Sen. Chris Dodd answers questions in our presidential mashup.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Sept. 12 2007 11:52 PM

Dodd: Iraq Has Left Us More Vulnerable

Sen. Chris Dodd answers questions in our presidential mashup.

The following is an unedited transcript and may contain typos or omissions. Click here for more on the presidential mashup.

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Dodd: Well, you pay for it by having everyone contribute based on their ability to pay. And that makes it totally universal. No exceptions. Everyone's involved in this. I'd establish what I call a universal health mart, in a sense, where people could actually shop for the best plans that suit their needs. It's done under the framework of the federal employees' health-benefit plan. Millions of us have that. It's very good for members of Congress. It ought to be good enough for the American people. I think it would be. So that's your structure. My plan is designed to do what you can actually get done here. It keeps plans or parts of things that work and gets rid of things that don't. For instance, I'd ban any discrimination against pre-existing conditions here. It follows you, not your job, in a sense here. And we drive down costs, of course, by dealing with prevention and technology to reduce the administrative costs as well. I'm told here by those who helped me put this together, we can really achieve that universality, drive down costs, and really provide the kind of benefits people are looking for.

Rose: I've asked this question of each of the candidates. Do we have to rethink the way we look at health care in America, beyond access and coverage?

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Dodd: Yes, we do, absolutely. About 75 percent of the Medicare dollars, Charlie, is caused by chronic illness, I hear. I'm looking at a possibility of also requiring at age 55, for instance, a physical exam 10 years before you'd qualify for Medicare so that we could make a determination as to whether or not things like smoking, diet, and so forth are going to contribute to the cost of that chronic illness and the Medicare dollar. Those things need to be done as well. And I've done this, by the way. You know, I wrote the Family Leave Act. It took me seven years to get it done. But I brought Republicans and Democrats together about many controversial issues associated with health care. So I think not only talking what you want to do but where you've been on these issues ought to be constructive to voters.

Rose: Here is a user-generated question from Robert Grove. He says: "Since smoking has indisputably negative health consequences, are you willing to prohibit smoking for those who are to be the recipients of any government-paid health care?"

Dodd: Well, prohibition may go a little bit further here, but certainly, to make it very costly for doing it and making people pay a price in a sense for that voluntary choice. Now, it's hard to quit smoking, and anyone who's ever smoked knows that. But here, doing everything we can to move people out. Three-thousand children start every day smoking in this country. Despite all of our efforts with warnings labels and raising the cost of taxes on cigarettes, it's still a major problem in the country and, you and I both know, Charlie, a major cause for a variety of illnesses that become chronic illnesses for people. The very subject matter I talked about in a minute. Prohibition would probably go a bit further than I'd want it to, but I'd make it expensive to do it.

Rose: Let me turn to education. And this is again a user question, from Karim Kai Logue, who says, "As a teacher in both the rural South and the urban North, I'm interested in your perspective regarding the parent/teacher dynamic. In your opinion, who plays the lead role in a child's—"

Dodd: Parents. Parents. And I—you know, we talk about it. And I've, in fact, this is running the risk here of antagonizing people who raised other questions that are important. I've been asked this question for many years, the 26 years I've been in the Senate. The single most important issue is this subject matter of education. It not only improves the individual's opportunities, collectively, we do well, but also our system of governance depends upon a well-educated society. And that begins with parents here. Children are not ready to learn in our country today. I'm an advocate of universal pre-K. I've written the early Head Start legislation. I've been named Head Start Senator of the Decade by the Head Start Association. I'm a great believer in early education, but the first educators are parents, and we're not doing enough in my view to assist and support parents in that process and then insist that parents play a greater participation and role in the early education of their children. Head Start requires parental participation. About 80 percent of parents stay involved. By the first grade, Charlie, that number drops to less than 20 percent of parental involvement. So parents, in my view, are critically important to the success of a child and the success of an education of that child.

Rose: What do you think of those who say that if education is so important, we ought to provide a free college education for everybody who qualifies?

Dodd: I'm an advocate of—and offered this most recently—of a free community-college education, and I do that by offering a match to any state that will equal 50 percent of that cost. I'll match that here. In order to release that initial portal of higher education becomes available. To talk about a free education for everyone, regardless of choice they make between private and public institutions, may be difficult, but certainly expanding Pell Grants here, providing more work-study programs, Americorps, I've advocated a million slots, not 150,000 that we have today, where educational benefits become a part of that. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, for people who make the choice to become involved in the national service of our country, the military or otherwise, I'd provide tremendous incentives for them to do that. I'd provide a sliding scale, so if you choose careers that are not as lucrative as others are, that your payback of loans would be calibrated to those choices rather than insisting upon everyone paying the same amount back. And college costs are going up all the time. So I'm an advocate for an indexing of that as well.

Rose: All right, finally, turning from education to what we call our wild card. We have from California, on video, Bill Maher with a question specifically for you, and here it is.

Dodd: OK.

Bill Maher: Sen. Dodd, between illnesses, accidents, homicides, and suicides, it's been estimated that America suffers roughly 100,000 alcohol-related deaths per year. Marijuana kills virtually no one, and yet, it is such a third rail in American politics to suggest we stop persecuting the people who wish to use this more-benign but no-less-mood-altering and no-more-of-a-gateway drug. Can you give me a good reason why, in a free and fair society, marijuana should be illegal?

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