This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," March 17, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The president of the United States has not given us his full plan. But what we do know about some of its provisions, slash benefits and bankrupt the Social Security Trust Fund (search), then why should we put a plan in? We will go — our plan is to stop him from — stop him. He must be stopped.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: If President Bush's effort to reform the Social Security program has done nothing else, it seems to have succeeded in uniting the Democratic Party in a drive to, as you just heard leader Pelosi say, "stop him." Which puts more pressure on him to shepherd the matter through the House of Representatives.
He is Republican Bill Thomas of California, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who joins me here now.
Mr. chairman, Welcome.
REP. BILL THOMAS (R-CA) HOUSE WAYS & MEANS CMTE.: Nice to be here.
HUME: I, from reading the papers — I don't only read the papers, but if all I did was read the papers in this town, I would conclude the president's plan is in deepest kind of trouble, all but dead. What do you say to that?
THOMAS: Well, you ought to get outside of Washington. The president has been. We're going to go out during this break and continue to talk to America. I'm going to be doing an event with the vice president, as other members are going to be doing other things around the country.
First of all, you have to give the president complete, complete positive thank you for putting this in front of the American people. I just find it a little ironic that somehow, as the president, he's supposed to be a legislator and create a complete plan, for which they can then deal with, as you heard minority leader Pelosi.
HUME: Well, you have to do that.
THOMAS: I have to do that.
HUME: How difficult is this job going to be for you now? I mean are you in a situation now where you believe that you can, at a minimum, pass something out of the House?
THOMAS: Well, I mean it doesn't do much good to at a minimum pass something out of the House because it's Social Security. And you need 60 votes in the Senate to make a permanent change and to change Social Security.
So really, your goal, if you're going to make law, and there's no reason to start if you're not going to have making law as your goal, Brit, is to figure out a way that you can get a bill through the House. And with 60 votes, through the Senate to get the conference to be able to solve the problem that we have with Social Security.
HUME: Do you believe you can craft something that will get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate?
THOMAS: That's our job. And time will tell. But what I said from the beginning, if you paid much attention, is that Social Security is the problem. But frankly, retirement is the problem in an aging society. And Social Security is one of those things we devised early on to help people in retirement.
But the demographics of the country have changed significantly since the time that Social Security has started. It was an old pyramid, where there were more people at the bottom than there were at the top. You can have a pay as you go system with a pyramid. We now look like a tabletop with a column underneath it. Pay as you go doesn't work. The president is absolutely right...
HUME: Because there are too few people working and paying in, and too many people collecting. Correct?
THOMAS: If you leave the system the way it is.
THOMAS: It has to change. How it changes — first of all, to address some of the inequities in the system. How you deal with the current shortfall in funding; because frankly, previous Congress has over promised with the current system can deliver. You have to examine the current system and examine what was promised.
HUME: Now, you keep talking about broadening this to cover other retirement programs. That would presumably include Medicare and what else?
THOMAS: No. No. No. Medicare is a separate acute care, and we've dealt with that initially.
HUME: OK. Then what else would it include?
THOMAS: Pensions. No longer do you work at a job 20 years, 30 years, get a gold watch with a defined benefit retirement. More and more, it's gone to defined contribution, where people get money, 401k's is a familiar term. And you can work five or six or seven jobs, but you need to consolidate that into a pension unique to yourself. But each person could have one.
HUME: But why — would trying to address that question add to your headaches or make it easier for you to build something that might get 60 votes in the Senate?
THOMAS: You're going to have to address it any. Why not show that retirement in today's world, and especially for the baby-boomers in tomorrow, will require a number of features: individual support, putting money away to get value over time. And if we're going to look at Social Security, that's the way to get more money in the Social Security system as well.
So the president's personal accounts fit exactly what young people are looking at for their retirement. Also, chronic and long-term care, which, as you grow older...
HUME: Medical care.
THOMAS: ... is a greater cost, can be taken care of by the time value of money. That is putting money away to take care of a problem that will occur later. So there are a whole series of things that need to be addressed by the Congress that could be put together around Social Security, and create a retirement package while you fix Social Security.
HUME: So you're talking about a kind of omnibus retirement reform measure.
THOMAS: I think when you talk about it that way it isn't this trench warfare over personal accounts on Social Security. Frankly, if that's all we did to try address: retirement and the baby-boomers, we will have completely missed the points. This society has changed. The support structures for retirement need to be addressed and changed as well.
HUME: All right. All of that makes sense, and anybody on Wall Street would say he's right. All these things do need to be addressed. Does addressing them all at one time — normally members Congress look at an issue and they say boy, we don't want to bite off too much here. These are controversial, difficult matters. The more we try to take on, the more of an uphill fight it becomes.
You seem to be suggesting otherwise. Why?
THOMAS: Well, some people would say I've made a career out of taking difficult problems and making them impossible.
HUME: Well, they're right. Well, why is this not the case here?
THOMAS: Well, you have only one issue, and one half says yes and the other half says no, you can't accomplish anything. But if you put a number of pieces together that appear to be attractive by themselves. But don't have enough juice, as we say, to get through. You might be able to put a package on the broad-based retirement dealing with chronic and long-term care, dealing with pensions, dealing with, in fact, the investment of those dollars.
So that you can have an assurance that there be a return on that investment. and let it build up tax-free and deal with Social Security. Now there are a number of people who are looking at various components saying you know, I may not like some of this, but I like some of it.
HUME: So, in other words, you build — instead of building opposition, you're building support.
THOMAS: That's what you're supposed to do if you want to make law.
HUME: Understood. Thank you, sir. Great to have you.
THOMAS: Thank you.
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