 to $100,000 up front just to hang out his shingle. And somebody fresh out of medical school who's probably carrying big debts, that's a pretty big nugget to swallow. And the problem, in part, is the malpractice insurance company that covered most of the state has pulled because the rates got so high.
They had another situation where we had an OB/GYN who had gotten to the point now where she is screening all of her patients and rejecting high risk patients. And the reason she does that is because she'd gotten sued with one particular situation. That had driven up her insurance rates, and she was fearful that if she took a high risk patient and something went wrong, another lawsuit would drive up her rates further, and she'd be out of business. But the result was, in this case, not only did the cost go up, what she has to pass on, obviously, to her patients, but the other thing that happens is you get a class of patients who are not getting served, or that have to go someplace else, or maybe drive another 50 or 100 miles to find an OB/GYN who will handle their case. And oftentimes the folks most affected by that are those who can least afford it, those who come lower income end of the scale, who maybe haven't had as good prenatal care as would somebody else who'd had regular treatments through that period of time. But the community now has a lower quality of service, a lower availability of medical care than was true before. It all goes back to the fact that what has happened to malpractice rates.
And there are ways to address it. We've tried -- we've gotten legislation through the House. We haven't been able to get it through the Senate yet. Senators Kerry and Edwards, among others, blocked it -- voted no on it. What you need to do there is to put a cap on non-economic damages -- have a patient who has been mistreated, and obviously you want people to be able to have access to the courts when they've got legitimate grievances to go get a settlement that covered whatever economic loss they'd suffered, but there would be a cap of some kind on non-economic losses, pain and suffering, and also a limitation on lawyer fees; the personal injury lawyers take as much as 50 percent of the settlement that goes to the plaintiff. It has been done. California has done it. There their rates are going up, but not nearly as fast as elsewhere in the country. So those two measures seem to have a significant impact in helping in this particular case.
The other thing there that I keep coming back to, health care costs are going up. Part of this, though, of course is driven by improved care. We get better value for our money. I'm walking, living proof -- (laughter) -- to the quality of health care that's available today. I've lived with coronary artery disease since my 30s, have been able to live a perfectly normal, active life which you couldn't have done -- my grandfather could never have done something like that. It's possible because of the wonders of modern medicine. Of course, as we develop those capabilities, new drugs, new technologies and so forth, new ways to deal with problems, it does cost money, and we all want the best we can get. We've added seven or eight years to the average life expectancy of the average American over the last few decades, and that's a great value to the society. But it is expensive figuring out how to pay for it, and how to cover everybody so that they get the care they need is one of the important challenges we have.
We did a lot I think with the Medicare reform this year for seniors, as we've now gotten -- this is the most sweeping reform since the act was set up back in the '60s. And here shortly, seniors will have access to prescription drugs which they did not have under Medicare before. You used to be able to get covered if you were on Medicare for a heart bypass operation, but you couldn't get help with a Lipitor prescription that might help you avoid having to have the bypass surgery in the first place. We fixed that now, and that will kick in, in 2006. And we've -- on an interim basis, we got the Medicare drug discount card. That's got about -- we've got about 5 million people enrolled in that already that allows seniors to save 15 percent to 30 percent on the price of their prescription drugs. So there are things we're doing trying to address it in as many different ways as possible. I don't think there's any one silver bullet. We just have to keep working on all these various problems to try to restrain the increase in the cost of health care.
Q Mr. Vice President, we've recently seen scandals of Memo-gate and some of the others. But most recently, there has been a barrage of -- on college campuses, and for families that have young people emails indicating that there's some secret plan to reintroduce the draft. And I wonder if you can address that for just a moment because I just -- just last week -- received an email from my sister-in-law. I have a 22-year-old nephew who just started college, and I had to reassure her that we in the military not only like the volunteer military, but are committed to the volunteer military. So could you address the secret plan that the Democrats are floating out there as a dirty trick?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. And let me, Colonel, by the way, on behalf of everybody, thank you -- (Applause.) The Colonel is getting ready -- you all may know it, but is getting ready to, I guess, you head back to Fort Campbell shortly.
Q Yes, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And then back to probably to Iraq at some point. We really appreciate your willingness to take on that assignment.
