For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
October 15, 2004
Remarks by the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney Followed by Question and Answer at a Coffee with Community Leaders
Hopper's Family Restaurant
Berrien Springs, Michigan
9:20 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good to be back in Michigan.
MRS. CHENEY: Where we've spent a lot of time.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We have gotten to Michigan quite a bit this year, which is good, which we enjoy.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: I want you to know that I told them that you were with me at a Michigan game four years ago, but we were not playing Notre Dame. We were not playing Michigan State, or -- (Laughter.) It's okay.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That was all right -- for a day. That's right, that's right. (Laughter.) That's right. I was very careful about that. But I've known Fred for years because we served together in the Congress and in a various capacities since, so delighted to be here in his district this morning and get a chance to spend some time with him. We worked hard to train him, to teach him everything he knows, bring him up right. (Laughter.)
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: (Inaudible.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He's doing a good job. But what we usually do at these sessions is have a chance -- I'll make a few remarks, and then we open it up to questions so we can talk about what you'd like to talk about, whatever is on your mind. And I'll try to answer questions. Lynne jumps in sometimes, is an expert in some areas that I'm not. But we'll try to keep it -- try to keep my remarks fairly brief. But I do have a couple thoughts I'd like to share with you up-front.
The thing that's a little unique about it, of course, is the press is here. And so you just need to remember that, whatever you say is on -- (Laughter.) Say whatever you want, the point is, whatever you say is on the record, and may be used against you. (Laughter.) Now, we love the press. We love having them with us, and they're a very important part of this process, so even if we occasionally gig them a bit. But it seems that's only fair.
MRS. CHENEY: True.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, I thought I'd take a couple of minutes this morning, and one of the things I want to talk about in this issue -- in this election, there are a lot of important issues, obviously -- talked a lot about the economy. We saw the debate the other night on domestic issues, and we've been talking a lot about health policy and education, and a range of areas -- jobs and tax policy and so forth that are important domestically, and in terms of how we develop as a nation, making certain that all Americans have an opportunity to take advantage of the tremendous privilege it is to be Americans, and to get a good job and be able to take of their family, and a quality education, and so forth. And all of those are very important issues, and we'll talk about them some, as we do during the course of the campaign.
But I also want to talk a bit about national security this morning, partly because I think that -- maybe it's in part my own background on these issues, but I just believe it is one of the most important decisions we're ever going to make, and that is who is going to be Commander-in-Chief for the next four years, and that we're at one of those times that occurs occasionally in American history, where you sort of come up to a watershed moment if you will, where there's a new threat to deal with, and that forces us to develop new strategies for defending the country, and sometimes new institutions and new ways of thinking about how best to secure the nation against our enemies. And I think we're at one of those periods now.
We had one right after World War II when the Cold War started and we had to adapt to having to confront the Soviet Union. We had to develop the policy of deterrence. We developed a whole new set of weapons and our nuclear capabilities, created the Department of Defense, created the Central Intelligence Agency, created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. We did a number of things that put in a place a basic, broad strategy that was supported on a bipartisan basis by Republican and Democrat alike then for the next 40 years, until the end of the Cold War.
I think we're now at a point where we're having to establish a similar strategy, another one of those break points in history, because of what happened on 9/11; because of the nature of the threat we face today; the fact that on 9/11 we lost nearly 3,000 people -- more than we lost at Pearl Harbor, the worst attack ever on America. And it was an attack carried out by a whole different set of individuals, non-state actors, if you will, terrorists -- people who were committed to die in the effort to kill infidels. And we're the infidels. And the effort demonstrated the vulnerability of an open society, which is one of our great strengths, one of the things we value about being Americans, but how easy it was for a handful of individuals to come into the country and with knives and boarding passes, in effect, launch a deadly attack on the American people.
We also have to keep in mind now that, given what we've learned since then, that the biggest threat we face is the possibility of a terrorist group such as the one that struck us on 9/11 acquiring deadlier weapons to use against us, specifically weapons of mass destruction -- a chemical weapon, or biological agent, or a nuclear weapon, and that they would be able to smuggle that kind of deadly capability into the midst of one of our own cities and threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, not just 3,000.
That's the ultimate threat we're faced with these days, and we have to think about that when we begin to devise a strategy and a policy and a set of institutions that we want to pursue going forward to protect against that kind of an attack, and to guarantee the safety and security of the American people well into the future. And that's what we've been involved in, what the President has had to do since 9/11. And we have, in fact -- believe we've developed such a strategy -- several component parts to it. Obviously, we did a lot to strengthen our defenses here at home, created the Department of Homeland Security; passed the Patriot Act to give law enforcement the tools they need to be able to go after terrorists, same tools they already had for dealing with organized crime and drug traffickers; Project BioShield, which authorizes the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health to spend a considerable amount of money developing defenses against biological weapons. And we've taken a whole series of steps that make the U.S. a tougher target.
