Remarks in a “Let the Conversation Begin Webcast”

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Hillary Clinton

SENATOR CLINTON: Hello, and welcome back, those of you who logged on last night. And welcome to those of you who are joining us for the first time tonight. I thought last night’s questions were really interesting, and I’m looking forward to the ones that you have asked me for this evening.

And tonight we’re having this conversation just hours before the President’s State of the Union address, so I think there’s a lot to talk about. So let’s get started. Crystal Patterson, our campaign blogger, is here with me again. So, Crystal, what’s tonight’s first question?

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: First question comes from Kathy in New Briton, Connecticut. She says, I watched you last night and thought you did great. My question is how would you help our reserves who get hurt? I understand, because they’re reserves, they don’t get the same pay or medical help.

SENATOR CLINTON: Kathy, thank you so much for raising this. This is an issue I’ve been working on for the last 3 years. And you’re right. There used to be a big disparity between the active duty military and the national guard and reserve members.

They were not given the same access toward health care and credit toward retirement, and we’ve begun to change that. I teamed up with one of my Republican colleagues, Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, and we started with legislation to make sure our guard and reserve members and their families had access to health insurance. Not just when they were deployed or activated, but all the time, because what we found is that a lot of them were self employed or worked for small employers who didn’t provide health care.

And just like in the civilian world, they didn’t have health insurance for themselves and their families. So we are beginning to rectify that. We still have some work to do, but at least we’ve made some progress. It’s been one of the most heartbreaking experiences for me to travel around New York and talk to our reservists and our Guard members and hear about how difficult it was for them to make sure their children have health insurance, and here they were serving our country. I think we’re making progress, but keep our feet to the fire because we have a lot more work to do.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Susan in Greensboro, North Carolina. Susan says, I keep hearing that the U.S. economy is good. Please, how can that be when we owe trillions of dollars to foreign countries? Don’t you think we need a reality check?

SENATOR CLINTON: That’s a great comment, Susan. Yes, I do think we need a reality check.

You know, the reality is that, when this President came into office, we had a balanced budget and a surplus, and we were positioned with those funds to be able to deal with some of the problems that we face as a nation. You know, we do have to make sure that social security is there in the future. We’ve got to provide funding for Medicare so that we take care of our seniors.

A lot of other investments and opportunities that we were poised to take care of. Well, that’s all gone, as you know, and we now are in a series of very large deficits. Our debt is growing. And the problem that you point out is we owe a lot of money to foreign lenders.

Now, what does that mean? Well, it means that, in order to pay the interest on our debt, we have to entice foreign banks and foreign investors to buy our debt instruments, and that’s how we keep our government going. And who are some of the people we owe the most money to? Well, like the government of China. And lots of times people ask me as I travel around New York, you know, why can’t we get tougher on China to make sure they live up to trade agreements?

And I say, you know, I wish we were getting tough because there’s a lot to be concerned about, but I think this administration can’t figure out how to get tough on its banker. And, in fact, that is what we have created is a situation where we’re now this very large debtor nation, and that is going to undermine our competitiveness. It undermines our strategic leadership in the world.

So there is a lot to be concerned about. I’m hoping that, in this new Democratic congress, we start moving back toward fiscal responsibility. We are certainly going to be trying to tighten the budget rules that worked so well in the 1990s. You know, you can’t do spending or even tax cuts unless you can figure out how to pay for them. That’s what worked for us in the ’90s.

We need to get back to it, but we also have to be sensitive to the fact that there’s a lot of problems that we’ve left untended in the last years that we’re also going to have to address like health care, like energy investments and climate change. So we have to strike the right balance.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Peg in Corning, New York. Tonight the President will give his State of the Union speech. What are your thoughts leading up to this, and is there anything specifically that you’re listening for?

SENATOR CLINTON: You know, the State of the Union is a time for the president to come and report to Congress and the people. I think that we need to make our union stronger than it is right now.

I’m sure the president will put the best face on it from his perspective, but if we’re honest, we know that we are facing very dangerous and difficult situations in Iraq and with Iran and North Korea and, you know, the terrible problems in Darfur and disease and so many difficulties that we have to confront. And here at home I know very well that, in places like Corning, New York, where there are a lot of wonderful, hard working people, it is a more difficult task to have a middle class lifestyle and afford health care and education and all the other costs. So I think the president has his work cut out for him. Now, I will be listening for any overture that he makes to the Democratic congress because I believe in getting things done.

