Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC: Tim, President Bush hasn't held a huge number of primetime news conferences during the course of his administration.  Strategically and politically, what was the president’s primetime news conference really all about?

Russert: The president’s favorable ratings are in the mid-40’s -– the lowest of his presidency.  He needs to jumpstart his second term and it’s a complicated deal.  People are really upset by these gas prices as they prepare for their summer vacations with their minivans and station wagons.  There’s no real end in sight as China is really sucking up a lot of the world’s oil in their development as a nation.  And as long as America is dependent on foreign oil, we’re in a tough fix.

On Social Security, the president did do something that I think you’re going to be hearing about in the following weeks and months.  He basically said, for the next two generations, people who make $25,000 and less will receive the scheduled benefits that are under the current system, but about 3/4ths of the American people will have a reduction.  And he’s opting to do that rather than increase the payroll tax or other taxes.

This is going to be a big issue, a big debate a big discussion. It’s going to take a bipartisan solution.  But right now, the atmosphere is so poisonous I don’t know how we get there.

MSNBC:  Did he make any progress?

Video: Social Security proposal Russert:  Well, we’ll find out in the coming days and months. What he laid out Thursday night with Social Security will be very controversial. The simple fact is the system is going to be overwhelmed by the number of retirees.

What happened with Social Security is actually quite significant, because the president said he would be for a sliding scale or indexing – which means that about 75 percent of Americans who are going to retire in the next two generations would have reductions of anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the scheduled benefits under the current plan.

Now, something has to be done, because we need solvency in the system, but I think the Democrats and conservative Republicans are going to go wild on that proposal.

MSNBC:  In 60 days Mr. Bush has been shopping his Social Security plan, he doesn’t seem to have garnered much support.  Could that be partly because people don’t see an urgency in solving a problem that might not occur until the year 2041?

Russert:  That’s the problem.  If you solve it now, it’s a cavity. If you wait until then, it’s a root canal or an extraction.

But it’s real and the difficulty is this: the Democrats feel dissed.  They don’t feel the president has reached out and cooperated – he’s fought them on judicial nominations, fought them on tax cuts and now he’s extending the olive branch, saying, “Why can’t we work together.”  The atmosphere is so poisonous, it’s going to be very difficult to get people to sit down and work out a compromise, even though, privately, both parties admit something must be done.

MSNBC:  One of Mr. Bush’s key components during his 60-day Social Security blitz is voluntary personal savings accounts.  He reiterated that Thursday night, saying “It's got to be a part of the comprehensive package.”  But Democrats are united in their opposition that.  Where do they go from here?

Russert:  This has been the lead item the president put forward on Social Security for several months. It's not going to happen the way he proposed it. In fact, he’d be willing to settle for a compromise which would be “Social Security Plus” -- investment outside of Social Security or perhaps a model program, an experimental program. The simple fact is, if the president says that these private personal accounts must actually be part of Social Security, he will not have any Democratic support.

MSNBC:  We’ve had experience going down this Social Security road before, with the Moynihan commission.  We had the 9/11 Commission when we realized politics could get in the way of coming up with option and recommendations for the America’s best choices in the future.  Why hasn’t a bipartisan commission been created to come up with the ideas, rather than travel around the countries for 60 days?

Russert:  They’ve had three commissions.  Everyone knows what the options are.  The difference is, in the early 80s, it was Democrat Pay Moynihan and Republican Bob Dole.  They basically locked arms, like Thelma and Louise, and went off the bridge together, saying, “Look, we have to do this to fix the system.”

The climate was so much different, you could actually appeal to people’s good will and say, “This is tough medicine, but we have to do it.”

So, now with Social Security, we have to either increase taxes or reduce benefits. We have to do it in a way that is understandable and acceptable to people.  It’s a huge education effort that has to be bipartisan. That doesn’t exist.

MSNBC:  The president has been facing opposition and threats of a filibuster when it comes to his judicial nominees, yet Thursday night he seemed to criticize members of his own party for saying Democrats waging filibusters are people against faith.  How significant was that statement?

Russert: It's significant because last Sunday Christian conservatives gathered and said just that: Democrats were blocking judicial nominees because of their faith. The president separated himself from some of his strongest supporters.

Now, Democrats will say this is the president's pattern – he’ll let the Christian conservatives take the hard line and do the politics, if you will, and he will be able to stand on the side and say, “I wouldn’t quite say it that way.” Bottom line however is, he did separate himself from people who suggested these nominees were being blocked because of their faith.

MSNBC: What about the energy policy? Did he offer any relief at the pump for people who are dealing with soaring gasoline prices?

Russert: The White House believes this is the real damaging sleeper issue which is causing the president's poll numbers to go down dramatically. People are spending $50-60 to fill up their minivans and their station wagons and their cars and there is no fix in sight.

You can do some long-term planning. The president had a plan and the Democrats will have alternatives. But the simple fact is, a long as we are hostage to foreign oil, these prices will remain very high because of the demand that China is making. It's supply and demand. Right now there is a scarcity.

MSNBC: We have an energy problem, Medicare, Social Security and the deficit concerns.  You look at all the problems America has and we have lots of arguments.  But why don’t we seem to make very much progress in resolving those issues?

Russert: It’s what I hear all across the country:  “Why can’t people sit down and work these things out together?”

But it seems as if there’s a lack of willingness to be open and treat the American people as grownups, saying, “This is the problem, let us define it for you and these are the alternative solutions.  Which one do you think works?”

There’s no quick-fix here.  There’s nothing that’s easy. There’s nothing that’s free.  This is a complicated business governing some 280 million people.

MSNBC:  Who will we see on Meet the Press Sunday morning?

Russert:  We’re going to tackle these issues with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and lay out the president’s plan.  Then we’ll have congressional reaction with Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Dodd and Virginia’s Republican Senator George Allen, who wants to run for president.  We’re going to put it on the table.  What are we going to do?  How can we get it fixed?  Can we work together?  Then we have North Korea problem.  It appears the North Koreans now have the capability of miniaturizing a nuclear bomb, putting it on a missile and reach our shores.  These are not easy problems.


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