|The White House
President George W. Bush
|Print this document|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
September 28, 2004
Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting in Dubuque, Iowa
Grand River Center
12:50 P.M. CDT
MRS. CHENEY: Well, hey, that's pretty nice. Thank you for that warm welcome. Could it be a more beautiful day in Dubuque? We are so pleased to be here. Thank you for your warmth and your enthusiasm. (Applause.)
As I travel across the country, I always like to think of -- what an important part different states have played in my life. And as we were driving over here today, Dick and I were talking about two of my great, great grandmothers who spent some time in Iowa, and in whose lives Council Bluffs played a very important role. Council Bluffs was a jumping off place for people who were going to take the Mormon Trail west. So one summer, in the 1850s, I had two great grandmothers in Council Bluffs getting ready to go west. One had had a sad story. She'd come here all the way from Wales and lost her husband on the way, and her baby. But she was a woman of determined spirit, and she stayed in Council Bluffs a while, and got on a wagon train and went west.
The other story is one I love so much, I put it in the last children's book I wrote. It's about a little girl named Fannie Peck, who was only seven years old. But she was in Council Bluffs that same summer, getting ready to go with her folks out west. And when they started, she took off her shoes and decided that she would go barefoot because the wagon train stopped on Sunday to worship, and Fannie wanted to have her shoes so that she could look her very best on Sunday. However, the first time they stopped, she figured out that having walked barefoot so far, she couldn't get her shoes on. So it didn't work out too well. But I love stories like that. And I love thinking that Iowa has played an important part in my life.
My family ended up in the West, which is where I met Dick. And I've known him for quite a long time. That's how come I get to introduce him. He was 14 years old when I first met him -- a pretty good looking 14-year-old. I can share that with you. (Laughter.) And he had a summer job that year, a summer job and after school job, which was sweeping out the Ben Franklin store in Casper, Wyoming, which is our hometown. And I've known him through many jobs since. I've known him since he was at the Ben Franklin store. I've known him since he was digging ditches at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds, just outside our hometown. I've known him since he was loading bentonite --hundred-pound sacks of bentonite onto railroad cars. I've known him since he was building power line all across the West to help pay his way through school. And I like to talk about those stories because I think when you grow up working hard, you learn some pretty important lessons. And one of those lessons is how important it is for the hard working men and women of this country to get to keep as much of their paychecks as possible. (Applause.)
So it's lovely to be here on this -- this beautiful day. As we travel across the country, I think how much we have to be proud of as Americans. And if I were to make a list of all the things we have to be proud of, right at the top of it, I would put our Commander-in-Chief, George W. Bush. (Applause.) He has really been a magnificent leader over these past four years. And if you'll permit me to say so, the Vice President is no slouch either. (Applause.) So it gives me great pride to introduce to you my husband, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, very much. And thank you, Lynne.
MRS. CHENEY: You're welcome.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: She wouldn't go out with me until I was 17. (Laughter.) I like to tell people that we got married because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States. In 1952, I was a youngster living in Lincoln, Nebraska with my folks. Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected, reorganized the government, Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming, and that's where I met Lynn. And we grew up together, went to high school together, and a couple of weeks ago celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) I explained to a group the other night that if it hadn't been for Eisenhower's election victory, Lynne would have married somebody else. (Laughter.) And she said, right, and now he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter and applause.) And there's no doubt in my mind. (Laughter.)
But we are delighted to be here today. Iowa is an extraordinarily important state, as you can tell by all the attention you're getting this year. I think I counted up coming in this morning, just in the last couple of months we've been here, I think, eight times, now, different places around the state. (Applause.) And it was a close election in Iowa last time. We didn't quite pull it off, but come November 2nd, Iowa is going to be part of a winning coalition of the Bush-Cheney ticket. (Applause.)
What we do at these town meetings -- we've done a few of them now, and enjoy them very much. It's an opportunity to hear from you, as well as for me to make a speech or pontificate a bit. I've got some thoughts I'd like to share with you this morning. And then we'll open it up to questions and give you an opportunity to offer comments or ask questions and have a chance for a good exchange back and forth. And I encourage, also, to fire some shots at Lynne. There's no reason why she should sit up here without having to answer some of the questions, as well, too. (Laughter.)
