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CNN CROSSFIRE

Tom DeLay's Travel Examined; Social Security Debated; Duelfer's Final Report Discussed

Aired April 26, 2005 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: on the left, Donna Brazile. On the right, Bay Buchanan. In the CROSSFIRE, protecting your retirement. President Bush crisscrosses the country for 60 days trying to convince Americans they need to fix a broken system.

GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES RESIDENT: The people of this country understand we have a problem, and the question confronting the Congress is, do you have the political will to do something about it?

ANNOUNCER: The president says private accounts would let people save more money for their golden years, but the Democrats continue to rally against the president's proposal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's just three things you don't do. One, you don't spit against the wind. Two, you don't look under the Lone Ranger's mask. Three, you don't mess with our Social Security.

ANNOUNCER: Can Americans still look forward to retirement, or will their dreams go bust? Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Live, from the George Washington University, Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan.

BAY BUCHANAN: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

There's no shortage of people who will tell you that Social Security, the system many of us depend on to ease our retirement, is running out of money. There's also no shortage of suggestions on how to fix the problem. There is a shortage of agreement among our elected leaders about which fix to use.

DONNA BRAZILE: The president and congressional Republicans want to let people put money into the individual accounts. Democrats say that depends too much on a volatile stock market and would destroy Social Security as a safety net for older Americans. We'll get into the issue, but first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, nicknamed "The Hammer," has been taking a bit of pounding lately over some of the trips he's taken. So, he's catching a ride today from Texas back to Washington as we speak. President Bush is returning from Galveston and saved the embattled majority leader a seat on Air Force One. There're questions whether DeLay broke ethics rules by allegedly letting lobbyists pay for some of his trips, including one where he played golf in Scotland. DeLay has been defending himself, saying that the Democrats are conducting a witch hunt. The White House calls DeLay a friend of the president, who appreciates the work "The Hammer" has done in the House.

So, now that DeLay is in hot water for allowing lobbyist to pay his airfare, he's found a new way to get someone else to pick up the tab: you, the taxpayer.

BUCHANAN: Donna, that's ridiculous. You know very well that to put one more person on Air Force One costs the taxpayer absolutely nothing whatsoever, and in fact, I suspect DeLay will probably send a check over there after all he's heard these last few days.

BRAZILE: With the rising cost of gasoline, I would hope it would cost something. And, by the way, look, I mean, Mr. DeLay needs to really go forward and tell the American people the truth and how he pays for all his previous trips. Say, you and I should tee off at $20,000 in Scotland.

BUCHANAN: Listen, Nancy Pelosi has the similar problem. Same people...

BRAZILE: She's cleared the record.

BUCHANAN: ...12 of those reports, not filed. Nancy, you got to do better than that.

The lines are growing at the Legislative Resource Center, and scores of Senators and Congressman, including Nancy, come to ask for forgiveness. With so much public attention on Tom DeLay's travel documents, the Center, which is where Congressman report all the fancy trips they take at someone else's expense, has been inundated with members trying to clean up their records before the media does it for them.

According to an online service, members of Congress have taken more than 5,000 privately financed trips since 2000. And, important to note, most of those trips were taken by Democrats. It must be tough to be a member of Congress, Donna, when you spot a place on this globe that you want to travel to with your family, all you do is call someone who wants your vote and they work out all the arrangements and pay all the bills. Free for them, expensive for the rest of us.

BRAZILE: Well, especially Mr. DeLay in one case, you know, Jack -- Casino Jack paid for it on a credit card. We should all be so lucky.

Look, Bay, I agree with you. I think members of Congress should work a full week here in Washington, D.C., get the people's business done. They should file timely ethics reports and they should disclose everything they get from lobbyists and everyone else. I did that when I was a congressional staffer. BUCHANAN: ...scorcher's policy (ph) -- you know as well as I do, Republicans -- Democrats -- do this as much as Democrats, and it's going to be all over the place.

BRAZILE: Well, I agree.

Now, for months President Bush, Vice President Cheney and nearly every other member of this administration promised us that we had to go to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. More than 1,500 Americans, of course, have lost their lives in Iraq and more than 15,000 people have been wounded. Over $300 billion has been spent for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and where are the weapons of mass destruction, Bay? We don't know.

Charles Duelfer, the man in charge of search of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, issued his final report last night. And in his words, he says, "the search has been exhausted without finding anything." A search that involved more than a thousand personnel at its peak and it didn't find -- just nothing, Bay. These weapons that we know never existed were the reason -- the major reason -- why we went to war, and it turns out to be a bogus reason after all. And, look, we paid a higher price, you and I both know that. It's time that someone pay a price for lying to the American people, Bay.

