|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
September 21, 2004
Vice President's Remarks and Q&A at a BC'04 Roundtable in Lansing, Michigan
Finley's All American Restaurant
12:25 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (In progress) -- came home from Europe and the Pacific, we then had to design our national security strategy to deal with the problem and the threat the Soviet Union represented. We created the Department of Defense, created the CIA, created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, redesigned our military forces, and made basic changes and put basic policies in place then that were supported by Republican and Democratic administrations alike then for the next 40 years. We ultimately succeeded. We were able to deter the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S. You all know the rest of it.
9/11 demonstrated a couple of things. One, that we faced a brand new threat, that the greatest danger that we have today is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our own cities, possibly with a nuclear weapon, or a biological agent of some kind -- that the threat to the U.S. in those circumstances could exceed hundreds of thousands of lives should something like that ever actually occur. We have to be concerned about it now because we saw what happened on 9/11 when we lost 3,000 people that morning in New York and Washington -- Pennsylvania. We saw the damage that could be done to us by 19 individuals armed with knives and boarding passes, using our own system against us, in effect. And we know because of developments after that, people that we've captured and interrogated, the materials we found in the training camps and so forth that they're doing everything they can to try to acquire deadlier weapons to use against us. And there's no doubt in my mind if they ever do acquire that capability, they'll use it.
The old concepts that worked in the Cold War, such as deterrence, don't have much bearing when you're talking about the al Qaeda organization. We could deter the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S. by putting at risk those things they valued -- the Soviet Union itself -- so they were never tempted to launch an attack. But the concept of deterrence simply is irrelevant when you're talking about al Qaeda. They don't have any piece of real estate there that they value enough that for us to threaten that would somehow deter them from launching an attack against the United States.
What came out of the events of 9/11, obviously, was a recognition that we were at war. And I don't think that recognition had been there previously. There had been a series of terrorist attacks prior to that overseas and here in the U.S. We'd seen the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993; the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, in '96; the bombing our of our embassies in East Africa, in '98; and the USS Cole, in 2000 -- and each of those had been treated as sort of an individual criminal enterprise. We went after it with the tools of law enforcement. We didn't really operate as a nation as though we were at war, even though the al Qaeda had declared war on us. 9/11 changed that. And I think everybody came to realize then that this was, in fact, a war, and that we needed new tools and a new strategy to deal with it.
The response, clearly, was to move to make our defenses much stronger here at home, to reorganize the federal government, to create the Department of Homeland Security, pass the Patriot Act so that law enforcement had the tools they needed to be able to prosecute terrorists. But we decided obviously that that wasn't enough. Even if you had a perfect -- that there was no such thing as a perfect defense. If you did everything you could from a defensive standpoint and were successful 99 percent of the time, a 1 percent failure rate could be devastating from the standpoint of the country.
So the President made the decision that we also had to go on offense, that it wasn't enough for us just to defend America, sort of a "Fortress America" concept, that, in fact, we had to aggressively go after the terrorists wherever they might reside, wherever they were planning to train, to organize -- that that had to be top priority. And it also meant we had to go after those who sponsored and supported terror, specifically through what came to be known as the Bush doctrine. It was a major new departure because previously there had been a tendency to separate out, or make a distinction, if you will, between the terrorist themselves and those states that had sponsored or supported terror. The President decided the night of 9/11 that that day is over with. Henceforth, we will hold those who sponsor or support terror just as guilty as the terrorists for the acts they commit. And that's what we've done.
Obviously, we did it in Afghanistan, taking down the regime, capturing or killing hundreds of al Qaeda, closing the training camps where the terrorists had trained to kill Americans -- where some 20,000 terrorists went through in the late 1990s.