But we also made another key decision, and that was that there's no such thing as a perfect defense; that we could be successful 99 percent of the time, and given the nature of the threat, if they get through only one time in a hundred, or one time in a thousand, that's unacceptable. We cannot tolerate a situation in which we got hit with those kinds of deadly weapons. And so the President made the decision that it was not enough to have a good defense. We also have to go on offense. And that's a key proposition for us. By going on offense, what we've meant and what we've done is to go after not only the terrorists -- wherever they plan and train and organize, but also go after those who support terror, especially states that sponsor terror. And there are a number out there that have done it. Afghanistan comes immediately to mind, where they've provided a safe-haven for al Qaeda, they provided an area for training camps, where the al Qaeda trained perhaps as many as 20,000 terrorists in the late '90s. They've been subsequently spread out around the world and launched attacks a number of different places.
We went in and took down the Taliban government. We've closed the training camps. We've captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And now we're in the business of the next phase of the strategy, and that is you've got to stand up something to replace what you took down. You can't simply go into Afghanistan, take down the old Taliban regime and leave. You'll just have chaos in your wake, and it will again become a failed state, again become a breeding ground for terror. So it's very important we set something up there to replace what we took out, and that's the process we're in right now.
Of course, the remarkable thing is that the Afghan people have now registered 10 million people to vote, almost half of them women -- never before happened in the history of Afghanistan. And on last Saturday, less than a week ago, they held the first election in the 5,000-year history of that country. They got a democratically elected government -- will be place by the end of the year, absolutely key part of the strategy. And that's the end-state that we've got to -- got to achieve. (Applause.)
In Iraq, a slightly different set of circumstances, but there what we had, of course, in Saddam Hussein, was a man who had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction, both in the war against the Iranians and against the Kurds, a man who had a long record of starting two wars. He had a long record, as well, as a state sponsor of terror. He's been carried by our State Department on the list of state sponsors of terror for some 15 years. He had provided safe harbor for Abu Nidal, for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. And he also had been making $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers that would kill Israelis.
And he had a relationship with al Qaeda. You can go back and look at testimony by George Tenet, director of the CIA, before the Senate foreign relations committee two years ago in open session where he laid out a history of the 10-year relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq.
So we went in and obviously took down Saddam Hussein's government. He's in jail. He'll, in the not too distant future, go on trial for the many crimes he's committed. We're now in the midst of standing up a new government behind to replace what was there. We've got the Prime Minister Allawi in place now. Fred and I heard him address a joint session of Congress here a couple of weeks ago. He's a good man, a very tough customer.
They've only been in business, this new Iraqi government, a little over 90 days. We had people out there wringing their hands saying it's never going to work, they can't possibly pull it off. That's what John Edwards said two-and-a-half years ago about Afghanistan, but we pulled it off, in terms of we got through that election, and I don't want to underestimate for anybody how difficult these challenges are.
This is a hard thing to do, to go into a country that's been living under a brutal dictatorship maybe for centuries, and, in effect, stand up those institutions and give people the opportunity to have a representative government but that's exactly what we're doing now in Iraq. They'll have elections in January. That will elect a constituent assembly to write a constitution, then hopefully by the end of next year, they will have elections under that new constitution and have a democratically elected government in place in Iraq, just as we soon will have in Afghanistan.
The other key component of the strategy is not only do we have to get the Iraqis and the Afghans to take responsibility for governing, we also have to get them to take responsibility for their own security, and we're doing that in both countries by spending time and effort training and equipping their own security forces. We will have in Iraq, by the end of this year, 125,000 Iraqis who have been trained and equipped to take on major responsibilities for their own security, including police force, border force, regular military, and doing the same thing in Afghanistan as well, too.
That's the course we're on, the strategy we've got to pursue. I guess a couple of comments I would make about it. One is, these kinds of operations always have costs, and the costs are borne most especially by our military and our military families. They're the ones that are doing the heavy lifting for us and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for what they do for all of us. (Applause.)
But I think there are a couple of things we can say about them, and even given the sacrifices that are having to be made now, that if we were to turn our back on this threat, if we were to pull back and try to be safe and secure behind our oceans and not aggressively go after the terrorists and those who sponsor terror overseas, I think we'd make a serious mistake. We'd sort of revert back to where we were pre-9/11. That would put us in a place where, as long as we delay, or the longer we delay addressing these issues overseas, the greater the likelihood that the terrorist threat will grow, the greater the likelihood that they'll get off more attacks against us, the greater the likelihood that they'll acquire deadlier weapons to use against us.