Q It's my honor to serve, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The whole notion of a draft -- anybody who has been involved with the U.S. military in recent years, and I was Secretary of Defense for four years back during the first operations in the Gulf, Desert Storm and so forth, in the early '90s -- but we all have enormous respect for the all-volunteer force. I think one of the best things that's happened to the U.S. military in the last 30 years has been the development of the all-volunteer force. I don't know anybody in a position of responsibility who is seriously suggesting we need to reinstate the draft.
The authority is still there on the books, just because it has never been taken off and held out as some possibility that somebody might need, an eventuality that nobody has foreseen. But anybody who has looked at the way the all-volunteer force has worked has no desire to go back to the way we used to do it. And I can't emphasize strongly enough the caliber of people we have serving in the military today. Among other things, it's vital to have an organization where everybody who is serving volunteered to serve, is there because they wanted to be there. It just changes the whole tone and character and quality of the organization. But it also has had a significant impact upon the military services themselves. As long as manpower was sort of a free good, you could compel service. You were going to get your quota of inductees on a regular basis. You didn't have to spend all that much time worrying about how to attract and retain people. And you all know from running your businesses one of the most important things you do is create a nice place to work, make sure people have got these benefits, got the right kind of leadership, and they're highly motivated. And that's what makes you successful. And the same thing is true for the military. And I think the military has gotten significantly better. All the services since they adjusted to, made the changes that were needed internally to be able to attract and retain volunteers who want to serve -- want to be in the Army, the Navy, the U.S. Air Force and the Marine Corps.
And as I say from the perspective of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, former Secretary of Defense, the President and everybody else, this notion that somehow there's a secret plan out there to re-institute the draft is hogwash. It's just not true. It's an urban legend or a nasty political rumor but it's not true.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, we -- if you think about it, the key -- one of the keys to keeping jobs here at home, and so the companies want to set up shop here or want to expand and operate here and aren't tempted to move off-shore where costs might be lower is to make sure we do everything we can to guarantee the U.S. is the best place in the world to do business.
And we've got to look not only at taxation, and also litigation and regulation as a way in which they impact a business, but, no, you're dead on in terms of the cost of health care has become one of the major drivers, cost drives for any business, and that has been my own experience, as well. We continue to whack away at it to find ways to take costs out of the system.
One of the things that I've always been struck by is the extent to which we still have an antiquated management information system, if you will, from the perspective of the health care industry. One of the things the President has talked about and is pushing now is to bring modern methods to bear in terms of getting all of our health records established on an electronic basis and getting rid of all the paper that's currently in the system today.
One of the things I'm amazed by are the data that show the number of accidental deaths that we have in the health care business because of mistakes every year. And there have been studies done that show that there's as many or more people who dies as result of accidents in the health care area as we do in car accidents. And a lot of that is because of prescriptions that aren't written properly. Our capacity to manage the health care system as effectively as we would like to be isn't what it ought to be. So we're pushing aggressively to move all our record-keeping to an electronic basis so we can do a much better job of taking those errors and so forth out of the system.
I know when I running a company, if we had a failure rate like that, you'd shut down the whole operation and figure out what was wrong, and get cracking.
MODERATOR: We have time just for one more question.
MRS. CHENEY: I think there was a question down here.
Q On a lighter note, we hear that you'll have a baseball team in Washington. (Laughter.) Will they be called the Senators?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Are they going to be any good? (Laughter.) When I first went to Washington, we had the old Washington Senators there. I remember going out to the ballpark a few times in my youth. And then they moved and became the Texas Rangers, were later operated by one George W. Bush. (Laughter.) So the President had a deep interest, obviously. A lot of folks in Washington would love to have a ball team again. So I think this will be a great boon to the community. It will force a lot of us to sort of re-orient our loyalties. We've all picked up -- or acquired over the years, or become fans of other --
Q Like the Twins.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- other enterprises. (Laughter.) But, no, I think it's a great development. It really is. And Washington is a great baseball town. And so it's a positive, positive prospect. We're all looking forward to it.
Again, let me thank all of you for being here this morning. We appreciate it. (Applause.)
END 8:59 A.M. CDT