Public Radio Interview
Minnesota Public Radio - Midday Show with Gary Eichten, September 23, 2002
Eichten: Good Morning. Welcome to Midday on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Gary Eichten. Glad you could join us. By any measure the US Senate race here in Minnesota is one of the most interesting and important in the nation. Both of the leading candidates, incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone and Republican challenger, Norm Coleman. Both are very well known, they're extremely well financed and they're running neck and neck in the polls. Both candidates are drawing support from around the nation, in part because of who they are, in part because control of the US Senate may very well depend on who wins this race. Well, today on Midday we are going to focus on the race for the US Senate in Minnesota. Joining us today as part of our continuing "Meet the Candidate" series is Democrat Paul Wellstone. Now if you have a question for Senator Wellstone, we invite you to give us a call. Senator Wellstone, thanks for coming over.
Wellstone: You're welcome - good to be here. Thanks for the MPR debate out at the State Fair - kind of a raucous gathering, wasn't it? But you know what? That's the State Fair! It's like...you know, we were at this gathering yesterday - it was fun - Sheila and I were on Saturday at the Plaza Latina on the east side of St. Paul, you know. And everybody was supposed to give - it was like a groundbreaking- ten new businesses - very exciting. And, you know, you were going to give a talk or a speech. And there was all the music breaking out and children talking and I said this is a community gathering. That's what you get but it was fun.
Eichten: Over the noon hour we're going to hear from Norm Ornstein who was in town last week. And he said that as far as he can tell this fall's elections are probably the most important that we are going to see in our lifetime because the two parties are almost perfectly divided in terms of power sharing and the rest all across the board. Control of both houses of congress are at stake, so on and so forth. Do you think, given, assuming he is right about that - do you think people in Minnesota ought to look at your contest with Norm Coleman as being a race between the two of you or one that really should be seen in a larger context - control of the Senate?
Wellstone: Well, you know I think, Gary, first of all I think people are, first and foremost, going to see it as a Minnesota race. And who people feel like can represent them well - who people, you know, trust in, believe in and think will work hard for them. I really believe that. And I think it's always your own chemistry with people and whether people like you and believe in you. I still think that matters more than anything else. So that's I think very Minnesota-based. I think, I think I've said it before in the Midday Show with you that when I decided to run again. I mean, I thought to myself - boy, there are going to be a lot of decisions to go to Norm's point that are going to be made that are going to crucially affect the quality or lack of quality depending on your point of view of lives of people in Minnesota and in the country.
On the environment - you know, I like to say - what are we going to drill for oil in every park? On Social Security - are we going to privatize, partially privatize, go to private accounts. No matter what they want to say are we going to take this money and put it into the stock market or are we going to preserve Social Security, which is what I think we have to do. Or education - you know how much of it are we going to continue to go down the tax cut road - "Robin Hood in reverse" - with so much of the tax cuts not focused on students being able to afford college but top 1% multi-national corporations. Are we going to invest in education? And what about health care? Are you going to have pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance industry running the show and deciding what the legislation will be - be it prescription drug legislation, whatever.
So there's certainly a lot at stake in terms of who controls the Senate - that's absolutely true. Roe v Wade, future Supreme Court. What kind of decision is going to be made on Roe v Wade and right to choose? These are really important questions. And the Minnesota race is certainly part of this.
Eichten: Iraq is currently the big issue, certainly. How are you going to vote on that resolution that the administration has sent to Congress?
Wellstone: Well, I don't think it'll be the resolution that the administration has sent to Congress. I think there will be some changes made in some of the wording, for sure. I mean just - I'm not a lawyer but for example, I think the request for authorization for military action sort of as it affects the whole region could be not just Iraq but anywhere in the Middle East- my guess is that would be changed. I think the big question is going to be and there will probably be several resolutions. I can't tell you what each will look like yet. I can tell you this because I think this is what Minnesotans want and I think it's what people of the country should require of all of us. We should make the most intellectually and personally honest decision that we can make. And for me I think the real question is what do I think is the first choice and most preferable.
