WASHINGTON -- The presidential debates are over but Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush are still going head to head on the issues.
Throughout the campaign, The Associated Press has picked a wide variety of issues and asked the candidates questions about them. Bush and Gore have touched on such matters as farm policy, Internet privacy and trade with Vietnam along with their signature issues.
Here are 20 questions asked so far and a distillation of answers:
First Act: What would be the first legislation you would send to Congress as president?
Bush: ''My education improvement package. It will raise standards through local control and accountability by combining funding flexibility with a requirement from states to develop tests for students in grades three through eight in reading and math. I will demand results by establishing a $500 million fund to reward states and schools that improve student performance, and by withdrawing a portion of federal funding from states that permit student performance to decline. I will reform the Title I program to empower low-income parents of students trapped in persistently failing schools with more options. The bill will also include a $5 billion reading initiative, additional funding to train, recruit and retrain teachers, and a tripling of funding for character education.''
Gore: ''The McCain-Feingold bill to ban 'soft money' donations to political parties. We need to get big money out of politics. It has a corrosive effect on voters' trust of their elected leaders and undermines the foundation of our democracy. And I will follow up the McCain-Feingold bill with comprehensive reform that would change the way campaigns are financed. It's time to break the link between special interests and political influence, and give democracy back to the American people.''
Abstinence Education: Washington gives money to states for programs that encourage young people to abstain from sex but do not allow discussion of birth control. Do you support this initiative?
Bush: ''I strongly support abstinence programs for America's youth and favor spending at least as much on teen abstinence programs as on teen contraception programs. I support studying the effectiveness of federally funded sex education programs to ensure tax dollars are supporting programs that really work in reducing the twin epidemics of non-marital pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In Texas, we launched an aggressive abstinence campaign.''
Gore: ''I support a comprehensive strategy to prevent teen pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases that includes abstinence education and other measures. I believe that community leaders are in the best position to identify those family-planning strategies that will be most effective within their respective communities. That is why I would provide support to local communities to help them formulate strategies designed to eliminate teen pregnancy and disease transmission within the framework of local values and needs.''
Religion in Schools: What, to you, is an acceptable expression of someone's religious faith in a public school?
Bush: ''I support voluntary, student-led prayer and am committed to the First Amendment principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity. Whether Mormon, Methodist or Muslim, students in America should be able to participate in their constitutional free exercise of religion. I believe it is wrong to forcefully expunge any mention of religion, or dilute its impact and importance, when discussing world affairs. We should not have teacher-led prayers in public schools, and school officials should never favor one religion over another, or favor religion over no religion (or vice versa). I also believe that schools should not restrict students' religious liberties. The free exercise of faith is the fundamental right of every American, and that right doesn't stop at the schoolhouse door.''
Gore: ''Faith is not something that can be left at the schoolhouse door, and indeed the Constitution does not attempt to impose such an unreasonable standard. I support protecting religious freedom for all faiths. However, I oppose and I believe the Constitution prohibits mandated school prayer in public schools. My reason for opposing school prayer rests upon the idea that defending the separation between church and state is neither a Democratic nor a Republican idea, but an American idea. I do support a student's right to voluntarily pray in school or practice a moment of silence. I voted in favor of an amendment that gave individuals in public school the opportunity for silent prayer with appropriate constitutional safeguards. I believe that we must remain vigilant to ensure that no student is forced to pray and that the contents of any prayer are not dictated by school officials.''
Voucher Proposition: If approved, a California ballot initiative would give families $4,000 to send their children to private schools. Do you support Proposition 38?
Bush: ''I believe in local control of schools, therefore, I think it's up to individual states to decide whether to enact vouchers. It is up to California to decide if Proposition 38 should pass or fail. I believe federal dollars should no longer subsidize failure. I propose that states have more flexibility in exchange for implementing a system of accountability.''
Gore: ''No. I don't think that vouchers are the answer to the problems that our schools face. Ninety percent of our nation's children attend public schools. We need to provide public schools with the resources they need, not divert those resources to private schools. At the same time, we should focus on turning around every failing school in America, and provide extra after-school help for students in those schools while they're being turned around.''
Farm Aid: The Freedom to Farm Act cut price supports to farmers while giving them more freedom to plant what they want. Do you support this law?
