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Special Event

The Bush Presidency: President Meets With Colombian President Pastrana

Aired February 27, 2001 - 2:23 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's a busy day for President Bush, and we want to get it to you. He, of course, presents his first budget to Congress tonight. This past hour, he's been hosting Colombian President Andres Pastrana. The two men plan to talk trade and the war on drugs.

And now we have this tape just in of the president commenting about that meeting and taking questions.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's my honor to welcome a friend of our country to the Oval Office, President Pastrana. We've had a very good discussion about Colombia, Plan Colombia, the renewal of a trade preference act for the Andean nations, to help their economies grow.

President Pastrana is a courageous leader who's dealing with very difficult problems. I'm confident that, with his leadership, his nation will be better off.

And, Mr. President, I can't thank you enough for taking the lead in your country, for having the heart that you have and compassion for the Colombian people and the ability to make tough decisions.

I explained to the president that we're fully aware of the narcotics that are manufactured in his country, but I also told him that many of them wouldn't be manufactured if our nation didn't use them. And we've got to work together to not only help Colombia, but help our own country.

So, Mr. President, you're welcome to come.

ANDRES PASTRANA ARANGO, PRESIDENT OF COLOMBIA: Thank you very much.

BUSH: If you'd like to make a few comments, you're welcome.

PASTRANA: Thank you, Mr. President.

Once again, I would I'm grateful to be back with now President Bush. We had the opportunity to meet in 1999 when President Bush was governor. So once again, Mr. President, thank you for this opportunity in which we could exchange a lot of ideas of what's happening in our country and how can we deal with a common enemy that is narco- trafficking, that at the end is the one that is financing the violence in my country and maybe also in part of your country, and that we are going to put all the efforts to continue your fight, as we have done in our commitment against narco-trafficking, trying to reach a peace agreement in our country, and strengthening our economy, creating new jobs and better jobs for our people.

So I want to thank you publicly also, Mr. President, for all the help you are giving us, and the U.S., to get forward in this process. Thank you very much.

BUSH: Couple questions?

QUESTION: Mr. President, will you be part of the negotiations? Will the U.S. be part of the negotiations table as President Pastrana continues to move forward to...

BUSH: No.

QUESTION: Why?

BUSH: We will not be.

This is an issue that the Colombian people and the Colombian president can deal with. We'll be glad to help Colombia in any way to make the peace. We'll be glad to help the Colombian economy through trade. But I won't be present for the discussions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on the budget, your chief economics adviser is saying that your administration will not seek to retire all of the outstanding federal debt, which is something that President Clinton had promised. Can you explain why that is?

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: And what you would suggest doing with the hundreds of billions of dollars that would be left over in the Social Security surplus that would have gone to...

BUSH: Yes.

Mr. President, I'm giving a speech tonight on the budget. I don't know if you have to give budget speeches, but sometimes it's hard to make those budget speeches very poetic.

(LAUGHTER)

It does not make sense to pay down debt prematurely and, therefore, have to pay a premium on the debt that you prepay. And so we've calculated the amount of debt that our nation can pay off over the next 10 years, and that's $2 trillion, leaving about $800 billion unpaid. The second follow-up question to that was Social Security, and tonight during my speech, I will lay out the part of the vision for modernizing the Social Security system. We have an issue in this country, Mr. President, because people my age, affectionately known as baby boomers, will be retiring soon. In my case, later rather sooner, I hope.

BUSH: But anyway, we have trouble enough -- there won't be enough money being put into the system to take care of the baby boomers when we retire. And therefore, the question is, how do we make this system work? And I want to give younger workers the opportunity to manage some of their own money in the private markets.

And to answer your question, some of that money could be used as part of a modernization plan.

Yes?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: No, we don't at all. As a matter of fact, we think it's the wise thing to do. Again, American people have got to understand that we'll be paying down the debt as it comes due. But the idea of prepaying debt at a premium to the taxpayers makes no sense to do that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: No, I don't think so. As a matter of fact, the interest rates will more likely be affected by monetary policy. The economy will be effected by good, sound fiscal policy, because one of the things -- I don't want to give you the whole speech, because I, of course, want you to pay attention to it.

But I do believe we ought to accelerate the tax relief plan. The sooner we get money into the pockets of our taxpayers, the more likely it is our economy will even out.

We've got an economic problem, Mr. President, that is of concern. It should be a concern to our neighbors. I discussed this with President Fox. We've got a mutual friend in President Fox, the president of Mexico. And he is concerned about the nature of the U.S. economy, as well. And we're going to do everything we can to make sure our economy recovers quickly, which will be beneficial as a trading partner. It will be very beneficial.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: We did, and the president made a very strong case. He was very plain-spoken. He brought up the case of the concerns of the concerns of over a million Colombians who live here in the United States, mainly in Queens, New York, and in the state of Florida. And I listened carefully. QUESTION: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

PASTRANA: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

QUESTION: Do you expect Democrats to give your speech a fair chance tonight? Do you suspect that they're just ready to pounce?

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: I, of course, will be giving the speech in the Chamber, and there will be Republicans and Democrats, but I'm really speaking to the American people.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: This is a speech that I want to make it clear to the American people that I have a reasonable plan for the budget.

BUSH: I want to make it clear we meet priorities. I'll explain what many of those priorities are. That we make sure that Social Security, the money aimed for Social Security goes only to Social Security. That we pay down debt. It'll be the largest repayment of debt ever. That we've got money for contingencies in the budget, and that there's still money left over for the tax relief plan.

The problem we have oftentimes in America is that people will be asked the question, "Do you want tax relief or do you want somebody not to get their Medicare check?" I'm going to be making the case that, with the right leadership, the right priorities and the right focus, that we will fund important programs and have money left over for tax relief.

And it's important -- it's important -- for the American people to get some of their own money back. One, it'll help the economy. Secondly, it'll help the American taxpayers pay off their own personal debt.

One of the issues we have, Mr. President, in the United States is high energy bills. The cost of energy is going up, because we haven't had enough exploration relative to demand. And this cash that people will get back through tax relief will help the American families manage their budget.

I really am looking forward to giving the speech. I hope you're looking forward to listening to it.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: I could tell you're dying, Stretch.

QUESTION: Is this the most important speech so far, sir?

BUSH: Every one of them are important.

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: For trade?

QUESTION: Yes.

BUSH: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

QUESTION: What about that?

BUSH: Absolutely. It's a very important treaty.

She's asking about the free trade treaty of the Andean nations. Yes, ma'am, I'll be pushing it. I'm a free-trader.

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: Through trade, absolutely. And the president made a very strong case for broadening the trade agreement. I will bring up the matter with Ambassador Zoellick, who is my trade negotiator.

Adios.

ALLEN: All right -- President Bush -- adios means I guess he's done with the press for now -- again, meeting with Colombian President Andres Pastrana and getting to talk a little bit about his speech tonight, as he said that he hoped everyone was enthusiastic about watching his speech on the budget.

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