MSNBC: Tim, the chairman of the Federal Reserve is usually above congressional criticism, but Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, D-NV, has some. What’s Sen. Reid’s problem with Alan Greenspan?
Tim Russert: It’s an indication of the level of rhetoric. Sen. Reid has voted against Alan Greenspan’s confirmation twice, so this is not new. But these words are an indication of the harshness that has developed between Democrats and Republicans on economic issues, like tax cuts, like the deficit like Social Security.
MSNBC: In his relationship with the Clinton White House, Greenspan was often seen as one of the cheerleaders of the economic reforms taken by Democrats to reduce the deficit and get back to the pay as you go basis. That’s quite a turnaround isn’t it?
Russert: Sen. Reid is saying that Alan Greenspan was critical of deficits during the Clinton administration, but the fact is, the other day when Mr. Greenspan said deficits had to be dealt with and it may take not only spending cuts, but dealing with taxes – suggesting that perhaps that tax cuts not be made permanent in all areas, Republicans were upset.
MSNBC: Does this have anything to do with the fact that Republicans are trying to champion an issue that was long a Democratic issue – Social Security?
Russert: Absolutely. Franklin Roosevelt will be remembered forever for bringing Social Security to America. George W. Bush would like to be remembered for bringing private accounts or personal accounts to America – the thinking being the new generation of Americans are much more open to that idea and perhaps more open to the Republican Party if the GOP implemented that idea.
MSNBC: We seem to be discussing big ticket items these days -- not just reform of Social Security, but as Greenspan discussed, perhaps the entire tax system. But won’t most politicians be reluctant to latch onto that?
Russert: Rep. Bill Thomas, R-CA, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee would like to have this big fix, almost “the big bang theory” –- do it all: Medicare, Social Security, Value Added Tax.
I think that’s going to be pretty tough.
Greenspan said you can have a mix of income tax and value tax, but we’re finding just trying to do Social Security alone is creating great havoc within both parties.
MSNBC: There have been a lot of polls recently showing a very sharp division on Social Security reform – people under 55, a pretty good-sized group, are kind of for reform and people over 55, also a pretty good-sized group, are against it. What are the 55 and older afraid of in reform?
Russert: They are just panicked that this system, the insurance system they paid into all their lives, may, in fact, go away – despite how many times they’re told not to worry about it. They also think the current system is a pretty good idea. They saw their parents and their grandparents taken care of, and think, “Why disrupt a good thing.”
Younger voters, however, are suspicious that it won’t be there.
And, frankly, the Republican strategy is, just as Franklin Roosevelt locked in a whole generation of older Americans for the Democratic Party, if they can do personal accounts or private accounts, younger Americans can say, “This is George W. Bush and the Republicans. Maybe I should take a look at that party.”
MSNBC: This morning we see a Virginia man, trying to pay for his cancer treatment, is offering to sell a flag he has that flew outside the Pentagon when terrorists crashed a plane into on 9/11. Does it seem like no one is discussing one of the biggest problems in America any longer - health care?
Russert: And it’s going to get worse, because with the cutbacks in Medicaid, states all across the country are going to have to absorb people onto their own particular state systems or raise state taxes. There’s no doubt that the aging of America, because we’re living longer and getting more high-tech health care treatment is going to be an enormously expensive and we need to find a way to pay for it.
MSNBC: Yet, at a time when America needs to find real solutions, does it seems the political resource is so bad that few are willing to talk beyond the rhetoric and we don’t make much progress?
Russert: How did we ever build our national highway system, put a man on the moon, create our national education system, Social Security, and Medicare? By people of both political parties and all ideologies, sitting down at the table, closing the door and working things out.
MSNBC: Who will we see Sunday on Meet the Press?
Russert: We’ll talk about these very issues with Republican Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. We’ll focus Social Security, taxes, Iraq and more with the Democratic and the Republican whips at the table. Maybe we can hammer out an agreement Sunday morning on Meet the Press!