And John Kerry said something on Sunday that I found very disturbing. He was interviewed in The New York Times, in the Sunday magazine, and he talked about his hope of being able to get terrorism back to the point where it was just a nuisance, and then he compared that, he said, you know, like with respect to illegal gambling or prostitution. And I thought about that, and I asked myself, well, when was terrorism ever a nuisance? It certainly hasn't been since 9/11. But was it a nuisance four years ago this week when they hit the USS Cole, nearly sunk it and killed 17 of our sailors? Or six years ago, when they hit simultaneously two of our embassies in east Africa and killed hundreds, including a number of Americans? Or maybe it was 1993, the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York? Or 1988, December, when they blew Pan Am 103 out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland? Or maybe Beirut, 1983, 21 years ago this fall, to the month as a matter of fact, when they blew up the barracks over there and killed 241 Marines?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: From Camp Lejuene.
There's never been a time in my mind when I've wanted to think of, or I think we can afford to think of terrorism as a nuisance. That's just an unacceptable mind set. That says to me, somebody who believes that you can, in fact, treat terror like that, that our objective ought to be somehow to get it to be in manageable proportions, and that's not our goal. Our goal is to defeat and destroy the terrorists wherever they are. That's absolutely what has to happen. (Applause.)
So I think when we think about this mission and what is required here and what we need to have in a Commander-in-Chief, to be able to make the decisions that he has to make for all of us, and these are very tough decisions, but also, his ability to lead, to earn the respect of our troops who are the ones doing the heavy lifting, you've got to have a President who's steadfast, who knows what believes and means what he says and says what he means, somebody who doesn't vacillate with the political winds, doesn't blow hot and cold -- one day he's for sending the troops in Afghanistan -- into Iraq, and the next day he's against providing them with the resources they need once they get there. That kind of vacillation says to me a lot about lack of character, at least the kind of character I think we have to have in a Commander-in-Chief who's going to make these tough decisions and see this forward to victory.
The way we honor the sacrifice that has already been made by so many is to complete the mission. That's the single most important thing we can do, and from the standpoint of our families and the standpoint of the safety and security of the nation, there is no doubt in my mind but what we'll be far safer and more secure long-term if we actively and aggressively go after our adversaries than we will if we sort of hunker down here at home and hope they don't hit us. (Applause.)
John Kerry's record, he's got one, it goes back some 30 years, 20 years of that in the United States Senate, just says to me this is not a man who's prepared to make those kinds of decisions and to effectively command the power and might of the United States to go after adversaries. And he's tried to obscure that record during the course of the campaign. He doesn't want to talk about it. We've heard some tough talk during the course of the debates and campaign, but you can't hide a 30-year record where he's been out there voting in the United States Senate, and before that campaigning for office in the 1970s when he ran for Congress the first time, he said we should not commit U.S. troops without first getting the United Nations approval. In 1984, when he ran for the Senate, he was opposed the most of the major weapons systems that were put in place by President Reagan and were instrumental in our victory in the Cold War, and then subsequent uses in other conflicts.
1991, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. We had a vote in the Senate and in the House authorizing the President to use force, to go expel the Iraqis from Kuwait, and we did it with U.N. approval at that point; they'd signed off on it. We had 34 nations that had been signed up and committed troops to go alongside it. And even with all of that kind of international support, John Kerry voted no. He was opposed to Operation Desert Storm.
I don't think you can construct a set of conditions under which he seems to be willing to make the kind of tough decisions that are required to use U.S. military force when it's in our national interest to do so. He's always got an excuse. He finally, this time around, of course, on Iraq, voted to send the troops in harm's way, but then a short while later, came under some heat in the Democratic primary because he was running against Howard Dean, who was running as the anti-war candidate, and he decided he needed to cast himself as the anti-war candidate, so having voted to commit the troops to combat, he then turned around and voted against the resources they needed to do the job once he put them there.
I don't think you can afford to have as Commander-in-Chief a man who has that kind of tendency to, in effect, blow with the political winds, and to recast his position on the pressures of the moment. It's absolutely essential for us to have a President who is steadfast and courageous, and for the troops, for the American people and for our adversaries to know what the position of the United States is, and I say, I haven't seen that in John Kerry. (Applause.)
Well, anyway, I think the decision we make on November 2nd strikes right smack at the heart of that proposition, that the American people need to have in mind those kinds of considerations when they decide who they want to have as Commander-in-Chief for the next four years, and remember that it's not enough just to look at what somebody may say during the course of a 90-minute debate. You've also got to look at the track record, that in this case, with Senator Kerry goes back nearly 30 years. And it's not a record that inspires confidence.
