Friday, December 17, 2004

Bush: Social Security Reform Needed Now

Bush: Social Security Reform Needed Now

By LEIGH STROPE, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) said Thursday that "now is the time to confront Social Security (news - web sites)" to deal with a projected $3.7 trillion, 75-year shortfall and give younger workers the ability to invest some of their contributions.

Bush also promised to send Congress "a tough budget" early next year to hold the line on federal spending.

"You will see fiscal discipline exercised inside the Oval Office this coming budget cycle," the president told a White House economic conference.

Bush, who credited his tax-cutting policies with reviving the economy, said his strategy will be "to grow the economy with reasonable tax policy but to make sure the deficit is dealt with by being wise about how we spend money."

"It's not going to be easy," he said. "It turns out (congressional) appropriators take their title seriously."

Bush said he intends to ignore the traditional political perils of meddling with Social Security in order to save the system for future generations.

"This is an issue on which I campaigned and I'm still standing," he said.

All participants on Thursday's panel, including financial service firm officials, supported Bush's Social Security plans.

Away from the conference, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called Wall Street's support for partial privatization a conflict of interest and "a risky scheme for America but a sure bet for the financial services industry."

In a letter to the Securities Industry Association, Sweeney asked the group to disavow Bush's proposed overhaul. "Will the financial services industry behave as professionals with a duty to speak candidly to the investing public, or will elements of the industry once again seek to make money at the expense of their customers, only this time on a much grander scale?" Sweeney wrote.

Bush was not specific about his own ideas for solving the problem, but he laid out a few do-or-die principles.

He said that for an undefined group of seniors "nothing will change" in their benefit structure, that there should be no increase in payroll taxes, and that younger workers should be moved toward private accounts for some portion of their Social Security contributions.

The audience chuckled as Bush added, "With those principles in mind, I'm open-minded with the members of Congress."

Bush said there are more Americans who have no confidence they will ever see any Social Security benefits than those who are worried their checks will stop coming.

"I think Congress needs to understand that," he said.

Richard Parsons, chairman and chief executive of Time Warner Inc., warned, "We're on a train-wreck course."

"You can't fix this problem with no pain, without making some sacrifices, but the time to start making those sacrifices is now," said Parsons, a chairman of Bush's 2001 committee on partial-privatization.

Democrats say supporters of personal accounts are exaggerating Social Security's funding problem.

Bush "wants to use an ideological solution to a manageable problem," said Rep. Robert Matsui (news, bio, voting record) of California, the top Democrat on the House Social Security subcommittee.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan countered that the problem is real. "Today's guaranteed benefits are an empty promise to our younger workers," McClellan said.

In 2018, the system starts paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes. In 2042, the system will be able to cover 73 percent of promised benefits, according to Social Security's trustees.

The White House acknowledges that allowing younger workers to invest funds in private accounts would do little to help plug the shortfall.

"It will take more to solve the problem than just personal accounts," McClellan said Wednesday. The transformation would be part of a "comprehensive solution to strengthen Social Security."

Bush is expected to propose details in January, but he won't offer specific legislation. His summit helped bolster his plans by providing a public forum.

Bush has ruled out an increase in payroll taxes to pay for the overhaul. Experts say he would have little choice but to borrow the funds, perhaps $1 trillion to $2 trillion, in order to continue paying benefits for current and near-retirees whose checks are funded by workers' payroll taxes.

Rep. John Spratt (news, bio, voting record) of South Carolina, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Bush's summit was a "pep rally for privatization," when the more urgent problem is the skyrocketing federal budget deficit, which hit $413 billion in 2004.

Tackling Social Security is "putting the cart before the horse" by pursuing a program "with enormous implications for federal borrowing without doing anything about the rest of the budget," Spratt said.

Cheney: Economy Needs Permanent Tax Cuts

Cheney: Economy Needs Permanent Tax Cuts

By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) said Wednesday that it is critical to make President Bush (news - web sites)'s tax cuts permanent during his second term, while achieving broader reforms in the tax code and bolstering Social Security (news - web sites).

Speaking at the start of a two-day White House conference on the economy, Cheney said the administration would put a top priority on making the tax cuts, which are all due to expire after 2010, permanent as a way of bolstering future economic growth.

Cheney said the administration had accomplished a great deal in its first term but a number of unfinished items remain for Congress to address.

"We still have more work to do, but we believe we are on the right track," Cheney told the audience of business leaders, economists and Washington lobbyists.

The administration is hoping to build momentum for Bush's ambitious second-term agenda during the two-day White House-sponsored conference. Various panels were scheduled to address Bush's proposals on overhauling the tax code and Social Security as well as promoting freer trade and placing limits on lawsuits.