BUCHANAN: You guys can't let it go. You're just stuck in the past. We have known this problem for a year -- over a year I suspect now -- that there's a problem with those weapons of mass destruction. The president thought they were there. He reacted accordingly and properly, and they aren't there. But, that's yesterday's news. We need something new from you Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: Yesterday's news.

BRAZILE: We need to hold somebody accountable for the lives that have been lost -- $300 billion spent, as well.

BUCHANAN: Some of you may remember, earlier this month, that I joined the Minutemen, a group of patriotic Americans gathered on the Arizona border to shine a light on a serious problem. These volunteers, or vigilantes, as the president chose to call them, nearly stopped the flow of illegal immigration along the 20-mile stretch of the Arizona/Mexican border. They actually brought the number of illegals apprehended along that sector to less than 5,000 in the month of April. That's down from 64,000 last April.

A few updates on this great plan -- on their great, future plans. First, the list of volunteers has grown from 1,000 to 14,000 in the last month. Second, Minutemen leaders are planning to expand the project to more locations and more states with a project in California targeted for June. And thirdly, they are planning pickets outside corporate offices and facilities that hire illegal aliens. It's about Americans doing the job the government won't do and they aren't going away. Donna? BRAZILE: Bay, I agree with you, the border security is a serious issue but it should be left up to officials who can make arrests and who can really do the job that we are paying them to do. So, I applaud what you are trying to do. This is...

BUCHANAN: But, Donna, they didn't do it.

BRAZILE: ...this requires authorities that can really do the job in a professional way.

BUCHANAN: But they didn't do it. But, you know, we did better than the authorities. Three million a year coming across, illegal. You say that's a success? I hardly...

BRAZILE: Well, Bay, the president has been on the road for 60 long days trying to sell his ideas for fixing Social Security. Other than Tom DeLay, who's buying his proposal? We'll debate the battle over private accounts and the future of Social Security with two members of Congress next.

And, late night comics are taking a hands-on approach on the president's latest efforts at Mid East diplomacy. We'll give you a taste later on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRAZILE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Demonstrators gathered on Capitol Hill a few hours ago. Americans United to Protect Social Security were joined at the rally by congressional Democrats. They are worried about the president's pitch at add private accounts to the Social Security mix. If some analysts are right, and the system begins running a deficit in 12 years, will it go bust before a lot of us retire? We got a pair of distinguished congressman here in the CROSSFIRE -- Congressman John Shadegg, a Republican of Arizona, and also and Congressman Charlie Rangel, who was at the rally today, from the great state of New York.

BUCHANAN: Congressmen.

Congressman Rangel, the president obviously feels there is a problem. Most Americans feel there is a problem with the Social Security system. It needs to be addressed. He's given a bold proposal. It's optional for Americans. It gives all Americans the chance of real ownership in their future. And the Democrats disagree with it. You're opposed to it. I understand that. But one would think when you oppose a plan, you introduce something better. What are you offering to the American people?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: You make a heck of a lot of sense, except that the president has not given us a proposal. As a matter of fact, when the president decided he was going to do 60 cities in 60 days, the reason for it was to sell private accounts. If you listen carefully to your clip, the president now says he wants to educate the American people of the serious problems Social Security has. Well that's far different -- a leader really doesn't just point out the problem. We all know that, Democrats and Republicans. He has not given us a solution to the problem.

He now says it's up to the Congress to do it. When I last sat with the president, he told me that -- don't -- keep your powder dry. Don't say anything. Wait until I have a bill. We're still waiting for the president.

BUCHANAN: You don't have a bill, but you have a president who has given a lot of ideas out there. He says private accounts. He's talking about optional. And he says he understand the percent could be different. There may be some other aspects to it. He's willing to listen. But you don't give him anything to listen to.

RANGEL: Bay, what is it that he's advocating? He's throwing a whole lot of things out there. You can say that you have a cancer, and these are the possible medications. Leadership for a very complex problem demands a bipartisan approach to this.

REP. JOHN SHADEGG (R), ARIZONA: Charlie, he's trying to get exactly that, a bipartisan approach. He's asked you to come to the table. And he's said everything is on the table. And the Democrats won't come to the table with a single proposal.

You say the president hasn't put up a proposal. He's got a proposal to deal with solvency and a proposal to deal with generational fairness. Not a single Democrat member of the House or Senate has introduced a single bill to address the problems that face Social Security. Putting that issue on the table is leadership, and that's what the president has done.

BRAZILE: But Congressman, there was a hearing --

RANGEL: Saying that there's a problem is leadership? He says saying there's a problem is leadership. Okay, I misunderstood.