So with that, I'll stop, and be happy to respond to questions. I say, Lynne is here and she's eager to participate. (Laughter.) So thank you all for being here this morning. (Applause.)
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: Well, Dick, we're delighted to have both of you back to our district. We assembled this august group of folks and they've all got a couple of questions. And we will start. Mary -- was a neighbor of mine that lived across the street when I was growing up and she will have the first question.
Q Mr. Vice President, I am concerned about the future of Social Security, and I've heard a lot of different plans that are being advocated to solve our -- the coming fiscal crunch. And I just wonder what you would suggest as a solution. I've heard about privatized -- privatized -- you know what I mean. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Personal. We call them personal retirement accounts.
Q Yes, personal retirements accounts. And I wonder if you think that that is a valid solution.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. Well, where we're at in Social Security, I think it's important to emphasize this for people. But Social Security is sound from a financial standpoint to the current generation of recipients and probably for the next generation of recipients as well, too, those who are approaching retirement age now in their 50s.
The concern that a lot of us had is that when you look farther down the road, and if you were 20 or 30 years old -- which, obviously I'm not; I passed beyond that some time ago -- but that our children have legitimate concerns about whether or not the Social Security system will be there when they need it. And that's where there are legitimate questions and the questions arise primarily because most of the experts who have looked at it will tell you that at this stage, the level of benefits that have been promised to the number of people that we can anticipate reaching retirement age exceeds the resources that will be in the system at some point down the road. There used to be a debate over exactly when that will occur, but there's no question but what there is a long-term problem with respect to Social Security that needs to be addressed.
John Kerry's approach, I think, basically is to put his head in the sand and not want to deal with that. And what we've said, in effect, what the President said and has talked about and we've talked about during the campaign and we'll continue to work on in the next four years, is that we think it makes sense to give people an option, that younger generation. And we're not talking about anybody who's already in the system, already drawing benefits they've paid in over their lifetime, and their benefits should not be altered or affected, nor should those who have been paying in most of their lives and are getting close to retirement age now.
But for that younger generation, we need to give them an option, an alternative, and the alternative we've talked about is the idea of allowing them to take a portion of their payroll tax and have it go into what we call a personal retirement account, and in effect, would become their account, and would have to be invested in some approved plan, but you could generate a higher rate of return that way than you can simply by putting it in the Social Security account. That begins to help close the financing gap that you're going to run into long-term.
It's also in keeping with the notion that the President and I believe very deeply in, that we want to try to give people more control over their own lives. Right now, of course, once you pass away, whatever you put into the Social Security is gone. It's not yours. It's not assigned to you personally. So the idea of a personal retirement account is that there would be something left there that you could pass on to your heirs. And furthermore, that it gives people more control over their own retirement situation than would be the case today.
Again, voluntary, up to them, they don't have to take advantage of this kind of an approach if they don't want to. But we think it's in keeping with what we'd like to do in a lot of other areas as well, too, and we think it's the right way to begin to address this issue. There are obviously a lot of detailed questions that haven't been worked out. They would have to be approached on a bipartisan basis. Social Security is one of those issues that you can't resolve or pass legislation on until you've got both parties generally on board to support it. We went through the exercise -- I don't remember whether you were there or not, Fred, back in 1983 when I was in the Congress, we had a situation where Social Security --
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: Still in high school. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, right. (Laughter.) But where we had a situation where the system was literally about to go bankrupt, and we had to fix Social Security at that time and we got it done. And when we got up to the moment of crisis, then we had Alan Greenspan was then the Chairman of the commission that pulled together a set of recommendations, and we did, in fact, address it and make some changes that were essential to make the system whole and to be able to provide to provide those benefits.
So that's the general approach we think makes sense. We think it's a realistic way to begin to address some of these issues, and so that's the kind of thing we'd like to approach in the second term.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: We'll hear from -- speaking about high school, we'll hear from -- who is a Lake Shore High School student.
Q Well, Mr. Vice President, as a student athlete, I am very concerned about the current method of enforcing the Title IX legislation. Now, Title IX is clearly an important law with a very admirable goal. However, the current method of determining compliance with this law uses a test of proportionality, which is causing many schools to drop men's athletic programs.
My question to you is, when reelected, what will your administration do to help make sure that the true intent of the law is brought forward and where would you stand on the issue of proportionality?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we've -- let me buck some of this to my wife, Lynne, who is an expert in some of these fields more than I am.
