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CNN Paula Zahn Now - Transcript

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CNN Paula Zahn Now - Transcript


BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're counting down to President Bush's prime time news conference. One of his top tasks, to sell the American public on his plan to try to reform Social Security. Joining us now, from Capitol Hill, two key players in that debate: Iowa Republican Charles Grassley-he's the chairman of the Finance Committee-and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin.

Senators, thanks very much for joining us. Senator Grassley, the Finance Committee is known for collegiality, bipartisanship, working together. Do you see light at the end of the Social Security tunnel, a deal that your committee can work out that would be acceptable to the president and to the Democratic leadership?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY ®, FINANCE CMTE CHAIRMAN: Well, right now, Senator Baucus feels that he cannot sit down as long as personal accounts are on the table. I've invited him to. We have an amicable understanding that we'll go our separate ways. We seldom do that, and I'm going to work with the Republicans to see what we can get Republican agreement on. I'd have to do that anyway, so I'm in the process of doing that.

One thing that's very important is that this wouldn't be an issue before Congress except for fact that the president has raised it, so we need to thank the president for doing that. I'll end here by saying every 100 of the senators knows that we need to do something, and I hope we will come together and get something done, so that we save Social Security for our grandchildren.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Durbin, what about that?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Privatization of Social Security cannot be the answer, and the American people have told the president that, not just the Democrats and the Independents, but Republicans and young people, as well. It's a loser, and the president has taken it around this country for 60 days, and 60 cities, and I think he knows that. It's not a plan that is going to strengthen Social Security. It's going to lead to massive benefit cuts and the largest increase in the federal deficit in our nation's history, a debt that our kids are going to have to pay off. So, privatization, or personal accounts as Chuck calls them-they're just nonstarters.

BLITZER: As we look at the live pictures, Senator Grassley, from the East Room of the White House, the news conference will be beginning shortly. Can the president realistically-politically-abandon his plan for partial privatization, as it is called?

GRASSLEY: I don't think he has to at this point, at least. It's up to Congress to decide what we're going to pass, anyway. Don't put too much attention on the president. We all know that there needs to be a problem-there was just talk by Senator Durbin about benefit cuts leaving the impression that the only way you'd have benefit cuts is by personal accounts. There's going to be benefit cuts anyway, because we have over promised, by 10 to $12 trillion, what we can deliver for our children and grandchildren. Doing nothing is not an option because my grandchildren will get 70 percent of benefits, if we don't do something, because the cash flow at that date will only deliver 70 percent of benefits.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, the criticism against the Democrats is that they have not come up with a plan. They have not come up with a long-term solution to the Social Security problem. Is there a realistic plan that the Democrats have-are ready to put forward any time soon? DURBIN: Let me tell you, Wolf, I was here in 1983 when we came up with a bipartisan approach-sensible, common sense changes in Social Security that brought over 50 years of solvency. This president has made history. He's made history with the biggest deficits in the history of the United States. His economic policy led us there. And he's made history by calling for tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America in the midst of a war. Social Security and the trust fund would be a lot stronger today if this administration hadn't been reaching in for tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, Senator Grassley, thanks to both of you for spending a few moments with us as this news conference is about to get under way. Appreciate it very much.


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