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Transcript of Bush Interview

The Post: Is that just for disability, or for survivors, as well?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're --

The Post: It's a different benefit for --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, you're right. Frankly, our discussions in terms of reform have not centered on the survivor/disability aspect of Social Security. We're talking about the retirement system of Social Security. I think that's an accurate statement.

MR. McCLELLAN [Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary]: You're talking about at or near retirees, right?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, they're talking about survivor and disability benefits, and we have had no discussions of that, thus far. The best way to put it -- the answer is, we have no discussions of that, so far, in terms of changing them, I think is the best way to describe it.

The Post: When you talk about Social Security, you talk about the crisis being now, given the demographic inevitabilities of the system and the financial strains. Is Medicare in crisis, given that it has the same exact demographic strains?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the difference, of course, is that in Medicare, we began a reform system that hopefully will take some of the pressures off the unfunded liabilities, and that is providing, for example, a drug benefit, that will, hopefully, in cases, replace the need for surgery. I used to tell people a lot on the campaign trail that Medicare would pay for the heart surgery but not for the medicine that would prevent the heart surgery from being needed in the first place. Heart surgery costs nearly $100,000, and the medicine could be $1,000. And that's a reform that not only reflects the new nature of medicine, but it's a reform, hopefully, that has cost benefits for the long run.

Secondly, one of the things we did, we began to provide a market approach to Medicare, by allowing seniors choice. And the more choice consumers have, the more likely it is some costs will come under control. We've just begun the reform process in Medicare, and that hasn't been the case in Social Security.

The Post: Do you think it's in crisis, though? I mean, when you look at Medicare, do you see --

THE PRESIDENT: I think, definitely, we're going to have to make sure that in the long-run the baby boomer bulge is addressed in Medicare, as well. The difference is, is that we've started a reform process in Medicare, unlike Social Security.

The Post: Do you plan to expend any political capital to aggressively lobby senators for a gay marriage amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that the situation in the last session -- well, first of all, I do believe it's necessary; many in the Senate didn't, because they believe DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] will -- is in place, but -- they know DOMA is in place, and they're waiting to see whether or not DOMA will withstand a constitutional challenge.

The Post: Do you plan on trying to -- using the White House, using the bully pulpit, and trying to --

THE PRESIDENT: The point is, is that senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously.

The Post: But until that changes, you want it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, until that changes, nothing will happen in the Senate. Do you see what I'm saying?

The Post: Right.


The Post: Back on Social Security. How can you -- you talk about cutting the deficit in half over the next five years. How can you do that and have personal accounts, which are going to have some sort of transition costs -- we won't debate the number, but most people say it will be at least $100 billion. How can you do that, and do personal accounts?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what we look forward to working with Congress on, to work with them in such a way that we can handle the concerns of those who say the transition costs may be too much. That's part of the negotiations. I look forward to Congress asking that question. That's not the threshold question. The threshold question is for some who say, we don't have a problem. And once we get people talking about how to fund it, how do you handle the transition costs? I think we're making progress when that happens. It hasn't happened yet, because we're still trying to -- I am making the case that people that have got to understand we have a problem that should be addressed now. But part of the discussions, Jim, that go on, will be how to deal with it -- that particular aspect, as well as a lot of aspects, on how to make the system sound and sound fitting.

The Post: Will you talk to Senate Democrats about your privatization plan?

THE PRESIDENT: You mean, the personal savings accounts?

The Post: Yes, exactly. Scott has been --

THE PRESIDENT: We don't want to be editorializing, at least in the questions.

The Post: You used partial privatization yourself last year, sir.


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