In an exclusive interview with Fox News senior White House correspondent Carl Cameron, Vice President Dick Cheney addressed Americans' concerns about the administration's plans to revamp Social Security and the possible political battles ahead in the coming months.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact of the matter is the Democrats have not been willing to step up yet and engage in the debate. And we hope they will.
The president has made it very clear we want to approach this on a bipartisan basis. But I think the important thing going forward is to recognize that we've only just begun the campaign. We've only been at it now for about five or six weeks since the State of the Union Address.
And it's important that people understand the nature of the problem, that Social Security does need to be fixed if it's going to be there for future generations. We believe personal retirement accounts are an important part of that, and that we want to encourage people to put all the ideas on the table and get a big debate started on a national basis, and have the Democrats participate as well. So far they haven't.
CARL CAMERON, FOX SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sometimes we hear from the White House that the personal retirement accounts is not related to the solvency issue, and other times we're told that, well, it does have an alleviating aspect to it down the road. Which is it?
CHENEY: Well, I think — a couple of points to make, I don't mean to take up all your time...
CAMERON: No, absolutely. We do hear from both sides of the administration, yes, it's part of the solvency issue, and, no, it's not.
CHENEY: The solvency question goes to the fact that the program was designed in the 1930s and it fit the 20th Century better than it fit the 21st Century. Life expectancy then was 63, now it's 77 or 78. We're about to have the Baby Boom generation retire here starting in 2008. There is going to be a huge bulge of people old enough to draw Social Security benefits and an ever smaller number of people working to support them and pay those benefits.
It's a dramatically different situation than what we had back in the '30s when the majority of Americans didn't even live long enough to draw any benefits. So the system does need to be addressed. That is the solvency problem. It's driven by demographics and it's very important that we address those issues if the program is going to be there for future generations.
We believe part of the solution is to create personal retirement accounts. We think that ought to be a part of whatever we do here. The benefits of that obviously are that people would in fact be able to take part of their payroll tax and put it into a personal account. They would control it. It would be theirs. It would be a real, live, honest-to-goodness asset, not just some IOU off in some government file drawer someplace. The government couldn't take it away from them. Nobody could ever take it away from them. It would be theirs. If something happened to them, they could pass it on to their heirs and their children. It would get an ownership involvement, if you will, on the part of Social Security recipients that's not there today. We think that's a very important value in itself, but it also would allow the recipients to earn a higher return because the funds would be invested, they’d get a better return than they would if it were in fact just in the Social Security system.
CAMERON: So there's an individual benefit there. Is there a benefit to the program?
CHENEY: I think there's a benefit to the program. I think the benefit to the program is that it will survive and that it will be the kind of vital part of people's retirement planning that it has been for the last 70 years. So it makes sense, I think, both from the standpoint of government, as a matter of policy, it also makes sense from the standpoint of the individual.
CAMERON: Democrats say take personal retirement accounts off the table and it's time to talk.
CHENEY: Won't happen.
CAMERON: Which means we go where? Because the president, according to the critics and according to the plan, hasn't really addressed the solvency issue himself. That's the part that's missing.
CHENEY: But we've encouraged people to participate, engage in that debate. At the appropriate time, we'll be willing to zero in, sit down and negotiate with Congress. Congress ultimately will write the legislation. But we'll be a major part of that.
We put a proposal on the plan with respect to personal retirement accounts. We've encouraged others, like Lindsey Graham, for example, who's got his plan, Chuck Hagel, who just came up with one this past week who's got his plan. There are a lot of ideas out there put forward in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike, by the Social Security Commission we had under Pat Moynihan here a couple of years ago.
So there are lot of ideas out there that need to be considered. But we want to have a national debate and dialogue on this process. If we simply come out and say, here it is, this is the plan, you have to do it our way or the highway, I don't think we'll get anyplace. We need to have people buy in and become a part of that process.
We went through this back in 1983 when I was a junior member of the House of Representatives. We had a crisis then in Social Security, we couldn't pay the checks. And we, in fact, came together on a bipartisan basis and fixed the system so that it survived in relatively good shape
for the next ...
CAMERON: But now instead of coming together we have a moving apart. Democrats who were speaking favorably about private accounts just a few years ago, Harry Reid among them, are now saying, absolutely not. You've got some Republicans, notwithstanding Lindsey Graham and Chuck Hagel and others who come up with proposals, who are wanting to hang back because they're afraid of it. What do you say to Republicans who haven't gotten the message yet?
CHENEY: Well, I don't find it surprising that a number of people want to hold back and sort of wait and see what happens here. I served in the House of Representatives for 10 years and I have some understanding of the way it works. There are a lot members up there who are deeply committed to this process, who are standing up now. Today they're out holding town halls, talking to their folks, trying to raise the level of public understanding about these issues. So it would unfair to label the entire Congress, by any means, as holding back. A lot of them are actively and aggressively engaged in it.
Others, though, are concerned. It's a tough political issue. If this wasn't a tough issue it would have been solved a long time ago. What's changed is the president of the United States. George Bush ran both in 2000 and again in 2004 on the basis that we think the Social Security problem needs to be addressed, and if you elect us, we're going to address it. And we're doing it.
And I think eventually we'll see that the vast majority of Republicans will in fact be with us. I think most of them are today already. And I believe, frankly, that a number of Democrats will come around as well. I watched the other day and saw a memo James Carville wrote, a Democratic
campaign consultant of some note, basically saying the Democrats are making a huge mistake if they take the attitude that they're not going to engage in this debate or they don't have an answer or a plan.
If all they have is a position of, no, or maybe even, hell, no, I think they're going to get into big trouble. The fact of the matter is the American people, especially the younger generation, understand there is a problem of Social Security. We have not funded those promises that have been made and we need to do that. And we need to figure out a way to address those issues. And personal retirement accounts, they find attractive.
If the Democratic Party is associated with a posture which simply says, no, we don't want to talk about it, there's no problem, we won't let you talk about it, we'll filibuster any proposal on the floor of the Senate, I think that's a loser for them.