by Mark Silva
President Bush calls his failure to win Social Security reform “the biggest disappointment’’ of his presidency.
In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Bush said: “The biggest disappointment is not getting a Social Security package, Social Security reform, because that truly is the big deficit issue. I'm sorry it didn't happen. I laid out a plan to make it happen, to enable it to happen. I'm the first president to have addressed it as specifically as I did. I wish Congress wasn't so risk-averse on the issue.”
And Bush, who first campaigned with a promise to restore dignity and honor to the office, was asked if he had accomplished that.
“History is going to have to judge,’’ Bush said.
Bush was asked about his administration’s latest setback, the declaration of emergency rule by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, after collecting $11 billion in U.S. aid since September 2001 and promising to deliver democracy to his nation.
“He’s agreed to hold elections in January, and he's agreed to take his uniform off,’’ Bush said of Musharraf. “And our judgment is, is that the sooner he can suspend his emergency decree, the faster Pakistan gets back on the road to democracy. And it's an ever-changing situation. And if you follow the news, as I know you do, it's changing all the time.’’
In the interview, Bush was asked about one of his earliest successes, as well – his tax cuts.
“I felt like a growing economy would yield more tax revenues,’’ Bush said. “I wasn't certain how much. And if you look at our budget projections, we constantly undershot. And so not only was I pleased, but I think the, you know, the budgeteers were surprised at how much more revenues came in than anticipated.
“The key, of course, is to keep the economy growing by keeping taxes low,’’ he said. “But the additional revenue should not be used an excuse to expand government. It ought to be used to pay down debt and reduce the deficit and that sort of thing.’’
See more excerpts from the interview here:
QUESTION: If you listen to Charlie Rangel and some others in the Democratic Party, they say, no way. They say that income distribution is greater than it ever has been, we need new tax increases in order to equalize the income in the United States. Do you have anything to tell them?
BUSH: I tell them that if you're interested in raising taxes, you can find any excuse to do so. But I also tell them that raising taxes would be bad for the economy. We don't need to be taking money out of the pockets of investors and savers and consumers.
Secondly, I would tell them that I would much rather have the American people spend their money than the federal government.
And thirdly, I tell them, if we'd only set priorities, if the Democrats in Congress would be willing to set priorities, you'll find that we got ample money to meet our needs.
QUESTION: A lot of folks put some blame on you, particularly conservative folks, saying you spent too much. What do you say?
BUSH: I say that I think you look at the facts. First of all, we did spend money, but it's primarily to make sure our military had what it takes to do the job. And we spend money to protect this homeland.
But on non-defense discretionary spending, we actually reduced the amount of spending for the first time in history. Certainly the first time recently, anyway -- and that we reduced our deficit dramatically and by growing the economy, being wise about spending money -- now look, in my first six years, I had had a Congress with whom I could reach budget agreements, and they hit our top line every year.
And so, there was -- I didn't have to veto bills because I didn't like the slices of the pie. But in so doing, you're going to make it harder to negotiate the size of the pie the next time….
We've reduced our deficit dramatically. We've overcome recession. And we're fighting a war.
I mean, we've got a lot of good people in harm's way, and we have had, since the liberation of Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq, and yet this government is funding that war. And it's expensive, as it should be. We don't want our kids going in there with lack of equipment or, you know -- when we find equipment shortfalls, we've addressed them.
And we've done all that and reduced the deficit.
So when people take an objective look, a stand-back look at whether or not, you know, we've handled the fiscal side of the equation, well, they're going to say, yes, we have, unless, of course, you believe in bigger government and more taxes, in which case they'll give me low marks because I'm resisting tax increases….
QUESTION: A lot of folks are worried that it's fallen too far. Is there anything more that you can do, as president, to assure the world that the dollar should maintain its value and increase in value?
BUSH: Well, we have a strong dollar policy, and it's important for the world to know that. We also believe it's important for the market to set the -- to set the value of the dollar relative to other currencies. And if people would look at the strength of our economy, they'd realize why, you know, I believe that the dollar will be stronger. And it is low inflation, low interest, 15 months of uninterrupted job growth, 3.9 percent GDP growth in the third quarter.
