|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
September 11, 2004
Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin
Johnsonville Sausage, LLC
Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin
12:20 P.M. CDT
MRS. CHENEY: Thank you all for being here. I get to introduce Dick because I've known him for so long. I have known Dick Cheney since he was 14 years old. And we grew up together in Casper, Wyoming. I saw him through many a summertime job -- through many a job to earn his way through school. When I first met him, he was sweeping out the Ben Franklin store in Casper. And I knew him when he was digging ditches at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds. And I knew him when he was loading bentonite, 100-pound sacks of bentonite onto railroad cars. And I knew him when he was building power line all across the West. And I like to tell those stories because when you grow up working hard, you learn some really important lessons. And the people here at Johnsonville sure know this, when you grow up working hard, one of the things that you learn is that it's really important for the hard working people of this country to get to keep as much of their paychecks as possible. (Applause.)
And we have traveled a lot in our lives, but I got to tell you some of the happiest years we've spent were right here in Wisconsin. You folks live in a great state. (Applause.)
So without any further ado, let me introduce to you my husband, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much for being here this morning. Let me thank Bart Starr for that great introduction. It's a privilege to travel with a man of his character and stature over the years. (Applause.)
I reminisced earlier about the first time I came through this part of Wisconsin, I was -- it was 38 years ago. It was the 1966 campaign, and I was working for the governor of Wisconsin then, Warren Knowles. And of course, that's when Bart was in the heyday of his career as the great Green Bay Packer quarterback, somebody we all looked up to. And when you think about the way he's led his life, not only when he was the leader of the Packers, but also in subsequent years, and what he's done as a private citizen ever since, we all owe him a great debt of gratitude. He's a model for all of us to honor -- (Applause.)
And I was reminiscing about the first time I went to the Sheboygan Bratwurst Festival. (Laughter.) They tell me now they call it the Johnsonville Bratwurst Festival. (Laughter.) But we're delighted to have the opportunity to spend some time with you today. The Stayers gave us a tour. It's a fantastic company, a great success story, the kind of thing that can happen only in America where somebody starts out with a good idea and a handful of people, sometimes just family themselves, and over the course now of, what, I guess, about 60 years, almost 60 years have built this tremendous company that does business all over the world and provides employment for over a thousand people, and income for families, and tremendous opportunities for people here in the community who are a part of it. So we're pleased to be here today, and to have an opportunity to spend some time with all of you. I might just say a word or two. Of course, this is campaign time -- (Laughter.) Some of us have noticed.
And I always, when Lynne and I are together, we reminisce that the reason we got married is because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States in 1952. And people wonder where is this story going. (Laughter.) The fact is I was living with my folks in Lincoln, Nebraska, just a youngster. Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected, reorganized the Agriculture Department, Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming, and that's where I met Lynne. And we grew up together, went to high school together, and a week ago Sunday celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) But I often explain if it hadn't been for the Eisenhower election victory, Lynne would have married somebody else. (Laughter.) And she said, right, and how he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter and applause.) They all believe it's true. And every man in the audience knows exactly what I mean. (Laughter.)
But what I thought I'd do today is take a few minutes, talk about a couple of issues. The basic purpose for these town halls is to have an opportunity for you to be able to ask questions. And we're happy to try to respond, or to listen to your comments and concerns, as well, too. And, Lynne, hold this.
MRS. CHENEY: Can I talk? (Laughter.) No. All right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right -- talk about a couple of issues that I think are very important this year, and then, I say, we'll throw it to you. We'll have people in the audience with microphones so you can ask some questions of us. I know you've been out here in the sun a long time, so I don't want to keep you tied down too long. I see a few heads in the audience that are in the same condition as mine. (Laughter.) And we need to be a little cautious here. But I put some sun block on before I came out.
But this is one of those elections that I think -- in my opinion, anyway is history-making in the sense that we're on one of the points that some people call it a break point in history, a moment in history when the United States is going to make some basic, fundamental decisions about what kind of nation we're going to be in the future, about how we're going to deal with some of the basic fundamental decisions of the day that are before us. And I think that's true both in the domestic, as well as the international arena.
