Hot Stories for the Week of Jan. 31

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Feb. 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Hot story number one is battle station. I’m talking about the struggle over Social Security reform (search), which has begun full throttle, starting with the president’s State of the Union address on Wednesday and that was followed by barnstorming by the president on behalf of his Social Security plan in five states.

Now, yes, watch him in Omaha. He was pretty good in Omaha.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we wait, it gets worse. In other words, it’s more costly to solve the problem. So we have a problem. And I’m going to spend a lot of time traveling our country talking about the problem. Because I fully understand that in the halls of Congress, if people do not believe we have a problem, nothing’s going to happen. There’s no need to take risks on a solution if you’re not willing to address the problem.


BARNES: You know, Bush has staked out his political position. He’s on the side of the future and the side of reform. That leaves Democrats, his opponents in this whole Social Security struggle, as being on the side of the past and against reform.

And as if to prove his point that they represent the past, Democratic senators went over to the FDR memorial (search) in Washington, you know, over by the Tidal Basin, to have a press conference and attack the president’s plan.


BARNES: You know, FDR, he was the father of Social Security, but he died 60 years ago. And he’d probably approve of having the plan updated.

And then Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, gave what I thought was the know-nothing approach to Social Security reform. Listen to her.


U.S. REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: This is a crisis of his own creation. This is a crisis of his own making, so that he can have his preordained idea about privatization, which undermines Social Security, which takes a guaranteed benefit into a guaranteed gamble.



BARNES: Well, there is no guaranteed benefit. It’s not guaranteed. But in any case, Mort, you remember I often referred to today’s current crop of Democrats as being reactionary Democrats. The Post has one-upped me, The Washington Post (search), with an editorial describing them as Bartleby Democrats. I’m sure you read in school sometime that famous short story by Herman Melville, "Bartleby the Scribner," who stopped "The Scrivener," who stops working, won’t do anything, he says because I prefer not to.

When it comes to Social Security reform, even offering an alternative, the Democratic position is, I’d prefer not to.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Yes. Well, now, look, I cannot defend the Democrats’ lack of a position of their own. You cannot beat something with nothing. Now, but that very same Washington Post editorial, however, said that there are ideas out there, some of them liberal, some of the Republican, that, that actually deserve consideration besides what Bush is proposing.

One of them is to have a progressive limitations on benefits, that is, to help out poor people. Another one is to have a private savings plan on top of Social Security,not within it, at least as a transition process. Another one is to raise taxes. Bush is, is death against taxes, but this, this proposal of his, this private savings accounts, involves a lot of borrowing.

Now, the administration is putting out numbers that say that in the first 10 years, it would be $745 billion that they’d have to borrow. But in the full 10, a full 10-year cost of this is about a trillion and a half.

Now, this would be, this would be on top of all the money that we’re going to have to borrow in order to pay for Bush’s tax cuts, in order to pay for Medicare (search) and Medicaid (search). And, you know, these are problems that have not been addressed. And the Democrats can’t address them with, with a proposal of their own to, to get into this game, but they’re not, they’re not there yet.


KONDRACKE: Now, the, the other hot story is day of glory. And I’m referring to the Iraqi elections. In spite of all the, the doomsaying that went on in advance, in spite of the threats to wash the streets with blood, in spite of a lot of violence, 8 million or so Iraqis actually went to the polls. They stuck their fingers in this indelible ink, and they walked around with their fingers colored with indelible ink for days afterwards.

BARNES: Yes, I know.

KONDRACKE: They were targets for, for assassination. It was an act of defiance and courage.

Now, the Democrats’ response to this could not be, We’re against voting, we’re against democracy, it wasn’t that.


KONDRACKE: It was, yes, but, yes, but now, Mr. President, let’s see your exit strategy. Here’s Harry Reid talking his version of that. Watch.


U.S. SENATOR HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: The president needs to spell out a real and understandable plan for the unfinished work ahead. But most of all, we need an exit strategy so that we know what victory is and how we can get there.


KONDRACKE: Look, the emphasis of the United States should not be on getting out. It’s got to be on winning. You know, then we can get out. And that’s Bush’s position.


KONDRACKE: And here he is in the State of the Union. Watch.


BUSH: We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We’re in Iraq to achieve a result, a country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned.


BARNES: You know, Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Republican, got them to dip their fingers in that before Bush’s State of the Union address. Not many Democrats wanted to have that ink on their fingers. OK.

I think with the election in Iraq, the bet on Iraq has changed dramatically. I think the odds now favor democracy in Iraq rather strongly, and the terrorists are the underdogs now. I think they’re on their way out.

But besides the purple fingers, as the symbol, there were a couple of emotional moments at the State of the Union, or that were just extraordinary. And I think in some sense overshadowed the president’s speech, which, which I thought was a very good one.

The first was the one where the mother of a slain Marine in Iraq hugs the Iraqi woman who was there whose father was killed by Saddam Hussein and she had just voted for the first time. I mean, just, you know, look at this, Bush choking up.

KONDRACKE: Right, yes. Even Dick Cheney choked up. Fred Barnes is choking up.

BARNES: I mean, that was just such a fantastic moment. We’ll get to the other one in just a second here.

Right after the speech, the president comes down, you know, and he hugs some people. He gave a particular hug to Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman (search) of Connecticut, a, a remarkable hug, you see that?


BARNES: Looked like he kissed him.


KONDRACKE: Yes, yes, right.

BARNES: Why was that?

KONDRACKE: Well, look, Joe Lieberman has been with the president on the issue of Iraq all the way from the beginning. As a matter of fact, Joe Lieberman was for getting rid of Saddam Hussein before George Bush was.


KONDRACKE: Joe Lieberman is my kind of Democrat.

BARNES: Well,he’s my kind of Democrat too. Let’s see what he does on Social Security reform. Maybe he’ll be with Bush on that as well.

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