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Socil Security Reform Debated; Bolton Nomination Discussed

Aired April 29, 2005 - 16:30   ET



On the left, Donna Brazile. On the right, Terry Holt.

In the CROSSFIRE, the president makes his case in prime time. After months of talking about the problems with Social Security, President Bush adds a twist to his plan for fixing the retirement plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.

ANNOUNCER: The president still insists private accounts have a place Social Security reform. Democrats were quick to pounce.

SEN. TOM HARKIN, (D) IOWA: The president threw down the gauntlet tonight. He said that any Social Security plan has to have private accounts. That's a nonstarter here.

ANNOUNCER: Reporters also wanted to been Iraq, judicial nominees, and John Bolton, the president's stalled nominee for U.N. ambassador. And prime time may have provided the ultimate reality check for the president. We'll look at what happened when he was forced to face off with the Donald. Today, on CROSSFIRE.

Live from the George Washington University, Donna Brazile and Terry Holt.


TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CROSSFIRE: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Last night, President Bush used a prime-time audience to begin laying out the specifics of his plan to save Social Security. He wants to insulate low-income workers from benefit reductions and is standing firm on personal retirement accounts. The president also vigorously defended John Bolton, his nominee to the United Nations and urged Congress to pass the stalled energy program.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, CROSSFIRE: If this was the best President Bush could do in prime time, his show ought to be canceled. 99 days into his second term, the president didn't break any new ground or show any willingness to budge on any issue. He finally began fleshing out his Social Security program. And surprised, surprise, it involves benefit cuts for middle class Americans. Much more later on this.

But first, the best political briefing in television, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

Congress has reached a budget deal that sells out the poor. Lots in tax breaks for the rich. And it does little for those caught in between. The $2.6 trillion budget passed both houses of Congress last night. It includes a $35 billion cut in entitlement programs, $10 billion would come from Medicaid, the government's health safety net program for the poor and disabled. It spends every penny of the current Social Security surplus. And we still don't see an end to those record budget deficits.

But at the same time, it includes $106 billion in tax cuts. And lots in tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. So much for compassionate conservatism, Terry.

HOLT: Well, I tell you. You know, it's one thing to criticize, that's totally fair. But once in awhile, you ought to come through with a plan. Over the last several years, the Democrats haven't even offered their own budget to compare it to the president's offer.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, that's not true. This year the Democrats did have an alternative, which would, of course, bring us back to some kind of fiscal sanity. But some of the members on your side would not let the Democrats put forward any amendments.

HOLT: Well, you know, budget as it is a priority-driven deal. I think with energy and tax cuts, we've got this economy back on its feet. And I think the Democrats ought to come to the table.

BRAZILE: Red ink, red ink, red ink, that's all that we see in this budget.

HOLT: Senate minority leader Harry Reid isn't showing much faith party in lately. The Nevada Democrat says it is going to take back a miracle for the Democrats to win back the Senate.


SEN. HARRY REID, (R-NV) MINORITY LEADER: I would like to think that a little miracle would happen and we would pick up five seats this time. I guess miracles never cease.


HOLT: A Reid spokesman quickly added his boss believes in miracles.

Well, I guess so, but now we know why the Democrats are talking about values these days. Only getting a little religion is going to serve the Democrats' political fortunes, we will see.

BRAZILE: Well, Senator Reid, help is on the way. Look, in addition to Bob Casey Jr. who is running very strongly in Pennsylvania against the number three Republican Rick Santorum, we have great candidates who will replace Democrats who are retiring. And I do believe the Democrats have a shot and taking back the Senate. And if a miracle does occur, we will gain those 15 seats. And Nancy Pelosi will become the first female speaker.

HOLT: I will believe it when I see it. I tell you, the Democrats need an agenda before they can hope to reclaim either house.

BRAZILE: We have a vision. So the agenda is coming soon.

Well, guess who's coming to dinner? The Secret Service apparently would rather not. The Secret Service is asking for racial information from journalists and their guests attending a White House reception tomorrow night.

The reception is being held just before the annual White House Correspondent's Dinner here in Washington, D.C. The Secret Service says the request is routine, part of the overall background check for people who are close to the president. Who will be close to the president. And it insists nothing to do with racial profiling.

My question is this. Why is it relevant? Why is the White House giving itself a black eye over the color of someone's skin? Hey Terry, we will all number black tie tomorrow. I'm wearing a fine looking red dress by the way. Too bad you won't be there to see me. But hey, what does race and color have to do with this?

HOLT: Well, you know, it would be an awful thing if it was true. The White House didn't make this request. This is a Secret Service who's there to protect the president, but also to protect you in your beautiful red dress.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

HOLT: And I think five indicators to help them speed the process and make sure it's a safe event, I think that's worth it.