What I think is that it is possible to design an international arms inspection regime that will insist on unfettered access that can work. It is possible to do that. We should try to make that happen and it should be made clear to Saddam Hussein that if, in fact, he will not comply there will be consequences that will follow. I believe this should be done. I don't think we should do this alone. I think it should be done through the international community. I'm not interested in Saddam Hussein being able to galvanize the international community against the United States. I'd rather it be the opposite. I think the Security Council and the UN will move in that direction. If we were to engage in a unilateral ground war without any support from the international community, I think we have to think very deeply about the consequences in the Near East and South Asia - whether or not we inflame radical elements, increasing instability - the very places where we need intelligence on the ground in the war against terrorism. What will be the impact on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, what will be the impact on Kashmir, and India and Pakistan? So I would far prefer that we not do this alone and that we do the heavy lifting to get the international support. That's my general framework.
Eichten: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has already said that when all is said and done the Senate will pass a resolution supporting the President. What, do you support that position? We were told a month ago that there's going to be vigorous debate on this issue. It sounds like, well there might be some discussion but basically the issue has already been resolved.
Wellstone: Well, I think, again, it's not clear what the final resolution or probably resolutions will be. I think, my guess is there will be two really competing resolutions and we'll wait to see the final wording. As to your question of - has there been the serious substantive questioning and discussion when you're talking about, you know, a life or death question that could have such a serious impact not only on young people that are put in harm's way by Americans but the world we live in.
My answer is "No". I think there could and should be more but that's beside the point. I mean I think the time you should decide what to do is when you have all the information and you feel like this is the best decision I can make. But it's beside the point. And there will be a vote. And Tom Daschle is right about that. And it will probably take place not this week but next week. There will be a lot of committee hearings this week and opportunities to raise a lot of questions. But it's sort of an artificial deadline, if that's what you're saying - is it an artificial deadline. The only time you really should vote is when you really feel like you got all of the information. But that's beside the point - there's going to be a vote.
Eichten: Norm Coleman said today that he believes the President has made the case for US action against Iraq. Would you agree?
Wellstone: Well, three weeks ago in your, the debate that we had on MPR I think he said look, you know, the case hasn't been made and...
Eichten: But he said with the UN speech he's now...
Wellstone: I think there are two or three points to make. I mean, the first is nobody, nobody believes that Saddam Hussein should be put in parentheses and ignored and just let it go. That's not the issue. I think everybody believes that it is important and that's what was good about the president's speech to the UN, was to go to the UN and say look it's important that the Security Council of the UN insist on unfettered arms inspection and make it clear that that has to happen now. And now Saddam Hussein said "Yes". And can we trust Saddam Hussein? No. But I think it's evidence of where the international pressure can take him and I think that's the way to go.
I think whatever happens by way of insisting that we go in and we know what he has and that all that be dismantled should be done by the international community. I think that's really what's at issue. That's the key point. Now going back three weeks ago - what's changed, what hasn't changed. I'll tell you what hasn't changed. There is no connection that has been made to Al-Qaida at all. And there is no evidence that he has any weaponry that he can now use against the United States anytime in the foreseeable future. That's not changed at all. The question really is the best way to really insist on the arms inspection and the best way to get this done and the best way to bring the international community along with you. I think that's far better than like open-ended authorization for a unilateral ground war.
Eichten: Paul Wellstone is with us. He is seeking a third term in the US Senate. He's come by today to talk about the campaign, talk about the issues and take your questions. We have a full bank of callers here. Let me give you the number. Don't call though. You'll just get discouraged, and upset and impatient because you'll get a busy signal. Wait for a couple of minutes until we clear some lines. 651-227-6000 or 1-800-242-2828. Mel, your question please.
Mel: Good Morning, Gary. Good Morning, Senator.
Wellstone: Good Morning
Mel: First of all I agree with Tom Friedman's column in this morning's Star Tribune where he says that the majority of Americans do not support going to war against Iraq. And so, within that context I appreciate the Senator in not accepting President Bush's reckless first strike policy and instead taking a cautious and more international approach. My question is -- the Senator has already talked about what's not changed in terms of Iraq over the last few months. I'm wondering what has changed in Iraq since last summer that would cause the White House to rush to war now this fall.