Bush: ''Yes. The best way to ensure a strong and growing agricultural sector is through a more market-driven approach that allows our farmers to fully participate in the world economy. As farming moves towards market-driven production, I believe the government should help farmers adapt to a global marketplace by providing a strong safety net and the means to manage the cyclical downturns in the farm economy.''
Gore: ''The fact that prices and farm income have remained so low for so long, and that billions of dollars in emergency farm aid was needed over the past two years, shows that the 'Freedom to Farm' Act is misguided and wholly inadequate in a climate of declining crop prices and turmoil in overseas markets. I believe that we must restore the farm income safety net for family farmers with a system that increases support when crop prices or yields fall unexpectedly. That doesn't mean going back to an outdated system where government tells farmers what crops to produce.''
Prescription Drugs: Would elderly people with low incomes get all the prescription drugs they need at no cost to them under your proposals?
Bush: ''Under my plan, seniors with the lowest incomes get the most immediate and greatest help acquiring prescription drugs. Through my MediCARxES proposal, the full cost of Medicare premiums, which includes a plan with prescription drug coverage, for seniors with incomes at or below 135 percent of poverty will be covered. Seniors with incomes between 135 percent and 175 percent of poverty will have their costs for prescription drugs subsidized. Every senior receives help in paying for prescription drugs. Every senior will be protected through a $6,000 cap on out-of-pocket expenses.''
Gore: ''Yes. As more of our seniors spend more of their income on medicine, I believe that modernizing Medicare with a prescription drug benefit is one of the most important things we can do with our current prosperity. Elderly people living on low incomes will get all the prescription drugs they need at no cost. For others, my plan would cover 50 percent of a Medicare beneficiary's prescription drug costs, up to $5,000, and provide an additional catastrophic prescription drug benefit to cover all out-of-pocket costs for those with extremely high drug bills.''
Medical Savings Accounts: Should the government let everyone set aside money in a tax-free medical savings account to help pay for their health care?
Bush: ''I believe every American should have access to quality, affordable health care by giving consumers better information about health care plans, providing more choices such as medical savings accounts and changing tax laws to help more people, such as the uninsured and the self-employed, afford health insurance.''
Gore: ''I am opposed to Republican proposals to broaden medical savings accounts. These proposals have the potential to segment healthy populations from the sick in the insurance market and therefore leave sicker populations with higher health care costs. We already have some demonstrations on MSAs today and should wait and see what kind of impact they have on the insurance market before considering a full-blown proposal.''
Health Coverage: Many people who are eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (known as CHIP or S-CHIP) are not enrolled. How would you get the states to sign more people up?
Bush: ''As a governor, I have witnessed firsthand how the S-CHIP program has been burdened with regulations that restrict the ability of states to create innovative programs for their uninsured. For example, states have been restricted in their ability to perform adequate outreach to eligible children. I support returning the S-CHIP program to its original intent as a flexible block grant program. In a Bush administration, the federal government will not act as a regulatory roadblock and instead work with states so that they have the freedom to innovate and create programs that reflect the needs of their uninsured population, especially children.''
Gore: ''We should create new options for schools and child care centers to enroll kids on the spot and to link state children's health insurance programs to their school lunch programs. I will work to eliminate cumbersome barriers to child enrollment in health insurance, such as the asset tests that intimidate eligible families, and keep children enrolled by requiring states to increase the minimum eligibility period to one year, rather than every six months as some states require. And I will make it easier for families to sign up for child health care by allowing families to mail in applications. My plan would provide bonuses for states that enroll uninsured children and hold those who don't accountable.''
Internet Privacy: Should the federal government step in to safeguard people's online privacy or can that be done through self-regulation and users' education?
Bush: ''I will ensure Americans can exercise their right to know how their information is collected, how it will be used, and to accept or decline the collection or dissemination of this information, especially sensitive medical, genetic, and financial information. As president, I will prohibit genetic discrimination, criminalize identity theft and guarantee the privacy of medical and sensitive financial records. I will also make it a criminal offense to sell a person's Social Security number without his or her express consent.''
Gore: ''I have called for an Electronic Bill of Rights. It includes the right to choose whether personal information is disclosed; the right to know how, when, and how much of that information is being used; the right to see it yourself, and the right to know if it's accurate. In many areas, I believe that industry self-regulation of Internet privacy is an effective response. We have been pushing the private sector to get good privacy policies online, and there has been some impressive progress. For instance, only 14 percent of commercial Web sites had privacy policies posted in the spring of 1998, but that number had risen to 88 percent by this spring. The next steps are to figure out the best way to get privacy policies posted at that last 12 percent and to keep improving the quality of privacy policies.''