BRAZILE: It's just weird that all of a sudden after all of these years, we're asking for people's racial identity.

HOLT: And their gender and their Social Security number.

BRAZILE: I want criminal background.

HOLT: And their date of birth.

BRAZILE: Criminal background.

HOLT: This is the world we live in. Unfortunately, even journalists need to submit those pieces of information.

BRAZILE: All right, fair enough.

HOLT: A noncandidate: New York Senator Hillary Clinton sure does spend a lot of time out on the road these days. Take tonight for example, she's speaking in Madison to a group called Wisconsin government -- Women in Government. The event sold out at $50 a head before a single invitation was mailed out.

Tomorrow she moves onto Ohio to talk about for election reform. You know, it's time for everybody to admit it, Senator Clinton is the default frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

With Hillary, the Democrats have a forceful leader, but one that's every bit as liberal and out of the mainstream as John Kerry was in the last election. This is one Republican who says, bring it on!


Well, first of all, Hillary Clinton run, sister, run. I mean, Hillary is one of the most popular women in American politics. Like Elvis and Oprah, she's on a first name basis with millions of Americans. I think if Hillary wins re-election, she should run for president. And you know what, she'll carry as many states as Al Gore and John Kerry, which means it will be very close, very competitive. And I think Hillary can carry Florida.

HOLT: Well, I wish her a lot of luck. I wonder how Bill Clinton would take to the role of -- what would it be? First man.

BRAZILE: First brother-in-chief.

HOLT: All right.

BRAZILE: Well, all right.

President Bush took his act to prime time last night. And the reviews are in and the critics aren't buying it. We'll debate President Bush's ethics to sell his program next.

And later in the president thinks the Democrats are tough, what about taking on the Donald?


HOLT: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush used his prime time news conference last night to begin fleshing out his plan to put Social Security on sound footing. He proposed a plan to protect low-income Americans from future benefit reductions, and he stood firm to allow younger workers to invest part of their benefits into private investment accounts.

In the CROSSFIRE today, two members of Congress, Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, and David Dreier, Republican Congressman from California.


HOLT: Nice to be with, y'all.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

HOLT: Go for it, Donna!

BRAZILE: All right. Congressmen, you heard the president last night. He had some interesting things to say, especially about privatization. Let us see a little bit of a clip from last night hit.


BUSH: I feel strongly that their needs to be voluntary personal savings accounts as part of the Social Security system.


BRAZILE: President's going to root for 60 days. He's not -- this plan is not selling well. 64 percent of the American people in a recent poll has said no to privatization. If he had a hard time selling privatization, what makes you think he could sell benefit cuts?

REP. DAVID DREIER, (R) CALIFORNIA: Well, Donna, there has been a six-fold increase in the number of Americans who have come to the conclusion that something needs to be done. And remember, that's what president said he was going to do during this 60-day period of time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's at what, 6 percent now?

DREIER: No, it went from 6 percent to 31 percent is what has happened on this. So that's between a five and six-fold increase. And what we found is that the American people now understand, as Democrats and Republicans, now have coming to the say, there is a problem.

By the year 2018, the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget have concluded that more will going out than is coming in from FICA tax, the payroll taxes. And we all know that by 2042 -- and that's not a partisan decision.


DREIER: There is a problem. The president has said that, Donna. And so now he said, let's look at a wide range of ways in which we can deal with this. And he's concluded, as a lot of people have, and other countries have. Like the People's Republic of China, for example, that establishing personal retirement accounts for younger workers is a way to provide stability to the system. It's not a cure- all.

BRAZILE: But as a conservative, are you willing to back a plan that may cost us trillions of dollars over the next 20 years.

DREIER: You know what Donna, if nothing is done than it is will be more costly than moving personal private accounts.

HOLT: Mr. Moran, I like watching the president's clips too, so I'll show you one -- thanks for coming on the show by the way. Last night the president alluded a problem that the Democrats might have. Let's show you this clip. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: See, once the American people realize there's a problem then they're going to start ask asking members of Congress from both parties, why aren't you doing something to fix it?


HOLT: So, here it is. You going to put a proposal forward? Are you going to fix it?

REP. JIM MORAN, (D) VIRGINIA: The American people are a lot smarter than the president thought they would be.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's happening here?

MORAN: He's creating a crisis of insolvency by putting forward a plan that requires you to borrow $5 trillion over next 20 years, Terry. And then -- and now coming up with the plan to fix 70 percent of the problem that he created.

You know, when he was asked, how would you feel about a proposal that would fix Social Security, make it solvent into perpetuity, but didn't include private accounts. And he rejected it. He said private accounts have to be part of it. The problem with private accounts is it requires us to borrow $5 trillion.


