Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2000 / 4 Tishrei 5760
What questions should be debated?
I WAS a presidential debate panelist once, in 1984, but it looks as though PBS's Jim Lehrer now has a lock on the moderator's job. So, what should he ask the candidates next week?
There is always a tension in question-writing between the issues that voters care about the most, the ones the candidates are talking about - which, this year, tend to be the same -- and the issues the moderator feels haven't been addressed adequately.
Lehrer should probe in all areas. And even though he's rigorously fair and self-effacing -- to such excess that he doesn't vote in presidential elections -- there's nothing wrong with honing questions to an edge that might challenge the candidates, or even cause them some discomfort.
Both candidates are making charges about the other's allocation of the budget surplus. Vice President Al Gore charges that Texas Gov. George W. Bush would give it away in tax cuts. Bush charges that Gore would spend it all.
I'd love to see Lehrer prepare a set of charts showing how Bush aides add up Gore's spending programs and how Gore's campaign estimates Bush's budget, then ask each to explain why the opposition has it wrong.
This would be a test of their knowledge of the details of their own programs and of their ability to defend their priorities.
And here are some other areas deserving exploration and some zingers (well, not all are zingers) for Lehrer to consider:
What legislation will you submit to Congress in your first 100 days? What executive orders?
-- Social Security
Gov. Bush, you say it's safe for people to invest some of their Social Security in the stock market. But what happens in a recession, when investments lose money? Will the government make it up or are workers out of luck?
Vice President Gore, experts say it's impossible to keep the Social Security system solvent for the next 50 years without cutting benefits, increasing taxes, or getting a better return on investments, as Gov. Bush wants to do. Are you for cutting benefits or raising taxes?
Gov. Bush, if workers can invest nearly a third of their Social Security taxes, it's money that can't pay current benefits. Some estimates of the "transition cost" to your program run to $1 trillion. Where does that money come from?
-- Health care
Vice President Gore, during the Clinton administration the number of uninsured Americans has risen from 35 million to 44 million. Your own proposal only calls for all children to be covered by the year 2005, leaving millions of adults uninsured. With a $2.2 trillion budget surplus, why aren't you being more aggressive in solving this problem?
Gov. Bush, Texas is one of 40 states liable to forfeit federal child-health money because you failed to enroll enough eligible children. Is this the record of a compassionate conservative?
Mr. Vice President, your parents sent you to St. Albans School, not to D.C. public schools. Why shouldn't poor parents have the same option when their public schools fail them?
Gov. Bush, you opposed a pay increase for Texas teachers in 1999 and increasing teacher pay is not a major item on your education agenda. Can America have first-rate schools if teachers make, on average, only $40,000 a year?
Gov. Bush, you want to offer seniors a choice of private insurance plans to cover prescription drugs, but the nation's health insurance companies say they won't offer such plans. How can your program work?
Vice President Gore, you say that drug company profits are exorbitant. Are you planning to have the Medicare bureaucracy set profit levels the way it now sets prices for medical procedures? What will this do to the drug innovation that cures diseases?
Gov. Bush, do you believe that global warming is a serious problem? What will you do about it?
Mr. Vice President, in your book, "Earth in the Balance," you say that higher energy taxes and prices are necessary to lower consumption and protect the environment. Why are you trying to depress the price now? Is it because this is an election year?
-- Foreign/defense policy
To both candidates: If Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic imposes martial law to keep himself in power, should the U.S. intervene militarily to force him out? What if Iraq's Saddam Hussein tries to disrupt world oil supplies? What if 1 million Africans are about to be killed in a genocide, as in Rwanda?
If there's time, Lehrer should also ask about missile defense, curbing TV sex and violence, religion, hate crimes and late-term abortion.
And finally, he should ask both candidates: White House bedrooms and even Camp David have been used to raise millions in campaign cash. Will this continue if you're
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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