I wanted, this morning, to take a little bit of time and talk about what I think is the most important decision we're going to make on November 2nd, why it's so important. There are times in our history where we come to, sort of, a watershed, where a series of events or circumstances or such that we have to fundamentally rethink our national security strategy, for example, how we're organized to defend ourselves.
Certainly, that happened right after World War II, when we were suddenly faced, after victory in World War II over the Nazis and the Japanese, all of a sudden faced with the prospect of the Cold War, the threat the Soviets represented, and had to completely build a new national security strategy that then was in place for the next 40 years, supported by Republican and Democratic administration alike, and ultimately successful in terms of deterring the Soviet attack against the United States, created North Atlantic Treaty Organization, created the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, et cetera.
And I think we're at a similar point now, a break point, if you will, where as a result of the threats that we've had to deal with that we now face a similar set of circumstances where we're having debates and a major national dialogue and deciding what kind of a national security strategy we're going to follow in the years ahead. And I really believe, as I've often said, that this election could not come at a more crucial time in our history. The enemy we face now is ever bit as intent on destroying us, as were the Axis powers in World War II.
In the words of the 9/11 Commission report of a few weeks ago, "The enemy is sophisticated, patient, disciplined, and lethal." "What the enemy wants," as the 9/11 Commission reported, "is to do away with democracy, to end all rights for women, and to impose their way of life on the rest of us." As we saw on the morning of 9/11, this enemy is perfectly prepared to slaughter anyone -- man, woman, or child -- who stands in their way.
This is not an enemy we can negotiate with or appease or reason with. This is, to put it quite simply, an enemy that we must destroy. And with George W. Bush as our Commander-in-Chief, that is exactly what we're about. (Applause.)
It's important for us to remember, this is a global conflict. This isn't just about what happened here on 9/11 in Washington, or New York, or Pennsylvania. Since 9/11, terrorists have struck in Madrid, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombassa, Istanbul, Bali, Jakarta, Baghdad, most recently in Beslan, in Russia, where they killed some 350 people, mostly school kids.
To meet the danger we face, the President has developed a clear, steady, and I believe, appropriate strategy. He's transformed our government to focus on protecting the American people. Under his leadership, we've also gone on offense in this war, seeking out the terrorists wherever they train or hide, and making clear to governments who harbor or sponsor terror, that they will be held as guilty as the terrorists themselves of the actions that are committed, and will be treated accordingly. In other words, we're taking the fight to America's enemies, confronting them with our military so that we do not have to fight them with the armies of policemen, firemen, and medical personnel on the streets of our own cities.
Our strategy is working. In Afghanistan, we've ended the Taliban regime. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein, of course, is in jail. We've broken up terror cells around the world and captured or killed thousands of terrorists. We're helping the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq now to build democratic governments because we know that free nations will not be breeding grounds for terror. These are not easy tasks, but despite the worst predictions of the pessimists, we are succeeding. Afghanistan's first democratic election will be held October 9th, and Iraq will have elections next January. (Applause.)
Now, wars always carry a cost, and the highest cost of all is born by our servicemen and women and by their families. Many of our service members have been far from home for a long time. Some have returned with severe injuries. Nearly 1,200 men and women on duty in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the ultimate sacrifice. We grieve at the loss of every single life, and we will never forget these brave men and women. We will honor them, and honor their memory by completing the mission. (Applause.)
If we revert back to the pre-9/11 mind set where we treated terrorist attacks simply as a law enforcement problem, that is simply not an option. If we fail to aggressively prosecute the war on terror, confronting terrorists where we find them and confronting governments that sponsor terror, the danger will only increase. The terrorists will escalate their attacks, both here at home and overseas, and the likelihood will increase that they will eventually acquire weapons of mass destruction to use against us.
If we think back to that period before 9/11, the terrorists had learned two lessons, unfortunately. First of all, they came to believe they could strike us with impunity, because they had repeatedly -- in the World Trade Center bombing, in 1993; Khobar Towers, in 1996; the simultaneous bombing of two -- two of our embassies in East Africa, in 1998; the attack on the USS Cole, in 2000. If you think back to those events, there never was a very effective response from the United States against those who launched the attack. We fired off a few cruise missiles once, but they came to believe they could strike us with impunity.