MORAN: We're trying to be fiscally responsible, Terry.

HOLT: Is that the people will own them, not the government. And I think that's what drives you guys crazy.


DREIER: Jim, the president has never said this is somehow a cure-all for the whole problem. We know -- and he's thrown a lot of things out there -- but we said no one on Social Security or nearing retirement is in any way going to be not jeopardized.

MORAN: But I care about my kids.

DREIER: If you care about your kids...


DREIER: But that's whole point is if you care about your kids, you should want them, as Terry just said, to be able to have something that they can pass onto future generations and to have some kind of solvency.


BRAZILE: But this plan will cut their benefits. This plan will cut they -- if you're going...

DREIER: This plan is not going to cut their benefits.

BRAZILE: This plan will cut it by 24 percent if you are born today, 28 percent if you are born five years from now.

But look last night in the budget resolution, I still follow what takes place on Capitol Hill.


BRAZILE: Well, I worked there once.

DREIER: We miss you.

BRAZILE: Ah. Where are my roses? All right. Now, this is real...


BRAZILE: I know, I'm wearing my red dress. You got me all going.

Anyway, Congressmen, last night you passed a budget proposal that would take every dime out of the Social Security surplus, $160 billion, over the next 5 years over $2 trillion. So if it's a problem, and fix it why are you borrowing and taking money out of the surplus right now?

DREIER: You want to know about the budget that we did last night will do? I'll tell you what the budget that we did last night will do.

BRAZILE: It's going to make the American people cry.

DREIER: No, no. It's not going to make the American people cry.

BRAZILE: It's not going to help the middle class.

DREIER: It is going to, for the first time since 1997, put us on the road toward fiscal responsibility.

The American people, Democrats and Republican alike, are focused on doing that. It also is going to have the priority being exactly what it should be, and that is our national security and homeland security. Those are very important things. But also it's going to keep in place the tax cuts that are stimulating economic growth.

BRAZILE: Oh my god.

DREIER: And generating the flow of the revenues to the Treasury that we desperately need.

MORAN: I can't believe that you'd say that. It has $400 billion of deficits. (CROSSTALK)

DREIER: It doesn't have $400 billion -- it's down to 300 -- it's...

BRAZILE: Yes, we oppose the tax cuts. .

MORAN: What we did last night was to lift the debt ceiling to over $8 trillion.


MORAN: Thank you very much!

HOLT: What about the Democrat plan to do something about that.


MORAN: I will tell you exactly what Democratic plan is. The Democratic plan is what George bush, the 41st president suggested a. Pay-go requirement that says, if you will cut tax cut, raise revenue someplace else or cut spending. This president hasn't been willing do that. I want to suspend tax cuts that we can't pay for, David.

DREIER: These tax cuts have generated $109 billion in unanticipated revenues to the Treasury just last year.

MORAN: And it's generated $4 trillion of debt.

DREIER: No, it's actually generated more. Why? Because of the economic growth that we have seen. We have been able to cut taxes. You and I joined together on trying to cut the top rate on capital gains. You know, we've seen an increase revenues to the Treasury on the capital gains? It has been substantial.

Donna, you talked about a vision, you talked about a -- you say Democrats have a vision. You said that before we came out.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

DREIER: Jim was just asked about a fix -- what is your vision? I would love to hear what it is.

HOLT: Tax increases.

DREIER: Well, that's what Jim just advocated.

BRAZILE: No, we want to bring us back.


MORAN: We pursued a vision for eight years and when that eight years was concluded we had a $5.6 trillion projected surplus...

You're at a $10 trillion reversal.

BRAZILE: Democratic leadership.

HOLT: Don't you remember September 11? That created a real problem.

MORAN: Everything is blamed on September 11.

DREIER: No, no, no. But I'll tell you, that was clearing the turning point. We know that. It slowed the economic growth. It's amazing how we have turned around since then.

HOLT: All right. It's America. We can disagree and still come together.

BRAZILE: And keep our faith.

HOLT: And I have heard that one of the bigger problems that every year we wait. It's effectively a tax on younger people. It costs $600 billion for every year we wait, according to the Social Security trustees. Aren't you concerned that people being -- people retiring later are going to have a debt they can't pay? The government collapses in on it.

MORAN: The Social Security Trust Fund is the only surplus we have now. It's a $1.7 trillion surplus. We have a surplus of $200 to $300 billion every year for the next decade. With a $4.5 trillion of surplus...

BRAZILE: Thank you, guys. Hold on, Mr. Moran. When we come back, President Bush offers a blunt defense of a controversial nominee. And right after the break, we will spend some time looking at this space shuttle.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff reporting from Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, another brutal day in Iraq. Twenty-three dead in Baghdad, one death in Basra.

