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NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, May 1, 2005
Guests: ANDREW CARD, White House Chief of Staff
Senator GEORGE ALLEN, (R-Va.)
Senator CHRIS DODD, (D-Conn.)
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: heated debates over gas prices, Social Security, federal judges, John Bolton, Tom DeLay, North Korea, Iraq and more. With us from the White House: the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card. From the United States Senate: Republican George Allen of Virginia, Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Card, Allen and Dodd, only on MEET THE PRESS.
President Bush has just completed the first 100 days of his second term. And with us is his chief of staff, Andrew Card.
MR. ANDREW CARD: Good to be with you, Tim. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's go right to Social Security. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, had this to say: "Congress should focus on the solvency of Social Security rather than the president's plan to create personal investment accounts for younger workers." If that's what the Republican chairman wants, and the Democrats say they won't negotiate as long as personal accounts are on the table, why not take off the table personal accounts and focus right now on the solvency of Social Security?
MR. CARD: Well, as you know, our Social Security system cannot be sustained as it currently is and the president wants to fix the system and make it better. And he also wants to make sure that our retirement is better for future generations. And in order for the retirement to be better for future generations, we've got to provide voluntary personal retirement accounts so they can set aside some money that will be their own, that will grow in value and will add to the value that comes from Social Security. But first we've got to fix that Social Security system and make it better and that's why we have to work with Democrats to find the right solutions. And the president has offered wonderful suggestions on solutions and he's also said that we can't be limited to just fix the Social Security system, because that's a system. That's not a retirement. We want to fix the retirement for future generations, and that means we need voluntary personal retirement accounts, too. We've got to do both of them.
MR. RUSSERT: President Clinton had proposed Social Security Plus, voluntary accounts outside of Social Security. The Democrats all embraced that. Would this president accept that as a compromise?
MR. CARD: Well, you know, we already have accounts outside of Social Security that people can contribute to. They're IRAs. And I think we should have a system inside Social Security that takes the Social Security taxes that people pay so that future generations will be able to use that money to build value. It will be their own nest egg that they can pass on to their heirs, but it will also accumulate value faster than what the Social Security system does right now. And that voluntary personal retirement account--I call it a VRA--should be inside the Social Security system, grow in value, complement that which comes from Social Security. After all, if we do nothing with Social Security, benefits are going to have to drop by some 26 percent. And that's if we do nothing, so there is a problem.
The Democrats know that there is a problem but they haven't offered any solutions, and now is the time for them to come forward and work on solutions to both of these challenges: the challenge of fixing the Social Security system and making it better, and then also making sure that retirement for future generations will be something that they can sustain themselves in. And in terms of making it better, the president recognizes that people at the lowest end of the economic scale, if they work all their life and they contribute to Social Security, they should have a safety net there that they don't fall through, and that's how we can make the system better.
MR. RUSSERT: But is it a deal-breaker? Could the president accept a compromise plan which solves the financing of Social Security without these private accounts?
MR. CARD: Well, you don't want to solve the Social Security system without providing some benefit for future retirees. And that's why you need voluntary personal retirement accounts to go along with fixing the Social Security solvency problem.
MR. RUSSERT: So he would veto a bill that didn't have it?
MR. CARD: Well, we want to work with the legislative process. It's just starting. Senator Grassley has already had one hearing. He'll have more hearings. And we know Chairman Bill Thomas in the House in the Ways & Means Committee is going to start hearings. And now is the time for Congress to get involved, to take a look at the various solutions that are out there, understand the problem, and I'm confident that there will be a bill that will be passed by the House and the Senate that will get to conference committee and come to the president's desk that he can sign.
MR. RUSSERT: But no veto threat for personal accounts?
MR. CARD: Well, the process is just starting. The president has outlined the plan. He does not want to see the tax rate go up, because he wants our economy to be able to grow. He'd like to see a permanent solution to the Social Security challenge. You remember Senator Moynihan working on some of the solutions to Social Security in the past, and it turns out that they weren't real solutions to the problem; they just delayed the problem. And now is the time to fix the problem permanently. If--the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets to fix the problem. And we're adding to the cost of the problem to the tune of about $600 billion a year. So time is of the essence. It's time for the Democrats to get to the table and get to work on solving the problem.
MR. RUSSERT: The president, at his news conference, made some proposals, and this is the analysis of them. "Calculations...show... that those who are now 17 years old and earn average wages all their working lives would receive Social Security benefits 20 percent lower than they could expect under current law... The average wage this year is about $36,000. People who earn somewhat more than that in their working years -- the equivalent of $59,000 this year -- would see a 30 percent reduction. And people who earn the equivalent of $90,000 and more would have a reduction of almost 40 percent when they retire in 2055. ...workers with the lowest wages -- those who earn about $25,000 or less -- would not face a benefit cut." Those "calculations were made by Stephen C. Goss, the nonpartisan chief Social Security actuary."
Why such significant cuts in benefits for future retirees?
MR. CARD: Well, take a look at our current system. If we do nothing, the system cannot sustain the benefits that have been promised to future generations of seniors. Now, if you're a senior today, you're going to get your Social Security check. You're going to get the promises that were made and those promises will be kept. If you were born prior to 1950, you're going to get the promises that were made and you will get your check, but for future generations, the system cannot be sustained. It's a pay-as- you-go system. And if nothing happens, benefits are going to be cut by 26 percent, and that is not sustainable for retirement. And the president said we must change that.