Wellstone: Thank you for the question, Mel. If it's OK with you, Mel, I want to mention to people in Minnesota that Tom Friedman is our Tom Friedman, who is a Minnesotan. I think his writing has been real important. He's had a lot to say that I think makes a great deal of sense. In particular one of the pieces he wrote, Mel, that I just want to mention quickly, had to do with the fact, that his argument was that in a lot of the countries in the Near East and South Asia one of the real problems is that really for highly educated citizens with a tremendous amount of intellectual capital skills - the problem is that there's no space for dissent. I mean, you know, there's no respect for human rights - people are crushed for speaking out. And this is not the stuff of social stability. And there's a lot of countries to look at in that respect - let me tell you. And I think he makes an important point. The second obvious point is that when you have people in a lot of countries that literally can't move and have no economic opportunities. That's not the stuff of social stability either. None of this is a justification for any violence - period.
But the point is Friedman has done a good job of making this case. On Iraq and what has changed - I don't know - I mean others would have to answer that question as to what has changed since last summer. I think that's for you and others to try to figure out, the timing of all this. I think what is true is, I think, we have to take very serious the goal of dealing with the problem of weapons of mass destruction. Now, what is interesting to me is and Tom Friedman and others have made this point as well, Mel, what's interesting to me is, that frankly, it's not just Saddam. I mean there is the Nunn/Lugar initiative which the administration has severely underfunded which is, you know, we need to get this nuclear material that's been hanging around there in Russia where people, you know, the economy has not done that well and could be smuggled out. We need to be buying that. We need to be getting it out of these countries. We need to make sure that these scientists and others have some alternatives other than to work for the kind of governments and regimes we don't want them to work for. So there's a whole...And also, again, I'll go back to the international community. We have to depend upon, we have to do the work with the international community. If you're serious and we should be, we should be.
You asked what's changed, what's hasn't changed. I'll tell you something that has not changed - is Al-Qaida and the war against terrorism. I take very seriously - On the basis of everything, every intelligence briefing I've had, I have no doubt that they have the capability to wreck more damage with more loss of life and I believe that you can have the greatest technology in the world but unless we have the assets on the ground or intelligence on the ground in the Near East and South Asia and other countries, it's going to be very difficult for us to be successful. So I don't think we want to just break away from the international community right now. I think it's extremely important that we don't do that. And I worry, you know, about the some of the directions - on the Kyoto treaty, on global warming, and on some of the human rights questions and a lot of other questions. I worry the ways in which the administration has moved away from working within the international community. Ultimately we live in a world - many of these countries are our neighbors whether we want it or not. And I think it's terribly important that we take a thoughtful international approach.
Eichten: One more question on this subject - if the UN ultimately decides not to do anything basically but pass some kind of a resolution perhaps which says "Gosh, Saddam, maybe you ought to let us come in and look around" or something. What then? Then do you clear the way for the President to take action or?
Wellstone: Well, you know, I think, first things first, Gary. And I will just tell you right now I do not believe that will happen. I actually think - one of the reasons I think it is well worth it for us to do the heavy lifting right now and say listen we are committed to, we are calling on the UN Security Council. We put that emphasis right now. That's where the emphasis should be. We are calling on the Security Council of the United Nations to insist on this unfettered arms inspection and to make it crystal clear there will be consequences if Saddam Hussein does not live up to that. That to me is what we ought to do. And you know what? I think that's what will happen. That's what will happen. To me it would be a shame if that's not the first course of action.
Eichten: Ron, your question please.
Ron: Hi, yeah, I just have a question for Doctor, for uh, Senator Wellstone about...
Wellstone: I am a doctor - nobody ever calls me that anymore. But "Paul" is good.
Ron: In the light of 9/11 and the Bush Administration wanting to go to Iraq and spend anywhere from 100 to 200 billion dollars to fight this war. And our energy policy. We've heard so much about how we're dependent on Middle Eastern oil. And what can we do about it? My idea is we spend 200 billion dollars in supporting the alternative energy in this country. What do you think?