Space shuttle setback, "Discovery" won't be taking off before July.

And an unexpected twist in a story about buried treasure. All those stories and much more just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BRAZILE: The country's deeply divided over Social Security, and increasingly angry about higher gas prices. The president had a chance to reconnect with the American public last night. What did he offer us -- the same old tired excuses and a glimpse of where he's going on Social Security. You guessed it, benefit cut for most Americans.

Still in the CROSSFIRE, David Dreier, Republican Congressman from California. And representative Jim Moran, Democrat of Virginia. Thank you, gentlemen.

HOLT: Mr. Moran, I want -- maybe toss the political football into another hot bed. The president last night came out strongly for John Bolton. He said that his U.N. ambassador nominee should be confirmed by the Senate or at least have a vote. Here's what he said last night.


BUSH: John Bolton's a blunt guy. Sometimes people say I'm a little too blunt. John Bolton can get the job done at the United Nations.


HOLT: And isn't that relate facts here? United Nations are hobbled by scandal, corruption. We wonder whether or not they would serve our interests overseas. Don't we need a little bit of tough love up there at the United Nations?

MORAN: I like blunt people. I don't like kissed-up, kicked-down people. And it's clear from the hearings. That's the kind of guy he is. The fact is the people he punished -- Terry, the people he punished were the people that were giving him objective information that he didn't want to hear. He insisted...

HOLT: These are Washington bureaucrats, lets not...

MORAN: Washington bureaucrats? They're professional analysts that are dedicated to our country. They're the best professionals they have. They were trying to do their job and he punished them because they tried to do their job.

DREIER: I will tell you, I have known John Bolton for nearly two decades. I have worked with him on a wide range of issues. He's a diplomat. He's right now assistant secretary of state. Did you know that he has that job?

MORAN: Yes, he his a diplomat (INAUDIBLE) David, come on!

DREIER: I'll tell you something else -- you're a blunt guy who likes blunt people, you said. And he is blunt and he's very direct. But I will tell you that there a lot of important foreign policy issues that need to be addressed. Terry hit the nail on the head, the Food-For-Oil scandal and if you couple that with the issue of the abuse of those children in Africa, those kinds of things need to be cleaned up. And at the same time, we need to focus on improvement of our relations. And I've been working with -- I worked in the past with Lee Hamilton, our former colleague. We had a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, focused on increasing the U.S. leadership role in the United Nations. I've talked with John Bolton about that, he's working to on trying to make sure we help build democracy caucus -- do things like that.

And on the international front, well, this show has people going head-to-head. I will tell you something, Jim Moran and I are working closely together on the Central American Free trade Agreement which is a very high priority.

BRAZILE: Congressman, do you think that this nomination is going to go through.

DREIER: Yes, I do. I do. I do.

BRAZILE: Some Republicans on the line, they're worried about it.

DREIER: Yes -- yes, he is. He is -- it is going to go through. And I will tell you something, one of the important things we've got to get done is the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement and we're going to work together on it and we want you on board on this thing too, Donna. It's going to be a very important bipartisan initiative.

MORAN: You know, here you are -- here you are...

BRAZILE: You get the last word, sir.

MORAN: ... proposing that the guy that we asked to represent us at the United Nations is the very guy that insisted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

BRAZILE: That's right.

MORAN: That was claiming that Cuba had weapons of mass destruction. Wanted us to get involved in those wars.

BRAZILE: Congressman.

MORAN: And now he's going to the United Nations. He doesn't have credibility. He doesn't have a diplomatic personality. I think he's going to wind up...


BRAZILE: ... Congressman. Thank you both, Congressmen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to be with you all.

BRAZILE: Next, find out what happened what happened when the president tries to take on The Donald.


BRAZILE: Finally, President Bush went up against The Donald last night, and may have been trumped in prime time. The White House quickly rescheduled last night's news conference when the networks complained it might interfere with their prime-time lineup. The president showed he was aware of the issue.


BUSH: I don't want to cut into some of this TV shows they're getting ready to air! For the sake of the economy.


BRAZILE: Oh, that's right, Mr. President. Still about that time the president made that statement, both CBS and NBC cut away to start their popular reality show, survivor on CBS. And Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" on NBC. A big fat reality check for the man in the White House, Terry.

HOLT: We'll I'll tell you what, somebody ought to have the guts to fire Donald Trump for that bad hair. I thought the president was good last night. And I have reason to believe that that's more reality that we need.

BRAZILE: And someone should fire those members of Congress for passing a bill that contained more red ink.

All right, from the left, I'm Donna Brazile. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

HOLT: And from the right, I'm Terry Holt. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

Wolf Blitzer starts right now.



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