Secondly, during that same period of time, the training camps were operating in Afghanistan where some 20,000 people were turned out -- terrorist trained, including those who struck us on 9/11. And of course, the terrorists also came to believe that if they struck us hard enough, they could change our policy, because they had. It happened in 1983 after we lost 241 Marines in Beirut -- within a matter of months, we were out of Lebanon. In 1993, of course, we had the situation in Mogadishu. We lost 19 soldiers during a battle in Mogadishu, and within weeks, we pulled all of our troops out of Somalia. So those two lessons, they could strike us with impunity and they could strike us to change our policy, is what they came to believe.
Now, it's my view that those attacks were not occasioned by the exercise of U.S. military strength. They were encouraged by the perception of weakness. (Applause.)
As high as the cost of the war is now, it will be much higher if we do not confront this danger now. And as high as the cost of this war is, it is the price we must pay if we want a safer and a more secure world for our children and grandchildren. (Applause.)
And this brings us to what I believe is the most important decision in the election of 2004. I believe it is absolutely essential that we have a Commander-in-Chief who is steadfast, who has clear conviction, and who meets his obligations without regard to his own political fortune. (Applause.) That's the kind of leadership that George W. Bush has provided in this war, and that is the kind of leadership that will bring victory in the war on terror. (Applause.)
In his 20 years in the Senate and two years on the presidential campaign trail, Senator Kerry has given every indication that he lacks the conviction necessary to prevail in the war on terror. (Applause.) During the 1980s, Senator Kerry opposed Ronald Reagan's major defense initiatives that brought victory in the Cold War. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait and stood poised to dominate the Persian Gulf, Senator Kerry voted against Operation Desert Storm. After the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, Senator Kerry proposed to cut the intelligence budget by $6 billion, a move so radical that even Ted Kennedy wouldn't support it. (Laughter.)
In the present conflict, he has shown endless vacillation and indecision. He makes repeated changes in direction, which seem to be in response to his own standing in the polls or his most recent campaign advisors. His endless back and forth on Iraq sends a message of confusion and shows that he is not ready for the responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief. (Applause.)
Let me be specific. Two years ago, Senator Kerry voted to use force against Saddam Hussein. Since then, he's taken at least 10 different and distinct positions on the war. The low point came during one of his anti-war phases, when he stood on the Senate floor and voted to deny funding to the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, with 35 days left in the campaign, and just in time for the debates, Senator Kerry says he has a plan for Iraq. Yet, the plan he announced is not a plan; it's an echo of the strategy that President Bush laid out many months ago. (Applause.)
And it's a strategy that Senator Kerry has alternately supported and opposed, depending on his assessment of the political advantage. Senator Kerry claims he'll be better at building alliances around the world, yet he has repeatedly insulted fellow democracies and allies of the United States. Last week, the Prime Minister of Iraq visited the United States and appeared before a joint session of Congress. Ayad Allawi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, is a very brave man. Saddam Hussein sent assassins after him with axes. They tried to hack him to death in his bed, late at night. But he survived; now he's leading his country, and he came to the Congress to report on progress in Iraq. He thanked America for ending Saddam Hussein's regime, and reported that Iraqi security forces are being trained and the country is moving steadily toward free elections. (Applause.)
I was in the chamber last Thursday when Prime Minister Allawi spoke. Most senators and congressmen were there -- not Senator Kerry. He did, however, manage to rush before the television cameras to speak with disrespect and condescension about the Prime Minister. I understand the Prime Minister's message is not what Senator Kerry wanted to hear, but I was nonetheless amazed that he would insult this courageous man, who is one of our most important allies in the war on terror. (Applause.)
President Bush has said now is the time and Iraq is the place in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world; we must not waver. Senator Kerry's continued wavering in this campaign -- opposing the war, but claiming the President's plan as his own, calling himself an alliance-builder, then belittling America's closest friends -- shows an agenda, not of conviction, but of political opportunism. And his record establishes that he is not prepared to lead America in the war on terror. (Applause.)
How we respond to the danger we face, and whether that response is effective depends very much on who is Commander-in-Chief. In his years in Washington, John Kerry has been one of a hundred votes in the United States Senate. And fortunately on matters of national security, his views rarely prevailed. But the presidency is an entirely different proposition. A senator can be wrong, a senator can be confused, a senator can be indecisive for 20 years without consequence to the nation. But a President always casts the deciding vote, and in this time of challenge, America needs, and America has a President we can count on to get it right. (Applause.)
George W. Bush is a leader with firm convictions who speaks his mind and keeps his word. He acts with patience and calm and moral seriousness. He's made our world better and our nation safer, and he will lead this nation to victory in the war on terror. (Applause.)
