RUSH: We are joined for the next few minutes by the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. Mr. Vice President, as always, it’s a thrill to have you with us today, sir.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, good afternoon, Rush.
RUSH: All right. Social Security. That’s one of the things that I wanted to ask you about here today, and I’m sensing that there’s some trepidation on the Democrat Party side that they’re just doing nothing but obstructing and you can see some, I think, preliminary cracks among the Democrats. The main thing I want to focus on with you here at first is Republicans. Some of us — and I will include myself in this — look at some of the elected Republicans in the House and Senate, and we don’t see the same courage there that’s being exhibited by the administration in passing this and getting this forward. There’s a story today in the Washington Times: “Conservatives in and out of Congress say President Bush has been taking bad advice on Social Security, hurting his chance to win the private investment accounts.” They quote a senior Republican senator not by name as saying, “The message coming out of the White House is that we’ll fix Social Security by raising your taxes and cutting your retirement benefits, and to get something passed we’ll forget about the personal retirement accounts that we promised.” What do you make of all this, and where is this going?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I don’t know who that (chuckle) anonymous source was but it doesn’t represent the president’s thinking at all, Rush. I think we’re just in the early stages of the debate. It’s been about five weeks, six weeks now since the president gave his State of the Union address. He’s on the road right now, hit four states in two days. I’m headed out shortly myself, and we’re beginning to have a very important national dialogue on the future of the Social Security system, and those who say, “There’s no problem,” or that they’re not willing to engage in debate or that they’re opposed to doing anything are basically advocating a 27% cut in benefits for everybody who’s 30-years-old today looking towards retirement 30 years out, because that’s, in fact, what will happen. We’re in a big hole if we don’t act, and it’s very important that we do so and I think the American people recognize that.
RUSH: Well, I think the American people do, in mass. That’s what makes the actions by some Republicans in Congress — and I know this is tough for you to comment on, and I’m not trying to lure you into anything here. I’m generally trying to learn something because we see courage — and I’ll be honest with you — see courage on the part of you and on the part of the president and those in the administration that are trying to advance the notion that this program is 70-years-old and needs some reform, but… For example, some of the people in Congress, some of the Republicans are upset that the president did not rule out raising the ceiling on income for taxation to $90,000. Some are upset that the president has not ruled out a bunch of things on this, and I know you said that we’re at the early stages and the president said yesterday that he fears for the politician who doesn’t get on board this. But what are your plans specifically? I know you have a plan for the Democrats. What are your plans to bring some of these Republicans that appear recalcitrant on this along with you?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we’re meeting with them. We’ve had more meetings than I can count down here at the White House now in terms of bringing in ten, 15, 20 members at a time in the Cabinet Room or upstairs in the family quarters of the residence just to talk about Social Security. We’ve been doing that steadily now for over a month. We’ve probably visited with most of the members of the House and Senate now in small groups, talking about this issue. We’re also actively and aggressively getting out there on the road. I think a lot of members are going to hold their powder, hold their fire until they see whether or not they’re successful in terms of educating the public, getting this issue front and center and getting people willing to think about the changes that are needed if we’re going to save Social Security long term. So we’re actively involved in that process now, and I think most of the Republicans that I’m dealing with, certainly, are either actively thinking about solutions — in some cases putting forward their own ideas as Senator Lindsey and Senator Hagel — or waiting to see what develops here as we go forward. So that’s not a bad place to be, and I think the Democrats, on the other hand I saw James Carville’s memo the other day where he basically warned them that they were in danger here of coming across as the No Party because they weren’t willing to even engage in the debate.
RUSH: Yeah. I saw that, and the Democrats are who they are you know. I think the president and the entire administration has demonstrated an ability to deal with them. Mike Pence, a Congressman from Indiana, continues to stress here that he’s concerned about the fact that private accounts may not be a firm part of the plan. Can you tell us today whether private accounts are a firm part of what the president is going to insist on or hope for?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Private accounts are a firm part of the plan. The president and I campaigned on them in 2000; we campaigned on them again in 2004. We think a very important part of addressing the Social Security issue is to take advantage of the opportunity that this presents for us to modify the system, to make it possible for people to have real, live, honest to goodness retirement assets that they control, that they own, that they have some ability to make decisions with, which has not been true up till now for a lot of people who relied only on Social Security. We think that element of ownership is an extraordinarily important principle, and now is the time to make it a part of the Social Security system.