MRS. CHENEY: And a great fan of women's athletics as well.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right. (Applause.)
I think everybody that I've discussed the subject with thinks that Title IX has made significant contributions to creating opportunities out there for women athletes. And the world has changed a lot in -- well, since I was a youngster as young as you are, in terms of the extent of opportunities that are there for women, from a standpoint of sports and athletic endeavors. Now, you got -- that's been very important. The principles that are embodied in Title IX, we believe, are very sound.
There has been this debate over how it's actually enforced and implemented. I know Denny Hastert, Speaker Hastert, has spoken many times on the subject. Denny used to be a wrestling coach before he became a politician down in Illinois. And wrestling is one of the programs that's been hard-hit as the schools have tried to adapt and meet the requirements and the guidelines of Title IX. And so a lot of great wrestling programs I know have been canceled -- it has been a big problem in colleges and universities as well, too.
We'll continue to look at it. There was a commission set up, a set of recommendations that need to be effectively enforced. And the President has made it clear he wants to do everything possible with respect to the way we actually carry out Title IX so that it works as intended and doesn't have adverse consequences. It shouldn't be in the business of denying athletic opportunities to anybody. It ought to be operated in such a way that it creates the maximum number of opportunities for as many people as possible.
And there are various formulas that can be used to try to make certain that the intent of the act is carried out. So we'll continue to work on it and push on it, and I know Senator -- or Speaker Hastert continues to be deeply interested in it, as well.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: I'm a supporter of wrestling, as well. We'll hear from Troy. Troy is actually a candidate for county commissioner here in Berrien County.
Q How you doing? Sorry, this cold is killing me. Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cheney, I am excited about all of the African Americans that are coming to the Republican Party. (Applause.) I want to know from you guys, is there -- are you -- is the campaign making a big push? What exactly are they doing to bring more minorities over to the Republican Party, and is there still more work to do, obviously?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there clearly is still more work to do. I think the President, when he was governor of Texas, worked hard in this area and had considerable success, both with respect to the African American community as well as with respect to the Hispanic community. And he got, I recall, over 50 percent of the vote when he ran for reelection in Texas among Hispanics, for example, and not that high, but probably upwards of 20 percent of the vote with respect to African Americans.
Last time around, four years ago, we didn't do as well as we would have liked. The -- we ran into some difficulties. I felt frankly that -- well, I'll be careful here; we've still got election to go. I won't name names of groups, but that, I guess, the argument that I would make on the notion of why people of all races ought to be supportive of the President and his administration is that he is working at and addressing aggressively those issues that are most important, in terms of people achieving true equality in our society.
I think of things like education, and it's something that he believes in very deeply, and it was the very first priority we had when we got to Washington and something we introduced as HR 1 and that was the No Child Left Behind Act. And that came out of the President's experience in Texas, where we had a public school system that frankly wasn't working very well, and what he talked about as the soft bigotry of low expectations, that we didn't have standards established, we didn't test to those standards, we didn't have accountability in the schools, with parents and with communities, so that we knew how individual schools were performing and how individual students were performing as well, too.
He brought that concept to Washington, passed No Child Left Behind, got bipartisan support for it, had Ted Kennedy on board, among others. And it's now the law of the land. And we've done it. We've got fairly well established now in elementary levels and we want to take it now in the second term to the secondary level as well, too, that principle of regular testing and standards and accountability at the high school level.
It's important because you cannot, I don't think, make progress in improving public education in this country -- and Lynne and I are both products of public schools -- unless you measure progress. Like anything else, if you don't know where you are, you can't figure out how to get where you want to be.
So it's been an important principle for us, and what we're beginning to see now as well is that the results coming in are beginning to suggest we're starting close the achievement gap. There has been a so-called achievement gap in the majority of the population in minority students, in terms of reading and math scores, for example. We're beginning to make progress in narrowing that gap.
And I think the best single thing we can do, from the standpoint of making certain that all Americans, regardless of race or ethic background or economic circumstances have a shot at the opportunities that ought to go with American citizenship, is to start first, last and always with a first-class education. And if we give somebody that to begin their lives with, then they'll be able to take advantage of all the opportunities out there.
And the other thing I'd say, with respect to the President is, we've
got some tremendous folks from the African American community, who are my colleagues in the administration: the Secretary of State, Colin Powell; Condi Rice, who's the National Security Advisor; Rod Paige, who's Secretary of Education; Al Jackson, who runs the HUD. This is an administration that I think has done a better job than anybody else, not just at talking about opportunity, but going out and hiring people based on talent and ability, regardless of racial background, and it shows.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: And still today -- great answer. Thank you -- (applause) -- the closest he's ever been to a famous person was watching General Patton drive by in a jeep, so --
Q General MacArthur. (Laughter.)
