The following is an unedited transcript and may contain typos or omissions. Click here for more on the presidential mashup.
Rose: Sen. Biden, welcome to mashup. Let me begin with Iraq and ask, did you accept the evaluation and interpretation by Gen. Petraeus as to the situation on the ground in Iraq and leading him to conclude that he needs 160,000 troops until July 2008?
Biden: Absolutely not. I think it's the wrong strategy. We should be drawing down troops now. We should be by the beginning of—in the middle of the 2008, being down to 30,000 to 40,000 troops with an end date of getting out of there based upon a political settlement where you set up a federal system there. Iraq will not be governed from the center. It will only be governed when you give the regions more authority and control over their own security.
Rose: What is it Petraeus believes in that you don't?
Biden: I think Petraeus believes in what I believe in, that his troops will do whatever they're asked. I think Petraeus doubts whether or not militarily he can reach a political solution. His job is a military man. He's given a military mission to try to stabilize as much of the country as he can. But he will tell you flatly that absent a political solution, that is the Sunnis and Shias and Kurds getting together and reaching an accommodation on how that country will governed, it doesn't matter how much troops he has in there. So he has a difficult job. As a military man, he's doing what he's asked to do, but he knows it will not solve the problem. There is no military solution to Iraq that will allow us to leave without leaving chaos and a civil war behind.
Rose: Sen. Clinton said you have to suspend belief to accept his testimony. Do you agree with that?
Biden: Well, I think you have to—you have to only focus on whether or not there is more security in Anbar province, because that's the only tangible result from this. That has nothing to do with the central problem occupying 120,000 troops, which is a civil war in Iraq. That has to do with helping the Shia—excuse me, the Sunni tribal chiefs who got sick and tired of al-Qaida, Iraq persecuting them to join with us to go after al-Qaida Iraq in Anbar province. That's all—that's all that it does. Nothing else. It does not go to the central problem. We're there because we're in the midst of a civil war that has no end in sight without a radical change in the political, political solution being offered.
Rose: Does the Congress of the United States have the will to do something between now and the election?
Biden: The Democrats in the Congress clearly have the will, the spirit, and the desire. The question is, are there 17 Republican senators, for example, just taking the Senate, who are prepared to vote with Democrats to override a presidential veto when we put faster constraints on the president to bring troops home more quickly? That's the question, and that remains to be seen.
Rose: Let me move to health care. Do you favor universal coverage for everyone without exception?
Biden: Yes, I do.
Rose: How would you pay for it?
Biden: I would pay for it by three ways. One, I start off dealing with going into a prevention-and-treatment mode here that required us to simplify and modernize the system. I know we only have three minutes. That could save $100 billion a year in redundancy that goes on right now. Secondly, what I would do, I would immediately move and provide for catastrophic health insurance for all Americans, and I'd immediately move for insuring every single child in America, and would do that in the first two months as president. That would cost less than what the top 1 percent tax break costs, $85 billion a year. It would cost less than that to do that. Then what I would do is I would move to insuring everyone through one of two vehicles. Either a system we work out among the stakeholders, an agreement that everyone essentially gets Medicare from the time you're born or a system whereby everyone can buy into the federal system. I don't understand why we can have a system where I, as a federal employee, have a great health-care system and every American does not have one available to them. You can have them buy into that system, and those who don't have the means to buy in, then you subsidize them into the system. I would pay for that by direct revenues.
Rose: Do we, beyond the question of access and financing, need to fundamentally rethink the way we view health care?
