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Greenspan Ignites Social Security Debate
Aired February 26, 2004 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE: There's war and weapons, gay marriage, and jobs. But there's another big issue affecting the security of all working people, and Alan Greenspan says it can't wait.
ALAN GREENSPAN, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The dimension of the challenge is enormous.
ANNOUNCER: Today on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
The Democratic presidential candidates, all four of them, debate tonight on CNN. You can watch that live at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Larry King will host it. A topic that's certain to be brought up tonight was thrown on the table by none other than Alan Greenspan, no matter how much deluded baby boomers wish it would go away.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: What the Republican Fed chairman said yesterday was that Republicans should cut Social Security benefits in order to pay for George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich.
We will debate whether your Social Security should pay for Ken Lay's tax cuts right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
Republicans on Capitol Hill are refusing to give the 9/11 Commission enough time to finish its job. Now, that may make it impossible for us to ever know whether or why President Bush did nothing after he was warned of an al Qaeda plot to hijack American planes. President Bush himself will only meet with two of the panel's 10 members and only for one hour.
Mr. Bush, of course, has devoted countless hours to milking the maximum political benefit from those tragic attacks, but he's only given the commission 1.18 seconds for each one of the 3,031 innocent people who were murdered on 9/11. Now, in his defense, President Bush is a busy man, what with daily naps and workouts and everything else.
BEGALA: So he's got to save his time for the things that really matter to him, like meeting with lobbyists from Halliburton.
CARLSON: The 9/11 -- the 9/11 Commission should have reported, I think, in an ideal world last year.
CARLSON: We have a right to know what went wrong. "The Washington Post" thankfully and "The New York Times" have filled in some of the blanks this week, both with stories showing in detail how the Clinton administration let Osama bin Laden go.
BEGALA: Bush is stonewalling. Bush is stonewalling.
BEGALA: He has delayed the commission. Now they can't finish on time and they won't extend it.
CARLSON: I said it -- I notice there was no defense for what "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" just said. It's an appalling thing. It's the legacy of that administration.
BEGALA: Blame Bill Clinton.
CARLSON: What I am saying...
BEGALA: So you think Bush is stonewalling because he doesn't want Clinton to get blamed? I don't think so.
CARLSON: What I'm saying, Paul, is...
BEGALA: I think he doesn't want the truth out.
CARLSON: We -- we should have gotten that information a year ago.
BEGALA: Absolutely. CARLSON: I agree with you. I want to know. We have a right to know.
CARLSON: Well, in his stump speech, John Kerry attacks American companies that move to foreign countries in order to avoid paying American taxes. "I will stop these Benedict Arnold corporations," he shouts. Notice the phrasing here, Benedict Arnold. In other words, when you do something that John Kerry disagrees with, you're not just wrong. You're evil, a collaborator, a traitor to your country, a nonperson.
Kerry's charge is divisive. It's disgusting, actually. And it's also pure hypocrisy. In a remarkable front page story in today's "Washington Post," star reporter Jim VandeHei points out that some of Kerry's biggest donors are by his own definition Benedict Arnolds. Two of Kerry's biggest fund-raisers run companies that use offshore tax havens in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. In other words, Kerry has been consorting with and profiting from traitors to America, by his own definition.
And he should stop it immediately. Then he ought to return the money. We'll keep you posted on whether he does.
BEGALA: It's actually called integrity. If you take money from someone and then vote against their interests
CARLSON: Paul, I love this.
BEGALA: ... stay bought. That's George W. Bush's thing.
CARLSON: That is the best.
BEGALA: Hey, Hale Boggs said it right. He was the leader of the Congress years ago.
CARLSON: That is the best. I love that.
BEGALA: Hale Boggs said, if you can't take their money, smoke the cigars and sleep with the women, then vote against them, you don't belong in politics.
CARLSON: No, but I think we can all agree.
CARLSON: That is wonderful spin. BEGALA: No.
CARLSON: But you shouldn't
CARLSON: You doesn't call people traitors to the country. You shouldn't call them Benedict Arnolds. They're all Americans, even if you disagree. Don't call them traitors.
BEGALA: They're not Americans if they go overseas. They're no longer American, by definition.
CARLSON: That's outrageous. That's outrageous.
BEGALA: Well, if you thought that President Bush's recent support for amending our Constitution to outlaw gay marriage was nothing more than a crass political move, maybe a cynical attempt to distract Americans from the jobless economy and the endless occupation, you were right.