Wellstone: I think you have a good idea. I mean, I think that...you know I'm not going to use this forum to make this a big debate with my opponent. I'd rather he be here. But I mean I'll just sort of point out some differences and I'll do it not in a shrill way. I think that the shame of it with this Administration is again if you want to talk about oil, you're talking about fossil fuels, you're talking about global warming, you're talking about the environment. Here we are in our state of Minnesota, cold weather state at the other end of the pipeline. When we import barrels of oil and MCF's of natural gas, we export probably $11 billion a year. And, frankly, the future is not coal. Just look at the acid rain, mercury, air toxics in our lakes where over and over again we're told, you know, if you're a woman expecting a child - don't eat the fish or if you have small children, only eat fish once a week. It's just outrageous. But we are rich in what - biomass electricity, wind, renewable, saved energy, biodiesel, ethanol, clean technology, small business. That's the direction to go in.
But this is an administration that is dominated by oil company interests. That's where they're about. I mean, and they're pretty active in the race in Minnesota. I don't represent them. I represent, I think really the future you're talking about and I think it's in our national interest to get serious about what Amorey Levans calls "soft pack energy policy" which puts a strong emphasis on efficient energy use, saved energy, renewable energy policy, clean technology, small business, keep capital in communities, more respectful of the environment. That's the marriage that we could make if these big interests didn't dominate so much of the politics.
Eichten: Now the caller suggested though, I think, that without putting words in his mouth, that we take the money otherwise spent on attacking Iraq and spend it on...
Wellstone: I was responding to his point that we ought to ...not so much on attacking Iraq because I think that's ahead of the story but more on whether or not we should focus on a domestic priority much less a national security priority - investing in a different energy policy. He's absolutely right. Look, the House of Representatives has an energy bill that has about 32 billion dollars of tax credits - about 28 billion of which go for energy companies much of it for oil companies that made about 40 billion in profits last year. These are not the folks that are pouring money into the MN race for me. I don't represent these interests. I think that Ron is right that we ought to be investing more in this different future. I'm not going to argue in terms of zero sum gain in relation of what we need to do in Iraq or what we need to do in other countries. I would like to make one other point though. It is terribly important that, I mean, for the sake of our own morality. We cannot leave Afghanistan a country, other than a country where the people are better off including women. And I will tell you there's a huge debate right now that the president there has called for an international security force - that we be a part of that. There's an enormous problem of economic and political reconstruction, much less national security. What are we going to do about Afghanistan? I mean there are some other real challenges out there that are staring us in the face that we cannot move away from.
Eichten: Rosita, quick question before we break for news, please.
Rosita: Thank you, actually I'm calling to say "Thank you" to Senator Wellstone for his work advocating for human rights in Colombia. And I know that the president of Colombia will be in Washington this week. I don't know if he will have a chance to meet him. I request, I'm just begging you to be very strong with him on the asking for starting a new peace process with the guerillas. And also to be more strong with paramilitaries. So I want to say thank you, Senator Wellstone, and please keep your hand strong on human rights. Thanks.
Wellstone: I will and thank you. And there's much to talk about. I think we're running out of time. One of the things Rosita is saying is that - the civil society people, people who are not involved with any of the different organizations, should not be murdered with impunity. I mean, you have to make sure the paramilitary is not able to do that and that the military isn't supporting the paramilitary. And the government is clear in defending human rights. That's what we're worried about.
Eichten: Senator Paul Wellstone is our guest this hour. Part of our continuing Meet the Candidate series here on Minnesota Public Radio. We'll get to more of your questions here in just a couple of minutes.
(Break for News)
Eichten: Today our Meet the Candidate series continues. Of course, Minnesota has a really interesting and lively US Senate race underway. Incumbent Paul Wellstone is seeking his third term. He's being challenged by former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. And the polls indicate the race very, very close. You undoubtedly have seen and heard many of the ads that have been running. And so, between now and November our coverage will continue. Today Senator Wellstone has come by to take your questions. And let's get back to the phones. Rick, your question for Paul Wellstone please.
Rick: Hi Senator Wellstone, I have a question for you that isn't related to Iraq in any way.
Rick: So...My question is about Social Security. There's been a lot of talk about possibly privatizing or partially privatizing Social Security. My question is - have any of the candidates or why haven't any of the candidates brought up, you know, the possibility of opting out of Social Security. You know, if people instead of - you know, leave Social Security the way it is right now - and then for people that think it should be privatized just say well, you can opt out of it, and at the end they can just invest their 15% however they want. And then at the end, just, you know, they don't receive the benefits of Social Security when they retire.