Biden: Absolutely, Charlie. Absolutely. We have to view it in three ways. Prevention. Prevention. Not all a saw. You know, an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure is real. We virtually do not have anything that rewards those people who are engaged in their physician's or insurer's companies that emphasize prevention. The second thing we have to do is we have to provide for changing the way we think of it as an employer-based system totally. We have an overwhelming opportunity now to get universal health care, Charlie, because business needs more than labor or business needs it more than the uninsured. They cannot compete internationally. Case in point, build a Buick in my home state in a General Motors plant and build the same Buick in Ontario, Canada. Same UAW. You can sell the one built in Canada for 14 percent less because they have universal health care. American businesses are yearning—yearning for us to come up with a solution that provides health care that is not totally employer-based. We have to think about it really differently, but the delivery of health care we have to think about differently, too. The idea we're not going to be opening up little clinics in shopping centers all across America that is going to generate avoidance of operating—excuse me—of emergency rooms is just not reasonable. Look what they're doing in India, look what they're doing in other parts of the world. There's a cheaper, better, faster, and better way to deliver health care in America beyond dealing merely with the question of access and cost.
Rose: Let me turn to education and begin with a user question. This one from Rochelle Williams, who said if we are founded on the concept of equal opportunity, though not necessarily equal result, and education is a great equalizer, shouldn't a college education be free?
Biden: Absolutely, positively, unequivocally. As president, that's what I would push for. We should—the idea we're talking about 12 years of public education being sufficient in the 21st century is ridiculous and even in terms of us putting us in a competitive situation in the world. I have a thing called a college access program. I would allow every single solitary family making up to $150,000 to be able to have a refundable tax credit of $3,000 per student. Everyone under $50,000 now qualifies for a Pell Grant. I would change them from $4,300 to $6,300 plus the refundable tax credit. It would mean every child in America, every qualified person in America, under the—under an income under $50,000 would have been $9,300 to go to any state university in their state in America for four years. But we have to change our mind-set here, Charlie, and lead. We have to deal with early education. You know, the earlier you start people in earlier education, the better the prospects of them graduating. So you need pre-Head Start and Head Start. You need competent preschool. Starting kids in school at age 3 instead of age 6 increases exponentially their chance of graduating. So there's a lot we have to do, but it's all within our capacity. What I just suggested, the whole Biden plan for starting early and college as well, that whole plan costs less than $18 billion a year. We're spending about $11 billion a month in Iraq.
Rose: Even though No Child Left Behind did not reach all the objectives that perhaps the president and certainly those who supported it, was it worth supporting?
Biden: Had it been funded and had it implemented as it was intended, it would have been worth it. Now it needs a major overhaul, Charlie. The idea of standards makes sense. It makes sense. But the problem here is that the way in which standards are measured. My wife is an educator for the last 30 years. She can tell—she's told me chapter and verse like other teachers can, that you end up teaching to the test. Number one. Number two, there is no—in most states you do not consider progress. For example, when she was teaching in high school, she taught three advanced courses and two remedial courses. If she brought the kids from the remedial courses that were juniors from an eighth-grade level to a 10th-grade reading level, it was considered a failure. But an advanced class, she didn't even have to show up for class. And they passed the test. You have to measure progress against a standard. And we have—that's what has to be changed in No Child Left Behind. But the bottom line, Charlie, everybody knows the answer. Start earlier, smaller classes, better teachers, and access to college. I mean, we don't need No Child Left Behind to understand exactly what's needed to radically change which was in our power the education system in America, which is the single most significant thing we can do for the betterment of this country.
Rose: All right, for my last question, I go to Los Angeles for Bill Maher for his question for you.
Rose: Sen. Biden, forgetting about the upcoming Iowa caucus for just a moment, which would you honestly say is more likely to contribute to the death of your average American: a terrorist strike or high-fructose corn syrup and air that has too much coal in it?
Biden: Air that has too much coal in it. Corn syrup next, and then a terrorist attack. But that does not in any way diminish the fact that a terrorist attack is real. It's not an existential threat to bring down the country, but does have the capacity still it can kill thousands of people. But hundreds of thousands of people die and their lives are shortened because of coal plants, coal-fired plants, and because of corn syrup.
Rose: Sen. Biden, thank you for joining us for this conversation mashup online. And we look forward to seeing you again here at the table.
Biden: Thanks an awful lot, Charlie.
Rose: We'll be back. Stay with us.