In Iraq, of course, a different proposition there, but there we had, in Saddam Hussein, one of the world's more evil regimes, a man who'd started two wars, who had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, and a man who had a long history of supporting and sponsoring terror. Iraq was carried as a terror-sponsoring state by the State Department for years and had ample evidence of that. They were paying $25,000 to the family of suicide bombers; Abu Nidal was hosted in Baghdad for years; there was a relationship with al Qaeda -- ample reason for us to want to go in and do what we felt we had to do. And there, of course, we've accomplished our results in terms of taking down the old government. Saddam's sons are dead. He's in jail. And we're now embarked both in Afghanistan and Iraq in standing up new governments because it's not enough for us just to go kill terrorists, if you will. You've got to do a certain amount of that. But you also -- of course, you go after the sponsors of terror. But then the question, of course, becomes what are you going to leave behind?
And a key to our strategy and it hasn't gotten as much attention as it deserves, though, is that both in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's absolutely essential for us to be be able to establish democratically elected, representative governments to replace those governments that we took down that had previously operated the way Saddam Hussein had and the Taliban. And that's the business we're in now.
In Afghanistan, we've had considerable success. We've got Hamid Karzai in place. He's an interim President. The Afghans will hold elections in early October, the first time in a very, very long time. They've got a new constitution they wrote, and they've got 10 million Afghans that have been registered in the last few weeks that will participate in the election -- a major accomplishment. By the end of the year, there will be a democratically elected government in place in Afghanistan; still got a lot of work to do there; still got continuing security concerns, obviously. But we're working hard, as well, to train an Afghan national army so they can take over responsibility, do their own security.
In Iraq, not as far along. We haven't been involved there as long. It's been about 17 months now since we started in Iraq. But again, we've got a new interim government stood up. They've been in office less than three months. But Mr. Allawi will be in the States this week, at the United Nations. And on Thursday, I together -- along with Speaker Hastert will preside over a joint session of Congress where Prime Minister Allawi will come address the American people in a joint session and among other things, will thank the American people for what they've done getting rid of Saddam Hussein.
There we've got the interim council established. The Iraqis are now in control of all of their ministries. They will have elections in January. That group that gets elected in January will write a constitution, and then they'll have final national elections by the end of next year to put in place a democratically elected government in Iraq. We're also working very hard to stand up Iraqi security forces, training and equipping the Iraqis so that they'll be able to take on the fight and be responsible for providing for their own security just as quickly as possible. And that effort is underway now and has been underway for many months.
So the strategy going forward, I think, is laid out there for all to see. I think we have to anticipate that there will continue to be a high level of violence, both in Iraq and Afghanistan -- partly because it's important to remember what the strategy of the terrorist is. The strategy of the terrorist is to use violence, especially against innocent men, women and children, in order to change the policy of the government.
And one of the things that the terrorists learned, I think prior to 9/11 -- two lessons, I guess, basically. One was that they could strike us with relative impunity because they had repeatedly, because the most we ever did was respond, as I say, to go arrest a few people. Once we launched a few cruise missiles at some training camps in Afghanistan. But the organization never paid a serious price for attacking the United States. And so they thought they could strike us with impunity.
The other lesson they'd learned was that they believed they could change our policy if they hit us hard enough -- because they had. They watched what happened in Mogadishu in '93. We had a battle in Mogadishu. We lost 19 soldiers and within a matter of weeks, we'd withdrawn from Somalia. And it was that mind set -- I think they believed on 9/11 that they were going to get away with it. And of course, they found when they ran into George Bush and the response of the American people from 9/11 that that was, indeed, not the case. They paid a very heavy, heavy price.
But if we think about that background, and you think about where we are now, I think both in Afghanistan and Iraq, the emphasis on the part of our adversaries will be to do everything they can to escalate the level of violence between now and our elections, probably, and their own elections -- the October elections in Afghanistan, the January elections in Iraq. And they know that if we're successful in completing this strategy, we are able to hold free elections, we're able to put in place democratically elected governments, that their aspirations to either restore the old regime in Iraq, which I think is one of the motives of some of the people that are involved there, or to re-create the kind of operation that has existed under the Taliban in Afghanistan will fail.