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: MacArthur -- I'm sorry.
Q Your dad was --
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: Right, right.
Q -- Patton. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That was a different theater.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: I stand corrected. Bill is a leader of our veterans here in Berrien County, and he's a great, great guy.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Served with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal?
Q Yes. In fact, Mr. Vice President, we were on a patrol when General MacArthur went by in his beautiful jeeps. Ours was all dirty, and we didn't stand at attention, and we got reamed out. (Laughter.) When he came back, we were at attention. We were still dirty, but we were at attention.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's good.
Q So I'll be at attention for you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, that's all right.
Q Okay, during the Korean War, I took part in the capture of the South Korean capital of Seoul. At 54 years later, Seoul has 12 million thriving people, but 35 miles north is the DMZ, where over a million communist North Koreans are ready to attack. My question is, what is the administration's plan to resolve this situation?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, North Korea is one of the -- I'm trying to think how to describe it -- one of the ugliest regimes in the world today. It is just a huge gulag is one way to think about it. They do have massive prison camps in North Korea, but the population is starving. Their economy is non-functioning. One of the most dramatic things you can do is to look at a satellite photo taken at night from space of the Korean Peninsula. And the bottom half, the 38th Parallel and below is brightly lit; it looks like downtown Los Angeles or Chicago.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Probably -- probably can. (Laughter.) But if you go north of the DMZ, it's absolutely totally black -- no power, no lights. It is a tragic place. And the thing that always strikes me about it is what does it say about the man who rules North Korea that he would treat his people so callously as he does. He is now committed to trying to develop nuclear weapons. He's kicked out the inspectors that he'd agreed to earlier. He'd entered into an agreement back in '94 with the Clinton administration and then almost immediately began to violate it. When we came into office, we discovered that he had a secret uranium enrichment program going to build nuclear bombs, and that -- they admitted as much when we confronted them with it.
Now what we're doing, we have a series of talks underway. The Chinese have been very helpful and supportive in this regard, as well as the South Koreans, the Japanese, and the Russians, and the U.S. We've had about three sessions now as I recall of the group of six conveying to the North Koreans that their only option if they want any kind of normal discourse with the rest of the world is to give up their aspirations to develop nuclear weapons. And that's the current status we're at.
The U.S. is still fully committed to the defense of South Korea. South Korea is a great ally. We are repositioning our forces on the peninsula, and since 1953 when the Korean War ended, we've had our guys right up next to the DMZ; the Second Division basically has been stationed over there all that time. And now we're repositioning them, pulling them back, farther down the peninsula so they're not right up on the DMZ. But we're fully committed to the defense of South Korea. We're substituting new technology and new equipment that will make us even more effective over there than we have been. Plus the South Koreans now, one of the more prosperous societies in the world, and they've got a very good military. They're very well trained and well equipped, and they operate very effectively with us. So I don't -- I'm not concerned about the security of South Korea. I think they're in the good shape. And the North Koreans would be nuts to try to pull anything off there.
But it is -- the biggest concern we have right now is to get him off this stance that he wants to acquire nuclear weapons, because down that road lies -- I just think a dead-end for him, and having the Chinese on board is crucial because they're their number one trading partners. They share a huge border with them. And I say, the Chinese to date have been generally pretty supportive to work with in this area.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: -- part of a multi-generational family farm operation.
Q Fruit farmers. Just pull it up a little bit.
And I'm glad that the President talked about immigration the other night. I agree with you that security is the number one issue in this campaign, but in my business a work force is, too, and that we rely, as with other industries, on Hispanic workers. So where is the balancing act in tightening up to keep the bad guys out, and also supplying a work force?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we think the two go hand-in-hand, that is to say that what we have today is a situation where we have a large number of immigrants coming into the country illegally -- some primarily for economic reasons, because they can make more money here than they can in Mexico or Central America, and that's a very strong driver. People want to take care of their families. But what has transpired in the past is we'd end up with a large number of folks in the country illegally. We don't know what they're doing while they're here. We don't know when they leave. And that's a great worry if, in fact, someplace hidden in that flow of illegal immigrants would be terrorists who mean to do us harm. So we've tried to tighten up on the borders in Mexico. We've done a much better job. We've beefed up our Border Patrol forces. We got new technology we've deployed down there to deal with it.
