CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports - Transcripts
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BLITZER: More now on our top story. President Bush's news conference scheduled to begin less than three hours from now, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when it will begin exactly.
Joining us now from Capitol Hill to talk about what we can expect, Senator Norm Coleman. He's a Republican of Minnesota. Senator Joe Biden; he's a Democrat of Delaware. They're both key members of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Let's talk about Social Security, first of all. Senator Biden, is there any wiggle room, as far as you're concerned, as far as the president's private accounts, retirement accounts, are concerned? Will you be willing to have an open mind and hear what the president has to say tonight?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Oh, I always listen to the president. I can't imagine how the private accounts can deal with the solvency of the Social Security system, which I think is the urgent need he talks about. But, look, I always listen to the president.
BLITZER: What about you, Senator Coleman? What about the issue of private accounts? It doesn't seem like the American public is all that enthusiastic about it, given the public opinion polls.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: Actually, Joe-actually, I think, Wolf, what you'll see is that the president could cite, if he wanted to, public opinion showing that the public is, I think, warming to the idea of individuals having personal accounts and being able to have a nest egg. I think the president has done a good job of letting the public know Social Security has problems. There's no question about it. My friends on the other side of the aisle haven't offered anything, haven't put anything on the table. I hope the president stays with personal accounts, and then dispels some of the myths, by the way, the myths that somehow those who receive disability payments through Social Security will be harmed by whatever the president does. That's simply not true.
BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt for a second, Senator Coleman. What do you say to Senator Biden and a lot of other Democrats, and some Republicans, who say the private account debate doesn't even get close to resolving the key issue, which is solvency, because that's going to cost a lot of money, at least in the short term.
COLEMAN: I think two things, Joe. One, private accounts are a piece-they're certainly not the solution-but they're an important piece, an important piece for young folks who are putting into a system that they don't even believe they're going to get anything out of. And then I agree with my friend, Senator Biden, that we have to go beyond that. We have to look at how do we calculate rate increases? One of the things we can do is to go beyond that. But don't discount personal accounts as a piece of the puzzle, people getting more back on their return, and therefore withdrawing less from Social Security.
BLITZER: All right, Senator Biden, you want to respond to that?
BIDEN: Yeah, discount personal accounts. I am going to be no party to, nor will the Senate be in my view, of making the American elderly poor again. And the fact of the matter is, the fact is, that if you're going to go with private accounts, as the president is talking about, it's going to cost at least $1 trillion, $2 trillion over 10 years. The money's got to come from somewhere, and it's going to do nothing, nothing, nothing to positively affect solvency.
If you want to help private savings for young people, let's talk about private accounts on top of Social Security, instead of in place of Social Security or in place of part of Social Security.
But I'll be no party to anything that moves American seniors back into poverty, and that's what would happen.
BLITZER: Senator Coleman, what about that? A lot of Democrats, Senator Kennedy, now Senator Biden, many Democrats have said, you want to talk about private accounts, do it but outside the framework of Social Security.
COLEMAN: Joe, many of us have those options already. We have 401(k)s. Everybody who is a federal employee has (INAUDIBLE). We got a lot of that. But the bottom line, each and every American deserves to have a nest egg. They don't deserve, if you're 20 something years old, to be investing in something that's taking 12 percent of your salary and generating a 1.5 percent return.
There's nothing the president is putting on the table that's going to put America's poor in poverty, just the contrary. We have a $15 -- $10 to $15 trillion unfunded liability from Social Security, and when Baby Boomers like me and the good senator from Delaware start hitting the market a couple of years from now, we're going to start taking out more than we've put in. And so we have to act now. We can't wait forever to deal with this.
BLITZER: All right, Senator Biden, you're shaking your head. Go ahead.
BIDEN: Are you going to trust the government less than-are you going to trust Wall Street more than you trust the government? Look, there are notes that are out there. Everybody says they don't mean anything. The federal government has never once reneged on an obligation in our entire history. If we reneged on the commitment, those notes that are being held that everybody says don't mean anything, that make the system solvent for a long time to come, if we renege on them, our entire credit worldwide would plummet. They're the same kinds of Treasury bills that are owned by-Japan owns almost $1 trillion worth, 600 and some billion. China owns 138 billion. Europeans own tens of billions. This is-this is appealing to the cynicism of the American people.
BLITZER: All right, Senator. Senator Coleman, I'll let you respond to that and then we'll move on.
COLEMAN: Senator Biden is appealing to the fear of American people. The bottom line is, as we pay off these notes, we're going to have to be putting into tens of hundreds of millions-ultimately, billions by the way-tens of billions of dollars to pay off these notes into the general fund. The reality is more of us are growing old, the Baby Boomers are hitting the point where we're pulling more out than we put on.
And my friends on the other side have offered nothing, nothing but fear. And in the end, the president's shown the courage to move forward. I think Americans understand that. And we've got to solve this, not just talk about the fears and what will happen, what are the negatives that will occur?