On the domestic front, obviously, we've been through an economic period -- we had a recession that was kicking in just as the President and I were sworn in four years ago. That was followed, of course, by the attacks of 9/11, which really shook the economy once again. We lost a million jobs in a few weeks after that devastating attack that morning. And we've been working since to get the economy back on track, and going forward we need to focus very heavily on the kinds of policies we want to put in place to ensure that we can, in fact, sustain that economic growth long-term, create opportunities for all of our people so that everybody in America who wants to work can find a job. That's an absolutely essential objective for the President and myself.
The key decision the President made as we responded to the recession was that we would make it possible for the American people to make more of their decisions, basically by letting keep more of what they earn, rather than collect it as taxes for the federal government. (Applause.) And our belief was that it's not the government that creates jobs, it's the America people that do it -- the private sector. It's folks here in Sheboygan, and down in Green Bay, and our in Casper, Wyoming, and Riverside, California, and Tallahassee, Florida, and all across the country where we've got basically Americans, private citizens, working to create jobs, create opportunity. And the government can set the conditions, and can assist in that effort, can get out of the way lots of times and do those things that need to be done for us on a collective basis. But basically, it's the private, free enterprise system that generates wealth and opportunity in this society. And it was important for us to recognize that. So we cut taxes -- not once, not twice, but three times. (Applause.)
We cut rates across the board. Everybody who pays federal income taxes in America, pays fewer federal income taxes today than they did before those tax cuts. But not only did we cut rates, we created a new, lower 10 percent bracket. We doubled the child credit. We reduced the marriage penalty. We phased out the death tax, so that people who create a small business, or have a farm or a ranch can have the opportunity to pass it on to their kids without having it taxed once again. And all of those changes that we put in place now, need to be continued into the future.
Now, there's a fundamental difference between Senator Kerry and President Bush. Senator Kerry has said he wants to get rid of many of the Bush tax cuts within his first hundred days in office. And if you look at his tax record as a member of the United States Senate, there is every reason to believe that's exactly what he'd do -- because he voted 98 times in 20 years for higher taxes on the American people; 130 some times against tax cuts. So I think the fundamental, philosophical difference here is between the President's approach that basically looks to private citizens to be given the opportunity and the resources to be able to do what they want to do so they make basic fundamental decisions about their lives and their communities and their families, versus a situation in which government takes more of the nation's treasure and spends it on those programs themselves. And we think, clearly, the right way to go is what President Bush has laid out. And that's one of the decisions we'll make going forward this year.
We also -- as we think about the economy, there's no one silver bullet. There are several things we have to get right. We've got to get education right. We've to guarantee we've got opportunities for all our kids. (Applause.)
One of the first things the President did was to introduce the No Child Left Behind legislation that basically, for the first time, established high standards and measurement methods with respect to elementary education, and establishes accountability so that the parents and teachers and communities will be able to measure the results in those schools and take the necessary steps to make certain that no child in America lacks the opportunity to get an education so they can rise and succeed in the world.
Going forward, we want to continue to pursue that basic program, focused on the high school level, on the secondary education level, as well as already on the primary education level.
We need to get the health care system right. We need to make certain that everybody can get adequate health care. We need to also deal with the medical liability problems. One of the big problems we've got is the cost of health insurance, and medical liability has jacked up the price of malpractice insurance so high in so many parts of the country today that we've got doctors who can't stay in business -- especially in OB/GYN specialties, for example.
My home state of Wyoming, and a lot of other states around the country have found it impossible to bring new docs in, and in some cases have a very hard time keeping the doctors they've got because malpractice rates have gone so high because of the medical liability system. We need to fix that. The President has successfully gotten legislation through the House to do it. Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are opposed to lawsuit reform. That's a big mistake, another big difference between the two of us. That's an important item for us going forward.