Wellstone: Well, a couple of things - first of all your framework or your philosophy is intellectually consistent and, you know, I respect you for that. We probably have a disagreement - just an honest philosophical disagreement. Couple different points. First of all, on the question of privatizing or partial privatization which is what it's always been called and now I think since most people in Minnesota and in the country think it's a crazy idea people who were for it including my opponent have now said oh, I'm not. But they are on record for having supported it. And the reason they're having trouble with it, Rick, is even in what they consider to be with what they call private accounts you're still taking money out of Social Security and investing it in the stock market. Because if you allow, let's say you say to somebody take 2% out of your payroll check and invest it in whatever way you want to. The big issue then is the transition cost, that is, to say over the next ten years you've taken a trillion or a trillion and a half dollars out of Social Security and how is that made up - what are you going to cut people's benefits, going to raise retirement age or what. And nobody has been able to answer that question. What you said is a little different which is let people opt out. And also make it clear to people that you're not later on going to be a Social Security recipient. Let's just really do it that way. Let people kind of decide themselves - more of a libertarian, as I understand it, viewpoint.
And the reason that I just don't agree is that - I just think this program has just been the most probably successful public policy in the country over the years since Roosevelt first got it passed in 1935. And the reason is, it is a universal coverage and we're all so to say, we're all in this together as a community and we all put money into it and we all hope that when we're over 65 years of age, when we're eligible be it because of age or be it because of disability or survivor's benefits - that there will be decent income support for us. And I think it's worked really well that way. And I would not want to change it and have, enabling people to just opt in or out of it. I think that would be a mistake. And, by the way, before Social Security, the highest percentage of poverty was among elderly people. Because by definition, now you're not working - don't have employment income. That's all changed and that's been because of this very important universal coverage program. It will continue to be a big issue in the campaign. Because I just don't let people say different things in different places. I try to hold them accountable.
Eichten: You made it clear you don't support the idea of people having their own personal accounts. Well, what is it that you would do over the next six years if you're reelected to ensure the long- term financial stability of Social Security? Apparently all the studies indicate that unless something changes, unless taxes are raised, benefits are cut, retirement age is raised or something, unless something significant happens, the system's going to go bankrupt.
Wellstone: Well, the argument is - and first of all, you don't save it by destroying it and privatizing it and taking money and putting it into the Stock Market investments. That's the difference between myself and my opponent. So, first of all, do no harm. Second of all, don't take money out of the Social Security Trust Fund. Cause, you know, we're looking to 2039 and beyond. And on that one, Gary, the only thing I can tell you, that's another big difference in the race which is that I just think - that these tax cuts - you know all of a sudden a five trillion dollar surplus is gone and now we're in deficits. You've got these "Robin Hood in reverse" tax cuts with 40% going to the top 1%. My opponent says yes, he's for that and extending it on and making it permanent. And if you do that, then by definition you no longer have any surpluses.
Then you're taking money out of the Social Security Trust Fund. So that's the second thing - you've got to be fiscally responsible. And I think some of these tax cuts, not focused on middle or working income people but on the top one percent, more breaks for multi-national corporations, is irresponsible.
And the third thing which is an answer and I'm disappointed is not given more. I mean, you can get a good commission together. The President's commission, the problem with the president's commission is - all the proposals went in the direction of partial privatization - is they didn't have any representatives from any of the consumer groups. AARP didn't even get any representation. So they didn't hear any viewpoints. I'm sure you could get together a commission that could figure out some different kind of things that could be done.