Mr. Bush's support for a constitutional amendment is also a complete flip-flop from his earlier position. Here's what he told CNN's own Larry King in a debate during the 2000 campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2000)
LARRY KING, MODERATOR: So, therefore, if a state were voting on gay marriage, you would suggest to that state not to approve it.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The state can do what they want to do. Don't try to trap me into the states issue, like you're trying to get me into.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: States can do what they want to do, unless it's an election year and unless Mr. Bush has screwed up the economy and misled us into a war.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: Then it's time to flip-flop and beat up on the gays.
You know, when George W. Bush fell behind John McCain in 2000, he pandered to the anti-Catholic bigots at Bob Jones University. Now he's trailing both John Kerry and John Edwards. He's bashing gays. Mr. Bush is not a divider or a hater. He just plays one on TV.
CARLSON: When you're proposing to alter the most fundamental institution in civilization...
BEGALA: The Constitution?
CARLSON: ... it's not -- no, marriage.
It's not a distraction from anything. It's the most important conversation we as a nation can have.
CARLSON: Yes, it is.
BEGALA: Then why didn't we have it four years ago?
CARLSON: And it's not helpful -- it's not helpful to call people haters when they disagree with you.
BEGALA: Why did he change his position from four years ago?
CARLSON: They simply disagree.
BEGALA: If marriage is the most important issue, why has he flip-flopped on it.
CARLSON: I'll tell you exactly why. The state of California passed a law saying it's illegal for gays to get married. They're getting married anyway. The federal government needs to address this issue. It's too important.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: California can enforce its own law.
CARLSON: Apparently, it can't.
BEGALA: Certainly, it can.
CARLSON: Well, yesterday, GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie held a press conference to discuss John Kerry's voting record in the U.S. Senate. Well, Gillespie went out of his way to praise Kerry's record of service in Vietnam. Then he questioned Kerry's vote to slash FBI funding after the first World Trade Center bombing.
It was reasonable what he said. The Kerry campaign responded not with an explanation of the vote, but with a savage personal attack on Ed Gillespie from surrogate former Senator Max Cleland -- quote -- "It's the height of irony," Cleland said, "for people like Ed Gillespie, who never served in the U.S. military and does not understand war to criticize the record of John Kerry." In other words, we're war heroes. You're not. Shut up. Never mind that Gillespie was a child when that war ended. This is moral blackmail. Because Cleland is a decorated former soldier who was grievously injured in Vietnam, Democrats claim it is somehow immoral to criticize him, even as Cleland himself recklessly and personally attacks other people. Well, they're wrong. If Max Cleland has a real, adult argument to make, he ought to make it. Otherwise, he should be quiet.
CARLSON: He should not be quiet.
CARLSON: Attacking people.
BEGALA: This is what the right
BEGALA: ... censor anybody. No. Max Cleland should speak out. Ed Gillespie was a lobbyist for Enron. He's still doing the business of corporate interests.
CARLSON: Why are you attacking him personally?
BEGALA: That's his profession. Personally, he's a nice guy. I like him.
CARLSON: Why don't you address what he said?
BEGALA: Because he's an Enron lobbyist.
BEGALA: He shouldn't be giving lectures to anybody about how they vote on
CARLSON: Hold on. Why are you dismissing what he said? Why don't you address -- you're doing what the Kerry campaign did. Address what he said.
BEGALA: He's not a credible source to criticize. He's an Enron lobbyist who's now in charge of the Republican Party.
CARLSON: You know, you spew hate like that, rather than address
BEGALA: He's a lovely guy. What he did for a living was reprehensible. He has no right to criticize.
Well, by the way, we here at CNN are waiting and watching for Rosie O'Donnell and her partner, Kelli Carpenter, to emerge from San Francisco's City Hall, where they are reportedly getting married right now. We will take you there if there's anything to cover when it happens.
But next, our debate here at CROSSFIRE, something that actually might affect your life. Rich people are getting their tax cut. Senior citizens are getting their Social Security benefits. Alan Greenspan says the two are on a collision course, though. We will debate the wisdom of telling younger Americans we're going to cut your Social Security in the future so we can cut taxes for the rich today.
Then, later, if you could question the candidates in tonight's presidential debate, what do you think you would ask them? We'll tell you in a minute.