BRAZILE: But Congressman, you're absolutely right, because there was a big hearing today in the Senate, as you well know, and the president, who has been pushing privatization, failed to send one representative to lay out his proposal or lay out his legislation as planned. I mean why is the president all of a sudden running from his proposal and not bringing -- sending somebody up to Capitol Hill to testify?

SHADEGG: Oh, come on. It's absurd to say that he's running from the problem. He was out across the country today in Houston discussing the issue. The Congress's job is to write legislation. The president is very deferential to our job to write that legislation. He's laid out his principles. He's talked about how we deal with solvency. And he's put everything on the table, including whether or not we need to go to progressive indexing; whether or not we need to go to raising the amount which is subject to the tax on earnings.

RANGEL: Come on. This is news!

SHADEGG: Oh, no. All of those.

RANGEL: No, this is news.

SHADEGG: No, no, it's not news, Mr. Rangel. It's been on every...

RANGEL: Increasing taxes is on the table?

SHADEGG: Not increasing the tax rate, but increasing the income subject to taxation has been on the table from the get-go.

RANGEL: Be careful with your words, John.

SHADEGG: Those exactly are his words.

RANGEL: Is he for increasing the tax base on Social Security, because you're about to make news.

SHADEGG: No, I'm not making news. You just need to read the paper. The reality is, the White House has put on the table every single aspect of this issue except an increase in the rate.

RANGEL: You're talking about the president, I hope.

SHADEGG: Absolutely. The president. He has put on the table every issue, including the amount of money subject to a tax. But you guys won't come forward with a single idea. Indeed, you won't even discuss the issue. You won't discuss the issue until he takes personal accounts off the table, which means you just want to go to bed saying, well, there is no problem. And I think the American people are smarting than that.

RANGEL: Well, let's look at it this way. Even though it's not a crisis, I think you would admit that we all agree it's a solvency problem. And that when you pay more out --

SHADEGG: Just solvency? You're not willing to talk about the other half of the problem?

RANGEL: What is the other half?

SHADEGG: The other half of the problem is generational fairness. Your generation got a 4.8 percent return on the money you paid in to Social Security. These kids in this audience are going to get a rate of return of less than 1.6 percent. That's not fair. You've got to deal with both of those problems.

And the seniors I talk to in Sun City, Arizona, say, I am concerned about solvency, but I'm also concerned about fairness to my kids and my grandkids.

RANGEL: Let me tell you..

BUCHANAN: Charlie, let me ask you specifically about this. Putting aside whether you think it's a proposal or ideas or whatever, the president has made -- given an idea here where young people have an option -- just have an option; we're not going to change it for it the older people -- have an option where they can put aside just a portion so they can start looking at it and really feeling that they have some ownership. And that just will encourage more savings, more investment. It's a good thing all around. Why would you say these people should not have that option?

RANGEL: I guess it's the way I was raised. They tell me that if you want to make certain you have a secure senior citizen's life, you should be very careful with your investments. You can get high-risk speculative investments. You get moderate investments. But one thing they told me, make certain you put something in secure government bonds. I kind of believe that if a young person, a middle-age person really wants to look after their security, they should look for some guarantees. Social Security is guaranteed, and the market is the market. It just fell last week. And so it seems to me, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

SHADEGG: But it is broke. I mean, 1.6 percent rate of return or less? That's not fair to anybody. And let's talk about safe and secure.

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

SHADEGG: In 1999, in Tucson, Arizona, my state, Bill Clinton said we need to put a modest amount of this money in the private sector the way every other retirement plan does, the way the Arizona State Retirement Plan does, every municipal retirement plan does and every private plan does. If it's good enough for Bill Clinton, how come it's not good enough for a single Democrat in the Congress today?

RANGEL: I can tell you that easily. When Bill Clinton was --

BRAZILE: (INAUDIBLE) -- fiscally irresponsible. And why would any good conservative be in favor of a proposal that will cost $4.3 trillion over 20 years. That's why Democrats, we oppose taking money out of the current system to set up this bogus private account?

RANGEL: When Clinton -- when Clinton was in office.

SHADEGG: The current system has a $27 trillion deficit out there in the future that's not recognized on our books. The only way to deal with generational fairness, the only way to give these kids a better rate of return I believe is personal accounts, because you can capitalize on the power of compound interest to build their accounts. But Bill Clinton said we ought to be doing that very same thing.

RANGEL: Bill Clinton had a surplus, and we've got a big deficit. There's the difference.

BUCHANAN: Congressman, we're going to take a quick break.