Military Pay: Military pay is going up 3.7 percent under a law signed in August. What, if any, specific pay increases do you favor for the armed forces beyond that raise?
Bush: ''I will add $1 billion on top of what Congress has approved in salary increases for our armed forces. These additional funds will help narrow the overall difference in compensation between the armed forces and the civilian sector. I also will provide targeted bonuses for those with special skills.''
Gore: ''I will support further pay increases that build on the 4.8 percent and 3.7 percent increases I supported over the past two years; invest in quality-of-life benefits such as military housing, health care and family services, and take full advantage of such key tools as reenlistment bonuses and specialized pay for special skills to ensure critical people and their skills are retained.''
Welfare Reform: Do you favor any substantive changes to the 1996 welfare reforms setting work requirements and time limits on assistance?
Bush: ''I will expand 'charitable choice' allowing faith-based organizations to compete against other non-governmental organizations to provide services to the poor. For those who have left welfare and are now working but still classified as low-income, I will establish programs such as Individual Development Accounts, increase access to health insurance and reduce marginal tax rates. My goal is to eliminate the toll both to the middle class.''
Gore: ''The next critical phase of welfare reform is to promote responsible fatherhood, ensure that those who have left the rolls have the support they need to stay off, and move those remaining on the rolls into work. I have proposed a new fatherhood initiative to ensure that low-income, noncustodial parents work to support their children. My plan includes tougher enforcement of child support obligations to crack down on 'deadbeat dads.' And it includes help for unemployed noncustodial parents who want to do the right thing -- 'deadbroke dads' -- in finding work.''
Abortion: Do you favor requirements that a parent or guardian be notified before a minor can get an abortion?
Bush: ''I believe parents should have the right to be involved in any major medical decision affecting their minor daughters. Last year, I signed legislation in Texas requiring parental notification before a minor daughter can receive an abortion. ''
Gore: ''As a parent, I believe that it is important for all parents to be involved in our children's lives. But I realize that's not always possible. Unfortunately, some teen-agers live in abusive homes with dysfunctional families. I believe that it is important to protect young women who are in such unfortunate situations. Many parental notification provisions are designed to undermine the right to choose.''
On Tuesday: Bush and Gore's opinions on energy and other topics.
Clean Energy: What is one example of something you would do to promote cleaner energy?
Bush: ''I would remove federal impediments, such as unclear jurisdiction over who is responsible for grid reliability, to help states be able to deregulate their electric industries effectively. This way states' green power can be identified and rewarded. As governor, I presided over an electric deregulation bill that brings competition to Texas residents, makes mandatory emissions reductions from older power plants and calls for 2,000 megawatts of new renewable energy by 2009, making Texas the largest market for renewable energy in the country. The Environmental Defense Fund calls this Texas law 'the strongest in the nation.'''
Gore: ''Encouraging consumers and producers to use cleaner energy is critical to ensuring we have clean air and fighting the threat of global warming. That is why I have proposed a bold, unprecedented Energy Security and Environment Trust Fund -- a $150 billion fund to help develop clean new technologies. This fund will provide tax credits and financial incentives to power producers who reduce pollutant emissions; consumers who purchase energy-efficient vehicles, homes and home appliances, and communities that build energy-saving forms of public transportation.''
Nuclear Energy: Should the United States increase its use of nuclear power as part of a strategy to come closer to energy independence?
Bush: ''Nuclear power plays an important role in meeting the energy needs of the new economy, supplying over 20 percent of electricity consumed. As part of my energy policy, I have proposed clarifying IRS rules to make it easier for companies that specialize in operating nuclear power plants to purchase them from companies that do not. My overall energy policy also includes using diplomatic leverage, working with our allies, OPEC, and other oil-producing countries to ensure greater stability in world oil markets. I will also encourage greater exploration at home including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up to environmentally responsible exploration. We must also develop our natural gas resources, which are clean-burning and hemispheric in nature, not subject to whims of OPEC. I will also promote renewable sources of energy as part of my agenda because the new economy is very electric-intensive -- the amount of computers, printers, Web servers, and telecommunications equipment has grown rapidly.''