And the key to our strategy long-term is to be able to plant democratically elected governments in those parts of the world that have up until now been the breeding ground, if you will, for terrorism and for the kinds of developments that we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq over the years. We have to assume this is going to be a difficult period ahead, until we can complete that political process. And the key is to make sure the locals are in the fight, that the Afghans and the Iraqis are taking on the responsibility, both for governance, as well as for security. And that's where we're headed with both of those operations.
Now, let me say just a word about the choice we're going to make on November 2nd, because I don't believe, frankly, that if -- based on John Kerry's record in the United States Senate, and based on what he said during the course of the campaign, I don't believe he would pursue a strategy as effective as the one the President has selected with respect to prosecuting the war on terror, and doing it with respect to the United States.
I look at his track record in terms of his pronouncements on the war on terror, on Afghanistan, and Iraq during the course of the campaign. And it does not instill confidence. He started out by voting for the authorization for the President to use force in Iraq, then he got into heavy going in the Democratic primaries running for President, and announced he was an anti-war candidate. Later on, of course, the subject came up of funding for the troops -- the $87 billion -- once we committed the force to Iraq. And he voted against that. He and John Edwards both voted against it. There were only four members of the Senate that voted to commit the troops, but then voted against giving them the resources they needed once they got there.
Subsequent to that, he was asked here a few weeks ago, knowing all that he knows now, would he have voted as he did in terms of the go-to-war authorization, and he said, yes, he would. And then not long after that, he announced, no, wrong war, wrong place, wrong time -- the same thing that Howard Dean had said to him, of course, in the primaries. I noted last night, I saw on the Letterman show, he said he was glad -- I think was the phrase -- that he had voted against the $87 billion. Nobody has a clear perception of what his policies and his strategy would be were he in a position to make those fundamental decisions.
For 20 years in the United States Senate, he consistently voted against weapons systems, against the strategies pursued by Ronald Reagan during the Cold War. When I was Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War, in Desert Storm, John Kerry voted against using U.S. force to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. If he'd been the one making the decisions in 1991, Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait. So the track record it strikes me is abundantly clear. And the thing I worry about, I think -- this is the fourth President I've worked for, and I've watched a couple of others up close from the perspective of the Congress in the 10 years I spent in the House, a senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the nation. There are a hundred of them. He's one of 535 votes in the House and Senate. But there's only one President. And when he makes the decision, that is the deciding vote. And he ultimately is the one that's charged under our Constitution with being Commander-in-Chief, with safeguarding the lives and the fortune of the American people, and obviously with making those life-and-death decisions about committing U.S. military forces in order to defend the nation when that's necessary.
We're now seeing -- I think on the other side when you look at his advisors -- Bill Crowe, for example -- recently commenting about contemplating the possibility of withdrawal from Iraq -- absolutely the wrong answer. The fact of the matter is we've made major progress. We've had significant success given the amount of time we've been at it. And it's absolutely essential that we continue down this course. We're not going to get any place if we try to hunker down back inside the United States and allow terrorism to develop, allow breeding grounds to produce the kind of people who attacked us on 9/11, or allow irresponsible states to provide deadly weapons technology to terrorist organizations. The U.S. has to be actively and aggressively engaged overseas. And it always, always imposes a heavy burden on our military, and especially on the families of our military personnel. And unfortunately, we've suffered losses. You always regret that you can't bring everybody home in one piece. But it's long-term -- the cost to the United States of our failure to do what needed to be done here would be very significant. It's not a choice between sort of return to the status quo where everything is peace and quiet and all is well with the world versus what we're doing now. It's what we're doing now versus what would happen if we had not taken down the government of Saddam Hussein, if we had not gone in and toppled the Taliban, if we hadn't gone out and captured or killed as many al Qaeda and we could, if we weren't out there actively and aggressively dealing with the problems of nuclear proliferation.