And with that, I'll stop and we'd be happy to open it up to questions, and I don't want to by any means, by focusing on this particular issue, to limit the discussion. I'm just have, really, my own deep, personal conviction that that is at the heart of what this campaign is all about. There are other important issues, as well, too -- certainly, the economy and health care and education, and we're addressing all those issues as well, too. But in the final analysis, we're picking a Commander-in-Chief for the next four years and I think setting the course for this nation's national security strategy for maybe 30 or 40 years, and it's very important we get it right. (Applause.)
Now, if you'll look around the room, you'll see these folks in these attractive orange T-shirts with microphones. And if you want to make a comment or ask a question, just get their attention and they'll come around, and grab a mike and show you. Number one.
Q Thank you for coming today. My name is Charlie and my sister is an undecided voter. She lives in Janesville, Wisconsin. I recently went to the Department of Labor website and got the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows that you and President Bush, a partnership that has created over 5 million jobs since 2001, but we don't hear you talk about that. According to the statistics, there were 135 million people working in 2001, and there are over 140 million now. Does that mean we've had a net increase in jobs?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. I think probably what you were looking at was the household survey. There are two surveys by which we measure employment. The one that you see reported monthly is the so-called "establishment survey," this is where the Bureau of Labor Statistics goes out and interviews, asks questions, does a survey of companies and asks "how many people do you have employed?" and that gives you one number. But it doesn't -- that particular survey doesn't cover all employment. If you're self-employed, for example, you're not likely to get picked up in that particular survey.
The other survey that is collected is the so-called "household survey," and that's where they go to individual households and say "how many people in this house are employed, have jobs?" And that gives you the higher number. Usually, the first one tracks over time the household survey. But the household survey does show there's been a significant increase in employment over that period of time. We, of course, had a recession to begin with. Then we were struck by the terrorists on 9/11; that cost us over a million jobs within a matter of weeks after 9/11. So without question, we've been through a recession and we've been gaining now, by anybody's standards. We've had over 12 months of consecutive real growth. We've added 1.7 million new jobs in the last year, according to the establishment survey. And I believe it's about 2.4 million according to the household survey over the course of the last 12 or 13 months.
So the economy is headed in the right direction. Without question, we're making progress. But we won't be happy until everybody who wants to work can find a job. And going forward we need to do everything we can to make certain that the United States is the best place in the world to do business. So we encourage new jobs, we encourage companies to expand and people to take risks and support the entrepreneurial spirit. And as Lynne said in her opening remarks, make certain we keep the tax burden as low as possible, because the American people will spend that money far more wisely than would the federal government. (Applause.)
Q Vice President Cheney and Mrs. Cheney, thank you so much for coming to Dubuque. We're so glad to see you. And my question is, I understand from a number of sources that I read that approximately 70,000 troops are going to be moved from old Europe and Korea. And I'd like to know if any of those troops will be guarding our borders in this country?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think there are two separate issues there. First of all, I think what you're referring to, with respect to the redeployment of troops -- if you look back at the way we deployed our forces during the Cold War, we had -- when I became Secretary of Defense, 1989, we had about 330,000 troops in Europe, because at that point we still had the Soviet threat. As the Soviet threat ended, we drew down that force to about 100,000, but we still have two heavy divisions, basically, in Germany. And, of course, we've maintained since the end of the Korean War another division on the ground in South Korea. We've got a lot of bases out around the world that were deployed and built and used at the time of the Cold War.
All of that's changed now, the world circumstances have changed. I mentioned in my opening remarks we need a different strategy, and that includes forces, where they're deployed, how mobile they are now that we've moved into having to confront the war on terror. So Secretary Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs have been working for the last couple of years on plans for the redeployment of forces worldwide.
A lot of that will end up on bringing some of them home and having them here in the United States, on the theory that we can deploy overseas more rapidly if we need to. A place like Germany, for example, you'll end up not with two heavy divisions there now, but with maybe a brigade, and those kinds of changes are being made on a global basis so that we're configured in a better way and have the forces we need to deal with those problems in the future.
None of those forces will be deployed specifically to the border question, in terms of the immigration problem. I would argue, as a former Secretary of Defense, that's an extremely important problem, but we need to handle that through the Border Patrol, through the Department of Homeland Security that now has control over the Border Patrol and Customs and so forth. And that ought to be handled primarily by civilians, on the civilian side, rather than troops that we have to deploy someplace overseas to undertake a military mission.