But I'll tell you one thing that should be done - which is macroeconomic. The single best thing you can do for the Social Security is to have a much better economic performance. You should invest in your intellectual capital, not make cuts in education. You should make sure that you go after corporate insider scandals so people can invest. Because it is the economy, it is the wage levels, it is what people make now that determines what is in the Social Security fund. There is no more important thing you can do than to focus on the economy and economic performance. I'm not evading your question. That is the truth. It's a hard thing...I feel like I'm just teaching, I don't mean that in a pompous way. It's a hard thing to explain to people. But actually, people who are now retired, the income support comes from those of us that are working. That's the transfer. And then when we retire, we hope the same thing will happen. Now people have put money in and you have all this insurance language, insurance analogies. But actually, that's the way it works. So the key thing is the wage levels, are we going to have a highly skilled work force, highly educated, good economic performance - not the economy right now which is the worst we've seen it for years. Which is, of course, something, that's not so discussed. But I will make sure we discuss it a lot in the next four, five weeks.
Eichten: Put words in your mouth here. Are you saying then that essentially nothing needs to be changed about the Social Security system as long as economic growth perks up?
Wellstone: I'm not saying that nothing...I can think of some things that might be changed. I'm saying you could put together the best of a kind of truly bipartisan commission that can figure, people could talk about a number of different things, you know, it's flat tax to a certain level of income - I don't know where it's at, around $68,000. Do you take that lid off or not? I don't know. Things can be looked at. I’m just telling you the single biggest issue if you're asking me what needs to be done, Paul, as we look ahead, is going to be the kind of jobs this economy produces, whether people are going to be working at living-wage jobs, what their skill level is, whether they're going to be producing high-value products, whether their wage levels are high. Because that is the single most important thing in determining whether or not you're going to have the resources available for Social Security. That's the single most important think you can do
Eichten: Vance, your question, please.
Vance: Hi Senator, I'd like to thank you as well for the work that you do. A couple of sessions ago the house passed a bill that would let, allow health care providers to collectively bargain with managed care plans. I'm a chiropractor in Saint Paul and Blue Cross, for instance, pays us less for an office visit than they did sixteen years ago in 1986. And, in the meantime, landlords and utility companies and staff all think costs should go up while we are expected to work for less than ever. And I'm wondering why the Senate has done nothing with that legislation.
Wellstone: I'll tell you the Senate right now is - I don't have a direct answer cause I'm not sure where the opposition comes from. And I can tell you right now, things are, the most immediate answer I can give you, Vance, is that we now have had this homeland security bill on the floor for three weeks. Almost everything is being bottled up. There's an interior appropriations bill that has been on for three weeks - where you have close to 300 million dollars of assistance for Northwestern Minnesota - disaster relief that we passed and now is being blocked again. So nothing is moving in the Senate right now. Nothing's moving. Everything is being filibustered and blocked at the moment which is a huge problem.
On this particular issue - I need to talk more with you - I do think that it's really important that care givers, low morale care givers are not good care givers. And I think that doctors and others in the medical field, nurses, you name it, need to be in a position to get decent reimbursement and feel good about their work. I don't know the whole issue about the house bill. I haven't looked at in all its specifics - and I've learned not to, sort of, be glib. I think the real question for me would be - just to make sure it is not in violation of any antitrust laws or in some kind of way evolves into an anti-competitive practice. But as far as people having some collective bargaining rights - I think you know where I stand on that question.
Eichten: Jerry, your question, please.
Jerry: Hi, Paul?
Jerry: Hi, I'm Kathy Beetle's son from Fond du Lac. I don't know - she would mention you all the time and talk rather fondly of you. I voted for you the last couple of times. And I think you're doing a wonderful job and keep it up. It's hard though when you have people attacking your record and that type of thing. And I understand that. My question to you would be - the twelve years that your opponent has made some political traction on that you're not going to go. For me, as a constituent, I don't care if it takes you twelve. If it takes a little longer than twelve years, then so be it. When you look at a job or a task to be done, sometimes, you don't know, the devil is always in the details. And I just wanted you to kind of, you know - how long do you think will this take? Cause, you know, you said twelve years, and do you think another twelve? Do you have the stamina for another twelve?
Wellstone: Well, I appreciate, Jerry. And first of all and the, one of the things that I feel the most proud of and took us awhile. I'm not making the argument for another twelve or eighteen years. But we, as you well know, and, Gary, you should have seen it, the school for the kids in Fond du Lac was so awful, it was just so dilapidated, it was just outrageous. And it took us years but finally we got the funding. You know, there's a long backlist of priorities here. And, you know, children, all children, including children in Indian countries should have the chance for a good education. We got a really beautiful school now - I feel really good about that.
