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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
February 18, 2005
Vice President's Remarks at Annual Conservative PAC Conference
Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center
7:47 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good evening. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Well, thank you very much.
And, Chris, I appreciate that introduction. It was very kind, sir. And I want to thank my old friends Dave Keene and Wayne LaPierre for their great work for the organization. And Dave, of course, is a great dedicated conservative, but he's a lousy fisherman. (Laughter.) No matter what he says.
But it's honor to be your guest again at CPAC. And I look around the room and see a number of old friends -- as well as many young folks, folks who will be the conservative leaders of tomorrow. It's good to see all of you, and I convey best personal wishes from our President, George W. Bush. (Applause.)
So many of you helped make this second term possible, and we're most grateful. The year 2004 brought one of the most critical elections in our nation's history -- presenting fundamental choices on the direction of our nation's economy, and the course of the war on terror. With the stakes so high, it was an intense campaign, fought out to the last hour of the last day. All of us worked hard, gained many new friends, and achieved a decisive outcome: a record voter turnout and a broad, nationwide victory for the Bush-Cheney ticket.
Lynne and I had a terrific year on the campaign trail, with a lot of memorable experiences along the way. I recall the day we stopped in Joplin, Missouri, and had a town hall-style meeting with members of the local community. A lady in the audience stood up and said, "Mr. Vice President, I have a 2000 Bush-Cheney sticker. I've recycled it today. And I want to see our President and Vice President recycled." (Laughter.) I'd never heard it put quite that way. I made it clear that I wanted to be re-elected, I didn't want to be recycled. (Laughter.)
Another fine memory was the vice-presidential debate. I enjoyed that evening -- (applause) -- though everybody agreed the other guy had better hair. (Laughter.)
But we also remember a great week in New York City, and a superb convention at Madison Square Garden. (Applause.) The event was historic, because it was the first Republican convention ever to have a Democrat as the keynote speaker. (Laughter and applause.) And, of course, it was unforgettable, because the keynoter was Senator Zell Miller. (Applause.)
All the hard work was rewarded in the end, and the President and I want you to know how much we appreciate each and every person who joined in the effort. Thanks to you, we gained seats in the House of Representatives. Thanks to you, I am now presiding over a larger Republican majority in the United States Senate. (Applause.) And thanks to you, President George W. Bush won the greatest number of popular votes of any presidential candidate in history. (Applause.)
This has been a consequential presidency -- which has revitalized our economy and reasserted a confident American role in the world. Yet in the election of 2004, we did more than just campaign on a record. President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future, and the voters responded by giving him a mandate. In this new term we're going to use that mandate to achieve great goals -- so we can leave this nation better, stronger, and safer than we found it.
Our work begins with good stewardship of the economy, and continuing a strategy that is pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-entrepreneur, and pro-taxpayer. (Applause.)
Four years ago, we inherited an economy that was running out of steam. Working with Congress, we moved quickly, delivering tax relief for every person who pays income taxes, and setting the economy on a new course. Energized by tax relief, America pulled out of the recession, and overcame the economic disruption that followed the attacks of September 11th. Among the major industrialized nations, the fastest-growing economy is right here in the United States. And in the last year we've added more than 2.2 million new jobs. (Applause.)
To keep our economy strong and competitive in the future, we must ensure that America remains the best place in the world to do business. And any sound economic policy depends on limiting the size, the scope, and the spending appetite of the federal government. (Applause.) Last week the President sent Congress a budget that meets the nation's priorities in a thorough, responsible way; holds the growth in discretionary spending below the rate of inflation; actually reduces non-security discretionary spending -- the first proposed budget reduction since Ronald Reagan lived in the White House. (Applause.) We've identified more than 150 programs that don't fulfill essential purposes, or duplicate current efforts, or simply don't get results. And out of respect for the taxpayers, those programs will be reduced or eliminated. (Applause.)
Permanent tax relief will make it easier for America's entrepreneurs to start new businesses, to buy new equipment, and to hire new workers. The small business sector is the main engine of job growth in the United States. And in every part of the country, small companies are the path of advancement, especially for women, minorities, and immigrant families. So to keep this economy strong and competitive, we need to reward, not punish, the effort and enterprise of hardworking Americans. (Applause.)
