Will Democrats Back Bush on Social Security?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 2, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress felt so strongly that people ought to be able to own and manage their own accounts, they set one for themselves.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: Wow, President Bush pushing for his Social Security (search) reform plan. Last night, he offered a new proposal, progressive indexing, which would favor low-income workers.

I'm joined to discuss this now by Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel and former Republican Congressman Rick Lazio.

Today's big question: First to you, Congressman Rangel, will Democrats work with the president to reform Social Security?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL, D-N.Y.: When you say former Republican, Lazio, you mean he has become a Democrat, right?

NAPOLITANO: No, he is still a Republican.



FORMER REP. RICK LAZIO, R-N.Y.: Charlie, easy now.


NAPOLITANO: See, he is picking on you already.


LAZIO: Only because he's a buddy.

RANGEL: First of all, it doesn't take any leadership to say that we have a problem with Social Security. What the president has to do is put some fingerprints on something and give it to the Congress and allow to us work on that.

Talking about exempting low-income people from cutting of benefits and then say — low income to him is $20,000. We have the charts, $20,000, $30,000. What we need is a bipartisan approach to this problem. And the president is just running around beating up on the Congress.

NAPOLITANO: Rick, aren't you surprised? When the president says he wants to cut benefits for the rich and increase benefits for the poor, that should be right up the Democrats' alley, shouldn't it?

LAZIO: You would think so. I mean, the concept of progressive indexing really came from a Democrat, Bob Pozen (search), a professor, formerly a professor at Harvard, who was talking about the concept of limiting the growth of benefits. This is not a cut in benefits. This is limiting an increase in benefits for people at the very high end, the wealthier Americans who can shoulder the burden, so that we can save Social Security. And the president is doing exactly what great presidents do.

He raises tough issues. He challenges Congress and the American people to take on tough issues and to overcome that obstacle, move the political ball and make life better for people. I mean, the sense of retirement security for seniors is not something that George Bush made. This is a demographic problem. We had 16 or 17 people in the work force paying into Social Security for every one retiree drawing out. Now we have three. We're going soon to two people paying into the system for every one retiree.


LAZIO: During my lifetime, the amount of Americans over 65 is going to double. We need to prepare for that.

NAPOLITANO: All right.

You know, you talk about leadership, Congressman Rangel. A couple of years ago, nobody would touch the third rail of American politics, Social Security. George W. Bush has had the courage and leadership to raise the issue, to talk about cutting benefits to the rich and helping the poor. Shouldn't everybody be behind that?

RANGEL: Judge, if I came into your court and pointed out a very serious problem, the first thing you would ask is, "Well, what relief are you seeking? What is it that you want someone to do?"

To be able to say that we have a serious problem, you don't have to be a president. You call it a third rail because it is a serious problem.

NAPOLITANO: Before George W. Bush, nobody would talk about it. He has raised the issue that it's going to go bankrupt.


NAPOLITANO: And we need to reform it now.

RANGEL: Listen, you talked about the war. He attacks the wrong country. You talk about the deficit. He doesn't come up with anything. You want to talk about the soaring costs of health care? It takes more than recognizing there's a problem. If that's leadership, I could be an international leader. We have got problems in North Korea. We have got problems in the Persian Gulf.

NAPOLITANO: Well, we are talking about Social Security.


RANGEL: Well, why doesn't he come up with a program and give it to the Congress?

NAPOLITANO: Congressman Lazio, hasn't he come up with a program in which people have the right to choose to invest their own Social Security payments as they see fit or the right to have the government invest it for them?

LAZIO: It seems to me the president is the only person who is actually offering a constructive solution right now. He is talking about personal savings accounts as part of the solution to allow younger people to get a higher return. They can get the money out of the hands of the political class.

They can pre-fund retirement. He is talking now about progressive indexing that will protect lower-income Americans. Higher-income Americans will be able to get a little less benefit than they would otherwise get and we're able to save the program.

Sometime after 2018 — which is short of 15 years from now — we're going to start paying out every single year, because the account is out of balance, to the tune of about $5 trillion. Where is that money going to come from?


LAZIO: The president has a solution and it seems like, if you're going to challenge that and say you're not for it, tell us what you are for.

NAPOLITANO: What have the Democrats proposed?

RANGEL: Rick, let's make it clear. The president — I met with him twice on this issue — and he says, don't knock the plan until I come and bring it to the Congress. Keep your powder dry.

He goes around the country, 60 cities in 60 days. He comes back and says, "Guess what? I may be down in the polls, but they now know there's a problem." That's no answer.

NAPOLITANO: All right, well, we are not going to settle this tonight. But we will get back at it.

Congressman Charlie Rangel, former Congressman and still Republican Rick Lazio, thank you very much.


LAZIO: Great to be on.

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