Transcript: Andrew Card Talks Social Security

The following is a transcript of a FOX News interview with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: President Bush has taken an enormous risk at the outset of his second term, making a controversial overhaul of Social Security his chief domestic goal.

As you heard earlier, his Democratic opponents couldn't be more determined to stop him. And support for personal accounts has been sagging in recent opinion polls.

So how does the White House pull this off? Who better to ask than Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff.

Andy, thanks for joining us.

ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Thank you, Jim. It's great to be with you.

ANGLE: Thank you.

Well, I want to ask you a question about the president's intent here, but first I want to play something from one of the Democratic town hall meetings today.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER D-N.Y.: There is a group of people in Washington, ideologues, hard-right ideologues, who hate the government. And they can't stand it when there's a successful government program, and so they had to come up with this privatization plan whose purpose is to end Social Security, not fix Social Security.


ANGLE: Now, there is a Democratic news conference just about every day, and every day someone says that personal accounts in Social Security are intended to do what conservatives have been trying to do for 60 or 70 years and that is destroy Social Security.

CARD: This is not the intent of the administration, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, we want to save Social Security.

Social Security as it is currently written cannot be sustained. And we know that. There is a problem.

President Clinton called it a crisis in 1998.

And so we've got to work together to solve the problem of Social Security. And every year we delay ends up costing $600 billion more of potential challenge that must be met.

So the time is now for us to address the problems of Social Security, and we should do it responsibly.

The president has invited people to come to the table, and he's said you can put a lot of things on the table. The one thing you cannot put on the table is increasing the tax rate that would be paid by people who are contributing into Social Security.

So that 6.2 percent that you pay and the 6.2 percent that Fox pays, he doesn't want to see those rates go up.

But he's said he wants to fix the problems of Social Security permanently, so we don't have to have this debate, which will be a very expensive debate, in the future.

But he'd also like to see increased benefits for the people who know that the Social Security system can't sustain the level of contribution that is there today, and that means personal retirement accounts.

ANGLE: Now, to get something, obviously, you need Democratic participation. You need something that gets bipartisan support.

Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, sent a letter to the White House last night saying there are 42 Democrats who will not sit down and talk about anything as long as personal accounts are on the table. Though, interestingly, he said that add-on accounts, accounts on top of Social Security, like those that President Clinton proposed, deserve serious consideration. What do you make of that?

CARD: Well, I think it's interesting. The president is saying everything can be on the table, and the Democrats are saying things have to be taken off the table.

Let's recognize that the challenges of Social Security must be met. Let's work together to meet those challenges.

And let's recognize, also, that when we meet those challenges, it's likely that we will want to have a situation where retirees can expect a better benefit than they will get from Social Security, and that's personal retirement accounts. And let's work together to do it.

I don't think that was a very constructive statement that the Democratic leader said. That letter was not a constructive letter. It was a political document. It wasn't a document that indicates a willingness to work together.

ANGLE: On the other hand, it did open the door to add-on accounts, which, while it's not what the president asked for, it is personal accounts that would help poor people who can't save build some retirement savings.

CARD: Well, you know, there are so-called add-ons right now. We have IRAs and 401(k)s, and these are systems that are there and you can make voluntary contributions to them.

ANGLE: But the government doesn't provide the money.

CARD: The government provides incentives through tax breaks and tax incentives.

We think it's important to fix Social Security, and fix Social Security in two ways.

First of all, we want to fix it so that when people retire, they will know that they can have a benefit that would allow them to live well, and that means that you got to have a Social Security system complemented by personal retirement accounts.

We also know that you want to fix Social Security so that it can be sustained financially in the long run. That means you have to take a look at benefits and the fact that we're living longer and that we have the opportunity to work longer.

So we should consider all of that.

But I also want to point out that the Democrats are also threatening seniors. And anyone born before 1950 will get all of the benefits that the government has promised. So this is not about reducing benefits for Social Security recipients. People who are at or near retirement are going to get their benefits.

ANGLE: Let's talk about the solvency problem.

Now, those who favor personal accounts say there are all sorts of benefit to them; those who oppose them say there are all sorts of disadvantages. But whatever the pros and cons, personal accounts do not do anything to fix the solvency of the system.

Why not offer a plan to fix the solvency of the system, which obviously, as Greenspan suggested the other day, is going to involve some pain?

CARD: What we want to do is fix Social Security and make sure that when you retire you'll be able to live in retirement. And that means you shouldn't just fix Social Security, the system, you've got to fix the retirement system...

ANGLE: Sure. But you're offering half a plan. You're offering the personal accounts...

CARD: The Democrats are saying they don't want to have you fix your retirement; they just want to fix Social Security.

We're saying, "fix Social Security and fix your retirement." And that means that you've got to be able to complement, with an "e", Social Security benefits with the benefits that will come from a voluntary contribution into personal retirement accounts.

This is not a mandatory program. It's a voluntary program.

ANGLE: Right. I understand that.

But when would you anticipate someone — the president, one of your allies on Capitol Hill — someone coming up with a plan that addresses the solvency problems?

CARD: Well, there are many plans that we know could address the solvency challenges, and there are also plans that will help complement the ability for a retiree to have a benefit that they can live on. And we think that all of those plans should be on the table, and we should start to have a debate.

The president has said we have a problem. We have a problem that must be addressed. The president has said, "If you were born prior to 1950, you don't have to worry. Social Security will be there for you and the benefits will be there."

But he's also said, "Let's work together to solve the problem and provide an opportunity for retirement benefits to be something that you can live on." So you need to complement Social Security with a personal retirement account.

ANGLE: OK. Andy Card, thank you very much.