Like the presidential debate, talk of issues directly relating to trucking was limited to the oil situation, but it was more relaxed, civil and possibly one of the most informative vice presidential debates in recent memory.
CNN anchor Bernard Shaw moderated a debate at Centre College in the small town of Danville, Ky. The format was very similar to that of the first presidential debate earlier this week, except the vice presidential candidates sat at a desk facing Shaw. The exchange between the two was more cordial and low-key and didn't see them butting in on one another like Gore and Bush did
on Tuesday evening. Lieberman most every time responded to questions and gave his rebuttals directly to the camera and the audience at home, while Cheney more often looked directly at Shaw as did both Gore and Bush in their first debate. And like the presidential debate, only one question was thrown out on a subject near and dear to most everyone in trucking, and once again it centered on fuel.
Shaw asked Lieberman, "Many experts are forecasting continued chaotic oil prices on the world market....have previous Republican and Democratic Congresses and administrations, including this one, done their job to protect the American people?"
Right off the top, Lieberman conceded "not enough," and echoed many of the same things Gore said two days earlier on the topic by saying the Democrats offer both a long term and short term strategy to help lower energy prices.
Lieberman blamed the Republican-controlled Congress for not providing enough funding for the current administration to implement its long term strategy. Pushed for the last eight years by Gore, the strategy includes developing alternative sources of energy and giving tax credits to businesses that help conserve energy.
Lieberman praised the Clinton administration for the decision to open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way to combat high oil and fuel prices. He said such a decision shows OPEC nations and the oil companies "we've got some resources with which we can fight back." Cheney, however, criticized the current administration for opening up the reserve to help lower prices, saying that refineries are already running at close to capacity and that what is needed to help lower fuel prices is increased capacity.
Lieberman said while both parties agree on funding programs to help the poor with expected high home heating oil bills this winter, only the Democratic administration is trying to do something to help the middle class hit by high fuel prices. Lieberman says opening up the SPR has led to a reduction in the price of oil on the world markets and hinted those prices are now being reflected at the fuel pumps.
Cheney, who used to head a Texas-based oil company, said the main reason the public has seen such high energy prices is there has been no energy policy in the Clinton administration for the past eight years. He said not having a clear energy policy is one of the greatest dangers that he sees on the horizon to the American economy. He noted the U.S. dependence on foreign oil is at an all-time high, making it more vulnerable to sudden swings in prices.
Cheney advocates one way to lessen this dependence would be to open up the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge to drilling, saying "we don't need to buy into this false choice that we cannot develop energy resources without being cautious to the environment." Cheney says much of the area in Alaska already has an infrastructure nearby that is developed for moving oil to market "in a way that will not permanently damage the countryside at all." Cheney said when it comes to environmental and energy policy it is a case of striking a balance between the two needs.
Lieberman responded by admitting that something does need to be done about foreign oil dependence, but opening up the Arctic Refuge is not the answer. He repeated Al Gore's stance this week that the area only offers a few months' supply of oil that would not make it to market for at least several years. He said the answer to lowering foreign oil imports is to invest in
new, more energy efficient technologies, which will also create more jobs.
The next presidential debate is set for Oct. 11 at the Wake Forest University Campus in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the final debate will take place Oct. 17 at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Both will see PBS News Hour anchor Jim Lehrer as moderator. Coverage of the debates is being provided by the three major TV networks as well as CNN, MSNBC and on the
radio through National Public Radio. All are scheduled for 90 minutes and are set to begin around 9:00 p.m., Eastern time. You can read complete transcripts of the debates by going to the web page of The Commission On Presidential Debates at www.debates.org/index.html.