RUSH: We are joined for a few moments here by Vice President Dick Cheney who has taken some time out to join us today. Mr. Vice President, it’s always, as you know, a thrill and honor to have you with us, and good day, sir.
VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD B. CHENEY: Well, good day to you, Rush. Good to talk to you again.
RUSH: Now, the State of the Union speech last night. I guess anything I say to you is going to sound like softballs, but I was just telling the people that listen to the program here that I thought it was one of the most loftily ambitious declarations of American purpose that I have ever heard. You were there. You saw it. What was the…? On television it’s one thing. What was the reaction throughout the House chamber last night during most of this speech? The president didn’t stumble. There were some catcalls now and then; he just kept forward. What was your impression of the event last night as you watched it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it was a great event. These things always are. There’s sort of a ritual connected with it, but the House is packed. The feeling among Republicans especially is very good. The president was really up to the speech. He’d spent a great deal of time on it himself. I hark back. The first time I ever went to one of those, Rush, was 1969. It was Lyndon Johnson’s last State of the Union speech just before he left office, and I’ve seen a lot of them since, some of them behind the rail on the floor and some of them sittin’ in the chair and this is as good as I’ve ever seen for a State of the Union speech.
RUSH: Specifics: Social Security.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
RUSH: Now, I know that as a member of the administration you’re optimistic about this, but where do you see the greatest problem down the road in making this reality, this reform?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The first step is to make certain everybody understands that we do have a problem, and I think once that’s clear — and I think most people do believe that, and it is in fact the case — that while the system is fine today for today’s retirees and for those retiring over the next ten years, if you were born after 1950 and you’re say down in your twenties and thirties and start to look at it, the system’s going to be broke by the time somebody that age reaches retirement age. And if we address it now in a timely fashion, that gives us the advantage of time to leverage on the problem, and that’s what we need to do. I think the Democrats are going to have difficulty if they simply take the position that they’re only going to say, “No,” that they’re not going to participate here or that they don’t have a solution. If their answer to this problem is a blank piece of paper, I think that will not go down well with the voters, and so I, frankly, expect there will be a number of Democrats — there already are some that are speaking quietly. They’re not ready to sign on dotted line yet, obviously, and they’re under a lot of pressure on their side of the aisle, but I think you’ll find as we get into this that there will be a number of folks who’ll say, “Yeah, we do have a problem here and now is a good time to address it.”
RUSH: Well, they have previously said there was a problem, back during 1998, ’99, one of — I mean, the — domestic rallying cry of the Clinton administration was, “Save Social Security first,” and the Democrats are kind of caught here because virtually every issue — for example when Bill Clinton was president, every issue that they tackled they labeled it “crisis.” Didn’t matter what it was; it was the something-or-other crisis. Today the economy is in crisis; Iraq is in crisis; Afghanistan is in crisis, but Social Security isn’t. I mean, they’re so quickly losing their credibility. I think the president and his administration have these people discombobulated and, you know, they’re getting outside pressure from some of their new interest groups like MoveOn.org not to cooperate or else they’ll be opposed by the Democrat base. So that’s going to present a bit of a problem, but what about the Republican side? It’s not the case that Republicans particularly in the Senate are all on board this, and some in the House — you know, there’s some of the traditional fear — the old saw that this is the third rail. You touch it at your own peril. How you going to overcome that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. Well, we’ve had extensive meetings with senior people, members of the finance committee and so forth on our side of the aisle, and I think a lot of people there recognize there’s a problem and want to address it. A lot of them are going to keep their powder dry here until they see the specific details. But the fact of the matter is that we campaigned on this issue twice, the president and I all across the country both in 2000, 2004 talked about the need to change Social Security and reform it, and modernize it. We won both of those elections. We feel like we’ve got a bit of a mandate here, and the notion that you can’t talk about Social Security or touch it, that that’s the third rail of American politics, I think, is dead. I think increasingly people recognize that while the system will be sound for those 55 and over, that if you’re younger than that, it’s not a very good deal for you — and I think you’ll see. I mean, if you take a look at the polls, the younger generation, people in their twenties and thirties recognize the attractiveness and the appeal for example of personal retirement accounts, the importance of modernizing the system to bring it up to date. The change has occurred out there dramatically since the 1930s when this law was first put on the books. So I think what we’ll find is that as the senior citizens are reassured that this is not going to adversely affect them, that there will be a growing demand out there for the next generation of Americans who want to see this issue addressed and who will reward the party that addresses it, and the Democrats will either get on board and support responsible policy, or they’ll suffer badly at the polls.
RUSH: Well, some of the most accurate polling I’ve seen on this — and by “accurate” I mean it’s repeated in a number of different polls. For example, among people 60 and older, the support for this program is under 50%.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mmm-hmm.
RUSH: But the minute you get to age 55 the support tops 50%, like at 51%, I think, at that age-group. But you get down to age 30 and the support is around 60% for this. Now, who’s the target audience? I know what you said. You can’t alarm current retirees; you have to tell them that their benefits structure is not going to change whatsoever, but who’s the real target audience of this? It’s the people whose Social Security plan’s going to change, isn’t it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it is, and what you have to convey as well is they’re — it’s not — you know, there’s the Social Security element of it, and what kind of benefits going to be available when you retire and how much is it going to cost and so forth. All of that’s, you know, at the heart of the debate here. But there’s another whole dimension here, Rush, and that’s this whole question of ownership, of whether or not that next generation is going to be able to do something that the president and I believe very deeply in, which is actually own a piece of their retirement. You know, if you pay into the system now, today, and you’re my age, I just turned 64, and you die about age 65, you’re never going to get a dime out of it, and we’ve got a situation where people live a lot longer now, obviously, on average, but the fact of the matter is that you pay into it your whole career but it’s not yours in the sense of ownership. You can’t leave it to your heirs. You can’t pass it on to your kids and grandkids. And what we’re talking about now is a fundamental change that does in fact create that personal account that does in fact become the property, or the asset, if you will, of the individual who pays into that account and nurtures it over the years and benefits from it when they retire and whatever is left they can in fact pass on to the next generation. That’s a significant change, and I think a very positive one.