The President's suggestion -- I think it's a good one -- is that, in fact, what we ought to do is have a system to regularize that flow, that we ought to recognize there is going to be this flow of folks coming to the U.S. to try to work, that the way to deal with it is to make certain that there's a process by which people can come in and apply to come into the United States on a temporary basis, that they would be allowed to come for a job where there was a job -- somebody who wanted to hire them -- and where Americans weren't available to take that employment, and come here for a period of time, and then ultimately have to return back to their home country, but that it would allow a guest worker program. We've had a version of guest worker programs in the past in the West -- I know in California, in years past, to support American agriculture. And at the same time, it would regularize it in such a way so that we would know who is here. We'd know how long they were here. We'd know when they went back. And so you accomplish both your security objective, as well as your economic objective at the same time by having a system that's better organized than what we've got now. That's the suggestion that's been put forward. And the President has offered it up as a recommendation.
Q Great idea, hope we can do it.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: We have a very diverse district and diversity is our strength. And one of those leaders is -- she has done a wonderful job in lots of different ways. Welcome.
Q Thank you. Mr. Vice President, on Tuesday of this week, the Annie E. Casey, Ford and Rockefeller foundations released a report titled: Working Hard, Falling Short -- America's Working Families in the Pursuit of Economic Security. And this report reflected the struggles of the 9.2 million families in our country who are struggling day-to-day known as the working poor. What promise do the next four years hold for these families, which undoubtedly includes the 20 percent of Berrien County residents without access to health care coverage, and the 40 percent of Benton Harbor residents who are living below the poverty line?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well -- the best solution for poverty is a job. And what most people want is a good-paying job that will allow them to take care of their family, that -- one of the things we find, for example, if you look at where -- we talk about the problem of health care and health insurance, is that about 60 percent of the people in the country who don't have health insurance work for small businesses, and that small businesses simply cannot afford to provide the level of benefits that would allow, for example, a family to be covered with a good insurance policy.
So one of the things we want to do is to provide assistance to small businesses, to be able to provide those kinds of benefits for their workers. And the President has proposed a tax credit that would allow a small business -- help the small business owner, in effect, contribute the purchase of a catastrophic health insurance policy for those employees. We tie it together with the health savings account, which is something that we passed last year when we passed the Medicare Reform Bill, this allows individuals to set up a health savings account, to contribute to it tax-free to pay out-of-pocket expenses. You could also allow the employer to contribute to that at the same time. And it would be tied together with a catastrophic policy that will cover the kinds of expenses, if somebody had a very, very serious illness, had minimum premiums connected with it. And we think those kinds of efforts would let us begin to target specifically people who are working at minimum wage, or even a little above minimum wage, but they're still not able to cover all their needs and requirements. And so we think coming through the small business community, and through HSAs is one way to go.
Obviously, Medicaid is there for people at the bottom end of the scale. We'll cover them based on income level, and they can get access to health care through that fashion, as well, too.
We come back again -- we think leaving, making the tax cuts that the President put in place permanent is absolutely essential. One of the things John -- (Applause.) John Kerry talks about rolling back the tax cuts for the rich, but he ignores the fact that 900,000 small businesses pay at that top bracket, that they pay into the personal income tax. And they tend to be the companies that have got the brightest future, the fastest growing. They create seven out of 10 new jobs in this country, small business does. If we come in and we increase taxes on that segment of our economy, we're going to dry up jobs. We'll discourage investments. You won't have the kinds of economic creation, of opportunities that would otherwise occur. There's a fundamental difference of philosophy there with respect to tax policy, and we think it's important that we do everything we can to make those jobs available. And you can't do that by raising taxes on those people who are basically providing the jobs and the opportunity.
We have to make America the best place in the world to work, to have companies that want to expand and want to invest here, and that means good tax policy. It means we've got to deal with the litigation reform. I talked the other day with a guy who runs a company, a manufacturing company in Minnesota. They've been in business 20 years. His product liability insurance is so high that if he didn't have that bill to pay, he could hire another 200 workers for his company, which has already got 900 workers connected with it. That goes directly to the heart of the way our litigation system works. And we have the cost of litigation built into everything we produce. Another way to make our system more efficient and able to generate more jobs and more opportunities is to address that question of litigation reform.
And I come back again to education. Education is always the key, and folks oftentimes who need the most help are the ones who haven't had the opportunity to get an education that will allow them to take a better job, or to be able to fulfill the requirements of a higher paying employment. So we need to do everything we can there with our training and assistance programs -- our job training programs to make certain people get the skills they need so they can take advantage of the private sector out there and move up the economic scale.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: I've gotten the signal that we have one more question left. And we're going to have -- ask it. She is a single mom, day-care provider.