CARLSON: Welcome back.
As they coasted through the decades, members of the dreaded baby boom generation, extravagant, short-sighted, endlessly self-involved, have blissfully assumed that the rest of us would foot the bill for their retirement thanks to your tax dollars. Yesterday, Alan Greenspan stated the obvious: We can't afford that.
In the CROSSFIRE to debate what we can afford, Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence.
BEGALA: Thank you both, gentlemen.
BEGALA: I know you're busy on Capitol Hill, particularly coming down here. It' a big deal to us, so thank you.
Our president responded to Dr. Greenspan yesterday by making a pledge on Social Security benefits. Let me play to you what our president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My position on Social Security benefits is this, that those benefits should not be changed for people at or near retirement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: Whoa. OK, wait. Christy (ph), can you play the last four words again? Let's get this up here. There's some weasel words I just heard from our president, the straight shooter. Can we get those last four words?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: At or near retirement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: At or near retirement. Translation: All these young people in our crowd, George W. Bush is going to cut your Social Security benefits because you're not at or near retirement. Isn't that what he's saying? Republicans are going to cut Social Security for younger people?
REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Paul, nice try. That's not what the president is saying at all.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: At or near. We played it twice.
PENCE: Paul, what the president is saying here is what the president has said all along.
And that is that Social Security recipients and those who are near retirement have nothing to fear from this administration or any reform on Capitol Hill. You will get in this system what has been promised to you. But what we want to do is say to many of these same younger workers entering the work force is, we want to give you more choices, personal savings accounts that will perform higher for you. You will have your own assets at the end of retirement and also we'll lessen that burden that is impending on the federal budget that Alan Greenspan spoke of.
CARLSON: Now, Congressman...
REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: I thought we were going to play that again, because, if you played it backwards, like by the Beatles album, it says, "We found the WMD."
EMANUEL: Can we please play it backwards one more time, just like the old Beatles album?
CARLSON: You know, this show used to be an hour. And if we had the time, we'd devote a segment to it.
EMANUEL: If you look in the corner, you can find David Kay sitting there. Go ahead.
CARLSON: As you know, Congressman, everybody in the Social Security debate, almost everybody, is lying. Let me tell you -- show you on the screen...
EMANUEL: Except for Mike and I, obviously.
CARLSON: ... the basic fact of Social Security.
Here it is. In 1935, the legislation was signed. The life expectancy for an American, 60 years. Retirement age was 65 for Social Security. That's when you started getting money. Now the life expectancy is -- on the screen, please -- well, I know it by heart. It's 77 years.
EMANUEL: That's a good thing.
CARLSON: It's a very good thing, but bad for the system, because you can now start getting some money at 62. The system has not changed. America has changed. Let's face reality. Something has to be done.
EMANUEL: I was at the hearing. So I'm going to talk about what I was there at the hearing when the Fed chairman...
CARLSON: As long as it answers the question, that's great.
EMANUEL: No, no, not a problem, because the Fed chairman said, there's a fiscal mess. I asked him a question.
We have a -- he says basically we now have a structural deficit. And the creation of this deficit, which is a record deficit now -- we've added $3 trillion to the national debt -- we have a crisis on hand. And the recommendation was, you have to cut Social Security.
Now, let me just say this. Why do we have a crisis? You cannot fight three wars with three tax cuts and end up with a different result of $521 billion in debt.
CARLSON: That was four years ago, Congressman. This wasn't created last year.
EMANUEL: Tucker, I'm going to -- I'm going to break the big news to you, because I know you played it once on CNN. There was a surplus four years ago, OK?
EMANUEL: That was what happened.
BEGALA: And, in fact, our president, again, if I can -- if I can quote him -- I'll have to read his words this time. On March 3 of 2001, shortly after taking office, in his first 100 days, made this pledge to the American people: "We are going to keep the promise of Social Security and keep the government from raiding the Social Security surplus."
Now, in August of 2003, a few months ago, the Congressional Budget Office, run by Republicans, announced that Mr. Bush had not just raided the fund. He's stolen $2.1 trillion out of that trust fund. We just can't trust George Bush on Social Security, can we?
PENCE: We can trust George Bush on Social Security, because he is frankly...
BEGALA: ... $2.1 trillion?
PENCE: Paul, he is -- this is a president who I think we all know inherited a recession from President Clinton. It took hold in the very first few months of the Clinton administration.
