QUESTION: Mr. President, can I go back to Social Security?
QUESTION: You spoke about, you know, your desire to have a plan that includes private retirement accounts.
QUESTION: Chairman Greenspan yesterday, although supportive of those accounts, expressed two concerns: that he was worried about rushing something into print, if you will, and also about the borrowing, the transition costs, that would be required -- trillions. He was especially worried about the later.
What is your response to that?
BUSH: Well, I presume the reason he was talking about Social Security at all is because he understands that we've got about $11 trillion of debt owed to future generations of Americans that -- and therefore, we better do something about it now. And the longer we wait, the more difficult the solution becomes.
You asked about the transition costs, and what was the other?
QUESTION: Well, that he wanted to do it slowly.
BUSH: Oh, slowly.
Well, as you might remember, in my State of the Union, when I expressed my desire that Congress ought to think about personal accounts, I did say they ought to be phased in.
BUSH: And that's part of the transition costs issue, and we look forward to working with Congress to come up with ways to make sure that the personal accounts, if Congress so chooses -- and I hope they do -- can be financed.
And that's part of the issue. And that's part of the dialogue that is going to be needed once Congress understands we have a problem.
Let me repeat what I said before, and I fully understand this, that this idea is going nowhere if the Congress does not believe there is a problem. I mean, why should somebody take the hard path if they don't believe there's a problem?
And so I'm going to spend a lot of time reminding people there is a problem. Once the people figure out there's a problem -- and I think they're beginning to understand that -- then the question to ask to those of us who have been elected is, "What are you going to do about it?"
And that's an important question.
And when people start answering that question I have said, "Bring your ideas forward. We welcome any idea, you know, except running up the payroll tax rate, which I've been consistent on. And so bring them up and I look forward to hearing your ideas."
And part of the ideas is going to be, one, understand the benefits the befits of personal accounts as well as how to pay for the transaction. Because we've started that process by talking about, you know, a phase-in program. And one of the reasons we did, is because we wanted to indicate to the Congress, "We understand there's an issue, we want to work with you on it."
QUESTION: Sir, can you talk a little bit...
BUSH: If you don't raise your hand, does that mean you don't have a question?
QUESTION: Not necessarily, sir.
BUSH: OK, good, because you didn't raise your hand.
QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about how you would like to see the landscape of the Middle East change over the next year? Can you talk about the specific changes you'd like to see across the region?
BUSH: You know, a year is a really short period of time when it comes to working with nations to encourage democracy. So there's not a, kind of, universal answer.
Let me try to answer it this way.
In other words, you can't apply the same standard for every country as they move toward democracy I guess is what I'm saying. In other words, there is, kind of, not a blanket answer.
I'll give you, kind of, a general thought.
I would like to see the following things happen: we make progress on the development of a Palestinian state so there can be peace with Israel.
BUSH: And notice I put it that way. There needs to be progress for democracy to firmly take hold in the Palestinian territory. It is my belief that when that happens, that we got a very good chance for peace.
That's why I said in my State of the Union it's within reach. What's in reach is to work with leadership that appears committed to fighting terror, to develop the institutions necessary for democracy.
That's why the conference Tony Blair has called is an important conference. It's a conference that will be working with the world, with countries from around the world to say, "How can we help you develop a democracy?"
So I'd like to see that move forward. Obviously, I'd like to see the Iraqi government continue to make the progress it is making toward providing its own security, as well as begin the process of writing the constitution.
We'll continue to work with the international community to make it clear that some of the behavior in the Middle East is unacceptable.
BUSH: You know, the development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Harboring terrorists or providing safe haven for terrorists is unacceptable. And so there's a lot of progress that can be made.
I was pleased to see that Saudi had municipal elections, and I think Crown Prince Abdullah's vision of moving toward reform is coming to be.
Every speech I've given on democracy has fully recognized that democracy will advance at a pace, you know, that may be different from our own expectations and obviously reflect the cultures of the countries in which democracy is moving.
But there's progress being made, so it's kind of hard to have a, you know, a summary because there's different countries, different places. But if I tried to come up with one, I'd like to see more advance toward free and democratic states.