You know, Jerry, I would say two quick things. One, I guess I already said to Gary so I won't repeat which is, you know, to me - I saw the Senate bend 50 - 50 and I thought boy if you have a White House Republican, a Senate Republican, a House Republican, and no checks, and that I really worry about the directions we will go in the country in health care, in the environment, and education and who takes on these big economic interests, insider corporate scandals and all the rest. And I thought I do not want to bow out of this fight now. It's too important for the people I represent. But it's in the hands of people in Minnesota. People in Minnesota will decide.
On the question of changing your mind the only thing I can say just with a twinkle in my eye cause with all the attacks. I'm not so sure the attacks work when... you know, it's one thing to go after records and be clear where people stand but it's another thing to do the all the sort of music and the caricatures. It gets, can get pretty ugly. I don't think people in Minnesota go for it. I've been attacked many ways like this before. But as far as changing minds is concerned, I mean, you know, my opponent, jeez, he might be one of the first people in the history of the country who co-chaired both a Bill Clinton for President campaign and then co-chaired a George Bush Presidential race - who was once a Democrat and then a Republican and, gosh, I could go over so many different issues he's changed his mind on and said different things at different places. So I think that'll be kind of fun to do as we go more into the campaign.
Eichten: Mike, your question please.
Mike: Gary, I really enjoy the show. Senator, thank you for all your years in service. It seems like you've been there forever. I have a question. Probably, the two most controversial votes that you've taken were on Iraq and the war in '91 and welfare reform in 1996. And I wanted to ask on both of those issues. Do you feel like looking back and reflecting on your career those were the right votes to take and if you had it to do over again would you take those votes again? I'll take my answer off the air. I appreciate you taking my question.
Wellstone: That's more than fair. Well, I'll start with the welfare vote in '96, much attacked. No, I think it was...you know, I don't think the people in Minnesota elected me to always do what's politically popular. I think people elected me to be always intellectually honest and to cast what I think are the right decisions. That piece of legislation had massive cuts in benefits to legal immigrants, many of whom were in Minnesota. That's now been restored. That was wrong to do.
That was one of the reasons - I'm a first-generation American. I felt like I'd be cutting my hand off to vote against that. And the second thing is it had, oh I think, like 20, 30% cut in food stamp benefits which is the number one safety net program for children in America. Very successful. Interestingly enough, Richard Nixon was the one who federalized it and said It doesn't matter where a poor child lives we ought to at least have some minimum floor beneath which that child doesn't fall. I can't vote for those kind of cuts. So, no, I don't regret it at all.
Now on welfare the interesting thing is and then the third thing, and I want to mention this if it's OK, Gary, is that what was changed from the original welfare legislation, was we had always had a minimum floor beneath which we said no poor dependent child would fall and we gave that up. That was the single most important thing that happened in that legislation. Now in Minnesota, I'm a senator from Minnesota. Minnesota has the Phipp program. We've done better than many states. We've put much more into childcare, much more into job training, you name it. But without that floor, boy, for some states it has been brutal, it has been brutal. No concern about child care, no concern about education for single parents. Families are not better off, they're worse off. I wanted to at least keep some kind of floor beneath which no poor child would fall no matter where they lived. So, no, I don't regret it.
In '91, as I always like to say, and anyone can disagree with me, I was sort of in coalition. I was never opposed to deployment of military forces. If you look, I have great respect for people who passed this. I'm not...I voted for Afghanistan military involvement, Bosnia, and given what happened in Kosovo, and I remember trying to get to Sarajevo thinking we can't let this go on - there has to be some response. You know, God knows, I feel that way as a first-generation American - and as an American Jew - I mean I think of what happened in WWII. But what I thought then which was the position of General Powell - same position - was I did not think that we had exercised all of the options. To me military involvement can be necessary but it's the last option. I wanted to see us tighten the screws in other ways. I thought there were other sanctions that could be invoked before we went to military action. And that by the way was exactly the same position that General Powell took. Now, 20/20 hindsight, wrong or right? You know you can look at that in a lot of different ways. I mean, President Bush's father was asked the question - but then after military involvement why didn't you go all the way to Baghdad? And he said, you know, look, because I know what would have happened and I don't regret the decision that I made. People can do all the Monday morning quarterbacking they want to. But on the basis of what I knew and on the basis of my framework, which is that military option is the last option, that was to me the right decision. Not much different from what some other people including the now Secretary of State said back then. By the way, a very good Secretary of State. A very good Secretary of State we have.