You know, I worked very hard in Corning, for example, you know, with a wonderful New York company called Corning to solve some problems and create new opportunities for that great company. So I don’t really care where the good ideas come from. I just want to roll up our sleeves and get to work. I hear the President’s going to talk about health care, which I’m very happy to hear although, from what I hear about his proposals, I can’t say I support those.

But the very fact that he’s talking about how we can get the universal health care coverage perhaps gives us an opportunity to work together. Similarly, he’s going to be talking about energy. Again, I don’t think he’ll go far enough. I don’t think he’ll have the kind of proposal that I believe will move us toward energy independence, but, again, opening the door, maybe inviting the democrats to work with him, moving away from the very divisive partisanship that he and the former Republican congress displayed is a good sign because we have a lot of work to do here in America. And I hope tonight we have an invitation for all of us to work together.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Laura in Chicago, Illinois. She says, we are a middle-class family with two great kids with parents that work very hard, sacrifice as much as they can and volunteer to help the school community as much as possible. Despite our best efforts, we can’t afford health care. The only place we can afford a home is in a drug and gang infested neighborhood, and we can’t save a penny for the future. What would you do to help young middle class families like ours to have a better prospect for the future?

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, you have really summed up the problem that is not just confronting young middle class families, but so many of our families. And I applaud you for working as hard as you can and having your family stay tight together with your parents and your kids.

But I really sympathize because it is harder to maintain the quality of life and the standard of living that we should take for granted in America. So you need help from your government, and I don’t think that should be, you know, something that people turn their noses up at. Because I know that, you know, when my father got back from World War II, our country did a lot to get us up and going. And we had great schools and road programs that connected up our country. And we had a wonderful commitment about how we were going to plan for the future and have a better life.

Well, that’s what we need to get back to. I think we need to renew the promise of America for families like yours. So what does that mean?

It means we tackle health care costs. We’ve got to get them down, and we have to provide quality affordable health care. On Sunday I put forward a proposal that would insure every child. I want to go to the point, where if you’re a family of four making several thousand dollars a year, you’ll be eligible for the family health care program. I want to make health insurance affordable for everyone.

We have to give you planning for the education of your children. We have to make it easier for you and your husband to save. I have some proposals about how we can do that. With your parents, I assume they’re still working, as you said in your question.

Well, let’s make sure that they can save for retirement, that they are able to be as independent as possible. We’ve had the retirement system really ripped out from under Americans. You know, the kind of defined benefit pensions that previous generations counted on are really a vanishing breed. The defined contribution, we have to make it easier for people to invest, and we have to put, you know, more information into the marketplace so people can make good decisions and plan for the future. We also need to be sure that we start to tackle energy costs.

You know, it’s something that is not going to go away, and we have to help families by giving them better tools to conserve and be more efficient and make better choices in the marketplace. There is really a lot that can be done at the governmental level, but I want to add another factor here.

For a lot of our hard working families, I think they feel kind of let down, even betrayed by their employers. You know, there’s not that sense that we’re all in this together. And too many of our corporate leaders are not really sharing the wealth with their employers. Productivity is up. That means Americans are working harder. We actually work harder than people anywhere in the world on average. And profits are up for our companies. But where are the wage increases? Where are the you know, the benefits that should accrue to hard working Americans. So I would really like to call on corporate leadership to do more, and I want to support in every way I can the union movement in our country because a strong union movement has really been part of the American dream and one of the pillars of the American middle class.

We’re going to try in this democratic congress to make it easier for people who want to join unions to do so. We’re going to try to make it easier to bargain. We’ve got to get back to a balance of power. All of the power is on one side of the economic equation, namely with the employers, and employees can’t really, you know, get their fair share of the wonderful wealth and benefits that are being created for people at the higher end of the income spectrum.

You know, that doesn’t work for America because, with all due respect, America was not built and become a great country because we have rich people. You can find rich people anywhere in the world. We’re a great country because of families like yours, and I hope that we’re going to get back to more of a balance and provide some of those building blocks again that will give you and your family a leg up on a better future.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Tom in Roanoke. If elected president, would you make the FDA into a true champion of good for the people instead of just a lackey for the enormous drug companies?

