Democratic debate gets heated in Iowa

Posted 10:25am December 2

by Jane Black
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

Disagreement between Democratic front-runner Howard Dean and Democrat Dick Gephardt continued to intensify as eight of the presidential hopefuls argued over the United States’ role in Iraq, Medicare, and gay marriage in the party’s presidential debate Monday night in Iowa.

Gephardt argued that as Vermont governor for 12 years Dean cut funds for the “most vulnerable” in the state such as the blind and disabled. When Gephardt accused Dean of trying to balance the state’s budget in the 1990s by cutting Medicare, Dean responded, “his research folks need a little help.”

The eight 2004 democratic presidential candidates all agreed that Bush’s proposed expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs would prove damaging to seniors.

“This is merely the continuation of this administration of selling out government to special interests, of selling our government to the highest bidder,” said Gephardt, during the two-hour debate co-sponsored by MSNBC and the Democratic National Committee and moderated by Tom Brokaw.

“This is a $400 billion charge to our grandchildren,” said Dean. In light of last week’s 4-3 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that a law prohibiting gay marriage was unconstitutional, Brokaw asked the candidates whether they think the state should pass a law in favor of gay marriage.

Ret. General Wesley Clark, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun all called this a civil rights issue.

Kerry, a staunch opponent of gay marriage, urged the Legislature to do what the Constitution requires.

“This is a matter of equal protection under the law,” said Kerry.

Candidates criticized the Bush administration for entering the war in Iraq preemptively, hurting U.S. security and senselessly killing U.S. soldiers.

“Two years ago we were told there were weapons of mass destruction and we were in imminent danger … that was a lie,” said Sharpton.

“The only right direction for the Bush administration is to admit they were wrong,” said Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who also participated from the nation’s capital via satellite. “We have to take the American face off this operation and internationalize it.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio elicited an emotional response from the audience when he held up two pages from a past Washington Post article crowded with photographs of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

“This is only a fraction of the casualties,” said Kucinich, who says he has a plan to bring the troops home within 90 days. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut was the only Democratic candidate to not participate in the debate, saying he wished to bypass the Iowa caucuses. Lieberman later asked to participate via satellite, but was denied to do so based on technological concerns and fairness, according to a DNC spokesman. Kerry and Edwards participated by satellite as they awaited a series of votes on the Medicare bill.

This was the first debate in Iowa, which holds the nation’s first party caucuses on Jan. 19. The debate was the seventh since Labor Day.

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