So the whole series of areas like that, that we need to address -- the area of trade. Johnsonville here ships -- they told me today, sells product in 39 different countries. American workers can compete anyplace in the world. (Applause.) And we need to make certain that we have the opportunity for us, knock down those trade barriers, and that American companies -- given a fair break and an even playing field -- can out compete anybody, anyplace in the world, just as Johnsonville does. And we've got to be able to do that all across the economy, as well, too. So domestically, there are some basic fundamental differences there between the two candidates. And we think it's one of the most important decisions we're going to make in connection with the choice you all make on November 2nd, when you go to the polls and I hope vote for President Bush. (Applause.)
On the national security front, obviously, 9/11 marked again a watershed event for all Americans. I don't think there's anybody who will forget where they were three years ago tomorrow. And it was one of those events that sticks with you for a lifetime. It was the worst attack ever by a foreign force on U.S. soil. We lost 3,000 people that morning, more than we lost at Pearl Harbor.
And it dramatically changed the way we think about our national security requirements, the kinds of forces we need going forward to defend the country, the kind of strategy we need to put in place to do everything we can to guarantee that we defend against further attacks. The President and his administration, obviously, have been wrestling with those issues ever since September 11, 2001.
We did a number of things. Obviously, we moved aggressively to strengthen our defenses here at home. We always thought -- I think for a couple centuries that we were safe behind our oceans; that we had the Atlantic on one side, the Pacific on another; the Canadians to the north, and we were safe and secure here within our borders. And we found out that morning, of course, that's not the case. We saw the terrible damage that 19 individuals could do armed with box cutters and boarding passes.
And so we've moved aggressively to strengthen our defenses, create the Department of Homeland Security, the biggest governmental reorganization in 60 years. We passed the Patriot Act to give our law enforcement personnel the tools they need to be able to prosecute and convict terrorists. We have worked much more closely in the intelligence area. We're in the middle now of reforming and reorganizing the intelligence community -- a series of steps to strengthen our defenses here in the U.S.
But there's another point that we took away from those events of September 11th. And that was that a perfect defense isn't good enough. You can be right 99 percent of the time, but that 1 percent can kill you if the terrorists are able to sneak through just one time out of a hundred, the lesson you learned from Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers: a good defense isn't enough; you also got to go on offense. (Applause.)
Now, the fact is the threat we face today is different than any we've seen before because the biggest threat we're faced with today is the possibility of a terrorist cell, or a group of terrorists in the middle of one of our own cities with a weapon of mass destruction, that is to say with a deadlier weapon than has ever been used against the United States -- a chemical weapon, or a biological agent, or even a nuclear weapon. That's the biggest threat that we face today, the possibility that somebody could smuggle that kind of device, or that kind of deadly agent into one of our communities and use it to kill thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Americans. That's what we have to guard against.
And in order to make certain that we do everything we can to minimize the possibility of that kind of attack, the President decided that we would henceforth not only go after the terrorists, but also go after those who sponsor terror, those who support terror, provide a safe harbor or a sanctuary for terrorists, or a place where they can train, or provides them with military support, or financial support. And so that's the course of action we've been embarked upon now for nearly three years.
The first place, of course, we adopted that strategy was Afghanistan. When we went into Afghanistan, we took down the Taliban regime. We captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda. We close the training camps where some of the terrorists had trained to come kill Americans, and where some 20,000 terrorists had gone through in the late 1990s and then gone back various places around the globe to set up their own terror cells. All of that has been shut down. We've stood up a new interim government under Hamid Karzai. They've written a constitution. They'll have free elections here in a few weeks in October. And there are today, 10 million Afghan citizens who have registered to vote for the first time in history. (Applause.)
And where three years ago, we had a failed state -- a state that became a base of operations for the al Qaeda organization to launch an attack that killed, 3,000 Americans, there will -- by the end of this year -- be a democratically elected government in place. We're also working aggressively to help them train a new army so that they can deal with their own security situation. We'll continue to be involved there as long as we need to be. But when we leave, we want to make certain that Afghanistan is a -- has a democratically elected, representative government that's no longer a threat to anybody, and can be a friend and ally to the United States. That's the effort that we're involved in today in Afghanistan. (Applause.)