BEGALA: So he didn't inherit a surplus? It actually began in March of his first year?
EMANUEL: It absolutely began, as you well know, Paul. And then we went through a national emergency only 9/11. We launched a war on terror. That's what happened to the surplus, went through a deficit.
But we're not even talking about short term here. What the president has always talked about, in a responsible way, and what Alan Greenspan talked about, going back all the way to his days on the Social Security Commission, is that men and women -- we have 35 million seniors today, not even accounting for what you just said, Tucker, but 35 million seniors today.
By the time that I get the rest of my gray hair and retire in about 20 years, we're going to have about 70 million seniors. And the truth is, unless we reform this system, it is literally going to bankrupt the United States of America.
BEGALA: Why cut taxes for the rich? Why cut taxes for the rich, when that bleeds $2 trillion out of that
EMANUEL: The fact is, you have to deal with taxes. We have to deal with spending. And you have to -- if you want, you can say we've got to look at retirements.
But to say that the burden of dealing with the fiscal mess is on Social Security and the senior citizens and the young people in this room -- the young people in this room are neither going to get the tax cut. They're going to pay off the tax cut with bigger debt down the road and they're not going to get the Social Security
CARLSON: Why don't you answer? Why don't you answer?
EMANUEL: Three strikes, you are out.
CARLSON: Right. I know. I know. Scaring people is obviously the quickest way to get votes.
CARLSON: But why is it that whenever anybody -- and I mean anybody -- proposes real-life solutions, they get shot down.
A perfect example, this is the most controversial thing Howard Dean ever said. This was on CROSSFIRE. And he said this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I absolutely agree we need to reduce the -- I mean increase the retirement age. There will be cuts and losses of some benefits. But I believe that Senator Packwood is on exactly the right track. And we need to deal with the Social Security retirement age.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Now, when Howard Dean said that Osama bin Laden needs to get a fair trial, OK, Democrats said nothing. When he says this, he gets beaten up by his own party. Why can't anybody tell the truth without getting beaten up by people like you?
EMANUEL: Because, Tucker, first of all, that isn't the truth. Maybe that's not the right answer. Two facts, when you...
CARLSON: So we can have everything, is what you're saying.
EMANUEL: The fact is, you can't have everything. And what we're saying is, you can't have tax cuts for the wealthy to pay for these cuts in Social Security. It's not going to happen.
And, in fact, Mike knows this very well. If you put that proposal on the table today and vote it on the floor, it will not pass. And it shouldn't pass because (CROSSTALK)
PENCE: Rahm, you know...
EMANUEL: ... the people in this room, people watching to pay for those tax cuts with cutting Social Security.
PENCE: We need to make these tax cuts permanent -- we need to make these tax cuts permanent to get this economy expanding. As the economy expands, we're going to go back to a balanced budget.
PENCE: But, as you know, this is a long-term problem that Alan Greenspan talked about in front of your committee yesterday.
PENCE: We shouldn't raise taxes on American families, small businesses, and family farms.
EMANUEL: Right. You got it. I'll agree...
PENCE: And make them pay the bill today for something that is a structural problem with Social Security in the future.
EMANUEL: I agree that we shouldn't raise -- we shouldn't raise taxes on the American families who are trying to raise children. We should raise taxes on the wealthy, so they pay their fair share.
EMANUEL: While we've got three wars and men and women are overseas losing their lives.
BEGALA: Speaking of math, speaking of math, it is a long-term problem.
Over the long term, the Social Security trust fund now has a deficit of $4 trillion.
BEGALA: But over the long term, just the Bush tax cuts alone, long-term cost $8 trillion to $10 trillion. So if we just roll back the Bush taxes, we can fund everybody's Social Security forever more and still have $4 trillion left. What's wrong with that?
PENCE: But Paul, Paul, Paul, the reason why we need to make tax cuts permanent is because of the kind of static analysis that you used there is just simply wrong.
BEGALA: It's mathematics.
PENCE: We just simply -- we know, Paul, that when you reduce taxes on savings and investment in a capitalistic economy, this economy will expand.
PENCE: And we need to make these tax cuts permanent so people can make plans and invest and grow.
CARLSON: I'm sorry to interrupt. We're going to have to take a -- we will be right back. We're just going to take a quick commercial break.
We'll put our guests through the "Rapid Fire" when we return, ask them, does anybody really like Alan Greenspan anymore?
