Hot Stories for the Week of Dec. 13

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Dec. 18, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, HOST: Hot story, Juan, hard sell. That’s the hard sell for Social Security (search) reform begun by the White House. You know, it has a double meaning, you know, double entendre, you’ve heard that, big, big phrase, you know. It’s a hard sell because it’s going to be difficult to sell this program. It’s a hard sell because the White House and the administration are trying so hard.

President was out giving a speech, Karl Rove’s lobbying people in private, aides to the president are out there. I went through a breakfast with Dan Bartlett (search), the communications director. Even the head of the Congressional Budget Office is out saying things that help make the case for real Social Security reform.

Well, let’s start with President Bush. This is what he said at that two-day economic summit.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is one of my charges is to explain to Congress as clearly as I can the crisis is now. You may not feel it. Your constituents may not be overwhelming you with letters demanding a fix now. But the crisis is now. And so why don’t we work together to do so?

I also assure members of Congress that this is an issue on which I campaigned, and I’m still standing.


BARNES: He was pretty animated at that.


BARNES: It’s like he’s still campaigning. That’s the way he was in the late, in the latter stages of, of his reelection campaign.

Now, look, I think the conventional wisdom is wrong. You’ve heard it in Washington that it’s almost impossible to pass some radical Social Security reform program, and the president’s program is a little bit radical. But I think it’s effectively argued the president can win, private investment accounts taken out of Social Security, and a plan that would slow the growth of Social Security benefits and make it, make the whole program solvent.

I think Democrats have exactly the wrong response. Let me tell you what Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, and Harry Reid in the Senate said in a statement, "Social Security has been a resounding success. Benefits have been paid on time and in full every single month for almost 70 years. Social Security faces real challenges, but it is not in crisis."

I’ll tell you why this is exactly the wrong response, Juan. It’s because there’s one thing that people all over the country — focus groups, studies, polls — show, and that is that the American people believe that Social Security needs to be fixed, that the program is financially unstable, needs to be fixed now.

If Democrats are going to block Bush, they’re going to have to come up with a better argument.

WILLIAMS: Fred, when you’re talking about the polls, when you’re talking about the research on this, you know, there’s a generational divide. If you’re talking to senior citizens, if you’re talking to people over 50, for the most part, they say, “Leave Social Security alone,” it’s the backbone of the social safety net. It is the grand example of how America protects those in need.

But if you talk to the younger folks, younger folks who don’t believe Social Security is going to be there, guess what? They say, You know what? Go right ahead, get involved in fixing it.

According to the latest FOX News poll, for example, 55 percent of Americans say they would privately invest some of their Social Security money, given the choice. And that number gets as high as 71 percent, Fred, for the under-30 crowd.

Now just let me quickly add that Robert Matsui, (search) the Democrat from California, the congressman, who’s really the leading Democrat on this issue in Washington, says, you know, the problem with this is, the president doesn’t have a way to pay the additional funds that will come with allowing people to invest their money privately in the stock market, because that’ll take money away from the Social Security trust fund.

And if that’s the case, how are you going to make it up? The president hasn’t said a word.

BARNES: Well, it really doesn’t take money away, it just brings money that would be paid at a future date and brings it, and, and uses some of it now. Look, the president’s going to have a proposal. He’ll have to deal with that.

WILLIAMS: Let’s see it. All right.

The second hot story, homeland fiasco. Some of the most-mentioned names in the mix right now for homeland security director, Frances Townsend, the White House Homeland Security adviser. Also, Tom Ridge’s deputy at Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson. And former FEMA director, and, of course, Bush’s good buddy, Joe Albaugh. And a new name this week, I want you to hear this, L.A. police commissioner and former New York police commissioner Bill Bratton (search).

Now, this is all comes at a time since Bernie Kerik bowed out. But you know, Fred, you’re laughing because the White House is just in a frenzy. They’re trying so hard to find anyone to replace Bernie Kerik right now, before Christmas because they want to get Bernie Kerik off the stage. You know how they give people the hook at the Apollo when they’re bad comedians? They’re giving Bernie the hook because, boy, it’s just been scandal over sex and missed tax payments and all the rest for Bernie Kerik. And the White House realizes that they made the wrong decision by trusting George Bush’s friend Rudy Giuliani to recommend Kerik. They’re going to go back to the old idea, you get people who are close to the president, that you know well, and you know there’s no problem with.

BARNES: And remember the old Ronald Reagan saying, Trust but verify?


BARNES: The problem was, they trusted, but then didn’t verify.

And, and you know who bears some of the responsibility here? It’s President Bush himself. He’s been pushing his aides so hard to get these, I mean, to fill up the Cabinet as early as possible to get his new Cabinet in order, that they obviously didn’t properly vet Bernie Kerik. I mean, how did Newsweek magazine find out about an outstanding arrest warrant against Kerik in a civil case and the White House didn’t know? I mean, that’s pathetic.

One other thing. You know, you mentioned, you, and emphasized Bill Bratton, who’s the L.A. police chief. Now, he is probably the most respected police official in the country. I think it would be real coup for the White House to get him, I really do.

WILLIAMS: I think so too. But, you know what? I think a lot of people right now are even questioning whether or not Bernie Kerik had a real reason for pulling out, whether or not he told us the truth, because they’re not sure that nanny exists and maybe there’s more dirt.

BARNES: Well, we know there’s a lot more there, and newspapers are having a feast over this. And I don’t think they’re going to get it done by Christmas, I really don’t, it’ll be into next year, because they’re going to have to vet somebody so thoroughly they’ll go back to his diaper days.

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