RUSH: Well, the president has shown and demonstrated an ability to get what he wants. He’s persuasive, and as you say, is going out talking to the American people. You’re going to be doing some town hall meetings on this as well. Some of us, though, still remain puzzled why the members of the president’s own party have to be dragged kicking and screaming to this given his track record. If the president did not have a track record of such success, it would be a little bit more understandable. Do you have any idea why — and I know this isn’t new. It’s not something that’s exclusive to your administration, but something that seems to be as necessary as this just given the facts of where Social Security was, where it is today, where it’s headed, why do you think? Is it just fear? Is it re-election fear? Is it they have to face re-election in two and four and six years that causes them to be less than enthusiastic and basically want you all to carry the ball for them?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I think there may be some of that involved here. I can remember the last time we went through a major debate over Social Security. I was a member of the House of Representatives then, 22 years ago, a junior member in 1983, and the system was in trouble. You had a lot of people hanging back, didn’t want to commit. We finally were able to put together a package, worked with President Reagan and got bipartisan support, a good commission and so forth, and got some good work done. I think that will happen again here in terms of our ultimately being successful. I think what happens, there are a lot of people out there, a lot of politicians who believe that Social Security is the third rail of American politics, that if you touch it, you die. The president doesn’t believe that and I think he’s demonstrated pretty conclusively that you could run on the notion that Social Security needs fixed and needs to be addressed, and that personal retirement accounts are a good thing. After all, we won two elections with that as part of our platform. I think the other thing that operates here on the Hill to some extent, Rush, is you get members who will be willing to vote for a package if they think the package is going to pass, if they see movement and see progress in terms of putting together a coalition. They’re reluctant to step out and take a leadership role and get identified with a position or cast a vote if in the end the package is going to fail. In other words, they don’t want to take that tough vote unless you’re going to actually get something done. So it’s a question of leadership more than anything else, and this president’s demonstrated pretty conclusively, as he said: He didn’t come to town to play small ball. He’s here to fix big problems and this is a big one.
RUSH: Talking with Vice President Dick Cheney. We’ll be back and continue right after this.
RUSH: We are happy, honored to have with us today Vice President Cheney. We are discussing Social Security. Let’s move on to the Democrats, Mr. Vice President. One of the things that amazes me: Here we have a 70-year-old program, essentially, and the Democrats will allow no change in it whatsoever. They want to stick to what I would call the “original intent” of Social Security, and yet when it comes to the Constitution, such a concept to them is foreign. There’s no such thing as original intent. So they’re wedded to this program for I think their own political legacy and the Washington Post today has a story, headline: “Senators May Block Social Security Vote.” They think they’ve got enough to withstand and sustain a filibuster on this. Now, we all know that these votes of these Democrats will be subject to public opinion and that’s why you’re going to be on the road and why the president’s on the road. Pretend that I am in one of your audiences and I really don’t know anything about this other than a couple of things I’ve heard in the media. What would you say to somebody who is interested but not really totally informed why this has to be done and why it has to be done now?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, let’s start by telling them, Rush, that Social Security has been an important program over the years for millions of Americans. My parents and grandparents drew benefits. But it was designed back in the ’30s at a time when the world looked pretty dramatically different than it does today. In 1935, when they first set it up, the average life expectancy was 63. That is, a majority of Americans didn’t live long enough to draw benefits from the program. We had about 16 workers working for every person drawing benefits in 1940. We’re down now. We’ve only got three people working for every worker drawing benefits, and, of course, the demographics have changed dramatically. We’ve got a baby boom generation about to retire here starting in 2008. There’s going to be a big bulge in the retired community. The average life expectancy now is 15 years greater than it was back in the ’30s. People live, on average now, to 77 or 78. They draw benefits for a much longer period of time and just the fundamental demographics of the population are what is driving the need to go in and reform Social Security if there’s going to be anything there for our kids and grandkids. And the folks currently retired and those soon to retire — that is, everybody born before 1950 — is going to be covered by the current system. The debate over retirement accounts doesn’t affect them. They can relax and be confident they’re going to get what they were promised. The problem is with their kids and grandkids — and I’ve got grandkids of my own and a couple of daughters, and you’d have trouble convincing them they were going to draw any Social Security benefits unless we take responsibility for the current situation and make the changes that are necessary that we can make gradually over time that will guarantee the system will be there in the future.