CARLSON: And next, a live report from outside Rosie O'Donnell's wedding. That's important breaking news. You won't want to miss it.
We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at CNN@gwu.edu. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.
BEGALA: Thank you, Rusty.
And back here on CROSSFIRE, we're entering our "Rapid Fire" segment, where the questions and answers come even faster than Rosie O'Donnell can sing, going to the chapel and we're -- our guests today.
BEGALA: Stop that or I'll sing again.
Our guests, Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence and Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel.
CARLSON: Congressman Emanuel, you've got to be embarrassed about the mayor of San Francisco. He's breaking the law. You can be in favor of gay marriage all you want, but you probably shouldn't break the law if you're a mayor. Will you disown him as a Democrat?
EMANUEL: No, I won't disown him as a Democrat. My whole fascination on this subject is, my Republican friends love to privatize things. But they refuse to privatize people's private lives.
BEGALA: Congressman, there is an element -- for the president, there is an element of hypocrisy. He campaigned in 2000 on this issue, saying he doesn't approve of gay marriage, but states should decide for themselves. Now he wants a federal constitutional amendment that says states can't decide. Why is he being such a hypocrite on this issue?
PENCE: Well, largely because of judicial activism in Massachusetts. And...
BEGALA: That's a state, right?
BEGALA: Let them decide.
PENCE: ... frankly, civic activism in San Francisco. I don't even know -- Rosie O'Donnell, I don't follow her career. I don't think she's even from California.
This brings into high relief here on CNN today. This is a national issue. We need a national solution. And a constitutional amendment gives an opportunity for the American people to be heard, to defend marriage.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: Wait. Wait. Hold on.
Congressman Emanuel, tell me, why is John Kerry so opposed to Rosie O'Donnell getting married? He came out, he said, I'm against gay marriage. Boy, is he a bigot or what?
EMANUEL: You know, what I love about Republicans, their new vision of marriage is between a man, a woman and a government program. That is their new vision of marriage.
CARLSON: No, but why is he against it?
EMANUEL: I'm going to do you all a favor. The one thing Mike Pence and I can agree on is that Rosie O'Donnell is going to get the permanent marriage penalty tax cut, OK?
EMANUEL: So now that they're married, they're going to get the tax cut. And it will be permanent.
CARLSON: Rahm Emanuel, Mike Pence, two of our favorite members of Congress, thanks a lot for joining us. We appreciate it.
CARLSON: Next, the question you will not hear asked at tonight's presidential debate, but might want to. We'll be right back.
CARLSON: Tonight, at 9:00 Eastern, CNN's Larry King will moderate a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates. If you're watching, Larry -- and, of course, we know that you are -- here are a few questions we'd like you to ask.
I guess my first would be of Senator John Kerry.
Look, we know, Mr, Kerry, you have denied using Botox. We believe you. But the fact is, you look a lot better. What's your secret?
BEGALA: Does he really? If he's using Botox, he didn't pay full price.
CARLSON: No, no, I'm sure he didn't. But he does look better, though. And younger guys, we want to know. What is the secret?
BEGALA: He is a darn good-looking man.
If I was going to ask, I would ask Dennis Kucinich this.
You've been endorsed by the greatest living American, a man who I think has won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Victoria Cross for gallantry. I'm speaking, of course, Willie Nelson. Where's Willie? Why isn't Willie your running mate? Why are you campaigning everywhere with Willie Nelson? He's the greatest guy in America.
CARLSON: But I think, if he showed up, the IRS would know where he is, and that would be bad.
CARLSON: And then I guess my question of John Edwards would be, how much do you hate the fact that you have to sit here with Kucinich and Sharpton, whom I support, but I don't think John Edwards does?
BEGALA: Well, I suspect that -- well, I'm glad that CNN's giving everybody an opportunity to voice...
CARLSON: I am, too. Amen. Good for CNN. But John Edwards has got to be going crazy, seething with anger.
BEGALA: He doesn't look like it, though.
CARLSON: No, he doesn't. But I bet he is deep down inside.
BEGALA: Don Imus asked him about that thing on his lip. And I didn't have the heart -- I don't know anybody who else who has the guts to ask Edwards about...
CARLSON: I don't even want to know.
BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.
CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.
Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE. Don't miss the debate tonight at 9:00 on "LARRY KING."
"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Finally, have a great night.
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