In Iraq, of course, a different situation -- there we had Saddam Hussein in power. He'd been -- for 12 years -- defying the United Nations. He had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction -- used chemical weapons on his own people, the Kurds -- and on the Iranians; had started two wars; and had provided a sanctuary and a safe harbor for terrorists. The Abu Nidal organization operated out of Baghdad for years. He was paying $25,000 to the family of suicide bombers. The al Qaeda organization had a relationship with the Iraqis. The fact was this was an evil, deadly regime, and the world is a whale of a lot better off today because Saddam Hussein sits in jail. (Applause.)
Now, there we've made progress, too. We've got an new interim government stood up. They've only been in business a little over 60 days. A man named Allawi -- Mr. Allawi is there new Prime Minister on an interim basis. All of the ministries, that is all of the government departments in Iraq today are operated by Iraqis. We spend a lot of time and energy in training Iraqi forces so that they can take over more and more of the responsibility of securing their own country. And they will hold elections in January of next year for a constitution assembly that will write a constitution. And by the end of next year, they'll have a democratically elected government, representative government, in Iraq. (Applause.)
Now, I don't want to underestimate for a minute the difficulty or the challenges we face going forward here. We know that it's going to be difficult. We're trying to stand up governments in nations that have been oppressed, ruled by dictatorships, by bloody minded governments that slaughtered thousands of their own people. This is not an easy task in either Afghanistan or Iraq. But it's the right thing to do. And it's the sensible strategy. We can kill terrorists all day long, but we need to change the circumstances on the ground in that part of the world that breeds terror. And that's what we're all about in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Applause.)
Now, I have every confidence if we stick with it that we can, in fact, achieve that objective, that the significant difference -- I think -- between what President Bush represents and what Senator Kerry represents needs to be debated, will be debated over the course of the next eight weeks. We're already talking about seven weeks, I guess. Who's counting? (Laughter.) But is in terms of their approach to this basic, fundamental question of national security and how you prosecute the war on terror.
Now, we know what George Bush will do because he's done it for the last three-and-a-half years. (Applause.) But it's a little hard to tell what John Kerry would do under those circumstances -- (laughter) -- because he has yet to articulate a clear-cut position and stick with it for any length of time. I think the President said earlier today that John Kerry has had more positions on Iraq than all of the other members of the United States Senate combined. (Laughter and applause.)
But we believe it is absolutely essential to stay the course that we're on with respect to the kind of strategy we've adopted. John Kerry at his convention said that he was prepared to aggressively defend America -- after we're attacked. Our argument is: We've already been attacked. (Applause.) And that it's necessary and altogether appropriate, given that the fact that that's happened, that we use the power of the United States -- especially our military forces, when necessary, to make certain that we're not attacked again, that we go after our adversaries, our terrorists wherever we can find them, to make certain that they don't have the opportunity to launch the kind of deadly attack that is possible.
But we have to keep in mind -- again, I don't want to mislead anybody or paint too rosy a scenario here. We know the terrorists are still out there. And even though we've captured or killed hundreds of them, this is a problem that's going to be with us for a considerable period of time. And it is a global problem.
We've seen it not only, of course, in Washington and New York and when United 93 went down in Pennsylvania, we've seen it around the world since 9/11. We've seen it in Madrid, and in Casablanca, and in Mombassa, and Istanbul, and Riyadh, and Bali and Jakarta -- Jakarta just this last week where there was an attempt on the Australian embassy -- and, of course, in Russia within the last couple of weeks, where we saw two airliners taken down out of the sky, and as well as the terrible events in Beslan, in southern Russia, where over 350 people were killed, most of them school kids. That is a worldwide problem. It is a problem that terror is now being used against innocent men and women around the globe to achieve a political objective, basically, by those who are sponsoring it. And the civilized world simply cannot tolerate or accept those circumstances. We have to defeat the terrorists no matter what. (Applause.)
