Political Wrap: Social Security, Bolton and Judicial Nominees
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Bush heads back on the road this week to promote his Social Security plan that he unveiled in his presidential news conference last week. With a specific program in hand, the president will try to push his proposed changes in Social Security further down the legislative track. Joining us now to discuss that and other hot political issues is NPR's news analyst Cokie Roberts.
COKIE ROBERTS reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: By proposing a plan that protects Social Security benefits for the poor but cuts the growth and benefits for the rich, has the president won any new friends for his cause?
ROBERTS: Well, not so as you'd notice so far. He still has to worry about the moderate Republicans as the measure starts its tortuous way through Congress, and the Democrats are just not budging. The president--the problem, you know, the president has is that he has failed to rally the public behind his idea that Social Security needs changing at all. His poll numbers on handling Social Security are the lowest in his presidency, so he doesn't have any real clout going into the hearings in Congress. Now the fact that he's now put out a much more specific plan could change that. And there are people in Washington who think that the fact that the first lady performed so nicely at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night has softened up the president's image somewhat going into this fight, as well.
MONTAGNE: Well, the Democrats have yet to come up with a solution to the long-term problems that Social Security will face. Are they starting to feel any heat about that?
ROBERTS: Well, again, not so far. But they can't be happy that the usually friendly Washington Post editorial page is now saying that they have to come up with some specifics given the fact that the president has, and people do seem to be taking something of a serious look at the president's proposal.
But, Renee, in some ways, this is really getting to the fundamental differences between the parties. The president is pushing for these private or personal, accounts because he believes in getting the government out of big programs. The Democrats are more nervous, in a way, about means testing Social Security, which is essentially what the president is proposing, than about any other kind of change, because they worry that Social Security then becomes another welfare program, the middle-class and the upper-middle-class support for it dries up and that that would mean the only government program where people--the majority of Americans see a real self-interest is in Medicare, and that is--also got tremendous problems.
But it's harder for Democrats to make an argument about progressivity, which is what the president is proposing, so they're sticking to their mantra of `No private accounts,' and arguing that in terms of the president's plan, that people just above the poorest would still suffer. And I think that they think that they still have very strong legs to stand on here. People are nervous about the economy with gas prices being what they are, the Fed will probably raise interest rates again this week, another jobless report comes out, Democrats just think they're still safe in just saying no on this issue.
MONTAGNE: Cokie, let's turn to the nomination of John Bolton as the ambassador to the United Nations. What does it look like this week? Will the president convince the Senate to confirm him?
ROBERTS: Well, they're playing--the Republicans are playing a vote against Bolton as a vote against reforming the United Nations, and they think that they have a better chance of succeeding. `Call him blunt,' as the president said--or the question that Democrats say, `Is he blunt or abusive?'--it would be odd to deny confirmation over management style, if that's what it is. Clearly, the Democrats' real objection is his record on international organizations, but key Republican Senators are not tipping their hands at the moment.
MONTAGNE: Well, very quickly, in the background of this confirmation battle is the threat of changing Senate rules for judicial nominations. Any sign of compromise?
ROBERTS: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel yesterday said he still hopes that there's some way of working this out. Democrats say that they won't close down the government if the Republicans go ahead with their plans, but that they will stick closely to Senate rules, read bills, amendments, etc., which is the same idea. The...
MONTAGNE: Cokie, I think we're going to have to...
MONTAGNE: Thanks. Sorry, Cokie. NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.
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