I think they're two different missions. I think they're both very important. I think it's very important that we do everything we can to secure our borders -- and we have significantly improved our capabilities in that regard, but we haven't solved all those problems. We still have -- still have porous borders, simply because of the sheer size of them, and also because the United States is a huge magnet, economic magnet. We've got a lot folks overseas that would love to come live and work in the United States. And we need to make certain that that flow is regularized, that legal immigration is allowed, but that illegal immigration isn't. And, as I say, I think we're making progress there. They beefed-up the Border Patrol, added people, added a lot of new technologies, but there's still more work to be done. (Applause.)
Q Senator Kerry has said that you and President Bush have a secret plan to reinstitute the draft. Is that true? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As far as I know, he's the only one with secret plans. (Laughter and applause.)
I don't know anybody in a position of responsibility who would advocate going back to the draft. We keep it there, it's on the books, the statute is there in the eventuality of some totally unforeseen set of circumstances that nobody can contemplate today. But those of us who have been involved, as I was as Secretary of Defense, for example, back from '89 to '93, I'm sure our military -- if we have any retired military here today, our officers, Joint Chiefs, people who study the subject -- are enormously pleased with our all-volunteer force.
One of the things that came out of Vietnam and that experience was that back in the '70s we moved to an all-volunteer force, so that everybody today wearing the uniform voluntarily signed up for that mission. And we -- obviously, we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for their willingness to take on that responsibility. But the all-volunteer force works extraordinarily well. I think the quality and caliber of people serving today, and the professionalism, is as good as we've ever had in the history of the republic.
One of the reasons I'm such a big fan of the all-volunteer force is because it forces the military to make major changes in terms of the way we operate. As long as the services could count on a drafted force, people who were required and compelled to serve, they didn't have to spend as much time and energy worrying about their ability to be able to really attract people who wanted to serve. The manpower sort of became a free good, if you will, and we didn't spend nearly as much on salaries, on housing for families and so forth. Today we've got much more stability in the force, a much larger percentage of the force is married. That means we've got to provide housing for the families and adequate medical care for dependents and so forth. But it's made the services, I think, higher-quality institutions than they were when they didn't have to worry about attracting people to come serve.
And I say, I just think, when you think about what we've been able to do with the all-volunteer force, the successes we've had, going back to Desert Storm, I think, and our current assignments, what we did in Afghanistan earlier this year, with a handful -- not earlier this year, but two years ago, three years ago now, almost -- with a relative handful of troops, to be able to go in and perform that mission as effectively as we did, in Afghanistan in particular, but also later on in Iraq, is a measure of the quality of the force that we deploy today. And that's directly attributable to the fact that we have an all-volunteer force and that the people who are serving are -- volunteered to serve, that they are -- their service is respected and honored. And I'm just a huge believer.
And the suggestion that somehow there's a plan out there for a secret draft is -- I'd call it -- you could call it either an urban legend or a nasty political rumor, but it's not true. (Applause.)
Q My question is for Lynne Cheney.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good. (Laughter.)
Q The No Child Left Behind program seems to be a common sense program to improve the education of our children. But there are complaints about enforced testing. Do you think there is too much reliance on the testing to measure the progress?
MRS. CHENEY: Well, I've been a great fan of accountability for as long as I can remember. Now, here in Iowa, you all have the advantage of great schools. I mean, I've looked at the data long enough to know that when they ranked the states, there's Iowa, right up there at the top. So you have good reason to be confident in your schools. What happened though -- and I think one of the reasons that our schools all around the country haven't always been as good as they should, is parents sometimes had that confidence they had a good school, but it wasn't the fact.
There was this wonderful doctor in West Virginia who used to talk about patients coming in to him -- he was a pediatrician and the little kids would come in, and their parents would always say, my child is above average. Well, he started thinking about it after a while, and he realized not everybody can be above average, despite what -- what is it -- Garrison Keillor says, where all the men are strong, all the women are handsome, and all the kids are above average. It can't be.
The problem is people didn't know how their schools were performing. And that's what testing does, is it gives parents and policymakers a real way to know. And what too often happens -- not here in Iowa, because you do have great schools. I think I read 93 percent of your schools are making annual -- yearly progress. It's quite astonishing. But we were shuffling kids through. So you would end up with 6th, 7th, 8th graders, sometimes high school graduates who couldn't read. And that is just something that we can't have happen in this country. We can't do that to kids.