Q Actually, my question is concerning kids because that's what my job is privately and personally. One is to follow-up on the education issue. You've talked about educating our schools and our teachers to help our kids. I also think that there should be some talk about educating parents to help their kids, in that I know -- I have three kids of my own that I have to take care of, that I have to push along in school also, that I don't rely on the teachers to do that for me. That's one question. That was a follow-up. That really wasn't the question I had originally.
My question was on health care. My costs -- I am a -- I'm self-employed, and I have a very high health costs that I have to pay for myself -- my kids are taken care of, but me personally. And where do we all stand on that, that the price of health care is astronomical for everyone. And what are we doing about that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You want to talk about education?
MRS. CHENEY: Oh, you know, you're just so right about parents. And that's such a good observation. It has occurred to me that one of the reasons that No Child Left Behind is proving to be effective is that for the first time parents can actually see how a child is doing. There was this doctor in West Virginia that became a legend among most of us who are concerned about education reform because he was a pediatrician. And he noticed that all of the kids that were coming into him, he would ask their parents, how are they doing in school, and the parent would always say, above average. And pretty soon he figured out it's not possible for everybody to be above average. It's that old Garrison Keillor line, which in the real world doesn't work. And it was because parents really didn't have access to accurate information. You can't go to the school and say, help my kid more if you don't know your kid is in trouble.
And what No Child Left Behind, I think, also does to encourage parents to become involved is give them some power. If the school fails, and fails, and fails, you can pick another public school. If your school fails, and fails, and fails, you can get tutoring paid for by public dollars. So I think that all of us need to -- and I sort of encourage that idea of parent involvement. But I think in so far as a government program can help, the No Child Left Behind --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: On the health care front, I had the experience in my youth of having a job that didn't have any health insurance, and got sick and ran up significant hospital bills.
MRS. CHENEY: It affected our honeymoon, as I remember. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It was the year we were to get married, and the honeymoon money went to the hospital to pay my medical bills. And of course, the problem is far worse today because the cost is so much higher. I think the quality of care is much better. We can do things today that we couldn't do before. I'm living proof of that, but the fact of the matter is, it's still a real burden out there for a lot of folks. And I come back -- I don't -- you've got your own business.
Q It's self-employed --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Self-employed.
Q I -- day-care, a small day-care in my home that I run. But I have to take care of myself.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, one of the things we've talked that I think has great merit is the notion of association health plans where we would allow a group of small businesses to come together and pool their resources and get the same kind of discounts for health insurance that a big corporation can.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: We passed that in the House. There are problems in the Senate.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It hasn't gotten through the Senate yet. But that's one of the ideas we put forth.
The whole area of medical liability reform we think is enormously important. And the cost of malpractice insurance is driving up the cost of health care all across the country. It's also restricting the availability of care. I was -- where were we last night? We did a rally --
MRS. CHENEY: We were Florida.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Florida, yes. (Laughter.) I have to stop and think.
MRS. CHENEY: The weather was different. That's what I remember. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As I working the rope line coming out, there was a guy there who is a doc, an OB/GYN. And he said, you've got help us. We've got to -- the malpractice insurance is about to drive me out of business. With medical liability we can begin to address those issues. Again, we've gotten it through the House. In my state of Wyoming, home state of Wyoming, we're seeing doctors have to close up shop and leave because they can't afford the insurance. We can't get new doctors to come in. The major malpractice insurance firm in the country -- in the state pulled out. And all of that gets passed on ultimately to the consumer in terms of cost. It means docs practice defense medicine, and oftentimes order up tests that aren't necessarily required, but they do so because they're worried about a lawsuit down the road. And defense medicine -- that adds to the cost of everything we do. So those are all problems that need to be addressed. And medical liability reform we think would help a lot. We estimate there's about maybe as much as $100 billion a year built into the cost of health care in this country because of the way the medical liability system works.
The key is to put a cap on non-economic damages, and we think also to limit the size of legal fees to the lawyers who bring the suits. And if we could do that, and it has been done in California with some degree of success. I say, we've gotten it through the House. It's been blocked in the Senate. John Kerry has voted against medical liability reform about 10 times. And of course, John Edwards doesn't believe in it. (Laughter.)
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: Well, Mr. Vice President, we know we want to thank the Hoppers for putting their place here. (Applause.) We know that you're never going to forget being in Berrien Springs for breakfast. And with that, we are going to be on the -- I hear the buses warming up in the background. We need to be on our way. But thank you for spending a good amount of time with us this morning --
Q In Berrien Township.
CONGRESSMAN UPTON: In Berrien Township, that's right, that's right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all very much for being here this morning. We appreciate it, and there are always very valuable sessions for us to find out what people are thinking about.
Thank you for being here, you bet. (Applause.)
END 10:10 A.M. EDT