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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Live-blogging the President's press conference 

I'll be live-blogging the President's news conference here, updating with numbered posts. While we're waiting, take a look at today's Note, which tells us what Mark Helperin, at least, thinks we should be alert for.

1. He is focusing on high gasoline prices. "We must address the root causes that drive up gas prices." Our energy consumption is growing 40X faster than production. We must take four key steps. First, use technology to become conservors of technology. Second, exploit existing alternative energies. Third, develop new alternatives. Fourth, encourage the big foreign consumers to use new technologies to burn less.

This last point I have not heard discussed at any point. Interesting -- what would it entail? Is it serious?

Next he moves to Social Security. "The math has changed. A generation of baby boomers is getting ready to retire. I happen to be one of them." No chuckle, even though there should have been.... The press is probably loaded for bear on this issue.

2. "All Americans born before 1950 will get their full benefits." We have a responsibility to improve Social Security by helping those most in need, and by making it a better deal for younger workers. We must focus on three goals. Keep the promise to future retirees. Benefits should be equal to or better than the current deal. Second, make it progressive! We want to give more generous benefits for low income employees. Holy triangulation! It is going to be interesting to watch the Democrats fight this one.

Third, any reform must replace the empty promises being made to younger workers with "real assets." Voluntary personal retirement accounts are the answer, because they will generate a higher rate of return. The money would supplement the check on receives from Social Security. They would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. One investment option would be entirely of Treasury bonds (how does this solve the problem? -- maybe it doesn't, but it is the bait that gets others into private sector investments).

"I'm willing to listen to any good idea from either party."

3. Terence Hunt, AP: Are you frustrated because a majority of Americans don't agree with your approach on Social Security and energy?

Bush: I'm not surprised that people do not want to face these tough problems that we have blown off for twenty years. But I have a duty as President to define the problems and propose solutions. I think Bush is pretty loose, and pretty effective in this. Yet another invitation to the Democrats to propose ideas -- he clearly is trying to define the Demos as not willing to do anything other than obstruct.

"The longer we wait, the more expensive the solution will be for the younger generation of Americans." He is hammering away at the young.

Steve Holland, Reuters: Why haven't we been more successful in limiting the violence in Iraq?

Bush: Still some in Iraq who are not happy with democracy. But we are making progress - "the Iraqi people saw a government formed today." But Iraq has hard-nosed killers. "A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East is an important part of spreading peace."

Bush is more articulate in this unstructured setting than I have ever seen him. Had he been like this during the campaign, he would have won by a much wider margin, I think.

4. Still on Iraq: "It is not easy to go from a tyranny to a democracy."

David Gregory: Are judicial filibusters an attack on people of faith? What does Bush think generally about the role of faith in politics today?

Bush: I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I nominate. I certainly hope that my nominees get an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. "I believe religion is a personal matter." How do people live their lives?

Gregory pushes him: Bush reiterates that he believes that faith is a personal issue, but "I don't condemn somebody in the political process because they don't worship the way I do." Great speech about how wonderful freedom of religion is.

John Roberts, CBS: How will the energy bill have an effect on the current record price of oil?

Bush: Encourage producing nations to put more crude oil on the market. [But is this true? It certainly is in a direct sense -- crude oil prices lead directly to the price of gasoline, but what influences crude oil over the long term.]

Bush is not answering this question well, which is frustrating because he is an energy guy. ANWAR, liquified natural gas, terminals to handle LNG, active nuclear energy resources, clean coal technology.

5. Terry Moran: State Department reports that terrorism attacks are at an all-time high. If we are winning the war, how do you explain that more people are dying from terrorist attacks on your watch than ever before?

This question is a State Department/CIA plant, and Bush handles it very well:

"Our strategy is to fight the terrorists abroad." Bingo. "In the near term I can only predict one thing -- we will stay on the offense."

Suzanne Malveaux: [Bush jokes with her -- pretty good.] She asks a sharp-edged question about Putin, and his willingness to cooperate on Iran.

Bush: I had a long talk with "Vladimir" in Slovakia -- he and Condi take Vladimir at his word. Bush positions Vladimir as trying to help, and offers the view that Putin understands the dangers of Iran with a nuclear weapon. I think this is right, by the way -- Putin doesn't want the mullahs to have a nuke, either.