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, I’m really glad you asked that because I have been fighting to, you know, reassert the independence and the scientific standing of the FDA.

You know, the FDA, still, despite all of its problems, remains the gold standard for all the drug and food safety in the world. But you obviously have followed this, and you know that what has happened in the last six years is the politicization of the FDA.

I had a real struggle with them over something called Plan B, which is the morning after pill for contraception, and because of ideology, this administration didn’t want the FDA to make its judgment about this particular drug based on its safety and its effectiveness. So I and my colleague, Senator Patty Murray from Washington, we waged a battle saying, we’re not going to tell you how to decide.

We want you to decide based on the best evidence and follow the weight of science. So what I’m hoping is that we will be able to reassert the independence and the integrity of the FDA. We also have to buttress the FDA’s ability to not just approve drugs, but to follow what happens with those drugs, to do the kind of after approval testing.

We need more comparative effectiveness, something that I have been advocating and passed an amendment to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Let’s compare drugs, and so we know that consumer, the clinician, whether these drugs are good. Whether they really make a difference.

And, finally, you know, the FDA is responsible for a lot of our food supply, but they don’t have the personnel and resources necessary, and we’ve had some really tragic situations in the last couple of years where E. Coli has killed people and been traced to our vegetables, our produce. The FDA is responsible for that part of our food supply. I think we should have one agency responsible for food safety, but until we can get to that kind of gold standard, let’s increase the resources going to the FDA, and let’s put it back into the business of science and not ideology dictated from political leaders. That’s my goal.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Pierre from Georgia asks, what will you do to restore confidence and the integrity in our voting system?

SENATOR CLINTON: Oh, Pierre, this is a passion of mine. I’ve introduced a very comprehensive bill called the count every vote act because, unfortunately, we have discovered ever since our 2000 election, we have lots of problems with the integrity of our voting system.

Many of you know the problems we’ve got with the electronic voting machines, and we’ve got to have better standards and make sure that we’re not engaged in buying machines that have owners and companies with conflicts of interest. We’ve got to have better protection and safety against hacking or any kind of interference with these machines.

There are other problems as well. We, unfortunately, have seen a history of intimidation, people being called and told that they shouldn’t vote, or they are being told to vote on a different day than the actual election, or having a flier when they come out of church which says, if you’ve ever had a parking ticket, you’re not eligible to vote. I mean, horrible kinds of interference and destruction of the most important constitutional right that a citizen has, the franchise to exercise his or her voice.

There’s a lot that I want to do to improve the voting system, and maybe now that we have a democratic congress, we will tackle this. I know that that is on the minds of a lot of my colleagues, and it is something I hear about everywhere. People are constantly asking me, what can we do to get the voting system to once again have integrity, to earn the confidence of the people?

You know, we’re supposed to be the model of democracy to countries around the world. We cannot afford to have a voting system that is a laughingstock and where people, you know, basically don’t believe in it anymore. That would be the beginning of the end for the trust that is needed in a democracy like ours. So I’m going to keep that on the very top of my priority list and work with my fellow democrats to try to make some of the changes we need.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Dave in Detroit. The last few Presidents publicly showed their leisure time activities, such as fishing, jogging, swimming, tennis, et cetera. Are you an active exerciser or family sport participant?

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, Dave, I love to take long walks. I’m a, you know, great walker and hiker. I’m a pretty poor jogger, to be just really honest with you. I run like a tortoise. But I love to get outdoors, and I love taking brisk walks. My husband and I do that all around where we live in New York. I also do work out. Not as often or as faithfully as I should, but I try to. And I love swimming. Whenever I get a chance. Any kind of water, whether it’s the ocean, a lake, a pool, I really love being in the out of doors.

And, you know, for me, I don’t get enough time in the job that I have now to be, you know, outside in nature, but there’s nothing I like better than going to one of the beautiful parks and preserves that we have near where we live. We take our dog Seamus, our Labrador, who, for those of you who followed our first dog in the White House, Buddy, who tragically died in a road accident, Seamus is Buddy’s great nephew, and we go for long walks and have a wonderful time just being outside in all sorts of weather.

That’s where I feel very much at peace. Occasionally, I’ll ride a bike. I used to do that much more when I was in the White House. I used to take a bike and go down to the pathway along the canal here in Washington and ride, you know, a long way, turn around and come back. I found it very restful. I don’t get to do that quite as much as I’d like to. But those are the things that I love to do outdoors.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Lucinda from Ft. Myers, Florida, asks, what are your thoughts on bringing our troops home from Iraq, and what should be our exit strategy? Are you going to vote for additional funds to support this war?