Now, the plan that you put on the table is really not necessarily the president's plan; it's directionally consistent with the president's plan. And we'd like to see Congress start to work taking a look at the plan proposed by Mr. Pozen, for example, where the statistics that you just cited come from, and see if they might make for a better system. But we want to fix the system and fix retirement and that's why we need to have the marriage of making the tough decisions on the Social Security system, where benefits will actually be at or greater than what they are today for future generations of retirees, but we want to enhance those benefits through voluntary personal retirement accounts.
MR. RUSSERT: But there are other alternatives. Rather than reduce benefits for future retirees by 30 percent or 40 percent, you could raise the cap. Now that people pay the payroll tax up to the first $90,000, you could raise it up to the first $200,000 of income, and that would mean less cuts for future retirees.
MR. CARD: Congress should start to take a look at it. The president has said, "Bring these ideas to the table." So far the president has put ideas on the table. He's invited other ideas to be on the table, and he's even called attention to some of them. But we've had no suggestions that have come from the Democratic Party, in either the House or the Senate, and it's time for them to acknowledge the problem and offer to do something about it, because the status quo is not acceptable.
MR. RUSSERT: But lifting the cap for payroll tax is something the president would consider?
MR. CARD: Well, the president doesn't like to see taxes go up. After all, we have to be a competitive economy, and we know that the 21st century is very different than the 20th century. So we cut taxes in 2001 and it made a huge difference. It allowed us to have sustained growth and we are the fastest growing industrialized economy in the world today, and it's because of the outstanding tax policy that the president put in place. So we'd like to see lower taxes, but we also want to make sure that the legacy burdens of Social Security are considered in the context of the 21st century. We want to make sure that people who work all their lives, contribute to Social Security in future generations, have a safety net so that they don't fall through it, but we also want to see the enhancement of retirement through voluntary personal retirement accounts that can be invested today, grow in value over time and be there to supplement the value of a Social Security check that will also come, because the Social Security system will be there, but it just can't look like the Social Security system of today.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to filibuster for judicial nominations, the so-called nuclear option, where there would only be 51 votes necessary to stop a filibuster, rather than 60, which has been the history of our country. Vice President Cheney weighed in on this on April 22nd. Let's listen.
(Videotape, April 22, 2005):
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: If the Senate majority decides to move forward and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as president of the Senate and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up-or-down vote.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats, had this to say. He said that--"Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) suggested that Cheney's comments amounted to a broken promise from Bush. `Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not be come involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules,' Reid said in a statement. `Now it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.' Reid said his exchange with Bush took place at a regularly scheduled breakfast with congressional leaders." Did the president promise Harry Reid the White House not be involved in changing the rules on filibusters in the Senate?
MR. CARD: The president said this was a matter for the Senate, and he would like to see all of his nominees have an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate. His nominees, like Priscilla Owen, for example, have got a great track record on the bench. They've had outstanding recommendations from the American Bar Association. They deserve to have an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate, and that's what the president said he wants to see happen.
You know, for the vast majority of our nation's history, judicial nominees have been able to get an up-or- down vote on the floor of the Senate, and they have not been pushed aside through frivolous filibusters. Now, is the time for the Senate to recognize that these outstanding people that the president has said should be serving on our courts should have an up-or-down vote, and that's all the president's asking for.
MR. RUSSERT: But the vice president was encouraging changing the rules on filibuster. Isn't that breaking the president's word to Harry Reid?
MR. CARD: The vice president is also the president of the Senate. He's the only individual in our great democracy that is part of the legislative branch and the executive branch. He's part of Article I of the United States Senate, and he's part of Article II as vice president of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: So he wasn't speaking for the president?
MR. CARD: He was speaking as the president of the Senate, and he said if it were presented to him as the president of the Senate, he would rule in such a way to make sure that our nominees had a chance to have an up-or-down vote.
MR. RUSSERT: So the president's against invoking the so-called nuclear option?
MR. CARD: The president is in favor of having judicial nominees be considered by the full floor of the Senate with an up-or-down vote.
MR. RUSSERT: It was wrong for the Republicans to bottle up President Clinton's nominees in committee and not report them out?
MR. CARD: It is right that nominees that the president submits to the Senate be considered openly and that they should have, I think in all fairness, an up or down vote.
MR. RUSSERT: Whether it's a Democratic president or a Republican president?
MR. CARD: I happen to feel that a president deserves to have his nominees considered in an open floor on the merits and get an up or down vote.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom DeLay. Let me show you some video of Tom DeLay leaving Marine One, the president's helicopter. Also flew with--on Air Force One with the president, a show of support and solidarity. Is the president the least bit troubled by allegations of unethical behavior by Congressman DeLay?
MR. CARD: Well, the president has great confidence in the leadership that has come from the United States House of Representatives under the Republicans, and Tom DeLay is the Republican leader. And he's been a strong leader for this president. He's been very productive in getting things done. You know, the House has been much more productive than the Senate in terms of passing an energy bill. They passed a bankruptcy reform bill the president signed into law. They've done tort reform in part; that's been signed into law. We've got a good budget parameter that has been written by the House and the Senate. And so Tom DeLay's leadership is something the president respects, and the president supports Tom DeLay as the leader of the Republican Party in the House.
MR. RUSSERT: But what I asked you is not about his leadership, but is the president the least bit troubled by the ethical allegations being made against Congressman DeLay?
MR. CARD: We have not seen anything that would suggest that those allegations have any merit. We do know that the House is taking action to take a look at them to see whether or not they think there's been any violation of the House rules, but I don't know anyone who believes that there is necessarily merit to the allegations that have been put forward. But the House will take a look at that. That's a matter for the House to consider. It's not one for the executive branch.
MR. RUSSERT: Three times Congressman DeLay has been admonished by the House Ethics Committee. And now charges of lobbyists using credit cards to pay for his trips; that doesn't trouble the president at all?