RUSH: Now, some of the criticism I’ve read in the media this morning is that the president didn’t get specific last night. He didn’t really come out with specifics of a plan. Is there not a reason for that? Isn’t the president saying, “Hey, look, I’m open to work with anybody who agrees with the principle I’ve set forth”?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s correct, and in fact we’ve moved steadily in the direction of providing more and more detail. We’ve made some basic decisions for example on personal retirement accounts. The president talked about phasing in over time, talked about the dates in which it would be phased in, talked about the fact we want to set aside ultimately 4% of that payroll tax. That would be done on a voluntary basis. We’re starting to flesh it out. A lot of difficult and important decisions that need to be made, and what he said last night is, “Look, I’m open to all suggestions here. We want to talk with anybody who’s got an effective idea,” and then he laid out some possibilities that have been suggested by others, by Pat Moynihan, a former senator, Democratic senator from New York who chaired the commission here a couple of years ago and had a bunch of ideas on it to former congressman Tim Penny from Minnesota, a lot of, folks, that have had ideas over the time and we want to have a full-fledged debate. We think if he were to go out and just say, “Bang, this is it,” that you’d run the risk of not getting that through, that Congress has to be a participant in the process, working with us to put together a package that ultimately will be supported by a majority of members.
RUSH: The war on terror and the war on Iraq. The elections on Sunday seem to have inspired the president, the members of the administration. There seem to be an aura of command and confidence last night as the president delivered the speech. Now, I know that you have not ever had doubt that what we’re doing is the right thing, but these elections on Sunday, did they exceed your expectations?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They did although I must say as we got closer and closer to the election date I felt better and better about the prospects that we were going to have a good turnout, and obviously we did. No, I think it was remarkable. We’ve had a run here as the president pointed out last night — Afghanistan, Ukraine, Palestinian Authority, now Iraq — where in fact we’ve seen the enormous power of the concept of freedom and democracy and the right for people to govern themselves, and lots of times, I suppose, people take that for granted because we’ve had that privilege for over 200 years now. But when you take something like that and apply it in a society such as Iraq where people have been absolutely brutalized by a terrible dictator for over 30 years and where people have not had that privilege previously, you see the enormous drive these people have to get to the polls and cast that ballot. It really transforms society, and it’s the power of that idea, that concept, that drives much of what the president is talking about, by way of policy. I thought it came through in his speech last night and of course we’ve seen it work on the ground now in several difficult parts of the world just in the last few months.
RUSH: I’d like your personal reaction to something. This is phase two, the inaugural address and this speech last night on the lofty vision of the concept of human freedom and what it can mean to the world, that the president has articulated. It has struck me. I’ve been flabbergasted by how “controversial” the concept of freedom for the people of the planet has become to some people. The president can make a speech with the lofty vision that, frankly, I think ought to be the vision of the UN. I mean that’s what it was formed: world peace and freedom and so forth and fighting for it. Here’s the president simply articulating what he believes is the natural creation of each human being, and it’s met with just this unbelievable controversy and nitpicking. From where does that cynicism come, do you think?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well (chuckles), I understand exactly what you mean, Rush. I have the same feelings lots of times. There’s a certain elitist attitude out there that on the one hand says, you know, we’re na?ve for believing in a principle that directly and actually going out and applying it, that lacks the nuance that you’d like to see and, you know, the papers produced by the Council on Foreign Relations kind of mentality. The other aspect to it is I think it’s the view that I think is totally incorrect, that people who live in the Middle East or in other parts of the world and the Third World aren’t capable of self-governance. Sometimes I think it’s almost a racist attitude. And as the president says that, you know, freedom is God’s gift to mankind, and it’s in fact I think been demonstrated now pretty conclusively that it has this enormous appeal to virtually everyone and in fact it is an antidote to much of what plagues the world today, especially when we think about the war on terror.
RUSH: One final question. I know you’re on tight schedule here. The budget references the president made last night. They’re almost getting no discussion today. The pledge to eliminate 150 programs that are either redundancies or are wasteful or irrelevant now from the budget and to reduce spending. The Democrats have been the big deficit hawks for the past three years. You expect the Democrats to cooperate with the president’s requests on the budget?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I imagine we’ll have the usual tugging and pulling up there.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But it’s a tough budget and it’s good. It’s the toughest budget we’ve submitted yet since we got here. He worked on it very hard. We are in fact holding the discretionary spending below the rate of inflation, and that includes allowing increases for defense and homeland security. We’re being very tough, and we need to be. That fiscal discipline is an essential part of our overall strategy. I think we’ll get some support on the other side, and I think we’ve got the votes to get it through.
RUSH: Mr. Vice President, thanks for your time. Just know everybody is out there praying for you, and we all love you. Thanks for your time and all the best.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Rush. It’s great to talk to you. Love your show.
RUSH: Thank you so much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: See ya.
RUSH: We’ll be back in just a second, folks. Vice president Dick Cheney here on the EIB Network.