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, Lucinda, I’m against the president’s escalation. I do not believe this is the right strategy. For more than a year and a half, I have advocated something quite different. I’ve said, look, we need to start redeploying our troops out of harm’s way. We need to put pressure on the Iraqi government to stand up for itself, to provide its own security. And one of the ways it has to do that is by tackling the political and economic problems in the country. They have not been willing to step up and do that. And I would like to see our government put more pressure on the Iraqi government so that they would begin to do so. I don’t see that as a part of this plan.

The president makes some vague references to having benchmarks for the Iraqi government, but he doesn’t share them with the Congress. We don’t know what he’s going to try to expect the Iraqi government to do. And, thirdly, I would very much like to see the international community involved in this. That’s what the Iraq study group recommended.

I think it’s inevitable, and I don’t understand why this White House won’t engage with the neighbors in the region, including people that, you know, are obviously not friends of ours, like Iran and Syria. But I know that we’ve had examples where this has worked in the past.

We had an Armed Services Committee hearing earlier today to have General Petraeus, who the President has chosen to lead this new strategy. He’s a wonderful man, a great soldier. And I think a number of us on the committee told us we have great confidence in him. We just don’t have confidence in this strategy. We want to protect our troops. We want to keep giving them the resources they need because they still don’t have the armored vehicles that they are in need of, to protect themselves from these horrible bombs and improvised explosive devices that they are constantly in danger of.

So we are absolutely united across the party divide to support our troops. And if the president is going forward with this strategy, as he appears to be doing, then we want to make sure we protect our young men and women. But it’s the wrong strategy, and we wish he would reverse course and do what many of us would believe would have a better chance of requiring the Iraqi government to do its part.

You know, making sure that the people in the region had an obligation that they had to fulfill to try to make Iraq more secure and stable. And begin, you know, moving our troops out of harm’s way. That’s what I would like to see him do instead of this escalation strategy he’s following.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Eric from Kalamazoo, Michigan, says, although a diehard Democrat, I’m often disappointed by the lack of vocal support from party leaders on issues of gay and lesbian civil equality. I realize this is a divisive topic, but I would like to know, if you were made president, would you be comfortable in addressing issues and comfortable support plans, policies or initiatives that advance and protect the civil liberties of gays and lesbians?

SENATOR CLINTON: Yes. And I feel very strongly about that. We have legislation pending in the congress to do two things, which I support wholeheartedly. One is to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.

You know, the ENDA bill, it’s called, has been pending for some time. I’m hoping we can bring it up and perhaps pass it in this Democratic congress because, as you may know, or as you personally have experienced, there is still discrimination in the workplace and in other settings in our society. And no matter how anyone might feel about some of these issues, which you have described, I think, as Americans, we certainly can be against discrimination against anyone.

Secondly, I’d like to see the hate crimes legislation to be amended to include any kind of hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation, which is what the language in the bill currently says. Well, I hope we can bring that up as well. Again, it’s overdue. And, finally, I support civil unions. I think that this is a matter that historically has been left to the states because that’s where decisions like these are made.

But I have been on record supporting civil unions and equality in relationships. You know, there’s so many discriminatory effects that people may not realize. You know, you know so well, not being able to inherit, not being able to own property together in some places, not being able to visit your partner in the hospital, and so much else.

Well, I think that, again, regardless of how some have tried to politicize these issues in what I think of as a quite mean spirited way, pitting people against their brothers and sisters and neighbors and colleagues, I think that Americans are fair minded, and we’ll move forward on an agenda of equality.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Aaron from San Diego, California, says, hi, Hillary. As a 20-something blogger, I am so thrilled to see that you will be publishing your own campaign blog on HillaryClinton.com. Can you tell us how you plan to further your conversation with the American people through your blog.

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, I’m delighted that you asked about this because we are determined to have as broad a reach as possible to as many people as we can touch through our blog, through web chats like this, through our web site. But I’m going to turn to the expert here because Crystal’s been working very hard, haven’t you? I think she’s getting a little sheepish looking here. But, Crystal, I think it would be appropriate for you to perhaps explain what we’re trying to do with our blog.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Well, I think you put it well. We’re just trying to continue the conversation with you and hopefully give people insight, as you’re traveling around the country and talking to different people and seeing how they’re reacting to you and, you know, what you have to say.

