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Democratic Leadership Responds to Bush Announcement of Social Security Commission

Aired May 2, 2001 - 10:51   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you to Washington now, where we are hearing now Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. He's responding to the announcement we saw moments ago here, where President Bush announced the formation of a panel to examine the privatization of Social Security.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: ... that will be organized for a clearly desired result, which is to privatize Social Security. What that means, if you're 35 years old today, that means that you are guaranteed to lose 20 percent of your Social Security benefits by the time you retire. That's what this means. What it means is, that you are going to put your retirement funds at risk.

I would ask anybody, a year ago, if you had the choice of investing in your Nasdaq account or investing in Social Security, which of those two accounts would be better today, which would be stronger?

And there is no doubt in our mind, that a Social Security account over the last year would have been far stronger. Why we would ask people to jeopardize their retirement savings, as critical as they are, to my mother, to mothers and fathers just like mine all over this country, I can't tell you, but I think it's a huge mistake.

Are we supportive of retirement accounts that invest in the markets? Absolutely. But what we say today and tomorrow and every time we take this issue up is, don't mess with Social Security. Don't mess with it, don't destroy it. It's worked for all these years. It's guaranteed to work in the future. We can add to it, we can make it better in some ways, like making sure that we dedicate the interest in the savings that we could dedicate to Social Security longevity. There are things we can do. But for heaven's sake, don't mess with Social Security.

I am very pleased that my colleague could be here with us as well. And let me ask Dick for his comments at this time.


This is not a bipartisan Social Security Commission. This is a presidential advocacy commission, it is a pre-ordained outcome. As Tom said, all of the members of the commission have already stated in one way or another that they are for the president's plan. So we've got to get out of our mind that this is a bipartisan effort.

First, define the facts of what's going on with Social Security and what the problems are and what the needs are in an objective bipartisan way, and then talking about possible proposals. So we're very concerned.

If you look at the history of this program, in the past we've had problems, as you always do in any program. 1983, then-President Reagan called Tip O'Neill and asked who he thought should be on the commission.

Tip O'Neill suggested Lane Kirkland and Claude Pepper, and they were put on the commission. It was a real objective, bipartisan commission. They reached a bipartisan result and it passed the Congress with bipartisan votes. I voted for the plan that came out of that commission in 1983.

This is not that kind of commission. This is a partisan commission in terms of a preordained outcome.

I think we're seeing the same pattern practice on the budget. The president announced there was a bipartisan agreement on the budget. What it turned out to be was some kind of agreement on a tax bill, not a budget. We haven't seen any numbers on what the rest of the budget is. In addition to that, there's been no conversation between the White House and members of the Budget Committee in the House or the Senate.

And we wake up this morning and read articles like the one in the Washington Times, where Republican strategist are saying $1.6 is still the number on the tax bill. And what their plan is to bring all kinds of popular tax cuts into the House and Senate after the reconciliation tax bill and get back to a $2 trillion or a $2.5 trillion tax cut. This is not the way to get bipartisan agreement on the important issues that are involved in the tax bill and the budget.

Now, we're going to keep trying, because I think that's what we want to do and what the people want us to do.

But these are not bipartisan actions, this is not the way to get bipartisan agreement.

And to reiterate what Tom said, we are not going to standby and let Social Security be ruined. This is the most popular and important program this government has ever passed. It is a huge fundamental change to privatize it and to allow people to invest their accounts on their own. If you just look at the last year of experience with the stock market, you know that that is a risky idea.

Now, I respect other people's views, and I know they don't all agree with me. But let's have a commission that really looks at it in a bipartisan way so we can get a bipartisan agreement on America's most important program.

Let's not mess with Social Security, let's fix it in a bipartisan, reasonable way.

QUESTION: Now you said, let's fix Social Security. Do you think Social Security needs to be fixed? I mean, look at the long-term problems, do we need to fix Social Security?

GEPHARDT: Well, that's one of the questions that you first have to consider, there is a debate about that. There are many people who feel that if we simply did what President Clinton suggested two years ago and put the interest savings from what we're doing with Social Security in the Social Security trust fund, that you'd pick up 17 additional years of solvency and that that is enough to take care of the future problems in Social Security.

There are other people who believe that the trustees report has been too negative and too conservative in their projections for what the economy is going to do. And if the economy does better over the next 20 years, again, you increase the solvency of the program. Those are legitimate, tough, challenging questions that I would have thought a bipartisan commission would first deal with and then come up with a program designed to deal with those problems that they can agree on.

What you had today was the president coming out, saying, I've got the right ideas on Social Security, they're the same ideas I had in the campaign and now I have a commission to bless those ideas so that I can get them through the Congress.

DASCHLE: If could just say, you know, this program, under any scenario, is scheduled already to be viable at least through the year 2032. How many companies can you name that are guaranteed to be viable through the year 2032?

Ask the CEO of Oldsmobile what he thinks about his viability to the year 2032. They aren't even going to make it for the next decade. There aren't many business organizations that will guarantee you their viability for the next 30 years, but that's what we're saying about Social Security.

Now, we're not satisfied with that. We want to extend out the viability even further -- 20, 30 more years. But I think the question is not does it need repair, the question is how can we make it even stronger? And there's a big difference between those two questions. We want to make it stronger, but, fundamentally I think the Social Security system is very sound.


DASCHLE: I'll tell you what's going to damage the viability of the Social Security trust fund more than anything else, and that's the tax agenda of this administration. We were just told yesterday that in order to accommodate what we anticipate to be the tax agenda for this coming year, that the Republicans are prepared now to dip into the Social Security trust funds, reducing the viability of the trust fund. I can't think of anything more irresponsible than that.

And how ironic, on the very day that they have pronounced this new commission, they are devising ways with which to use the very trust funds that ought to be sacrosanct, if we really mean what we say about viability.

GEPHARDT: And to add to what Tom said, if you really take their privatization proposal and put it up against the budget, it would cost the budget an additional trillion dollars of funds in order to fund these private accounts over the next 10 years. Where is that going to fit into the budget that they're talking about?

In truth, what he announced yesterday on taxes makes impossible what he announced today on Social Security.


HARRIS: We've been listening to the Democratic leadership of the House and the Senate there this morning, offering their response -- or their view of Social Security and what should happen with it.

And, as you may imagine, their view of the Social Security system is quite starkly different from that of the one that we heard President Bush talk about moments ago this last hour -- the Democrats this hour saying that the question is not necessarily whether or not Social Security should be privatized or should be fixed, or whether it should just be strengthened.

And also, we just heard House Minority Leader Gephardt say that the tax agenda of the Bush administration may pose the biggest threat to Social Security. In order to make the Republican budget work, they've got to use the surplus funds from the Social Security fund. And he says that what President Bush announced in his tax plan may be what undermines the Social Security system.

We will, of course, keep our eye and ears open on this debate as it continues.



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