Now, if we go back to the faulty thinking of the past -- if we fall back into the trap of looking at the world in sort of the pre-9/11 mind set, where the practice was to treat a terrorist act as a criminal enterprise, and we'd go out and address it with law enforcement, find the guilty party, arrest them and put them in jail, that's inadequate. That didn't get the job done. That's what we did throughout the '90s when we got hit at World Trade Center, in '93; and Khobar Towers, in Saudi Arabia in '96; and the East Africa embassy bombings, in '98; and the USS Cole off Yemen, in 2000. And we did not treat the problem properly because we treated it as individual criminal enterprises instead of understanding that we were at war, that they had declared war on us, and they would strike us anywhere, anytime, anyplace they could, and that we had to deal with it as a war, as a challenge basically to the safety and sovereignty, and security of the American people. And that's the way we'll treat it going forward.
Now, I want to maybe close my remarks today by saying that there isn't any way we could have done what we've been able to do over the last three-and-a-half years without the superb, unbelievable service of the United States military. Our men and women in uniform have been fantastic. (Applause.)
Now, we've lost people -- and we'll lose more before this is over with. And it's always a tragedy. I know from my own service as Secretary of Defense, the biggest regret you have is that you can't bring them all home again in one piece. But it's absolutely essential that we revere and respect their service, that we thank them and their families for everything they do for us, and that we give them all the support and the respect they need. And that's true for all of our veterans. So thank you very much for what you guys do for us. (Applause.)
But with that, I'll stop. There are a lot of other things we could talk about. But we do have some people around. They're the folks in the attractive orange jerseys with the black numbers on them. (Laughter.) And they've got microphones with them. And if you'll grab their attention, they'll be happy to give you the opportunity to ask a question. We'll try to take as many questions as we have in the amount of time available.
Number one, have you got anybody? Back here, right -- there you go.
Q A lot of Democrats are saying that the only reason -- we're over there just for the oil. Now, I don't believe that, but that's one thing I think which should be really stressed with our party.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, remember how we got there. In Afghanistan, there isn't any oil. It's one of the poorest countries in the world, so you can write off that piece of it. And in Iraq, we've tried for over 12 years to deal with the problem in Iraq peacefully, without any U.S. military involvement. We went before the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council passed some 16 resolutions. President Bush went before the U.N. Security Council in the fall of 2000 (sic), and we gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to come into compliance with the requirements of the international community. And he consistently failed to do that.
Anybody who would suggest that we'd be there for the oil, I think doesn't understand the basic fundamental decision that the President had to make. The key question that he's faced with, when that decision -- the most important and difficult decision any Commander-in-Chief, any President can make in the Oval Office, that basic, fundamental choice, at bottom, I think the belief was for us to be actively and aggressively involved dealing with what we saw was an emerging threat, was absolutely essential. That's why we've done it. We don't want to stay a day longer than necessary. If we were interested, for example, in oil, we would have stayed in Saudi Arabia. We didn't. We pulled most of our forces out of Saudi Arabia. They're no longer there -- don't need to be there.
The bottom line is that we're there for the safety and security of the nation, and our friends and allies around the world. We didn't do anything to provoke the attack of 9/11. We were attacked by the terrorists, and we've responded forcefully and aggressively. And that's exactly what we need to do if we're going to guarantee the safety and security of our kids and grandkids. (Applause.)
You have somebody back here? Got somebody here with the mike or question? Yes.
Q I just wanted to say that thank you so much for coming here today with Mrs. Cheney. And I think it's wonderful that we have you and the President to lead our country. And just thank you for being such a wonderful man, and just God bless you. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, and probably we should stop right there. (Laughter.) All right, yes, we had a question down front here.
Q First I'd like to make statement. Thank you for coming -- she took it from me, but I'm going to say it again, thanks for coming to Wisconsin. Second of all, thanks for the Johnson family for not only hosting this, but giving us lunch. It was just absolutely wonderful. (Laughter and applause.)
