Beyond the Beltway: Selling Social Security

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", March 19, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: President Bush and Congress take another crack at selling Social Security (search) as we go Beyond the Beltway.

President, the president went back on the road this week to sell his vision for Social Security reform, including personal accounts. Congress is on Easter break, and members of the Congress will make their pitches too.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Did you notice who was there with him?


BARNES: His mother trying to reassure seniors that they will be held harmless in any Social Security reform.

Now, I think we are getting near, in the Social Security debate, which is going to go on most of this year, but I think we’re getting near the tipping point, not there yet, but getting near it, where reform will become not inevitable, but expected, in other words, the momentum will be in favor of reform, which it has not been in the last couple of months.

One, everyone agrees now, the public, even, even the Senate voted 100 to nothing to say there really is a problem here with Social Security, and we have to do something about it, particularly because it’ll become insolvent.

Personal retirement accounts that the president favors are actually popular, if people are explained, very simply, what they were. Look at this, what they are, look at this Gallup poll. It was taken just last week, and it shows 58 percent would favor personal accounts.

And, you know, the question, look at the question; Do you approve investing some of your Social Security contributions to the stock market? Fifty-eight percent say yes.

Lastly, well, not lastly, but two other things. Bush only has a couple of things that he is really requiring, one, these accounts, and two, you don’t raise the tax rate, which is 12.4 percent, on people’s income for the payroll tax.

And lastly, you and I both have talked to Bill Thomas (search), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee (search), who probably understands this issue better than anybody else, and he says, of course, that it won’t be hard to get a reform bill through the House. But he wants to craft a bill that will meet the president’s requirements, and get 60 votes in the Senate.

Now, that’s not going to be easy, but if anybody can do it, Bill Thomas can do it.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, the president has a ways to go yet. In another, in another poll, when asked, Do you approve of the way Bush is handling Social Security, which covers the whole thing, only 35 percent say yes, and 56 percent say no.

BARNES: Yes, but I’m, I’m not in favor of the way he handled it.

KONDRACKE: No, OK, now, the plan is part of that.

BARNES: He doesn’t have a plan.

KONDRACKE: But wait a minute, just a second. The polls go down when you, when you say, when you say to people, It’s going to cost a lot of money to go to personal accounts, and it’s, and your benefits are going to have to get cut.


KONDRACKE: Also, see, what he’s doing now is reassuring seniors they’re not included in this. Then he’s going to show younger workers how much more money you could make with private accounts than on ordinary Social Security.

The next step has got to be to reassure people, and get Democratic votes by saying, We are going to progressively index the cutbacks.

BARNES: OK, well, we’ll see. Democrats have a theological objection to Social Security reform. Let’s see if they can get over that, Mort.

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