Eichten: Mayor Coleman has said, that gosh, while you have been in the Senate you have voted against every big defense appropriations bill, all, all the big bills, until 9/11. And wonders what you would do if you get reelected once, you know, the concern over 9/11 starts to recede a little bit two or three years down the road. Will you start voting against all those bills again?
Wellstone: Well, that was on his part going down the slippery slope. Sometimes he does that. Cause he said more than that - that had to do with, you know, geez, what are these votes about in the last couple of years. Look - What the votes are about in the last couple years. We had planes that went into World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And we all know the horror of all that. Tom Burnett Jr. gave up his life, a Minnesotan, to take down another plane in Pennsylvania that was going to the Capitol or the White House. And I take this war against terrorism very seriously. And by the way I think that should be the major focus right now. So, yeah, the President has asked for resources and I've said "Yes". Cause I think that's now what we're dealing with. Over the years, what's wrong about that is, of course when I think there is, I voted for, against military appropriation bills and for military appropriation bills and especially those that deal with the circumstances of our military personnel - you know, housing, living conditions, making sure they have the training, you name it.
But if you're going to ask me, did I think there was some waste to vote against? Absolutely. I remember there was a General Accounting Office study, GAO study, General Accounting Office study. I think they argued - I can't remember when it came out - two years ago - they looked back over the years and found like close to, I think they said, a trillion dollars of money, Pentagon money that wasn't accounted for. So, yeah, I mean, I take a strong stand on that. As I've said many times over, John McCain also on any number of these different votes, said there's a lot of waste here. Again, it's one of those characterizations. I might also say to you since I'm extremely proud of this. I think that one of the best ways you can support the military and encourage women and men to serve our country is how you support our veterans who served in the military. And that, I may be lucky enough or honored enough as a Senator to have received as many awards from veteran organizations as maybe anybody ever has in the Senate. So I'm very proud of the work - some of these hack attacks notwithstanding.
Eichten: This is ...Unfortunately we don't have a lot of time left. I did want to mention this as well. The Coleman campaign has pointed out that in a letter you sent out to, a fundraising letter to organizations, you were talking about one of your top foreign policy goals would be demilitarization. What does that mean? Does that mean you want to shut down the military?
Wellstone: That is, I'm dealing here with a, no flattery intended, a very good journalist - and you won't put a smile on your face. But, you and everyone - this is like the reason we're going to win this race. I mean, what does demilitarization mean? It certainly is one of my top goals. And I'm talking about weapons of mass destruction. I'm talking about how we, how we can strive for, have the vision for, and work for a world where you do not have so many governments armed to the hilt and where we do something about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I'm the father of three children and six grandchildren and I think that should be the primary goal of foreign policy. Yes, I want to see more of that.
Eichten: Are you concerned that with all the ads your campaign is running, all the ads Mayor Coleman's campaign is running, that when all is said and done - there's what/ five or six weeks to go - come November 5th people are going to say a pox on both your houses. I can't take this anymore.
Wellstone: Well, I think you have to worry about that. Here's what I think is interesting though is. If you go through the chronology of this, everything that I did was very, very positive and then there was a lot of negative attack and a lot of attack. And then after awhile I'm going to start doing comparison and saying where he stands. Because, you know, it comes from being 5'5". I don't let people attack, attack and attack without pointing out the other person's record. So there will be that. But I think people can judge the ads and the tone of the ads. And see whether or not they think it's about comparing records and holding people accountable for taking a position on this issue one time and then switching again, then switching again over, over and over again. So the question is who can you believe in and who can you trust on where they stand on the issues most important to your lives. I'm going to be very, very careful not to get into some of what I consider to be vicious, hack attack ads. I don't do that.
Eichten: Senator Wellstone, thanks for coming in today.
Wellstone: Thank you.