The President is so committed to the idea that no child will be left behind, that we'll know how kids are doing so that we can meet their needs early. One of the advantages of testing, of course, is diagnostics. If you've got a little kid who can't read, you got a little kid who can't do math, you find out so you can fix the problem.
So I got to tell you that I -- I've heard the complaints about testing, and I'm sure you could test too much. But, boy, is it important for letting parents know what's going on, and for being sure that no little kid does get left behind. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In the back.
Q Mr. Vice President, as consumers, I think almost everyone in this room has likely had the experience of going into some store, any store, looking for some merchandise and discovering that about 90 percent of it or better was of foreign manufacturing. In addition to the current tax cuts, what can be done to ensure our independence from foreign imports, and also you referred to our financial competitiveness in the manufacturing sectors of the world markets?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- I don't think there's any one silver bullet. I think what it takes is a series of policies that need to be pursued. I say, you come back -- and at heart of it, the guiding principle ought to be to make America the best place in the world to do business. What do we mean by that? Well, you mentioned tax policy. We put in place a series of changes over the course of the last three years, for example, allowing small businesses to quadruple the amount they could expend in terms of purchasing new equipment. Small businesses create 7 out of 10 new jobs in this country. It's very important we be sensitive to what their needs and requirements are.
We need to deal not only with the taxation problems, for example,
when we cut the top rates on income taxes, when we reduced all the rates across the board, but even the top rate, our opponents will say, well, that's just to help the wealthy. No, an awful lot of your small businesses, especially a lot of your more successful ones, pay taxes based on that top rate. And when you cut it, it makes them more competitive and lets them keep more of what they earn so they can save and invest and create more jobs.
We also need to address, I think, the litigation question. One of the real problems we have -- I think it's a disadvantage relative to some of our competitors overseas -- is just the number of lawsuits, what I would call lawsuit abuse, which I think has gotten to be a real problem in this country and we need to do something about it. And we can do that through tort reform and reform of the legal system.
We've gotten a lot of that legislation through the House of Representatives. We haven't been able to get it through the Senate yet. Senators Kerry and Edwards have opposed it, I might mention.
We also need to be careful with respect to regulations. We've so burdened down private companies with red tape and bureaucratic forms they've got to fill out and send into Washington, nobody ever reads, but that, too, is an added cost. If you look at the tax system itself, one estimate is that its complexities today require about six billion man-hours of effort to just comply with the tax code every year. So one of the things the President talked about the other night in his acceptance speech in New York was that in his second term he wants to put together a bipartisan group to simplify and reform the tax code. It's long overdue, badly needs to be done. (Applause.)
The whole area of health care is one that badly needs to be addressed, too. When we talk about the uninsured, people who lack health insurance in the U.S., it turns about 60 percent of them work for small businesses, or are small business owners themselves. So one of the things we've spent a lot of time on is looking for ways that we can reduce the cost of health care, or make it more affordable, so we've done things. For example, when we passed the Medicare reform package last fall that Chuck Grassley was an architect of, your Senator here. Chuck, as chairman of the finance committee, did a superb job. (Applause.) Not only did we provide prescription drug benefits for seniors, and the Medicare drug discount card, but we also set up health savings accounts that allow people to save tax-free in order to finance health costs.
And part of the -- one of the proposals that's kicking around out there now is to allow small business owners to get a tax credit for contributions they make to their employees' health savings accounts to make it possible for them to be able to afford health care. Providing those kinds of basic benefits to employees is an important part of the cost of doing business.
We think medical liability reform is very important in that regard, too. We estimate -- one estimate is that there's over a hundred billion dollars a year added in cost because of our medical liability system in terms of the way it functions in this country. It's a crisis in a lot of parts of the nation. I know in my home state of Wyoming, where we've driven up malpractice insurance costs so high, that doctors are going out of business. We can't attract new doctors coming into the state. The company that provided the insurance is gone from the business. That's another area that adds cost to everything we do that needs to be addressed at the same time, too.
And finally, education. With respect to our ability to be able to field a work force that can out-compete anybody else on the planet, we've got to have people who've got the skills necessary to be able to take those jobs when we create them. And we've always had in this country a great public school system. Lynne and I are the products of public schools. I would guess most of the people in this room are. And it's very, very important the schools -- that when people come out of that process, when they finish with 12 years of high school and go on for advanced degrees, if they do, or go on to college, that they've got the necessary skills to take on the ever more sophisticated jobs that are involved in our economy, especially in the manufacturing area.
