This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume ," Feb. 2, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Because we know that 50 years from now there’s going to be a problem with Social Security. Not a big problem, but a problem. And we’re willing to take care of that. But these payroll taxes for privatization simply won’t work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: Not only did the Democratic Senate leader say that he’s opposed to private personal accounts as part of Social Security, but he said he has 45 solid Senate votes against it. That’s more than enough to support a crippling filibuster. If he’s right, that’s bad news for President Bush. But is he right?
Well, who better to ask than the man whose job it will be to get the president’s program through the Senate, majority leader Bill Frist, who joins me from the Capitol.
Mr. Leader, how about it?
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Brit, I just don’t think that the American people will buy rhetoric saying there’s not a problem. And I secondly don’t — I just know the American people aren’t going to buy when we know we’ve got a looming crisis, if not here yet — if not here today, that it is coming very quickly. A group of people who say we have no plan, let’s don’t deal with it, let’s stick our head in the sand.
Thus, I hope that everybody will keep everything on the table. Allow us to engage the American people, define the problem, and then let’s put forth specific solutions. This locking down before people are even willing to address the problem that is there to me is absurd. And I think it is way premature.
HUME: Well, he did not say there was not a problem. He said it’s a problem that can be dealt with later.
FRIST: No. Fifty years from now, it’s...
HUME: Well, yes. I don’t know that he meant that it would be that long before he addressed it.
But the most striking thing I think he said all day was he told a group of news anchors this afternoon that he’s got 45 solid votes. And he said, you know, if I can do anything, I can count votes. What about that?
FRIST: Well, you know, I respect what he says. If he’s saying he has 45 votes that are going to stop what the American people deserve, and that is addressing a problem that is a financial problem, that’s a moral problem, that looks at the security and safety of seniors very soon to be seniors, then I just don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it. I just don’t believe we have 45 people voting against it. If he’s saying he has 45 senators to vote against one tiny sliver or one tiny aspect of the plan, I’m sure he can probably generate that support.
HUME: Well, let’s assume he does for the sake of discussion. And the part of the plan he’s talking about, and of course, I know that neither you nor the president regard it as a tiny sliver. But he certainly made it clear that he is unalterably opposed to the use of any Social Security payroll taxes for the creation of private or personal accounts within the Social Security system.
I think Democrats have suggested they’d be open to having some kind of accounts outside Social Security, but not as part of any reform proposal. What about that?
FRIST: First of all, we’re going to hear in just a couple of hours. In three hours tonight, the president is going to lay out with more specific details exactly what this personal retirement account would be like. That you, in essence, would be able to own, take with you, pass on later, just like 60 percent of the American people do today, whether it’s through a savings accounts or the like. We’re going to hear some specifics about it that haven’t been put forth.
I think, again, for the Democrats to obstruct, in essence, filibuster before they know what the specifics of the proposal are, is a poor strategy. I just don’t believe once the American people say it’s something that we do already in our private lives. Why not let us do it with a little bit of our Social Security payroll tax? I just think they’re not going to be able to hold their ground.
HUME: Let me ask you this about this. In addition to the private accounts proposal, or personal accounts as the White House is now insisting that we all call it, there are some — in order for that to happen, there is a range of things that would have to be done to cover the short-term costs of that. Those are not happy choices.
HUME: The president, we understand, will lay out a number of those today. Will not endorse any of them and say he’s open to all of them. Do you sense that you have Republicans ready to, A: vote for a private, personal accounts. And B: to swallow some of the more painful options that would have to be chosen in order to make that possible?
FRIST: Yes. You know, again, to be counting votes now before there’s even an agreement there’s a problem. You just heard that my colleague in the Senate, Democratic colleague in the Senate, say in essence there’s not a problem. And that’s just not — it’s not true. And we know it’s not true with the demographic tidal wave that’s coming in, a doubling the number of seniors, fewer people paying into the system. We have over promised. Government has over promised.
So first of all, we have to define the problem. And I think the way it’s going to play out, the president will do a little bit tonight. Over the next four or maybe eight weeks, we’ll define the problem. You’re exactly right, the president will lay out here in a few hours, a range of things that we need to consider, the legislative body. And only then will reasonable people be drawing lines in the sand and saying yes, no, or picking a particular element.
So I would just appeal to work in a bipartisan way. Work with everything: the retirement accounts, look at the various ages, look at the wage index. Let’s put it all on the table. And then after a few months of digesting what it is, then draw lines in the sand if you need to. It’s premature.
But they’re doing the same thing on the judges, another issue. They’re saying, well, we’ve got the votes to filibuster and obstruct. Well, the last election just showed the American people don’t want us to obstruct, don’t want us to filibuster.
HUME: Dr. Frist, you have an option available to you which is a way to use the rules. And a majority can control the rulings on what’s parliamentary fair play and what’s not. You have a way of getting around the filibuster rule, and it’s been considered a very drastic option.
Are you prepared, if you get the continued what you call obstruction on these judges, to exercise that option?
FRIST: Yes. First of all, what we’re doing is restoring 200 years of history. In the last Congress, the Democrats used a nuclear option in changing that precedent.
HUME: Quickly, sir.
FRIST: All we want to do is restore it. All we’re asking for is not vote everybody, just an up or down vote. It’s pretty clear. I’m going to continue to appeal to the other side of the aisle and say for candidates or nominees coming over, they go through the committee process, they come to the floor, just give us an up or down vote. I’m going to continue to make that appeal. If not, you’re exactly right. One of the options is with the majority’s support change the rules.
HUME: All right. Mr. Frist, thank you sir. Dr. Frist, glad to have you.
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