MR. CARD: Well, he would like to see the House rules followed and he hopes that they have been followed. We have no reason to believe they haven't been followed. But most important, the president has a vision for America that includes a very aggressive agenda that would be good for us and good for the world. And he has been working as a partner with the House Republican leadership to get that agenda into reality.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to John Bolton, the president's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations. This is how Time magazine portrayed the situation. "Opponents say the problem is more than a matter of bad manners and bruised egos; Bolton's pattern of intimidation, they claim, was also aimed at distorting vital intelligence. Government sources tell TIME that during President Bush's first term, Bolton frequently tried to push the C.I.A. to produce information to conform to -- and confirm -- his views. `Whenever his staff sent testimony, speeches over for clearance, often it was full of stuff which was not based on anything we could find,' says a retired official familiar with the intelligence-clearance process. `So the notes that would go back to him were fairly extensive, saying the intelligence just didn't back up that line.' Those episodes, sources say, frequently involved statements Bolton wanted to make about the malign intentions and weapons capabilities of Cuba and North Korea. Two analysts - -one at the State Department, the other at the C.I.A. -- told the committee they had run afoul of Bolton in 2002 after they warned that he was making assertions in a speech about Cuba's weapons programs that could not be backed up by U.S. Intelligence. Bolton, they said, tried to have them removed from their jobs."
Here's the ambassador to the United Nations making the case before the world that North Korea has these weapons, Iran has these weapons. "I have intelligence here that is irrefutable," a potential Ambassador Bolton would say. Why is he the person to make that case to the world when here there are strong suggestions that he distorted intelligence data given to him?
MR. CARD: I don't think that those allegations suggest that he was distorting intelligence. He submitted things for clearance in the process, and people pushed back and said this is how we should write it and this is what we find. That's part of the normal clearance process. John Bolton is a good, tough diplomat. He's been confirmed by the Senate four times. He's got a distinguished career as a diplomat. We need a good, tough diplomat at the United Nations. I was in the Oval Office when the president met with John Bolton prior to naming him as his nominee to be the U.N. ambassador. And the president asked John Bolton some pretty tough questions, including, "Do you want the United Nations to do its job? Do you think it's relevant in today's world?" And John Bolton said yes. And the president said, "Then I'm with you. I want you to be the U.N. ambassador. I want to see reforms in the United Nations." And John Bolton can help bring those reforms to reality. But, yes, he's a good, tough diplomat and America needs a good tough diplomat at the United Nations right now. They need some reform.
MR. RUSSERT: But after the fiasco with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is it prudent to have someone at the United Nations who has said to the American Intelligence Agency, "I want to say this, and you can't back it up, then fire the person who won't give me the data I want?"
MR. CARD: I think that's a--that may be a stretch of reality, Tim. I think that he has been a good, tough diplomat. He pushes very hard to get America's position known by the world and to find allies in the war on terror and the efforts to have no more nuclear proliferation. He's the kind of person we need at the United Nations, especially right now when that institution needs to be reformed.
MR. RUSSERT: If the Senate committee rejects his nomination, will you still push for it to go to the floor?
MR. CARD: Well, I don't think that they will reject his nomination. I think that he should be recommended by the Foreign Relations Committee and sent to the floor of the Senate, where he'll be confirmed. I think he'll be an outstanding ambassador.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the committee does reject him, and several Republicans have expressed reservations, will the president ask for a full vote before the Senate?
MR. CARD: I haven't seen any indications the committee is going to reject him, so I don't buy your premise.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me follow up on North Korea. This was the scene Thursday in the United States Senate, an exchange between Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Let's watch.
(Videotape, April 28, 2005):
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY): Do you assess that North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device?
VICE ADMIRAL LOWELL JACOBY (Director, Defense Intelligence Agency): The assessment is that they have the capability to do that, yes, ma'am.
SEN. CLINTON: And do you assess that North Korea has the ability to deploy a two-stage intercontinental nuclear missile that could successfully hit U.S. territory?
VICE ADM. JACOBY: Yes. The assessment on a two-stage missile would give capability to reach portions of U.S. territory, and the projection on a three-stage missile, would be that it would be able to reach most of the continental United States.
MR. RUSSERT: And this is what Senator Clinton had to say. She called Admiral Jacoby's statement "`the first confirmation, publicly, by the administration that the North Koreans have the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device that can reach the United States,' adding, `Put simply, they couldn't do that when George Bush became president, and now they can.'"
MR. CARD: Well, you know, we're very troubled by the Kim Jong Il regime in North Korea. He has flaunted his weapons programs. He violated an agreement that was reached with the United States. President Clinton signed an agreement with the North Koreans that the North Koreans then violated. And they were producing weapons-quality nuclear material. And we know that he claims to the world that he has nuclear weapons. We know that they have missiles. And we know that he is very, very cruel to his own people. He represses his people. They're kept in concentration camps. Their economy is stagnant. He doesn't allow any interaction with the rest of the world. He's not a good person, and he's not a good leader. And so we pay very close attention to him. But we're working with partners who have a tremendous stake in what happens in North Korea--the Japanese, the Russians, the Chinese, the South Koreans--and we're working together to have a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. And we also know that we're doing everything we can to make sure that the people of North Korea recognize that they're being cheated and denied opportunities that come with freedom and democracy.
MR. RUSSERT: The North Koreans said today President Bush is a "half-baked man in terms of morality, a Philistine who can never be dealt with." Your reaction?