Wendell Goler, Fox: The Bolton question -- should the allegations about his treatment of subordinates, if true, disqualify him?

Bush: "John Bolton is a seasoned diplomat, and has been confirmed by the United States Senate four times. John Bolton is a blunt guy. Sometimes people say I'm a little too blunt."

Bush is very strong on this -- the "UN needs reform. If you are interested in reform at the UN as I am, it makes sense to put somebody who is skilled and not afraid to speak his mind in that job." Bolton thinks the United Nations is important, but it needs to be reformed.

6. Bush calls on Stretch (do you mind if I call you "Stretch"? -- "I've been called worse."): Richard Keil did not take the nickname thing very well. Asks quite seriously about whether Bush would consider Social Security reform a success if the long-term solvency problems were addressed without personal accounts.

Bush: Personal accounts are important. "Why should ownership be confined only to rich people." The Congress liked the idea so much, it set up personal accounts for themselves. Long tear on personal accounts. It appeals to me, especially the pitch that they are voluntary, and that people will have the flexibility to avoid risk.

David Sanger, NYT: Based on what we have learned in fighting the insurgency, do we think we might have a very substantial withdrawal of American troops from Iraq?

Bush: It is tempting to set out a timetable, but it is not wise. That will just cause the enemy to adjust. The answer is "as soon as possible," and that depends on the Iraqis. The key question is, "are they able to recruit?" [I couldn't agree more -- continued strong recruitment is an important metric.]

Sanger follow-up: Do you feel that the number of troops tied up in Iraq is limiting options in North Korea and Japan?

Bush: He says that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs feels that we have enough capacity.

Expands the answer to talk about Korea. Talks about the importance of Chinese involvement, and multilateral engagement. I agree -- there is no game in Korea without Chinese involvement.

8. Ed Chen, LA Times: Do you bear any responsibility for the poisonous partisan atmosphere here in Washington?

Bush: I don't know. It is a very partisan town, with a zero-sum attitude. "I think the American people appreciate somebody bringing up tough issues, especially when they understand the stakes." This is a serious problem, and the American people expect us to put our politics aside and get the job done. I don't believe I've resorted to name-calling, but I also understand that the American people wonder why we can't get an energy bill, for example.

Bill somebody: Has the atmosphere become so poisoned that it will imperil your agenda?

Bush: I don't think so. He lists all the things he's been able to accomplish.

I think he should address the question of partisanship more forthrightly -- he does not need to personalize, but it would be a good time to point out that it did not used to be so difficult to get judges approved, for example. Instead, he has dragged the issue back to Social Security -- that's why he called this news conference, to recover Social Security. I think he is making some progress, but perhaps not enough to matter. Too little, too late?

Mike Fletcher, WaPo: Are the six-party talks working in North Korea?

Bush: I do think it is making a difference to have China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia working together with North Korea. We need to continue to work with our friends and allies -- the more KJL threatens and brags, the more isolated he becomes.

9. Mark Knoller asks about the practice of renditioning.

Bush: We have to protect the American people. You bet, we will detain people who will do harm to the American people.

10. John McKinnon, WSJ: What's your view of the economy? Bumps in the road, or reasons for real concern that could affect your agenda on Social Security?

Bush: He is concerned about the economy, "because people are paying higher prices at the gas pump." Like a "tax on families." This is true at some basic level, but ultimately asinine. Every expenditure is "like a tax" looked at from this perspective. I must say, I wish we thought more carefully about energy.

Question re No Child Left Behind: Is it working?

Bush: Yes, we are making progress, and we know this because we are measuring. Good answer re the importance of simple objectives "like literacy," annunciated with the full Bush annunciation thing, as when he's really concentrating. "Some people don't like to measure. But if you don't measure, how do you know if you have a problem in a class room."

By the way, of course you have to measure. The idea that education is the one thing that can't be measured, as if it were a black art, is absurd.

Bush is very strong: "If you teach a child to read and write, it shouldn't bother you that we measure." Damn, that was good.

11. Oliver Knox, Agence-France: Tries to trap the President absurdly into agreeing that we would not take military action without agreeing with the other parties.