And number three, now, you're going to love this -- you are better looking than your opponent. (Laughter and applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right.
Q But I do have a serious question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q How do you like Johnsonville brats? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm about -- I'm told I get to take some with me when I depart. We've made arrangements. We're going to load them on the bus, and that's going to be lunch. (Applause.) But, no, Lynne and I, we love bratwurst. And we developed a habit when we were -- say, back in the '60s, when we were living in Madison. And when we moved to Washington the first time, Lynne looked for months and finally found a shop in Washington, D.C. that sold brats. So I attended the Sheboygan Bratwurst Festival, as I said, back in 1966. And I've never forgotten them. They're a great item. (Applause.)
Q Senator Kerry came to Wisconsin a while back and he referred to Wisconsin residents who are Bush supporters as goons. His wife said if we do not understand his health care plan, that we're idiots. I prefer your steady leadership. And I prefer President Bush's compassionate agenda. There's many young people here today. And I think a lot of them probably with your leadership and President Bush's leadership will sometime down the line decide to go into politics. What type of advice would you give to younger people here today who are interested in getting into politics?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, yes, I hadn't heard those comments from Senator Kerry. (Laughter.) But I don't know -- obviously, I wouldn't want to attribute them to him. I did note that when he was in Green Bay the other day, he referred to "Lambert Field." (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Somebody said he probably thinks Vince Lombardi is a foreign leader. (Laughter.) I couldn't pass that up. (Laughter.) The first thing you need in politics is a sense of humor, okay?
No, I would encourage anybody who has an interest to think about public service and politics as a career. I didn't start out that way. I started out to be school teacher. And the reason I came to Wisconsin all those years ago was to work for the governor of Wisconsin to learn more about state government but with the expectation then I was going to back to graduate school, and get a PhD and become a professor. And what happened to me over the years, part of it is directly due to the people I met here in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has a very special kind of political tradition. I think it's one of the strongest political cultures if I can describe it in those terms, in the best sense of the word, in terms of high standards and expectations of public officials. And when you work for men like Warren Knowles, whom I'm sure a lot of people in the audience don't remember -- except some of us older types -- but also I worked for Bill Steiger. Bill was a superb congressman from the sixth district of Wisconsin. (Applause.) He took me under his wing when I arrived in Washington, and had a fundamental impact on my career and changed it forever. So I would encourage young people -- certainly to consider that. And there are an enormous number of opportunities out there these days if you want to get involved. It starts from volunteering in a campaign. Find a candidate you like, go knock on the door and say you want to help. And that's a great way to get started.
In a lot of places at the state, and county, local government -- as well at the federal level, there are internships. You can go spend -- I have people come to my office, for example, probably eight or 10 at a time come in and work as interns. And they learn the ropes. We don't pay them, but they get to come and spend maybe a semester and get to see what it is really like and how it actually works. That's how I started. And so there are great opportunities out there for anybody who wants to participate. I guess, the finally thing I would say about it is that one my frustrations is that so many Americans take the process for granted. When you travel the world and look at the way most of the rest of the world lives, and then you come home and you think about what we have, and how hard people worked to create it, how many people sacrificed over the years to protect it, what
a rare privilege it is to be an American and get to vote on Election Day and hold our -- decide who is going to govern, and hold our official accountable, and participate in that basic fundamental, democratic form of government, that is a rare privilege that few people in the history of the world have ever had. And we should never take it for granted. (Applause.)
Q Mr. Vice President, earlier today you mentioned the fact that we lost almost a million lives --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A million jobs.