MR. CARD: That regime doesn't say a lot with any credibility. And so I would say: Pay attention to your people. Your people in North Korea have been denied basic human rights. They are denied food. They are denied sustenance. They are denied freedom. And his leadership is not constructive for his own people, and it's certainly not respected by the rest of the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Here is the issue as framed by a columnist from The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof: "Here's a foreign affairs quiz. (1) How many nuclear weapons did North Korea produce in Bill Clinton's eight years of office? (2) How many nuclear weapons has it produced so far in President Bush's four years in office? The answer to the first question, by all accounts, is zero. The answer to the second is fuzzier, but about six. ... The upshot is that there is a significantly greater risk of another Korean War, a greater likelihood that other Asian countries, like Japan, will eventually go nuclear as well, and a greater risk that terrorists will acquire plutonium or uranium."
Could it be said that President Bush was so focused on Iraq that another far greater threat emerged and that six nuclear bombs were developed by North Korea on his watch?
MR. CARD: Or on President Clinton's watch. Some of those weapons may well have been produced as the North Koreans were violating the agreement that they had with President Clinton. And that's what a North Korean delegate said to an American diplomat, and they said it with great pride. But the president keeps very close attention to what is happening in North Korea. And that's why we're working so effectively with our Japanese allies and South Korean allies and Russian allies and Chinese allies, to bring some sense of responsibility to the Kim Jong Il regime. But clearly we are paying very, very close attention.
The president would also like to see his missile defense program to protect us should he have a missile that would be aimed toward the United States. So the president's got a good, comprehensive plan to deal with North Korea and to protect America, and he's also working very hard to make sure that nuclear weapons do not proliferate around the globe, nor do they get into the hands of terrorists. And we're working with allies around the globe to tighten up on the non-proliferation aspects of treaties and pay close attention to what might be happening through the A.Q. Khan network, for example. And remember how we helped to bring the Libyans to responsibility so that they would no longer be part of that effort to try to proliferate nuclear weapons? And we'll be doing the same thing to keep the pressure on other regimes that are looking to get nuclear weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you some other video from this week. Here's the president greeting Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, kissing him, escorting him and then holding hands with the crown prince. Why such tender treatment for the Saudis?
MR. CARD: Well, Crown Prince Abdullah has been a wonderful ally in the war on terror, and he's an older gentleman who came to the ranch. The president was showing him great respect, but he was also walking on a path that was not that stable. So the president was helping the crown prince along this rocky path up to his office down at the ranch. But, you know, the president has been working very closely with the crown prince, not just on the effort to fight terrorism, but he's also been working with him to help generate more production of oil. We need more oil in the markets around the world to help bring prices down. The president would like to lower gasoline prices in the United States, and if he had a magic wand that he could wave and lower gasoline prices, he would be waving that wand. But we know the quickest solution to help bring down energy prices in the world would be more production of energy. We're pleased with the passage of an energy bill in the House. We'd like to see the Senate get one into the conference committee that can come to the president for a signature. But we also know we'd like to see more production from places like Saudi Arabia.
MR. RUSSERT: Two things that have been suggested: Once again, have the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit uniform across the country; and, two, increase by federal mandate the miles per gallon for automobiles. Would the president support those two initiatives?
MR. CARD: Well, as you know, the president has provided for an increase of so-called corporate average fuel economy standards for sport utility vehicles, minivans and light-duty trucks. And that was done by action on the part of our regulators with the president's direction. Fuel standards for automobiles are set by Congress. We actually think that a comprehensive energy bill that recognizes the advancements in technology is the best way to go forward, and the president favors development of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. He'd like to see more of these hybrid vehicles in our marketplace. But he wants the market to work. He recognizes that the scientists tell us that we have to be very concerned about safety and the economists tell us we have to be very concerned about our economy. So the National Academy of Sciences said, when we consider fuel economy standards, we also have to take a look at the ramifications for safety and for jobs and our economy.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the Congress passed increasing miles per gallon for automobiles, the president would sign it?
MR. CARD: Well, he would like to see a balanced approach that calls for new technologies to come into the marketplace. You know, the simple suggestions that government can just mandate changes in behavior are not realistic. And we've seen what happens if we don't have fuel economy standards, for example, that don't respect the impact on safety or the impact on the economy.
MR. RUSSERT: How about the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit?
MR. CARD: Well, I think the regions of this country vary so much that, you know, in Rhode Island-- maybe Rhode Island wants to consider changing speed limits. But I think in Montana, in Texas, I don't think that going back to those kinds of solutions are the best thing to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, said this. "First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." Does the president agree with that?
MR. CARD: Well, you didn't read the whole context of what Vladimir Putin said in that speech. It was the state of the Russian Federation speech, and that's taken a little bit out of context. Vladimir Putin has been bringing democracy to Russia. It isn't necessarily how we would like to bring it to Russia or maybe it wouldn't be by our formula, but he has been a partner in the march toward democracy.
MR. RUSSERT: No, but he did say that "the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."
MR. CARD: Again, you didn't read the entire...
MR. RUSSERT: I read the whole speech.
MR. CARD: ...context of that speech and that's taken a little bit out of context.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you believe that the Soviet collapse was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe?
MR. CARD: I'm sure to some in the former Soviet Union, they may see it that way. I do not.
MR. RUSSERT: How about the world? Like the Holocaust? Adolf Hitler?
MR. CARD: I do not see it the way that he described it.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, let me show you a picture. This man right here in the bow tie. His name was Sherman Adams. He served Dwight Eisenhower for five years, nine months and one day. Andrew Card has served George W. Bush for four years, three months, 11 days. If you make it to September 22, 2006, the longest-serving chief of staff in the history of the nation. Are you going to make it?
MR. CARD: I serve at the pleasure of the president for the time being. If I do not have his pleasure, I do not serve. And he and I speak very candidly every day, and I've worked very hard not to keep his pleasure but to keep him on track for doing that which he wants to do. So if he says the pleasure is gone, I'll say thank you very much for yesterday.