However, the effort is already facing major obstacles with such groups as AARP, which represents millions of retired people, and organized labor, represented by the AFL-CIO, vowing to fight Bush's proposals on Social Security reform in Congress.

Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein, participating in a panel on current economic conditions, said he believes the country has emerged from the 2001 recession and the prolonged period of weak job growth.

"I'm pleased to say the economy is now in very good shape," Feldstein said. "National income is growing, growing at an above-trend pace, employment is rising, inflation is low. So by all of the key measures, we're in good shape."

"These favorable conditions reflect good policies and also sound economic structure," said Feldstein, a Republican who is a candidate to succeed Federal Reserve (news - web sites) Chairman Alan Greenspan (news - web sites).

"The weakness of the economy we worried about a few years ago is now essentially all gone thanks to supportive, stimulative Fed policy and the combination of personal tax cuts and the tax incentives for business," he said.

He plugged Bush's top domestic priority: reforming Social Security and including a private retirement account option.

As he spoke, Cheney sipped from a coffee mug and took notes.

Bush aides acknowledge new proposals aren't in the cards for the forum on Wednesday and Thursday at the Reagan federal office building near the White House.

Bush planned to listen to a panel on lawsuit reform Wednesday and deliver remarks closing the sessions Thursday afternoon.

The speeches and panels are meant to highlight the president's major plans for boosting the economy: overhauling Social Security and the tax code, making recently passed tax cuts permanent, curbing lawsuit abuse, restraining federal spending, helping educate and train workers in a changing economy, making international trade freer, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and passing a comprehensive energy plan.

"The president has outlined specific ways that we can move forward to continue to strengthen our economy," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "The president has not outlined all the specifics of some of those initiatives, and they (the panelists) will be able to provide some useful and thoughtful insight into how we move forward on implementing those policies."

Creating more jobs is an important task for Bush. The still-recovering job market has been seized upon by Democrats who contend the president's economic policies have failed to induce enough steady hiring expansion by businesses.

The economy added a net 112,000 jobs in November, considerably fewer jobs than analysts had expected and a big drop from the 303,000 positions added in October.

More than 2 million jobs have been created in the past year, but Bush remains 313,000 jobs short of avoiding a net loss of jobs during his presidency.

2004 Year In Review- "ME"

(Written on December 12, 2004, while at work.)

I am currently listening to "Brunch with The Beatles" on Oldies 98.1. I decided to put my black pen to work. With less than three weeks left in the year, I figured that I would start some early reflections of the year 2004.

If I had to describe it in one word, I would probably describe it as "turbulent". It has been like a Boeing 747 going through a bad storm and crossing the jet stream simultaneously. For the sake of this entry, I will try to focus on myself, and try to recap some of the big stories at a later time.

The start of the year was not bad at all. Junior won the Daytona 500 in February, and I was enjoying chatting with folks, both old and new. I finally got a personal computer towards the end of March. (It will make a good write-off on my taxes, since I was still an independent contractor.) April, to me, came in as a lamb, and out like a lion.

Once I turned twenty-nine on the fourth of April, the roller coaster ride began. I do not remember which one occurred first, but here it goes. I lost out on chatting with one of the brightest individuals I have ever come across. She had freaked out over something that was not much of a big deal. She was going through a transition at the time, which may have factored into it. She did mention that she appreciated what I had done for her, but she wanted no further contact. I let the butterfly fly. (Should that individual come across this, you are forgiven. I wish you and your family a very Happy Holiday season!)

As my memory is starting to defog a little, I believe that the aforementioned happened first. Not long after, I dissolved my sole proprietorship. Who knows? Maybe I will do it again at some other time. Doing what I did is similar to those who work in the radio industry. Both take timing and lady luck on your side. If money was not an issue, I would enjoy myself and redo it without much effort. I left it to get a second job that would bring in a more consistent paycheck.

To close out "... the cruellest month." (T.S. Eliot, 1922, The Waste Land), I finally got Yahoo! Instant Messenger, after my friend kept nagging me for a month to install it. I was a little apprehensive at first; but now, I am glad that I did it.

The first night I put myself out there, I was fortunate to chat with a girl for a few hours. We hit it off pretty well from the beginning. When she said that she loves both football and NASCAR, I was extremely happy. I remember the first time I saw her picture, she reminded me a little of Joanie Laurer (aka Chyna in the WWE). I sent her an e-card, expressing both my thanks and appreciation for the fun time I had with her.

As time went by, I grew to like this girl a hell of a lot more. Although she is a Jeff Gordon fan, I am able to overlook that, even to this day. On June 29, 2004, exactly two months after our initial contact, I took a risk and asked her to be my girlfriend. Lucky for me, she accepted. This girl's name is Ashley Moore. Yes, the same girl that I wrote the poem "My Girl Ashley" about. Even though we are not a couple right now, Ashley is a great friend to have; and, maybe we will get back together soon. Only time will tell.