BIDEN: Let's solve Medicare that's a crisis now, not Social Security that's a crisis in 2050.
BLITZER: Senator Biden, what about this proposal from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, let 100 hours of debate on judicial nominees take place on the Senate floor and forget about the filibuster. Is 100 hour enough for you?
BIDEN: Look, it's not about 100 hours, it's about whether or not we're going to rewrite the Constitution, make the Congress-make the Senate the House, turn the president into a prime minister and us a parliament.
The fact of the matter is, imagine what this rule would have meant when Roosevelt was trying to pack the courts back in the '30s. Do you think there's any possibility it would have been stopped? Does anybody believe that? Does anybody-when are we going to start to read history?
Up until the year 1947, there wasn't even a three-fifths ability to cut off debate in the Senate, you needed unanimous consent. 1917, we came around and said, look, with legislation, you should be able to cut off debate if you get a three-fifths vote. They said, how about doing that for the courts? And the United States Senate and constitutional scholars said no, bad idea.
BLITZER: Senator Coleman, go ahead.
COLEMAN: In 1997, it was Joe Biden who said that everyone ought to have a vote. They ought to have a vote in committee and they ought to have a vote on the floor. BIDEN: That's not true.
COLEMAN: That's absolutely true. That's a quote from Joe Biden in 1997. And the fact is before last year we didn't filibuster judges in the United States Senate. We didn't filibuster Circuit Court judges. In 1995, the last time there was an opportunity to vote on the filibuster, it was 19 Democrats to who voted to end the filibuster. And so the reality is history was changed this year, Wolf. That's a reality.
BIDEN: May I respond to that?
COLEMAN: History was changed last year. And we cannot let that change continue.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator Biden.
BIDEN; May I respond to that?
The vote he's talking about with regard to me was, we-with a colleague, a nominee passed out 14-2. There were well over 60 senators in the United States Senate ready to vote for that nominee, ultimately over 80 did vote for the nominee. And because one man didn't want it to even get to the floor of the Senate-I said they're entitled to get out of the committee and have a vote, the vote being a vote on a filibuster. That was the vote I was referring to. That's the fact.
Number two, in 1968, remember Abe Fortas was stopped by a filibuster, by a leading Republican friend of mine, Bob Griffin, who happened to be the senator from the state of Michigan. There are a total of 24 Supreme Court justices in the United States of America who were denied their chance in the court, 14 of them never got a vote in the United States Senate. I respectfully suggest my friend read a little history.
COLEMAN: And the history is they were never denied a vote after they got through a committee. And the history is...
BIDEN: That's not true.
COLEMAN: Abe Fortas had a majority of votes who would have voted against, because Bob Griffin said so. That was not a partisan filibuster, Joe, that was a bipartisan effort to block that judge. But ever judge...
BIDEN: Filibuster. You used the word, filibuster.
COLEMAN: ...but every judge that had the majority in the United State Senate, when they got through committee had a vote until you changed it last year.
BIDEN: That's not true.
BLITZER: All right. We only have a few seconds left. And I want both of you to respond to this basic question, Senator Biden. First to you. What's the most important thing you'd like to hear from the president tonight?
BIDEN: Oh, I never presume to suggest what I want to hear from this president.
BLITZER: All right. What about you, Senator Coleman?
COLEMAN: Two things. One, I hope he talks about an energy bill because we have to get that through. And then I hope he talks about he's committed to moving Social Security forward, to fixing the problem that's going to hit all of us in the not too distant future.
BLITZER: One thing I think you both will agree on, I'm sure you're not happy about some of the new members of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, including Zimbabwe. What's going on at the U.N., Senator Biden?
BIDEN: Same thing that always has.
BLITZER: All right. I'll leave it at that.
COLEMAN: And let me respond. The Zimbabwe vote is a strong statement, affirmation of why John Bolton should be affirmed-confirmed as the United States ambassador to the United Nations. We need someone who's blunt, who understands the need for reform. The U.N. is in desperate need of reform. What happened yesterday just further demonstrates it.
BLITZER: Will he be confirmed, Senator Biden?
BIDEN: I don't know. But we need someone who can be trusted at the U.N. that he, in fact, when he speaks, the world thinks that he is speaking from facts. This next U.N. ambassador is going to almost probably in this next term have to make a case before the United Nations with regard to North Korea and with regard to Iran and with regard to their efforts to deal with weapons of mass destruction.
To send a man who has pushed the envelope on the facts on that-and has, in fact, when analysts from the agencies who disagree with him, sought to have their portfolio changed-that's a code word for saying, have them taken off the case-is not the man we should be sending to the U.N.
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it there. Senator Biden, always good to speak with you. Senator Coleman, same as well. Appreciate you both joining us.
BIDEN: Thank you very much.
COLEMAN: Thank you.
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