Q -- a million jobs because of 9/11. Everywhere Kerry goes today, every factory, every hall he's going to in the United States, he continues to talk about under the Bush administration, we lost a million jobs. Why don't you answer that, with the fact that where most of these jobs were lost? The airlines almost went bankrupt -- the whole situation after 9/11.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. And well, after 9/11, the travel and tourism industry really took it in the neck. Obviously, New York City and that area immediately hit down at Wall Street suffered. But the million jobs I talked about were directly attributable to the events of 9/11 in those weeks after the attack of 9/11. They just had that kind of impact on the economy. I think the airline industry is still suffering to some extent from the aftermath of that. The good news is that I think about is the enormous resilience of the American economy. The amazing thing is that we can go through the recession, then go through the terrorist attack, and bounce back as vigorous as we have. And we have bounced back. The unemployment rate nationally is 5.4 percent; that's exactly where it was when Bill Clinton ran for reelection in 1996. We've added 1.7 million new jobs over the course of the last 12 months. The economy has been growing now steadily since the end of the recession. And we're well on our way to what most people would think of as a full employment economy. We've still got soft spots in various places we got to work on. Manufacturing is a problem in some communities. I know you've had some problems here in Wisconsin in that regard. But overall, I think the picture is very bright, indeed. I hear John Kerry say that this is the worst economy since the Great Depression. (Laughter.) Pardon? Yes, Lynne says he spends too much time windsurfing. (Laughter and applause.)
We got anybody else. We need somebody with a mike over here.
MR. STARR: This will be the last one.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, thanks, Bart. Go ahead, and talk right into it.
Q Mr. Vice President, what is being done to control the outrageous health care costs that are hitting small businesses that just makes it so difficult for us to compete? There's a lot of talk about what is going to be done. It just seems just an awful lot of talk. But what is actually happening?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. The question of health care cost is tough for everybody. But it's especially difficult for small businesses. It turns out that about 60 percent of the people in the country who don't have health insurance work for a small business or own a small business in many cases. And we need to do everything we can to support a climate in which small businesses can prosper and thrive, and we've tried to do that. For example, when we cut and changed the tax code, among other things, we quadrupled the amount that a small business could expense so they could go out and invest in new plant and equipment. With respect to health insurance and health care costs, in particular, we are supporting the concept and are going to try to get passed the notion of association health plans. This would allow a group of small businesses to come together and pool their assets, in effect, and be treated like a major corporation in terms of getting the same kind of discount with respect to the cost of health insurance that a major company or a major corporation can acquire. That would be a significant break-through.
We're looking at, and the President has proposed that we ought to allow small businesses a refundable tax credit that they could apply to the cost of a health savings account for their employees to the tune of about $500 per employee. The whole notion of health savings accounts is now on the books. It was put there as we passed the Medicare Reform legislation earlier this year. It lets people set aside money tax-free to pay for their own health costs. And now what we're going to do is try to make that apply, as well, to the cost of a premium for a catastrophic health insurance plan. So there's a series of steps like that, that we can take that will help provide the kind of support that people need to be able to get adequate health insurance coverage.
The other major area -- another major area that we want to work in, that the President has talked about, as well, too, is this whole question of medical liability reform. I mentioned it in my earlier remarks. But when you drive up the cost of malpractice insurance the way we have, then you end up without communities -- with communities that don't have enough doctors, with rising cost that gets passed on to the patient because the doc has to see his insurance rates double or triple during the course of a couple of years. That's what happened in my home state of Wyoming. And so it's important for us to put a limit, or a lid, if you will, on malpractice insurance cost.
And one way to do that is to limit the non economic damages from some of this litigation. People who have got legitimate grievances ought to be able to go to the court, ought to be able to get compensation. Nobody questions that. But we've gotten so many lawsuits filed and handled, and some of the settlements so high that, in effect, we are impacting the cost of health care for everybody in the country. One estimate that I've seen is that the failure to deal with the medical liability problem adds $108 billion a year to the costs that we all pay for health coverage in this country. So there are a lot things we can do. We've worked the problem hard. We'll continue to work it hard. It will be an important part of our agenda going forward for the next four years. (Applause.)
Now, we'd love to say here all day but my brats are getting cold. (Laughter.) But we really do appreciate the fact that you're here, that you came out today to spend a little time with all of us. This is a very important year. Don't forget what is at stake when we think about the future of America, the future of the nation that we're going to pass on to our kids and grandkids. We appreciate your interest, and think about us on November 2nd. This is going to be a big one.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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