The Ashley angle covers most of the second half of this year. By my own admission, I must say here that it has been one of the best times in my life. I do not know, nor can I imagine, what it would be like right now without having her in my life. Ashley, you have touched me that much. Thank you! (Don't get your mind in the gutter with that one.)

If I can flash back, there is one other ironic twist for me this year. I am going to take the time machine to Memorial Day weekend. To sum it up in a nutshell, I almost got "The Donald", because somebody could not keep their nose out of my business, despite my request to stay out. The irony to this is that now, I am working for the individual. (I am not referring to the third party person here.) In closing the story, the third person that interjected themself into this believes that they committed no wrongdoing, even to this day. The "recipient" and I are co-existing, as far as communication goes.

Should anything change before the end of the year, I will be happy to provide an addendum to this. Thank you for reading. Blessings on your day!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Groundshaking Book Alert!: Newt's New Book "Winning The Future: A 21st Century Contract with America"

Gingrich Now Seeking a New Contract

Friday, November 12, 2004
by Luiza Ch. Savage

Newt Gingrich is preparing to unfurl a new Contract with America.

The last time he did so, the ideas catapulted Republicans to a majority in the House for the first time in a half century. Now the former House speaker is plotting a way to keep conservatives in power "for a generation or more." Yet it is Democrats who are being urged to look to him for inspiration as they contemplate their future in the minority.

"A 21st Century Contract with America" is the subject of a book scheduled for release in January.

Mr. Gingrich said it is not a platform from which to launch a presidential run in 2008.

"I don't plan to [run]," the former congressman from Georgia told The New York Sun yesterday. But he did not completely rule out a return to elected office. "I never say never," he said. "But it's not something I'm currently thinking about."

The book is to be a blueprint for "Phase Four" of the conservative revolution. The first phase, he said, was Ronald Reagan's "defining" conservatism. The second phase was the original Contract with America a decade ago and the election triumph that "created the majority." The third phase is the George W. Bush presidency, which has "deepened and reaffirmed the majority." The fourth phase of the revolution is to build up the Republican majority.

"I have a lot of good friends who will be out campaigning," Mr. Gingrich said, "and I hope they read the book."

Much of Mr. Gingrich's prescription is not original. Some of his suggestions, such as the inclusion of Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and African-Americans in decision-making roles rather than as the subjects of "outreach" programs, sound like familiar lines from the Karl Rove strategy book. Others, such as an exhortation to admit and correct mistakes swiftly, including what he calls "major mistakes" in Iraq, sound like a speech by Senator Kerry. Others, such as the need to "solve problems" and "deliver results," sound like vague common sense.

Mr. Gingrich argues that solving problems and convincing people that Republicans can help improve their lives, including dealing with mistakes that "inevitably" come with the exercise of power, will be critical to the longevity of the GOP majority.

Yet some of the ideas in his new contract call for government spending and involvement. While they may help the party build the "big tent" that he advocates, they hardly appear designed to help their author in a presidential primary run.

Mr. Gingrich runs a health-policy think tank, and he is interested in the promise of technology to revolutionize health care. Despite his past as a fiscal conservative, he was a backer of the president's costly Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

In addition, Mr. Gingrich argues that Republicans must tackle environmental conservation, an issue he said they "are not strong on yet," but one he believes to be "an overwhelmingly popular desire" that cannot be ignored.

"Which does not mean paying off the Sierra Club. It means developing high-tech solutions," Mr. Gingrich said.

He has long advocated finding technological fixes for social problems, once suggesting equipping poor children with government-financed laptop computers.

"I'm not sure his ideas have a lot of resonance with the Republican base," the director of the Center for Representative Government at the free-market-oriented Cato Institute, John Samples, said.

"Newt is not a traditional Republican. I think he sees that as a necessary step to becoming a majority party, but you've got to bring your base along with you or they may be recalcitrant," Mr. Samples said.

At the same time, Mr. Gingrich does work on market-oriented issues, such as the private Social Security accounts that President Bush has said will be a priority of his second term.

"He is playing an interesting role in managing center-right coalitions," the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, said.

"He is going to be one of the people working with everybody to make it happen - talking to guys on the Hill, talking to the White House ... making sure that the administration doesn't ask Congress to do anything that is politically costly," Mr. Norquist, who spent an hour with Mr. Gingrich last Sunday, said.

Mr. Norquist does not think Mr. Gingrich has any problem with Republicans but said that without a governorship or a Senate seat, he is in no position to make a run in 2008.