MR. RUSSERT: Should old Sherman be worried?
MR. CARD: Sherman Adams was the governor of New Hampshire, served President Eisenhower with great distinction and worked very hard to bring a skiing industry to the state of New Hampshire and I like to ski.
MR. RUSSERT: Andrew Card, thank you very much.
MR. CARD: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, should this man, John Bolton, be our ambassador to the United Nations? And is there any hope of a bipartisan solution to the Social Security solvency issue? Republican Senator George Allen, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd. They'll square off next, right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: John Bolton, federal judges, Social Security and more--Senators Allen and Dodd right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Senators Dodd and Allen, welcome both.
Let's go right to Social Security. Charles Grassley, Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, said this: "Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said that the odds are against Congress approving the proposal being pushed by President Bush. `I think it's very difficult for me to say today that we'll present a bill to the president'... `I think I have a responsibility as chairman of the [Senate Finance Committee] to do everything I can to deliver a bill to the president ... The practical aspect of that is, to do that, I have to have a bipartisan compromise.'" In order to do that, shouldn't Charles Grassley, as chairman, have the opportunity to create a bill which solves Social Security? And the only way to get a bipartisan compromise is to leave private and personal accounts off the table. Why not do that?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN, (R-VA): First, I think Chairman Grassley and the president are showing their courage, particularly the president, to address the problem as far as retirement security in the country long term. The longer we wait, the more costly it will be, the more drastic the changes need to be made. I think that what Chairman Grassley might could do is broaden this issue to retirement security. That's the goal, to make sure people, when they're retired, have security.
There are a variety of things, including Social Security, that are part of retirement. There can be incentives for long-term care. There can be incentives for people to save, additional ways of saving with less taxation, let's say, on savings. Now, the problem is is that the Democrats simply are using this as a political issue and not coming to the table, coming up with any ideas. And all of us have our own parameters as to what ought to be done insofar as making Social Security solvent.
There are certain parameters, such as: Those who are retired presently or soon to be retired will not have a benefits cut; those who are not in the Social Security system should not be compelled or mandated to join it. I'm one who doesn't believe you ought to be increasing taxes. And then finally, on the personal savings accounts, all we're trying to do is say, for people out there in the real world, that they be afforded the same sort of retirement options as are afforded to members of Congress and federal employees.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, in order to get a bipartisan compromise, could you accept a bill that didn't have private personal accounts?
SEN. ALLEN: I'd like to see a comprehensive bill, and I do think it makes sense, whether that is within Social Security or outside of Social Security, to afford people, the American people, working folks in this country, the same opportunities for savings as are afforded and allowed to members of Congress and to all the federal employees. I might add to the Thrift Savings Account the idea that people ought to be able to invest in their own home because I think that's the best financial investment.
MR. RUSSERT: But in order to get a compromise, could you accept a bill without that?
SEN. ALLEN: I'm not going to say right here what I would ultimately support. I would want to see a comprehensive approach that actually improves people's security in retirement, including long-term care and including a lot of ideas that I think will make it easier for people to save.
MR. RUSSERT: One other point, the president's proposal, at his news conference, says that people who are making $90,000, future retirees, would have their benefits cut 40 percent. People making $59,000 would have their benefits cut 30 percent. Could you accept that?
SEN. ALLEN: I do not care to reduce the retirement security for those particularly middle-income working people. I think what we ought to be looking at is ways to enhance and strengthen their ability to save for themselves, be responsible in the case they need assisted living.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, then, you have to raise taxes. You either have to cut benefits or raise taxes.
SEN. ALLEN: There are a variety of other options that can be looked at as far as the solvency of Social Security, but then there are others...
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
SEN. ALLEN: Oh, you could look at a lot of different things.
MR. RUSSERT: Raise eligibility age?
SEN. ALLEN: That's one.
MR. RUSSERT: Cost-of-living increases?
SEN. ALLEN: Correct.
MR. RUSSERT: You'd look at all those?
SEN. ALLEN: Well, I think they all have to be on the table and see the entire package. But then you also need to look at a package that also ought to be looking at making sure that investments in stocks or bonds or others, are--the taxes are low so that people of, let's say, middle or lower income can avail themselves of these investments. And moreover, in the event that a personal savings account approach is taken, allowing them to invest in a home in addition to right now it's stocks, bonds and other financial instruments, if people can invest in their own home, they'll know it. They'll understand it. They'll take care of it. And they'll enjoy it and they don't have to worry about mergers and acquisitions and scandals and market share. And by the time they retire, they're going to have a pretty good nest egg there and they don't need as big a house, usually, because they don't want to be cutting grass and trimming hedges, and that is good for the economy as well. So I'd want to look at as a broad package, not just in the narrow aspect of Social Security, which is important, but also let's look at other ways, additional ways to allow working people in this country to save for their own retirement.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, can there be a bipartisan solution to Social Security solvency with private personal accounts on the table? And two, could you accept a reduction in benefits for future retirees who make $90,000 by some 40 percent, who make $59,000 by some 30 percent?