One of the great achievements, I think, of the President's policy is -- having pursued a very tough course in Afghanistan, and Iraq -- Moammar Ghadafi in Libya watched all of this. And as we launched into Iraq, he contacted the British and American governments. He got hold of Tony Blair and George Bush -- he didn't call Kofi Annan and the United Nations -- and indicated he wanted to discuss his program for weapons of mass destruction because he was investing millions in developing nuclear weapons. Five days after we captured Saddam Hussein, he went public and announced he was going to give up all of his nuclear materials. And he's done so. It's all locked up now down at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That would not have happened without the very tough, aggressive course we followed with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq. It's the direct result of strong leadership by the President and the superb performance of the U.S. military. And we're all safer today because Libya is no longer trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And that's a lesson that -- I think that we all need to keep in mind as we think about the alternative.
I think of the alternative, and I guess sort of the bottom-line judgment I make on John Kerry is -- I don't mean to question his patriotism. I never have. I've always praised his service in the military. We do that for anybody who is a veteran. But I question his judgment. And I fear that he still has sort of a pre-9/11 mind set. And he hasn't made the transition, if you will, to what is required and is necessary if we're going to be successful going forward in dealing with what is a significant threat to the United States in the years ahead.
So I think the decision on November 2nd is very important. We've got to get right. It's vital, I think, obviously, for our kids and grandkids, as well, too. This may, indeed, set the policy, as did that period right after World War II when we started in and built the strategies that proceeded during the Cold War. And we're now in that similar point with respect to the global war on terror, where we are making decisions that will set in place policies and institutions that will be with us for the next 30 or 40 years. And it's very important to get it right.
So with that, let me stop, and I'd be happy to respond to questions on those subjects or any other subject. I'm going to take my coat off.
Q Mr. Vice President -- I was a member of United States Marine Corps, and a Vietnam veteran, and I can tell you I remember what Mr. Kerry did back in 1971. He said he was exercising his right of freedom of speech. And I can let you know right now that I will be exercising my right to free speech on November 2nd in voting for the President and you for four more years.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q The one thing that I'd like to ask you is you've done a lot of work in the last four years with an emphasis specifically in the VA system -- and I think it's a 38 percent increase in VA funding, passed the concurrent receipts. And I don't hear that message being put out there in the public. The veterans need to know what the President and the Republican Congress has done for them, instead of to them.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, those are key points. And we've tried to communicate that. I spoke, for example, at the National Convention of Disabled American Veterans this year out in Reno, a couple of months ago. The President addressed the Legion, the VFW, so we've tried to get the word out as much as we can.
But just a couple of points. You mentioned concurrent receipts. For those who aren't familiar with that, what it basically means is, it used to be under the old law if you had a service-connected disability, for example, and also retired from the military, you could not receive both your retirement pay and your disability pay. In other words, you had to off-set your retirement pay by the amount of disability pay you received. What the President has done -- he's the first President in history to sign legislation through the Congress now that allows those with service-connected disabilities to receive both the compensation for their service-connected disability, as well as their retirement pay. It's a significant step, but a lot of us thought it was long overdue.
And the other item, just to give you a measuring standard. The funding increases for veterans in the first four years of the Bush administration exceed those of the eight years of the Clinton administration. So we think we've got a special obligation to our veterans. I think all Americans believe that. And the President backed them on that --
Q Thank you for that --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Mr. Vice President, I'd like to thank you on behalf of the sportsmen and women of not only Michigan but the United States for your continuing support of our outdoor heritage.
I certainly don't have to tell you that we appreciate the pro-sportsmen administration, probably the most pro-sportsmen administration since Teddy Roosevelt.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I get in trouble for that every once in a while. (Laughter.) When I go duck hunting with Nino Scalia, for example. (Laughter.)
Q Well, I have a question here, under the passing of the latest farm bill, there were some -- as to the funding of the CRP and the WRP programs. And we're hearing not only from sportsmen in Michigan, but across the Midwest and out West, that they want to make sure that funding is appropriated, or there is enough appropriated funding for the authorized acreage -- some 39 million acres right now.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, I don't know the specific status of the funding, but we can certainly find out for you. No, it's a very important program.