There are other obstacles to his electability. He made many foes at Capitol Hill with his strong-arm tactics as speaker, he was the subject of House ethics charges, and he faced allegations of extramarital affairs.

"He begins to look a bit like a Mc-Cain candidate, except weaker, because he doesn't have McCain's appeal to independents and Democrats. Where is he going to win in a primary?" Mr. Samples said, referring to the Arizona senator.

Mr. Gingrich's spokesman, Rick Tyler, calls him a "solution-oriented conservative who is pragmatic."

"A lot of our conservative friends were upset that he was for the Medicare bill," Mr. Tyler said. "But in the long run it will save money."

As for a presidential run, or a rumored appointment in the Bush administration, Mr. Tyler is doubtful. He said the book is not a platform for a political campaign. Mr. Gingrich is busy running the think tank, the Center for Health Transformation; delivering lucrative speeches, and appearing on the Fox News Channel. In addition, he reads two or three novels a week and is a prolific writer of reviews

Mr. Gingrich stepped down in 1998, beset by Democratic foes fomenting ethics charges and by internal GOP wrangling. Although he led the push for President Clinton's impeachment, the partisan bitterness that colored his relations with Democrats has been softened by time and by comparison.

"Newt looks like a Renaissance man compared to the medieval minds who are now running the House Republican caucus," the president of the Progressive Policy Institute, Will Marshall, said.

And as much as he wants to chart the Republican future, it is the Democrats who are being urged to study and learn from Mr. Gingrich's past.

"Now that they are out in the wilderness, they can look at Newt's model as a guide for how they can come back," a longtime senior aide to Mr. McCain, Marshall Wittman, said.

"I was around Republican circles in the early 1990s, when Republicans thought Newt was fanciful in his schemes to retake Congress. Democrats should learn from that example. Dare to do the impossible," Mr. Wittman, who recently crossed the aisle to join the Democratic Leadership Council, said.

The insurrection Mr. Gingrich launched, with stem-winding speeches in the House blasting Democrats as corrupt, set out a sharp and coherent agenda for change.

The midterm elections of 1994 became less about individual races and more about the concrete list of proposals labeled the Contract with America. The agenda included independent auditing of congressional spending, bal anced-budget amendments, and a line-item veto.

Nine of the 10 items were passed by the House within the first 100 days of the Congress.

"There is real opportunity for Democrats to fashion themselves as an insurgent party for reform," Mr. Marshall, of the Progressive Policy Institute, said.

"We could learn from the Gingrich insurrection about how to use the minority status in the House, when you have no real power, as a bully pulpit, and to use floor speeches to sell to the country a new package of ideas," he added. Mr. Gingrich said, however, that the Democrats cannot follow his example from the 1990s until they have the ideas to sell.

"I think they face a real choice about what kind of party they are going to be," the former college professor said. "To the degree they are dominated by the Pelosi wing, they are out of touch with most Americans. Until they go through an identity crisis, tactics are kind of irrelevant. All they are doing right now is waiting for Republicans to make a big enough mistake."

Winning The Future: A 21st Century Contract with America
by Newt Gingrich

From the Inside Flap
In the twenty-first century, America could be destroyed.
The dangers are manifold: Terrorism. Judges who think they’re God (and who are anti-God). Rising economic challenges from China and India. Immigrants and young Americans who know little about American history and values. Can America survive? Yes, says Newt Gingrich, and we as Americans can do more: We can create a safer, more prosperous, and healthier America for our children and grandchildren. How? By enacting a 21st Century Contract with America. When he was Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich issued his first Contract with America. What was the result? Sweeping reform that shocked Washington and spurred an economic recovery for the nation, including: the first major tax cut in sixteen years; real, lasting welfare reform; and four years of balanced budgets. But the challenges now are even starker, and Newt is back with a plan for American greatness that includes: · How to win the War on Terror – how Ronald Reagan’s winning strategy in the Cold War can be adapted and modified to win this new global struggle · How to reestablish God in American public life – without God, America ceases to be American, which is why leftists are so keen on banishing our Creator · How to reform Social Security – and improve your retirement earnings – before Social Security bankrupts the nation and the next generation of taxpayers · How to restore patriotism to American schools – and insist on patriotic learning for new immigrants · How to make American health care the global standard for excellence and accessibility – while reducing health care costs · And much more The challenges of the 21st Century are great, says Newt Gingrich, but so are the opportunities. The decisions we make over the next four years will determine our future. And no book can be more important for making the right choices than Newt Gingrich’s Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America

Product Description:
A grass root call to action and will set the debate for the new administration and Congress.

Product Details:

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Regnery Publishing, Inc. (January 10, 2005)