Bush: "My point is that it is best to work with the other countries, best to consult. We want to develop a consensus, a common approach." Oliver Knox is an asshat, I might add, for asking the question the way he did. It was ridiculous.

Good crack about the sweeps month.

Ron Hutcheson "Hutch": Asked about Social Security solvency problems.

Bush: The whole goal would be to see that nobody would retire in poverty. "The system today is not fair for a person whose spouse has died early." This is part-and-parcel with structure of Social Security today -- a voluntary personal savings account would be "an asset you can leave to your spouse or your children." Batters away at fairness.

I thought this was a pretty good job, overall. Recap commentary coming up.

12. The first post-debate comment comes from Mrs. TigerHawk, who says "they are turning Social Security into welfare, but they are doing it incrementally." Damn straight, and about time. Make it progressive, make it a safety net, and make sure that the affluent save as much as they can.

Watching Fox, Barnes, Kondracke and Nina Easton coming up.

Easton: This is a President who insists he doesn't follow polls, but this was a very poll-driven press conference. He is hitting the two issues that were causing him to sink in the polls -- Social Security and gas prices. Easton is skeptical that the energy bill won't really do anything about the price of gasoline.

Mort: Wonders whether Bush doesn't regret doing something about energy -- "pressing harder" on the energy bill -- sooner. Four of the "last ten years" were on his watch.

Barnes: "His performance was dazzling. He's in total command." I agree. He was way stronger, more adamant than he ever was in the first term, especially last year. Barnes also says that his explanation of personal accounts was his best explanation yet, and the new wrinkle of progressivity is good, too. He faces a partisan log-jam in the House and the Senate, but as good as the President was, that will not change. I agree with that, too.

Kondracke: Bush was very gentle to the Democrats -- he never really socked it to the opposition, which is standing in the way of everything that he has done.

13. Easton: He has got to find a way to peel off some Democrats. Perhaps he made some progress there.

Kondracke: The Democrats won't budge as long as personal accounts are on the table in any form.

Barnes: He was at his most passionate on personal SS accounts, and on testing (no child left behind).

I think that the most interesting aspect of the President's announcements tonight was the proposal to subject Social Security to means-testing. I love that, precisely because the Democrats think that it is the absence of means-testing that gives the program its political protection. This is a huge challenge to the Democrats.

Here's the TigerHawk question of the night: Is the proposal to means-test Social Security fundamentally serious, or is it meant to be so offensive to statist Democrats that they will trade away personal accounts in order to avoid means testing?

Kondracke: The Democrats are going to obstruct and remain in lock-step opposition until the President takes personal accounts off the table. Barnes agrees.

But what if they hate the means-testing even more?

Done.

32 Comments:

By Blogger Final Historian, at Thu Apr 28, 08:45:00 PM:

You just got instalinked. And good job BTW.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 28, 09:28:00 PM:

It would be great to have a presidential press conference drinking game.

* Everytime a reporter asks a loaded question, take a sip.
*everytime the president says 'nucular' take two sips
* everytime the pres uses a nickname, drain the glass.  

By Blogger Weyrwoman, at Thu Apr 28, 09:30:00 PM:

Great job on the live-blogging! Very conprehensive. I feel as if I actually watched it on TV. :)  

By Anonymous Daniel, at Thu Apr 28, 09:35:00 PM:

Very nice job.

The only time I yelled at the screen was with that dick Terry Moran. I wanted Dubya to nail him harder on the terror count question vis: most of last year's attacks were in Kashmir for pete's sake. Buthe did make the point that we are fighting away from American soil, so we got that going for us.

His points on SS were perfect and will get the expected sniping from the usual suspects. But this president believs that people in lower tax brackets (those not in the "invetor class" have the right to the dignity of passing some kind of estate to their family. All in all, a good job.

Thanks for the blow-by-blow. You must type really fast.  

By Anonymous Daniel, at Thu Apr 28, 09:36:00 PM:

Very nice job.

The only time I yelled at the screen was with that dick Terry Moran. I wanted Dubya to nail him harder on the terror count question vis: most of last year's attacks were in Kashmir for pete's sake. Buthe did make the point that we are fighting away from American soil, so we got that going for us.