RUSH: Over the years, recent years, I have heard many Democrats take up the cause of Social Security recipients, claiming that the program really is not sufficient enough as it is because seniors today are having to choose between food and prescription drugs. They really make a pretty sorry case for a senior citizen today who only has Social Security — and they do this unwittingly and they did this before this current debate began but if you listen to them, if you back to the ’90s — when they thought it was a crisis, the Democrats — they were all making it out like it was nothing more than a poverty program and they always said that Republicans wanted to cut it. Now, here comes the Bush administration willing to actually reform it and the centerpiece is turning it into something more than a poverty program. You want to have people have their own nest eggs that the government cannot touch. That’s what the private accounts are about. What is the success that you’re having when the president has gone out on the road? I know it’s early in his 60-stop tour, but are you having success in persuading people, do you think?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I think we are. I think it takes time because it is a big complex subject, but I think there’s intense interest out there. I find that when I talk with folks about it this is something that everybody will be affected by sooner or later. They’re all either paying taxes into the system now and drawing benefits from it, and that will continue to be the case going forward. So I don’t think we have that much trouble getting people’s attention to think about it. I also think we’re beginning to have some effect. We had the Democrats now send a letter to us the other day saying if we’d just give up the notion of personal retirement accounts, then they’d be willing to talk. Well, that’s a step ahead from where they were initially, where they said, “There’s no problem.” At least they’re willing to talk about a problem, they say. We’re not about to give up personal retirement accounts, because we think those are absolutely a crucial part of the system. But I think we continue to pound away out there, that the American public will come to realize who, in fact, is providing leadership and stepping forward and offering a solution to an important problem here and who is trying to block any action at all and if the Democrats do take the route that they’re going to filibuster any changes or modification in the Senate, I think that’s going to be a loser for them long term. I don’t know that I voted for somebody to come back here and represent me in the United States Senate and get paid as well as they’re paid and sit on their hands and do nothing and keep everyone else from doing anything. I really think that that’s a dereliction of duty on their part. They don’t have to agree with us in terms of solution, but they do have to engage in the debate. If they’re not going to get in the arena and be a part of this process, they might as well pack it in and go home.
RUSH: Well, one other question before I move on to one other subject and that is in various reports I’m seeing, that the option for senior citizens not to participate in the individual retirement account version of the program and basically stay with the old Social Security plan as it is today. Is that also something that’s going to be on the table as included in the final plan?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, in the proposal the president’s put forward, it is voluntary. The sort of — it’s important to think of it in segments here. Everybody born before 1950 would not be affected, would not be involved because they’re all either retired or soon to retire under the existing system. If you’re younger than that, then you’d have the opportunity to participate in a personal retirement account, but it is optional. You don’t have to do it. It’s voluntary, and if you want to stay under the old system, that’ll be available for you.
RUSH: I want to play you a tape of President Clinton, who was in the Roosevelt Room with the president last Tuesday. The president said to him that the Iraq elections went well, and I see a trend in the Middle East and then President Clinton added this.
FMR. PRESIDENT CLINTON: I would agree with that. I think that the Iraqi elections went better than anyone could have imagined and now, you know, I have said I don’t think we ought to pressure the president to give a timetable for withdrawal of American forces. We got to try to make this work. We all know we have to go sometime, that we don’t want to occupy the country but they still need us to help train their security forces. There’s still a violent environment there, and the friends of the new order are still vulnerable as we saw just yesterday, so I think that — but I think on balance, that’s doing — we’re doing better there.
RUSH: Mr. Vice President, the question I have for you is — and we’ve been talking about this on the program the past two or three days — in certain sectors of the media and in the Democratic Party, there is constant discussion of just how well the Bushes and the Clintons are getting along these days and like Howard Fineman has a piece trying to dissect it and understand it. Here’s Clinton being very supportive of the Iraq policy. The Bushes and Clintons seem to be getting along very well. What do you make of this? Is there anything more than just the presidency is a small fraternity and once time passes, old opposition is forgotten and everybody just gets alone because of the smallness of the club?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I think that’s the right explanation, Rush. I watched the same phenomena with President Ford and President Carter, and, of course, I worked for President Ford and I remember, you know, how tough it was losing the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. There was no love lost between the two during the course of that campaign, but over the years as former presidents, even though they had come at a lot of problems from radically different perspectives, they did, in fact, develop a good relationship and work together on a number of issues. So to see former President Bush and former Bill Clinton working on something like the tsunami relief? It turns out they do have a fair degree in common in the sense, as you say, that it’s a very small fraternity of former presidents. We’ve only had 43 presidents in the history of the nation, and there are only a handful living obviously today, and so those kinds of relationships I don’t think we should find all that surprising.
RUSH: All right. I have 30 seconds. There’s no political calculation on either side in this new relationship, then, you think?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I certainly don’t see any evidence of that. I think they enjoy one another’s company, even though they did go at it tooth and tong back in 1992.
RUSH: Okay. Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for your time, and good luck out there on the Social Security bandwagon stump. It’s something that, again, you know, I always — when I have you on the phone here, the people that voted for you continually pray for you. They admire everybody’s courage in this administration, and they wish you nothing but the best and they hope for as many people to get on the bandwagon with you as possible.
CALLER: Well, thank you, Rush. I appreciate it, and I always enjoy your show.
RUSH: Thanks very much. That’s Vice President Dick Cheney.