SEN. DODD: Well, we--first of all, the problem here is I don't think--even if Democrats weren't involved, I don't think the president's plan would pass even Republican muster. There are already a variety of different proposals on the table made by Republican members of the Senate that are very different than what the president's suggesting. So the first issue, we've made it very clear, that private accounts are just off the table. They add $5 trillion to the deficit and leave up to the vagaries of the marketplace long-term stability and security for the retirees in this country is just a mistake in our view. If you did nothing at all, you'd leave these retirees in better shape than what the president is suggesting, in my view. There are ways to deal with solvency. Chuck Grassley has it exactly right. This is a solvency issue, and there are ways of solving the solvency issue, in my view, without having to get into benefit cuts. Simply if you would just take what the president suggested in 2001 for his tax cuts, which were not to be permanent but to expire within 10 years. If he would not make those permanent, those tax cuts will amount to about $11 trillion in revenue losses over the next 75 years. The solvency issue for the Social Security Trust Fund is around $3 trillion. Just reduce that tax cut by $3 trillion, keep $8 trillion if you want. That solves the solvency problem without cutting benefits at all. That's one way to do it, and we ought to be doing more.
MR. RUSSERT: But that's a tax increase.
SEN. DODD: Oh, no. He's made--they were temporary. These were temporary. The president said in 2001 these are temporary. They're going to terminate, expire in 10 years. Instead of making them permanent, just reduce the amount.
MR. RUSSERT: But if limiting the growth of Social Security is a cut, then ending a tax cut has to be a tax increase.
SEN. DODD: Well, it's simple...
MR. RUSSERT: There's a logic there.
SEN. DODD: Well, all right, but--do it that way. You asked me how to do it. Do I want to cut 50 percent of a middle-income person's retirement benefits or do I want to ask the top 1 percent of income earners to do with a little less of a tax cut on a permanent basis? That choice is easy, and I think most of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, would prefer that option.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you make that choice?
SEN. ALLEN: No, it's a tax increase, and a lot of those top earners are small-business owners.
MR. RUSSERT: So you prefer tax cuts for the most affluent rather than benefit cuts for middle class?
SEN. ALLEN: I'm for tax cuts for taxpayers. I want to make this country more conducive than competitive.
SEN. DODD: That's ridiculous.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator...
SEN. ALLEN: No, you're assuming--he's assuming, like Al Gore did, talking about a lock box as if there's a Social Security Trust Fund.
SEN. DODD: There is.
SEN. ALLEN: Well, there is in a roundabout way. But the reality is once you get to 2017, the revenues coming in will not be enough to fund that but to fund the output.
SEN. DODD: No, no, no. No, no. George, we know from every single actuary that the issue becomes a crisis, if you will, in 2042. And in 2042, 80 percent of the Trust Fund is there, according to actuary accounts. So 20 percent--let me finish.
SEN. ALLEN: All right. Now, let me ask you this, what happens in 2017...
SEN. DODD: Twenty percent is missing. Frankly, Medicaid is a far bigger issue today. Health care is a bigger issue today.
SEN. ALLEN: Right. And you all are not proposing anything there either.
SEN. DODD: There are other things that need to be done.
SEN. ALLEN: Now, in 2017--do you believe that in 2017 that the revenues coming in don't match what the output is going to have to be?
SEN. DODD: No. No, I don't agree with that at all. You can entitle your own opinions but not your own facts. And the facts are that we're going to have a Trust Fund in pretty good shape up until 2042. Eighty percent of the Trust Fund will be there. Twenty percent is missing. There are all sorts of ways to deal with that solvency issue. Cutting the benefits of these people is wrong, in my view. And the American people are reacting to it, and they're not supporting it. And your Republican colleagues won't do it.
SEN. ALLEN: Let's assume that cutting the benefits--let's assume--at least I have him here engaged, Tim. Now--which we can't get from other Democrats. All right, let's assume that we're going to have to figure out the basic facts here as to when it becomes insolvent or when the revenues coming in do not match.
SEN. DODD: It's not insolvent at any point even after 2042. Some say 2050.
SEN. ALLEN: The reality is at that some point, whether it's 2017, 2018 or you may think it's 2041, that the number of people working and the revenues coming in from Social Security taxes will not be sufficient to pay those who are on retirement. And we all know that the fastest growing age group are those over age 80. Now, at some point--and I agree with you, I don't think we ought to be cutting benefits for those middle income and low income.
SEN. DODD: You've got to make a choice though.
SEN. ALLEN: Right. But there--but let's...
SEN. DODD: You've got to make a choice, though.
MR. RUSSERT: Stop right there. Stop right there, Senator Allen. President Bush has said 40 percent reduction for those making $90,000. And a 30 percent reduction for those making $59,000.
SEN. ALLEN: Got it. Right.
MR. RUSSERT: You disagree?
SEN. ALLEN: I think that...
MR. RUSSERT: And you oppose the president? Be clear.
SEN. ALLEN: Don't put words in my mouth. Understand what I'm trying to get...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you support or oppose the president? That's fair.
SEN. ALLEN: I support what I'm for and my own ideas. And my ideas are those of middle-income, working people ought to have better retirement security in addition to what Social Security has provided.
MR. RUSSERT: So you're disagreeing with the president?
SEN. ALLEN: I think when you look at the president's specific proposal, which only has to do with middle income and higher income and lower income, that is just one narrow part of all the retirement benefits. When you start looking at long-term care, when you start looking at affording or allowing people who are working in this country the same sort of investment opportunities and tax benefits that are allowed to members of Congress...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe...
SEN. ALLEN: ...I think that middle-income folks can actually have a better retirement nest egg than they do by only looking at Social Security.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe your Republican colleagues will support 40-percent reduction for retirees who make $90,000?
SEN. ALLEN: I haven't done a wimp check. I don't know. All I can do is speak for myself. And if we could work...
SEN. DODD: This won't happen.
MR. RUSSERT: All right. All right. But Senator Dodd--Senator Dodd, other than raising...
SEN. ALLEN: The point is the president put something on the table, why don't you all come up with something positive?
MR. RUSSERT: Other than raising taxes, what else do you propose?