Gore: ''I strongly believe we need to take measures to increase our nation's energy security and decrease our dependence on unreliable foreign sources of oil. However, I do not support an increased reliance on nuclear power. In order to achieve sound economic and environmental goals, I believe that we must increase renewable energy sources and environmentally sound domestic energy production and develop new energy-saving technologies, while reducing our reliance on imported energy. Through the power of free markets and American ingenuity, my plan will dramatically reduce pollution and enhance our energy security - and create more jobs in the process.''
Missile Defense: Should the United States begin building a national missile defense in 2001 even if Russia refuses to amend a treaty that prohibits it?
Bush: ''My job would be to convince Russia and other countries why employing a missile defense system is the right step to take. The creation of an effective missile defense will protect all 50 states, U.S. forces abroad and American friends and allies from limited missile attacks by rogue nations or accidental launches. To make this possible, we will offer Russia the necessary amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- an artifact of Cold War confrontation.''
Gore: ''We need more time for additional testing of our National Missile Defense system, to ensure that these technologies actually work together properly, to determine more clearly the costs of the system, and to conduct updated talks with other countries. I will work to persuade the Russian Federation that the NMD system would never become a threat to them, and to negotiate any necessary changes to the ABM treaty. However, the end of the day, I would not be prepared to let Russian opposition to this system stand in the way of its deployment, if I should conclude that the technologies are mature enough to deploy and are both affordable and needed.''
Gays in the Military: Do you support the ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy on gays in the military?
Bush: ''I support the current 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy crafted by General Colin Powell regarding homosexuals in the military.''
Gore: ''It is unacceptable that patriotic men and women who serve their nation with distinction are not only discharged, but suffer persecution and even violence. They should be allowed to serve their country without discrimination. ''
Death Penalty: Should the justice system make DNA testing more accessible to death row prisoners and more acceptable as evidence after a conviction?
Bush: ''Any time DNA evidence, in the context of all the evidence, is deemed to be relevant in the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, I believe we need to use it. I believe that individual states should make every effort to ensure that their criminal justice systems are fair and impartial and that every defendant has full access to the state and federal courts.''
Gore: ''Yes. I respect the strong feelings of those who oppose the death penalty, but I believe it is an appropriate and effective punishment for certain offenses. I strongly support, however, the use of new DNA techniques that can make our criminal justice system fairer and more accurate.''
Trade with Vietnam: An agreement has been signed with Vietnam that opens trade but makes no demands on human rights. Congress will consider it next year. Do you support it?
Bush: ''I support the trade agreement with Vietnam. I believe expanded trade with Vietnam will help the forces of economic and political reform take root and grow. At the same time, we must make clear to the Vietnamese government that we expect them to cooperate fully with our efforts to obtain the fullest possible accounting of missing servicemen in Vietnam. Like all Americans, I want to see improved human rights, and living and working conditions worldwide. The best way to address these issues is not through unilateral trade sanctions, but through multilateral agreements. The primary goal of our trade policy should be to open markets abroad because the better way to raise living and working standards is to increase trade.''
Gore: ''I believe that we must ratify and fully implement important new trade agreements, and as president I will insist on and use the authority to negotiate and enforce worker rights, human rights and environmental protections in those agreements. I believe that the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement provides important benefits to American businesses and workers, including dramatic new market access for American goods, services and agricultural products; intellectual property protection; investment protection provisions, and transparency and rule-of-law measures. The treaty also represents an important step in the normalization of our relations with Vietnam, a process which will strengthen cooperation on bringing American POW-MIAs home, promoting religious freedom and combating the narcotics trade.''
Guns: Do you believe law-abiding citizens should be able to carry concealed guns?
Bush: ''I believe law-abiding citizens who pass rigorous background checks and a firearm proficiency test should be able to protect themselves and their families. This decision is best left to individual states. I believe the federal government should enforce tough laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, juveniles and others who should not have them.''
Gore: ''No. We must not loosen the restrictions on concealed weapons. I believe that, after all the gun violence we have seen, simple common sense dictates that we must have stricter gun control measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands, without unnecessarily imposing on the rights of law-abiding hunters and homeowners.''
Arts: Do you support federal subsidies for the arts?
Bush: ''I believe we should continue federal funding for the arts but give states a greater say in how the funds are spent. I don't believe we should spend public money to support obscene material or denigrate religion.''
Gore: ''I strongly believe in encouraging and supporting the arts and would continue the current policy of support.''
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