Bush plays it smart on Social Security

MSNBC: Tim, it’s starting to sound like Mr. Bush is going to have to spend a lot more of his political capital to get anyone to budge on Social Security. He’s got a lot of Republicans to win over, as well as a lot of Democrats.

Russert: He sure does. The Democrats are really divided. Forty-four of them sent a letter to the president saying there’s no way that they’re going to go for private accounts. You only need 40 to filibuster an idea like that. But there are at least six or seven Republicans that have expressed concern.

The one thing that everyone agrees on is that private accounts will not, in any way, stop the financial drain on Social Security. In fact, it may even add to it.

So, the president is going to have to put together a package far beyond private accounts.

We are going to double the number of people on Social Security. People are living longer. Something must be done. But to find a compromise or common ground is going to be very, very difficult.

MSNBC:  It seems as if, politically, he’s purposely avoiding providing specifics for a fix, so opponents can’t demagogue any one particular plan.

Russert:  Yeah, I thought it was quite clever when, in his State of the Union message, he said Bill Clinton said retirement age and Pat Moynihan said cost of living increases and Congressmen Tim Petty said this and Senator John Breaux said that – all four Democrats, saying that everything is on the table.  Everything is going to have to be on the table if you’re going to achieve any compromise. 

The one thing everyone agrees is that if you’re 55 or over, you’re fully protected under the current plan.

It’s just demographics.  There’s just going to be too many people retiring and something’s going to have to be done.  If it’s not private accounts and other things, then there has to be an alternative or you can wait until 2042 and have a crisis.

MSNBC: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on her first International trip as Secretary of State, said a military attack of Iran is not now on the agenda of the United States, adding the U.S. has diplomatic ways to deal with the situation. It seems Americans are worried that the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has U.S. forces stretched thinned, but the rest of the world is still worried about America starting a new military action.

Russert: Some have tried to interpret President George W. Bush’s remarks to that end.

The way I heard the president and Dr. Rice’s comments, it seems to me they are trying to delay Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear program as much as they can and hope that there’s a popular uprising in Iran.

Whether or not that will occur is anyone’s guess. It does not appear any military action is imminent. We’re not even sure that any military action is possible, because where is the stuff hidden?

I recall Vice President Dick Cheney’s comment a few weeks ago that maybe the U.S. will be patient, but who knows if the Israelis will be. Kind of the “good cop-bad cop” approach.

MSNBC: Does this signal any kind of change of approach from the Department of State?

Russert: It is interesting, because the president, in his State of the Union message, said America will be working with its European allies. Dr. Rice said America will not participate directly in the negotiations between the Europeans and Iran.

I think the United States is trying to maintain some sort of distance, so that in the end they can make a judgment as to whether they think the accord reached by the Europeans and Iran suits America’s needs.

MSNBC: How is “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice” received by the rest of the world?

Russert: Well, she’s received as respected because people are very much aware of her close relationship to the president, and to world leaders they have a sense that when they talk to her, they are, in effect, talking to the president of the United States. And that can always be helpful in terms of delivering a message.

MSNBC: Are the British, French and German talks with Iran sort of a surrogate for the United States?

Russert: It had been thought so and the president seemed to suggest that he was supportive of those talks, but Dr. Rice is now saying to let them go forward and the U.S. is not going to participate in them.

I think America’s trying to keep the Iranians off balance.  And then, every other week it seems, the president is saying, “If you rise up, we will stand by you.”

Half the population of Iran is under the age of 25. There’s a widespread feeling there’s a frustration with the religious theocracy. But whether or not it has the wherewithal to actually overthrow the ayatollahs is a much different issue.

MSNBC: Who will we see on Meet the Press the weekend?

Russert: We’ll talk about Iran and Iraq and the war that is going on with the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

And then we’ll get a Democratic response from the liberal lion of the United States Senate, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Donald Rumsfeld and Ted Kennedy on Meet the Press – two very different views.