SEN. DODD: I disagree with your point of raising taxes. I don't call it raising taxes. That's one way of getting it. But the point is here. Remember this. There's some things you need to understand. One- third of all seniors today live exclusively on their Social Security check. Two-thirds of them live substantially on that Social Security check. Don't forget that. Remember prior to the enactment of Social Security and Medicare, the poorest segment of American population were the elderly. Seventy years ago, Franklin Roosevelt set up this program, which has enjoyed widespread support over the last seven decades, to provide that kind of security. What the president is suggesting is fundamentally altering and changing that to such a degree that people would lose as much as 40 or 50 percent of those benefits, not super-wealthy people but people in the middle. We're suggesting here that the way to do this is first do no harm. Get way from these private investment accounts as part of Social Security. Have it outside the Social Security system. Encourage people to save long-term savings, to contribute to Social Security so they'll have those kind of security they need. And then fix the solvency issue, which we can do without having to take--there are a number of suggestions. One is to increase the amount of taxable income from $90,000, such as Lindsey Graham is suggesting, a Republican is suggesting.
MR. RUSSERT: Lift the cap. How about the eligibility age? Look at that?
SEN. DODD: That might be looked at down the road as well, Tim. I'm not suggesting you do that now at all. That could be later on you want to do that. The problem is how do you solve the problem of 2042, that 20 percent, to make that Trust Fund solvent? There are all sorts of ways of doing that other than what the Republicans and the president are suggesting. And I don't think this will pass. I think Republicans will be against it.
MR. RUSSERT: But the fact is there are 40 million retirees, there's soon to be 80 million. Life expectancy has gone from gone from 65 to 78, 79. There used to be 15 workers for retirees, soon to be two. We have to do something. You agree?
SEN. DODD: I don't disagree down the road we do. But it's not the immediate crisis. Talk about Medicare. Talk about health care. Talk about issues that we do need to address immediately today. Why isn't that on the table for the kind of discussion we ought to be having?
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued on Social Security. It's going to be a long debate. John Bolton.
Senator Allen, why is John Bolton, a man who is accused of saying to intelligent analysts, "No, no, no. I don't want that data. I want the data that I asked you for." Why is that person the person that we want at the United Nations, saying to the world, "North Korea, Iran, this is what you have in terms of the intelligence and this is what our policy is?" Why is he to be believed, based on his track record and the testimony from people who have worked with him?
SEN. ALLEN: All right, several reasons. One is track record and record of performance is outstanding. Note that he put together the Proliferation Security Initiative, bringing in 60 countries to help interdict and stop proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It was his leadership and working with other countries that got Libya to stand down their weapons-of-mass-destruction program. Look also how he worked in the United Nations in 1991 to repeal an odious resolution that the United Nations had since the mid-1970s which likened Zionism to racism.
John Bolton is one who is not going to suffer wastefulness. He is one who's going to scrutinize the spending at the United Nations. We, as taxpayers in this country, put $439 million a year, which is 22 percent of the United Nations budget. I want someone in there who's going to be a watchdog, to reform them, to make sure that they don't have these scandals like the oil-for-food scandal that was propping up Saddam Hussein's regime. He's the type of person that I think the taxpayers would want, those of us who want to advance freedom around the world, and will be straightforward. And when the United Nations--now Zimbabwe is on their Human Rights Commission. They've had Syria in it. They've had Sudan and others. It is farcical.
And the United Nations needs reform, and John Bolton's an outstanding individual, based on his record of performance, and also will be the one who I think will ultimately, with these reforms, bring credibility to the United Nations, which is in sorry need of it. And the fact that he's not going to get seduced by these meaningless pontifications of diplomatic bureaucracies, I like that a lot and I think most of the American people do as well.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd?
SEN. DODD: Well, the issue is a simple one. It's the first question that Dick Lugar asked John Bolton when he was before the Senate Foreign Relations--it was the first question I've asked. The only issue I'm really interested in, in terms of this nomination: Did John Bolton threaten the jobs of intelligence analysts because he did not like the intelligence he was getting to support a speech or a series of policy positions he wanted to take? Eight current or former members of the Bush administration, career people at the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency--eight of them--including his own chief of staff, said that Mr. Bolton tried to fire these intelligence analysts.
To me, giving to all we've been through in the last several years--setting up and restructuring with the new director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, all of the moving the pieces around to make sure that we will not have the same kind of mistakes that occurred with intelligence being gathered and used prior to the invasion of Iraq--it seems to me that if you break down this wall, this wall that should exist between policy-setters and intelligence analysts--if that wall breaks down--that's not to suggest you could argue with them, you could disagree with them, you could be blunt with them--but if you threaten their jobs, threaten to fire them, then I think the credibility of American intelligence suffers. And if you did that, as he did--and it's not debatable whether he did or not; everyone will tell you he did--then I think he's disqualified, in my view.
And the very point that my friend here is making about sending John Bolton to the United Nations, I think, gets compromised by what he's done. Sending someone up to reform the United Nations who has the reputation factually of having tried to skewer and cook the books when it comes to intelligence data is not going to be able, in my view, to convince our allies or others around the world to support us on key positions. There are plenty of conservative, blunt-speaking Republicans who I know could full well fulfill this job. It need not be John Bolton.
MR. RUSSERT: Will he be blocked in committee?
SEN. DODD: I don't know. Listen, there are three or four members of the committee who've expressed reservations, and as my friend George--we are friends in this. I trust my colleagues. They're watching. They're looking at this information. They'll decide whether or not this rises to the level I think it does. And if it does and they turn him down, it would be almost unprecedented for the committee to take a negative vote in the committee and insist that that vote go to the floor of the Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: Will it happen?