Q Yes, it's not only vital in Michigan but across the Midwest, habitat re-establishment across the Midwest.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I hunt pheasant on CRP acreage up in South Dakota every winter. (Laughter.)
Q Great. Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, we'll check it out and get back to you.
Q Mr. Vice President, first of all, I would like to thank you and Mrs. Cheney for being here and listening to some of our issues that we have.
Some things are a concern -- some of the things that concern me is health care. A lot of low-income families and most of our middle class, which we consider the backbone of this country, we pay more for our health care cost per month than we do for a house. We have our neighbors like Mexico and Canada that not only can get medicine and medical treatment cheaper than we do here. I guess, I wonder is there something that the President and yourself have in mind -- maybe a tax break for us who work hard for our money, and what --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. Well, the whole health care area is a very important one, obviously. It's one we've spent a lot of time on already. But we obviously will want to make it a priority in a second term, too.
For years there had been talk, for example, with respect Medicare -- to take just one area for our senior citizens of the need to update and modernize Medicare because it was set up in 1965 at a time when prescription drugs weren't nearly as important as they are today as part of a total health package. So the President came in on a situation you could get coverage in Medicare for a heart by-pass operation, but you couldn't get coverage for prescription drugs that might allow you to avoid a heart by-pass operation. There had been talk for years by the other party about trying to reform it and modernize Medicare, and provide prescription drug benefits. Nothing happened.
The President ran on that and said we would address it, and he has. And we passed the most sweeping changes in the Medicare program since it was set up -- last year. It is now possible for senior citizens to get a Medicare discount prescription drug card, which allows them to save 15 percent to 30 percent off their prescriptions. About 5 million have already enrolled, and in about 15 or 16 months, the program will be up and running to provide prescription drug benefits to all 40 million senior citizens in the Medicare program. And so that's one area.
For other Americans, it turns out, for example, if we look at the uninsured, about 60 percent of the uninsured in America are -- work in small businesses, companies that aren't big enough to be able to pay the benefits that they'd like to be able to pay. And 60 percent -- I think -- are the total uninsured population, that's pretty important. And of course, small businesses are to some extent the backbone of our economy. That's where seven out of 10 new jobs are created. So what we've proposed there and will continue to pursue is the notion of association health plans that will allow a group of small businesses to come together and sort of pool their assets and, in effect, get the same kind of treatment and discount that a big corporation can get in terms of the cost of providing health insurance for their employees.
We also have set up health savings accounts which allow people to save tax-free to cover the cost of their out-of-pocket health care expenses. And we want to include and add to that the ability of a small business owner, for example, to get a refundable tax credit to be able to contribute up to $500 a year to the health savings accounts of their employees.
We also are proposing a refundable tax credit that will allow individuals to buy -- either to contribute to their health savings accounts, low-income individuals, or to use that credit to purchase a catastrophic health insurance policy that will cover the big items with respect to a serious illness. A series of steps like that the President has proposed, that we've already done the Medicare items. We've already set up the health savings accounts, so we've got more work to do especially to be of assistance with respect to small businesses so that they can do a better job of being able to cover their employees with these types of benefits. So it's important.
The competition has health care proposals they talk about. My view of those is they really hark back to the past. It involves a much larger role for the federal government. I'm concerned that it would add -- about $1.5 trillion is the estimated cost of their program. It puts the government smack dab in the middle of the relationship between a patient and medical personnel. And we think it's the wrong way to go, that there are better ways to handle it.
The other thing I'd mention is medical liability reform. One of the real crises we've got various places around the country -- and I was just down in Ohio, I know they've got the problem; we've got it home in Wyoming -- a lot of places around the country, the medical liability system the way it's operating today costs about $110 billion a year out of the economy. It's driving up the cost of malpractice insurance for doctors.
