Q Senator Grassley says he would like to focus the Social Security debate on the solvency of the system. How do you respond to him? And are private accounts in danger?
MR. McCLELLAN: We share that. The President has made it very clear that we need to make Social Security permanently sound.
And the President believes that as part of comprehensive reform, we need to include personal accounts, so that younger Americans can have the option of realizing a rate of return that is closer to what is being promised, because right now the promised benefits of the future are an empty promise. They will not be there under the current system.
Q So he disagrees with Senator Grassley, who says, set aside the personal accounts, let’s work on the solvency alone?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President appreciates all those who are coming forward with ideas for solving the problem facing Social Security.
Q So the President is listening to all these ideas, but as he listens, does he hear this nervousness, at the least, among Republicans? You have Senator Frist originally saying maybe it doesn’t get done this year. Now he’s backtracked, apparently, after a little advice from the White House. Senator Grassley saying —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let’s be fair. I think it was — he was selectively quoted. And he feels he was taken out of context, obviously.
Q Fair enough, all right. So you have Senator Grassley now saying let’s set aside the President’s main priority, personal savings accounts, instead focus on the solvency. And you have Senator Hagel, who is going to be out there proposing his own plan. What’s going on?
MR. McCLELLAN: And just think, a few weeks ago, many people were denying that there was even a problem. Now everybody is talking about solutions. That’s a positive sign. And this ball game is just getting underway. We haven’t even had our chance to go to bat and step up to the plate.
The president’s team hasn’t had their chance at bat yet? What about that November 4th press conference, the December 20th press conference, the January 26th press conference, and all those “conversations” about Social Security in DC, Montana, North Dakota, Florida, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire? By my count the preznit is 0 for 12, he makes Mario Mendoza look like Ty Cobb!
Now, back to the gaggle.
Q Scott, back to Social Security. The President identified this as a top priority as soon as he was elected. He had an economic conference that Social Security was a centerpiece of, it was a centerpiece of the State of the Union speech. He has been campaigning for a month. New survey indications today that public support is declining for his idea for private retirement accounts.
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s interesting that you cited that survey, because if you look at recent surveys, all those surveys show that the American people recognize that Social Security is either in crisis or faces serious problems. And that survey is included in that.
That was not the first time Scottie cited poll numbers that seem to be in the president’s favor, earlier he said:
We see in poll after poll that the American people recognize there are serious problems facing Social Security, and they recognize that those problems only are going to get worse over the coming years. That’s why the President believes now is the time to act.
Which makes this next exchange so very gaggliscious.
Q I’m not telling you to judge the outcome, I’m just trying to figure out why it is that, if the numbers are to be taken as accurate of the nation as a whole, Americans might be listening to him about the depth of the problem, but not liking the solution he has in mind.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Mark, this process has just gotten underway. And, first of all, we don’t — leadership is not based on looking at polls. Leadership is based on identifying problems, and then talking about possible solutions, and reaching out to members of Congress to get something done. And that’s what this President is doing.
That’s our Scottie!