SEN. ALLEN: I think that--at least the Republicans on our side in the committee will look at all these allegations and realize that most of them are based on hearsay, innuendo or people who were leading Mothers Against Bush in Dallas. I brought this here because of this charge, all the time that--supposedly wanted to get someone fired. The dispute had to do with a speech that John Bolton was going to give to the Heritage Foundation, and the question was on Cuban biological weapons capabilities and who they were sharing it with in rogue countries. And, in fact, the dispute was about how this whole question of what he could say could be done--what words could he use. And, in fact, here's what Thomas Finger-- and this has now been made unclassified. He responded. He says, "I looked at what my guys sent to the IC--the intelligence community--and it won't happen again. What--the phrases used were entirely inappropriate: `We've screwed up, but not for base reasons. It won't happen again.'"
It had to do with folks' fixation on speech crafting. It has nothing to do with--other than the fact that John Bolton, when he gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation on Cuba's biological weapons capability and the dual use ability of that biotech capability--what he said to the Heritage Foundation was exactly the same as what Mr. Ford said to our committee. And so he wanted to get: Where is our intelligence? The fact that an ambassador to South Korea was all upset, that he called Kim Jong Il a tyrannical dictator and that it is a hellish nightmare to live in North Korea, I think he's exactly right. And these are just, I think, reasons...
MR. RUSSERT: Will he be confirmed?
SEN. ALLEN: He will be confirmed. And my good friend, Chris Dodd, voted against him last time before any of these arguments have come up about people whose sensibilities were offended. And I think ultimately our team will stick together and I think we'll ultimately get a few Democrats on the floor.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to federal judges. Court of Appeals: Bill Clinton nominated 51 people to the Court of Appeals. Thirty-five were confirmed. Sixteen were blocked by the Republicans by not giving hearings or not allowed out of committee. George Bush nominated 52. Thirty-five were confirmed because the Democrats threatened filibuster. They don't run the committees, so they can't block it in committee. What's the difference?
SEN. ALLEN: I think you'll find on the Circuit Court judges that President Bush has the lowest percentage of Circuit Court judges...
MR. RUSSERT: I just gave you the numbers. Clinton nominated 51; 35 were confirmed. Bush nominated 52; 35 were confirmed. Those are the numbers.
SEN. ALLEN: Well, I have different numbers than that. The reality is that some of President Clinton's nominees were blocked in committee. They did not--and a lot of them were also brought up at the very end of his term.
MR. RUSSERT: These are Court of Appeals. This is what we're...
SEN. ALLEN: Right. And they were brought up at the end. Here's where we are today. I wasn't part of what was going on back then. In fact, one of--my first speech on the Senate floor was asking my colleagues to rise above partisanship and political gamesmanship and support Roger Gregory, who President Clinton put in as an interim judge on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and President Bush put forward Roger Gregory. He rose above all this partisanship and this worship of process in the Senate and nominated Roger Gregory, along with Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown and others who have not been accorded the fairness of a vote.
My view is that these nominees, outstanding nominees, should, after they've been vetted and people look at their judicial philosophy--and I like judges whose will apply the law, not invent it...
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah. Right.
SEN. ALLEN: ...that senators ought to have the backbone and spine to get off their haunches and vote yes or vote no and don't hold them up for...
MR. RUSSERT: All right. All right. So you pledge as a Republican that you will never block a Democratic nominee in committee and will always allow a vote on the floor.
SEN. ALLEN: The way I look at it, if somebody comes out of the committee with a favorable recommendation...
MR. RUSSERT: That's not what I asked. You can block from the committee which is the equivalent of blocking...
SEN. ALLEN: Well, look, I really don't mind voting for or against judges and being held accountable and responsible in the event someday...
MR. RUSSERT: But you want to end the filibuster?
SEN. ALLEN: In the event the Democrats continue to obstruct and deny these men and women like Janice Rogers Brown to the 9th Circuit...
MR. RUSSERT: OK. Let me give him...
SEN. ALLEN: ...this is the 9th Circuit that knocks out the Pledge of Allegiance...
MR. RUSSERT: ...a chance. Let me give him a chance.
SEN. ALLEN: ...because of the words "under God."
SEN. DODD: Well, defend us right here.
SEN. ALLEN: That's where we need...
MR. RUSSERT: What happens if they exercise the nuclear option?
SEN. DODD: Well, I think it'd be a sad day. You know, we're only temporary custodians of the Senate. And the irony is, my good friend is from Virginia. The people who wrote this Constitution, many of them came from Virginia, people like Madison and Monroe and, of course, Hamilton from New York and others. And they set up a system, a bicameral system in the legislative branch. The Senate was to be a place where the rights of the minority were protected, using the vehicle of extended debate. The House is a place where the majority rules. That's why they set this system up.
What a great pity it would be that we would strip away and destroy what has been a very critical element to bring people together. Now, we shouldn't use extended debate, you know, in an irresponsible way, and that's up to individual members of the Senate how they do it. But to tear away the ability to have extended debate--the irony that I would be able to have...
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.
SEN. DODD: ...extended debate on some undersecretary, who may have a job for two years, and not be able to use extended debate for somebody who gets a lifetime job--the only position in the federal government for which you get a lifetime job...
SEN. ALLEN: This debate has gone on for three or four years.
SEN. DODD: ...and just throw it away.
MR. RUSSERT: 1959, Senator Thomas Dodd called for the abolition of the filibuster.
SEN. DODD: He was wrong...
SEN. ALLEN: Well, understand, Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: All right.
SEN. ALLEN: ...this has only to do with judges, not on general legislation.
SEN. DODD: I disagreed with my father from time to time.
MR. RUSSERT: We've got to go. Chris Dodd, George Allen, thanks very much. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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