I was down in New Mexico last week, talked with a woman down there who is -- has an OB/GYN practice, very successful. But she's had lawsuits filed against her, which ultimately drove up the cost of her malpractice insurance. So economically, she's having a difficult time because the rates have gone so high. My hometown in Wyoming, the rates for a general practitioner have gone from $40,000 a year to $100,000 a year for the insurance policy to be able to practice. She said what she's had to do is to start to screen her patients. And in screening her patients now, she basically avoids taking high risk patients in order to protect herself against getting sued. What that means is from the standpoint of those patients, oftentimes, they're at the lower end of the economic scale. They haven't had the best prenatal health care. They are high risk. And they can't get good OB/GYN service because of the threat to the doctor if she takes them and something goes wrong during the course of delivery.
We need to badly reform the medical liability system. There are a lot of examples out there. California has done a pretty good job of it. We need to place a cap on non-economic damages, and we need to limit the attorney's fees -- that if we could do that, we could help hold down the pressures that are leading to increased costs in the system.
You will not see anybody on the other side pursuing effective medical liability reform. They don't believe in it. They voted against it already. We've gotten it through the House of Representatives. It has been blocked in the Senate, Senators Kerry and Edwards, primarily because the trial lawyers lobby will not -- has not supported effective medical liability reform. It's another big issue in this year's election --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Why don't you let me answer that so I don't forget it? (Laughter.)
First of all, I'll be happy to pass along the message. I will see Mr. Allawi, as I mentioned, on Thursday -- both in the Congress, and then he'll come to the White House for a meeting with the President and myself. He has indicated repeatedly that he wants to keep that January deadline. We agree wholeheartedly. It's important to remember this is an Iraqi decision. There is now a government of Iraq. They're the ones that scheduled the elections. We'll do everything to support them in that effort. But I think you're absolutely right, if there were a delay or a deferral of the election, it would simply encourage the terrorists. And we can't allow that to happen. We've got to go full speed ahead.
And as I say, it's what we've found in Afghanistan, once we set the deadline and established the procedures, had elections out there, there was a tremendous outpouring of commitment on the part of the Afghan people to register. And I'm sure it'll be the same way when it is time to go vote. You will have a very hard time keeping them away from the polls when they finally have an opportunity to express their views and select a government themselves. I think it's an enormously important event, and we do need to keep to that timetable.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we appreciate you being here this morning. No, the President has made it very clear, and has bent over backwards to make certain everybody understands that the Muslim community is not responsible for what transpired on 9/11, or for the attacks in Madrid, and Casablanca, and Mombassa, and Riyadh, and Bali, and Jakarta, and Beslan -- that the terrorists are not representative by any means of those of the Islamic faith. And we need to do everything we can, and I think traditionally, it has been part of sort of an American tradition that we judge individuals as individuals -- not based upon the color of their skin, or their ethnicity, or their religious views. And we do our level best to operate on that basis.
So the President has been very, very careful not to allow the -- sort of a public reaction, if you will, or a governmental -- a set of governmental policies that single out unfairly individuals simply because they belong to a particular group. And I think if you look at his record in that regard, it has been outstanding. He's worked hard to make certain that we all understand that that's exactly the way he wants to operate, and that's the way we do.
I get complaints from time to time from a lot of folks about trying to fly commercial, for example, trying to get on an airplane someplace, and getting stopped in an airport. I'm probably not the right one to talk to because I don't have to go through the airport. And Air Force Two, I'm allowed to get on without being searched. But there's a certain level of -- I guess, of the burden that's imposed on all of us by virtue of the need to focus on safety and security here at home and to counter the possibility of further terrorist attacks. We try hard to strike a proper balance so that we do what is necessary in order to secure the county and to safeguard ourselves against further attacks without doing damage to the basic, fundamental underlying principles that make this America.
