MILWAUKEE – BUSH'S NATIONAL GUARD RECORDS:
Several of the candidates agreed that President Bush must clarify his military record and respond to suggestions that he may not have fulfilled all his duties as a member of the Texas Air National Guard (search).
John Kerry (search) said he does not plan to attack Bush on the issue but added that "the president has to speak for his own military record. And those of you in the news media, obviously, have asked questions about it and that's where I'll let it sit."
John Edwards (search) said it should be an issue in the campaign because "the integrity and character of the president of the United States is at issue."
The candidates agreed that trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (search) should have better standards for labor, the environment and human rights.
Kerry said he would order a 120-day review of all U.S. trade agreements to examine any problems and pledged not to sign any future trade agreements that do not include enforceable labor and environment standards.
Edwards stressed that he opposed NAFTA, which he said caused a "devastating" loss of jobs to industrial workers.
Howard Dean said the free trade agreements were justified, but "we did not globalize human rights, labor rights and environmental rights, and we need to do that." Dean added that Americans should be willing to pay higher prices for goods in order to stop sending those jobs overseas.
Dennis Kucinich said his first act as president would be to cancel NAFTA and the World Trade Organization and return to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights, human rights and environmental quality principles.
SPECIAL INTEREST MONEY:
Dean criticized the Republican Party for sponsoring a recent Web video message attacking John Kerry for collecting money from special interests. He claimed Bush's re-election campaign is itself funded by millions in special interest money and said Medicare legislation Bush signed last year benefited huge drug companies, insurance companies and HMOs more than it did senior citizens.
Kerry claimed he is the only U.S. senator who has been elected four times while voluntarily refusing to take special interest money from political action committees.
Kerry said his plan would provide health care for 97 percent of all Americans within three years and cover every child. The plan would lower costs by taking catastrophic cases out of the system, paying for it by repealing parts of President Bush's tax cut.
Edwards said the nation must start down the road to achieving universal health care and taking on the insurance companies and drug companies to bring down costs. He said he agrees with purchasing cheaper drugs from Canada.
Al Sharpton rejected the idea of vouchers that would allow poor families to send their children to private schools because, he argued, vouchers would not benefit all students and government has an obligation to bring quality education to all. Instead, he advocates increasing teacher pay and forgiving college debt for people who become teachers.
Dean's program would provide up to $10,000 a year in grants and loans for four years of college or post-high school technical training. Graduates would pay no more that 10 percent of their income for 10 years to repay the loans, and after that the loans will be forgiven. Those who go into public service jobs would pay no more than 7 percent of their income to repay those loans.
Kerry said he would provide a $4,000 tuition tax credit per pupil annually and raise the amounts of government Pell grants, Stafford loans and Perkins loans offered. He also proposed a national service plan where high school graduates who spend two years performing public service work in their own communities receive a free four-year in-state college public education.