I mean, the underpinnings are strong. Now, we in the U.S. government, my administratio
n, believe the market ought to set the relation of the dollar to other currencies.
QUESTION: Even if the dollar is weak -- excuse me, if the economy is weak, shouldn't the dollar be strong?
BUSH: Well, all I can tell you is, is that the policy of this government is a strong dollar, and that we believe that the marketplace is the best place to set the exchange rates.
QUESTION: So you're satisfied with the exchange rates as they are now?
BUSH: Well, I am satisfied with the fact that we have a strong dollar policy and know that the market ought to be setting the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and other currencies.
QUESTION: Housing… Big problem now, a lot of foreclosures. What should the federal government do, if anything, to help those folks who have the adjustable rate mortgages who suddenly have a big uptick in their mortgage?
BUSH: Well, the federal government should help people renegotiate loans by encouraging the nonprofit NGOs to reach out to those who have had these adjustable rate mortgages to explain to them that there's an opportunity to refinance their homes if they're creditworthy.
Secondly, the federal government ought to change tax policy that says if you renegotiate your loan, you get paid -- you have to pay an extra tax.
Loan forgiveness through renegotiation is a taxable event. If you're trying to help people stay in their homes you shouldn't be taxing them when they renegotiate their mortgage.
Thirdly, we ought to modernize FHA, the Federal Housing Authority, so that people who qualify are able to get help in refinancing their mortgages. Look, we have to do everything we can to help people stay in their homes without bailing out lenders. And I was willing to help the person that borrowed the money, and those are three constructive ways to do so….
QUESTION: Iraq. Can you switch to Iraq now?.. The surge, is it working?
BUSH: Yes. And it's measurable. Whereas violence is declining and the attitudes of people are changing -- when people have more security, they're more willing to forego hedging their bets, affiliation to violent groups, and willing to reach out and reconcile with their neighbor.
I've always believed that most people want to live in peace. An Iraqi mom wants to raise her child in peace, and that, if given the chance -- given what looks like a secure future -- that people will make the necessary changes to live in a -- coexist with somebody else that may be, you know, an adversary, in a peaceful way. And that's what you're seeing. The politics hasn't followed as quickly as I'd have liked, at the federal level, although they are passing law and they are sharing potential revenues with the provinces.
But the amazing thing is what's happening at the grassroots level, where Sunni sheiks and Shia sheiks are coming together and trying to forge a future that is hopeful for their people.
And national politics will eventually follow local politics, by the way….
QUESTION: Musharraff has said, "Don't look at Pakistan with European eyes," stating to mean that democracy doesnt't work here. What do you tell Musharraf when you talk to him?
BUSH: Well, first of all, President Musharraf has got Pakistan on the road to democracy… And when I talked to him, I said, "You got to get Pakistan back on the road to democracy as quickly as possible." And that means elections, and that means that, in my judgment, the road to democracy means you can't be the head of the military and the president at the same time.
He's agreed to hold elections in January, and he's agreed to take his uniform off. And our judgment is, is that the sooner he can suspend his emergency decree, the faster Pakistan gets back on the road to democracy. And it's an ever-changing situation. And if you follow the news, as I know you do, it's changing all the time ….
And our purpose, of course, is to promote a democracy in Pakistan, and at the same time as a valuable ally in fighting the extremists, who have tried to kill President Musharraf three or four times.
He understands the stakes of the war, and I do believe he understands the importance of democracy…
QUESTION: We talked on Air Force One about restoring a sense of dignity to the office itself. Would you count that among your successes?
BUSH: History is going to have to judge. I do know that its important for the president to guard the institution of the presidency. It's important to realize that the office is bigger than the person. And that's what brings great stability to the United States. I go to work every day in the Oval Office. It's such a grand institution. It's been an honor to serve. I have fourteen more months. I'm going to give it my all. ‘