We don't want to adopt a posture or policy that is so onerous, so burdensome that, in effect, the terrorists win, and destroy the underlying foundation of our free system without ever launching any more attacks. There's a balance that has to be struck here, and we try very hard to do that. I think we get it right most of the time. But I will admit these are difficult decisions to make, and in terms of how far we go with respect to imposing policies or procedures that are designed to safeguard the nation without infringing on people's civil liberties and individual rights, that's what we pay the President that magnificent salary for and let him live in the big house. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Vice President, I appreciate you being here and the opportunity to visit with you. The Doha Round of the World Trade Negotiation is ongoing. Our industry is strongly supportive of those negotiations. We think the proper framework is set up at this time. We would like not to see it slip back. We want to see the European Union give up their subsidies. And could you just comment on whether you think we can work through that process --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. Well, I think we can. The Doha Round is very important. It got off to a shaky start there in Mexico and so forth.
Q And Seattle.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Seattle. But I think they are doing better now. Bob Zoellick, who is our special trade representative, is -- he's a very tough customer. He's been, I think, a good, effective negotiator. And we, too, think those issues ought to be addressed within that context of the Doha round in terms of agricultural policy. And one of the prime targets has been to change the European policies that we think are fundamentally unfair in terms of the way they operate. So I've got a fair degree of confidence that we're going to be okay there. As I say, I know Mr. Zoellick. I've known him for some time. And he hasn't got the best bedside manner. (Laughter.) But I think that's exactly what you need in a trade negotiator. You want a tough guy.
MR. DOYLE: Mr. Vice President, we have time for one more question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q Mr. Vice President, I'm concerned about the Social Security being solvent in the next few years, and also I'm looking forward to your debate on October the 5th.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. All right, well, with respect to Social Security, it is an important subject, obviously, going forward. And I think from the standpoint of those currently retired, drawing benefits, there's no reason for them to be concerned about the financial solvency of the system. There is a problem down the road long-term that needs to be addressed. And I would expect you'll see more discussion or debate about that in the months and years ahead.
One of the things though that the President has talked about, we campaigned on last time around, and I think it's something that he'd want to pursue in a second term, as well, is to explore further this notion that for younger workers, people just starting out in their '20s and '30s, they look at the Social Security system and have serious questions about whether or not there will be anything there 30 or 40 years from now when they get ready to retire. And one of the notions we've talked about that we think has merit is the idea that -- this would not effect, as I say, those already retired, or those close to retirement -- but for younger workers starting out to allow them to take a portion of their Social Security tax, payroll tax and invest in a private account, as opposed to personal, be a personal savings account, as opposed to the way we operate now on the grounds that that would give a higher rate of return than they would get through the traditional Social Security system, and would give them something, as well, that would be theirs. It would belong to them personally. They could pass it on to their family and it's a very different kind of an approach than we have today, but it would preserve the option for folks who want to continue to operate under the old system.
As I say, it's not anything that would kick in immediately or affect the current set of retirees. But it would be available for, well, my kids -- 20s, 30s to begin to have a different alternative that would give them that personal retirement account. That would be, we think, a significant step forward and help meet some of the financial requirements that are clearly out there in terms of the solvency of the system.
Q Thank you very kindly.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. And October 5th should be interesting. The debates -- I enjoyed the one four years ago with Joe Lieberman. I thought it was -- I think Joe enjoyed it. We both had what I thought was a good conversation. And so I think this time around we've signed up for a 90-minute debate. I think it's October 5th in Cleveland. And so it should be an interesting event. Presidential debates, obviously, take on somewhat greater significance. We're just the vice presidents. But it is something I'm looking forward to.
Again, let me thank all of you for being here this morning. This is an important election. And I've been involved in a lot of them over the years, but I can't recall one where I felt the stakes were as important as they are now, or the decisions. They are big issues. They ought to be debated in a presidential election. I can't think of a better setting for us to have these kinds of conversations. And so I hope you'll keep that in mind on November 2nd, and encourage your friends and family members to get out there and vote because this is a big one.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 1:06 P.M. EDT