His points on SS were perfect and will bet the expected sniping from the usual suspects. But this president believs that people in lower tax brackets (those not in the "invetor class" have the right to the dignity of passing some kind of estate to their family. All in all, a good job.

Thanks for the blow-by-blow. You must type really fast.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Apr 28, 09:42:00 PM:

Thanks for the nice comments -- and Daniel, I do type fast, but I also have TiVo!  

By Blogger submandave, at Thu Apr 28, 10:06:00 PM:

"Is the proposal to means-test Social Security fundamentally serious"

Interestingly, as I wrote about in February, FDR's original plan for SS had three parts: 1) non-contributory pensions for those unable to save for their own; 2) a compulsory contributory annuity, and; 3) a voluntary contributory annuity. The first was envisioned to eventually be supplanted by the second, but I can see it continuing as a sort of means-tested welfare safety-net.

I'd prefer to see SS go completely to private annuities/accounts and handle the real hard-luck cases in a separate welfare program similar to how Medicaid is done. This keeps the people's retirement money as much out of government hands as possible.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 28, 10:17:00 PM:

Re: Treasury Bonds for SS
The TSP (a 401(k) like plan for Civil Service started 10-15 years ago) offers special issue bonds at a slightly better rate than normal. But the rate is about 2 to 3 times GREATER than the 'effective' rate workers get on Social Security now.
This is a guaranteed rate of return, a 'safer' investment than the other investment options which are stock and bond -indexed funds.
BTW, the Goverment Agency that runs TSP is actually quite efficient and operates at less 'broker' cost than privat 401(k) plans I have seen.  

By Blogger Captain Wrath, at Thu Apr 28, 11:25:00 PM:

I agree that Bush was better, more poised and confident in this presser than many previous.

What struck me was how often he would look RIGHT into the camera on a number of occassion, typically when he was making a particular point, or talking about the American people. It make have been rehearsed a bit, but it made an impact. It was almost as if he was talking above the press and directly to the public.

Oh, and if one more person asks the "what is our timetable for leaving Iraq?" question, I will hunt him down and beat him senseless with his reporter's pad. WE ARE NOT GOING TO GIVE A TIMETABLE, GET IT? AND THERE IS VERY GOOD REASON FOR THAT, PINHEAD! Look it up from the previous hundred times it was asked. Jeez...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 28, 11:42:00 PM:

If Bush sent everyone under 50 a copy of John Tierney's column from Tuesday's NY Times, his social security plan would gain a lot of support.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 28, 11:42:00 PM:

I wish one reporter would have asked: "Mr. President, what is your understanding of the term "peak oil"? Do you think we will be entering into this period soon and what should the American people do to prepare?  

By Blogger AL, at Fri Apr 29, 12:57:00 AM:

If i'm not mistaken his father started the e85 why is he not continuing  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Apr 29, 05:07:00 AM:

Im European and both presentation and comments sound strange.

Energy is difficult, USA is choosing an easy way out. Most other people dont think it will work. So, why dont you look at what other countries are doing?

Regarding the Iraq question, please read American history in the Middle East. The attack on Iraq seems to be a continuation.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Apr 29, 06:03:00 AM:

Last Anonymous guy:

I'm not a big fan of American energy policy, either. We need to tell people that over the long run they will have to adjust to higher prices for fuel for gasoline-powered automobiles, and develop policies that will take us there.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Apr 29, 08:55:00 AM:

Mrs. Tigerhawk has it backwards.

SS started out as pure welfare - the initial recipients paid nothing and received benefits. It wasn't til the early 80's when the "trust" accounts were established that it morphed into a quasi self funded retirement account combined with welfare.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Apr 29, 09:59:00 AM:

I've found that it is not a good strategy to tell Mrs. TigerHawk that she "has it backwards," so I will demur.  

By Anonymous Karl, at Fri Apr 29, 03:30:00 PM:

I missed the Presidents conference- but don't feel I have after reading your blow by blow. Thanks much!  

By Blogger Claudia Lane, at Sat Apr 30, 06:17:00 PM:

Ditto Karl - I had to miss it but, due to your excellent blow-by-blow account (with helpful editorial comments !!!), I have now caught up. Thanks, and please continue the live-blogging in the future.  

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