Our blog is hopefully going to be a larger community of supporters who all want to see you go on to bigger and better things and generate some excitement. I think it’s going to be a really fun place for people to kind of express themselves. Right now our biggest push is we’re inviting people to put a blog post in to be our first guest blogger on the site. So we encourage everybody to go ahead and submit a blog post and let us know what you think. The conversation has started.

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, you’ve heard it from someone with a lot more experience than I have. And I’m just thrilled to have Crystal on board, and I hope those of you who are blogging out there, that you’ll post a submission for our guest blogger, that you’ll follow what Crystal and others are doing and let us hear from you.

Because, as I said in the very beginning, I want to have a conversation, and I want to choose as many different ways of having that conversation, and you can’t have a conversation in America today if you don’t utilize the web and involve as many people as possible. So I’m excited about what we’re going to be doing.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Yeah, it’s going to be great. Our next question is from Richie in White Plains. How did you start your political career?

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, Richie, let me think. Are we going all the way back to grade school? I don’t know, you know. You know, I really didn’t have an electoral political career until I ran for the Senate.

Richie is from a town, a city, a wonderful city near where I live, and I didn’t run for office myself except in school until I ran for the Senate. But I’ve always been involved in politics, in supporting other people who ran for office, in working on behalf of causes that I cared about.

And I would urge others to do that because there’s, you know, maybe a problem right where you live in White Plains that you care about. I know young people who are working to clean up environmental problems where they live, who are working to help the homeless, who are organizing on behalf of the genocide in Darfur, who are actively involved in trying to work on HIV/AIDS and other diseases, global climate change.

There’s so many ways to be involved in issues as a means of becoming involved in politics because, ultimately, we have to change our governmental decisions to affect a lot of these issues. Global climate change is a great example. You can care about it. You can talk about it. You can read about it. But if you make it a political issue, then perhaps we can start doing something about it in our country.

And so I hope that you will take a look at all the different ways to be involved, and certainly working on a campaign. I’d love to have you work on mine, but there are a lot of other people in the area where you live who have campaigns. They are involved in actively organizing around issues, and if you look for an opportunity to do that, I think you’ll find that it can be quite rewarding and fun.

So I hope you do get involved.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Melissa from Martinez, Georgia, has our last question for this evening. With the rising cost of health insurance, where do you stand in helping making sure all Americans have health insurance? Like large employers get large discounts to help provide coverage to their employees. Wouldn’t the U.S. get a big discount for purchasing insurance by the millions to cover all U.S. citizens?

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, that’s a very smart point because it’s true. There is one huge purchasing pool that is known as the federal employees health benefit plan, and if you’re a federal employee, you have choices among all different kinds of insurance policies, and the rates are good because the federal government bargains for better rates.

If you are a veteran who gets health care at the VA, the VA gets to bargain to get prescription drug costs down. We’re trying to get that same opportunity to negotiate in the Medicare prescription drug program. Because the point you make is absolutely right.

You know, large employers, you know, bargain with pharmaceutical companies, with insurance companies in order to get the costs down because they buy in bulk. It’s like when you go to a discount store, you buy in bulk, you’re going to get a lower price.

Well, we have a huge health insurance market in America. We’ve got to figure out how to use that market power. And it’s especially important because we pay the highest cost for health care in the entire world, and yet we do a lot of the innovation and funding for advances in medical research from the federal government. So it’s kind of ironic that we’re paying for better health care but Americans don’t get the benefit of the really lower prices that should flow to those of us who have actually paid for it. So it doesn’t really add up or make sense.

So I’m going to be coming forward with proposals in the weeks and months ahead. Yes, I’m taking on health care again because I think that it’s one of the most important issues facing us, and I hear too many stories about too many people who cannot afford health care, and we’re going to do everything we can to at least advocate for a system that I would like to see implemented when I become president about trying to provide quality, affordable health care and save money for families, for businesses, and for our country in doing that.

Well, I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by again, Crystal. I mean, really. And thanks to all of you for logging on again tonight. And I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow, same time, same place, 7:00 p.m. so that we all can keep the conversation going. Thanks again for joining me.