So I think we have to do all those things to be able to ensure that we maintain a good strong manufacturing base in this country. Partly what has happened, manufacturing as a percentage of our economy has continued to be very strong, and grown steadily over the years. But as the productivity has increased, the actual employment in manufacturing has been in a long-term decline. And we need to reverse that. And one way to do that is to make certain that we've got the kind of work force and opportunity, and do as much as we can to reduce the cost of business so that it pays companies to locate here, to stay here, to expand here, and to create more jobs and opportunities here. (Applause.)
MRS. NUSSLE: Mr. Vice President, I have the dubious honor of trying to keep you on schedule today. So I'm told that we only have time for one more question. Let me, on behalf of Jim and myself, and the folks here in Dubuque and northeast Iowa, thank you again for coming today. We very much appreciate it. (Applause.)
MRS. CHENEY: Did we have a chance to say what a great congressman Jim Nussle is? (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I spent some time last week with Jim because I attend periodically the House Republican Leadership meetings. Of course, he's a part of the House Republican Leadership and does a superb job for all of us. And he would be here today, except he's back there doing important work. So, Karen, thank you for hosting all of us today.
We'll do one more question back here. Number one.
Q Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, it's indeed an honor for me to speak with you today. Thank you. And I know after you and the President are reelected, I know that you're a duck hunter, please feel free to come back. We will have -- (Laughter.)
MRS. CHENEY: Can he bring Nino Scalia?
Q Absolutely. (Applause.) I would be more than happy to host you. We would just have the time of our lives, I'm sure.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Be sure and get that man's name, will you? (Laughter.)
Q You hear an awful lot from the other party about the doom and gloom and woe is the United States, and it just gets a little tiring. I'm glad I'm the last question. Could you leave us with your positive message?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- of course, there are a lot of ways to look at what we're doing now. Lynne and I have had just an enormous privilege to be able to do what we do over the course of the last nearly 40 years now. We literally grew up in a small town in Wyoming, went to public schools, come from modest circumstances. My grandfather was a cook in the Union Pacific Railroad, never went to high school.
And I mentioned the other night in New York, in my acceptance speech, that the day I was born he sent a letter to my parents saying, since I was born the same day as Franklin Delano Roosevelt was, that it was the President's birthday, and of course, he was then the President in 1941, that my folks should send him a letter and announce my arrival to the President of the United States. (Laughter.) And the intriguing thing about that was that he didn't think that there was any reason why -- even though he was somebody with less than a high school education who had come from very modest circumstances -- any reason in the world why his grandson couldn't do anything he wanted to do, couldn't rise to whatever fate might have in store for him, and hard work and obviously, the help and assistance of others might take you.
And it's that sense of possibility that anything is possible in the United States, that sense of -- that feeling of hope and optimism and opportunity. And, yes, we have tough times. And, yes, lots of times we've got major challenges that we have to meet, but we do it consistently. And we have all these years. And I hear our opponents talking about two Americas in this campaign. And I don't think of it in those terms. There's no question but what there are barriers and problems and challenges out there to overcome, and we have not achieved our ideal in terms of everybody having exactly the same opportunity in this country, but the history of the United States of America is the history of overcoming those obstacles and getting rid of artificial barriers to advancement, and setting aside the past bigotries with respect to race or ethnicity or religious conviction or country of origin.
And when you travel the country as Lynne and I have this last election cycle -- gee, we've been in 48 states -- we've had the opportunity to meet with and talk with people from every walk of life. We meet grandmothers, and school teachers, and veterans returned from Iraq, and farmers, and business people, and doctors, and people that are -- just represent that enormous broad sweep of our society, and you just have to feel awful good about the United States of America. We're very privileged to live here, very privileged to have the opportunity to participate in this process which unfortunately too many people take for granted. But if you think about how rare it is in the history of the world for people to live as we do, with the freedom we do, and with the opportunity that we have, and with the responsibility to elect our leadership and then hold them accountable, it's very, very rare and very special. So you can't -- a lot of grief connected with these campaigns. A lot stuff lying around all the time out there. But you set that aside because what is really important at the bottom is, we're Americans and enormously privileged to carry that title.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 1:40 P.M. CDT