Up next, surprising remarks from a Republican senator leading the fight on Social Security reform.

And, will a laptop computer lead authorities any closer to Osama bin Laden? Details after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK.) JOHN KING, GUEST HOST WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: I'm John King reporting from Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour -- sources say U.S. troops almost caught Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq last February. And recovered a computer with direct connections to Osama bin Laden.

Syria says it completed its withdrawal from Lebanon. We'll talk with the Syrian ambassador to the United States.

And did the paparazzi jeopardize the safety of Britain's Prince Harry.

All that and much more just moments away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BUCHANAN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The Senate Finance Committee began hearings on Social Security today bringing in four experts with plans to achieve sustainable solvency for the system. Three of those plans include private accounts. One would cut benefits for retirees with more money.

Still in the CROSSFIRE New York Democrat Charlie Rangel and Arizona Republican John Shadegg. Gentleman.

BRAZILE: Congressman, earlier today, before the Senate hearing, three of the plans included personal accounts. But Senator Grassley's spokesperson said yesterday that they don't know if they're going to include that in the mark-up? Will that be in the mark-up? Is that part of the plan?

SHADEGG: Well, Senator Grassley controls the Senate Finance Committee. And he knows what he'll put in his plan. There is the issue of personal accounts, both as carve outs and as add ons. The president's made clear that everything is on the table.

One of the things that I think is important to make in this discussion, is the point that was just made, and that is -- virtually every plan that's out there says that the Americans who are most reliant are Social Security are the lower income and lower middle income. And every plan that is out there, just about, including the plans I favor make the system better for the lower income, and the lower middle income.

Indeed this concept of progressive indexing, of saying, look, we should let the indexing we have now, wage indexing, stay in place for the lower income and lower middle income. But we should do away with it for the Bill Gates of the world. That's being embraced across the board. And I think it recognizing the importance of this system to those Americans who are most reliant on.

BRAZILE: That progressive indexing will take more benefits currently -- current benefits from those beneficiaries. Am I right? SHADEGG: Those benefits from the wealthiest. And it should, because they don't need the system. They can plan for their own retirement.

BUCHANAN: Congressman let me ask you quickly, if you look at people 50 years of age today, black men have an average -- they'll to live to about 68, white women 73, 74. All right. You are a champion, I know you represent all the people in your district, a champion of the black community, though. Isn't this unfair to the black community? And wouldn't a private account be much more beneficial to them.

RANGEL: It's tragic and unfair that in this great country of ours, that black folks don't have the same access to decent medicine as other people. And I would tell you that if you look at poor white folks you would find that their infant mortality is the same as blacks infant mortality. The reason you see the stretch is because if you took off infant mortality, you will find that the older people get the closer the margin gets. And so I think it's tragic when the president brings up the race card to say that black folks are getting unfair shake.

BUCHANAN: Wouldn't this benefit black communities. Wouldn't this be something that would help while trying to...

RANGEL: Unfortunately, if you're talking about dollars, they get survivors benefit, disability benefits, you don't hear Republicans talking about this. Social Security is the best insurance policy a poor or moderate person can have. The dignity and pride that older folks knowing, unlike Wall Street, this is guaranteed. You can look your kids and grandkids in the eye and saying this is what I've got. I've got my dignity in place.

(APPLAUSE)

BRAZILE: Thank you, Congressman. We'll continue this debate I'm sure.

They say what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. Next you'll see what happens when Jay Leno gets hold of what happened in Crawford, Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRAZILE: Don't let it be said that President Bush isn't working hard for the American people. He met with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah yesterday trying to see if he could do anything about the soaring cost of gasoline.

Last night "Today's (ph) Show" host Jay Leno revealed the length the president would go to...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST "TONIGHT SHOW": President Bush says he is doing whatever he has to do to bring down the price of oil. And I tell you, he was working it today. Did you see him with the Crown Prince? He was really turning on the charm. Take a look, show that footage from this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRAZILE: Actually, according to a National Security Council spokesman holding hands is the way Arabs express respect and friendship. Bay, reach out and touch somebody hands. If it makes the prices of gas go down, let's touch hands.

BUCHANAN: He can kiss him if it will make those gas prices go down.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. So I can go and fill up my...

BUCHANAN: Your SUV, Donna.

BRAZILE: Your SUV, too.

BUCHANAN: But I'm a conservative.

BRAZILE: You have a bigger one.

BUCHANAN: They expect me to have one, Donna. You're supposed to have a Volvo.

BRAZILE: Oh, Bay. From the left, I'm Donna Brazile. That's it for CROSSFIRE today.

BUCHANAN: And from the right, I'm Bay Buchanan.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

END

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