We'll keep this economy strong by enacting a sound national energy policy. For the sake of our economic security and our national security, Congress needs to pass the President's energy plan and to make this nation less dependent on foreign energy. (Applause.)
We'll keep this economy strong by passing legal reform. Justice is distorted, and the economy is harmed, when the courts have to deal with irresponsible class actions, or frivolous claims, or junk lawsuits. We've allowed the lawsuit culture to make our legal system the most expensive among major industrialized nations -- with tort costs exceeding $240 billion a year. And you can measure the effects throughout the economy -- in the new employees who don't get hired, the equipment that doesn't get purchased, and the better wages and benefits that don't get paid. For the sake of economic growth, jobs, and simple fairness, Congress needs to return common sense to the nation's legal system. (Applause.)
Congress has already begun to move forward on today's pressing economic issues. But our changing times also require some more fundamental reforms.
Year after year, American taxpayers carry the burden of a federal tax system that is out of date and incoherent -- with hundreds of different forms and publications, and more than 60,000 pages of laws and regulations. Millions of honest people spend billions of nonproductive hours just trying to figure out what they owe the government. And we now have more people in the business of preparing tax returns than we have in the United States Army. (Laughter.) Last month -- well, it's not a bad line. (Laughter and applause.)
Last month, the President appointed a bipartisan panel to review the tax code from top to bottom, and when their recommendations come in, we'll work with Congress to make the tax code pro-growth, easier to understand, and fair to all the taxpayers in America.
One of America's most important institutions is also in need of fundamental reform. The time has come to join together and save Social Security for our children and grandchildren. (Applause.)
Social Security has been in steady service, uninterrupted, for nearly 70 years -- providing income to millions of seniors, and assuring generations of working people that their retirement years would have some decent measure of security. For today's generation of senior citizens, the system is strong and fiscally sound. But younger workers are understandably concerned about whether Social Security will be around for them when they need it. The problem is simple to state: With an aging population, and a steadily falling ratio of workers to retirees, the system is on a course to eventual bankruptcy.
It's also worth noting that in 1935, the average life expectancy in America was about 60 years -- meaning that most people would not even live long enough to become eligible for retirement benefits when the program was established. So when the program was still new, in the 1940s, there were about 40 workers paying into the system for every retiree drawing benefits. Over time, as more and more retirees entered the system and lived longer, the number of workers per beneficiary continued to decline. By the 1950s, about 16 workers paid in for each person drawing out. Today, it's about three workers per beneficiary. And by the time our youngest workers -- those just entering the workforce today -- turn 65, the ratio will be down to two workers per beneficiary.
At present, Social Security operates with a cash surplus. But very soon, the greatest test of the Social Security system will be upon us. In just three years, the first members of the baby boom generation will begin retiring and collecting benefits, and the surpluses will begin to decline. By 2018, Social Security will begin paying out more than it receives in payroll taxes. And from then on, the shortfalls will grow larger every year -- until 2042, when the Social Security system trustees estimate that the system will go bankrupt. By that point, after shortfalls in the trillions of dollars, the government would have no option other than to suddenly and dramatically cut benefits, or to impose a massive, economically ruinous tax on American workers.
In short, the system is making empty promises that everyone in Washington knows cannot be met. And we have a duty to solve the financial problems of Social Security once and for all.
To meet that duty, President Bush has outlined several principles that will guide us to a sensible, workable, bipartisan reform. First, out of basic fairness, there must be no changes in Social Security for those now receiving benefits, and those close to retirement. Anyone born before 1950 can be absolutely certain nobody is going to touch their Social Security. The program as they know it will stay the same for them.
Second, we must not increase payroll taxes on American workers. (Applause.) Combined with a federal income tax burden that's already too high, endless increases in the payroll tax would take a heavy toll on American workers, and would hurt the economy. We cannot tax our way out of this problem.
Third, any fix must be permanent. Real Social Security reform requires us to move beyond quick fixes and short-term schemes, and that's exactly what we intend to do. (Applause.)
Fourth, as we fix Social Security, we must make the system a better deal for younger workers, and the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts. (Applause.) Each personal account would be under the individual worker's ownership and control. He or she would make regular investments in bonds or stocks over a working life, then either use those investments to meet expenses in retirement, or leave them as an inheritance for the next generation.
Our administration supports allowing workers to set aside up to four percentage points of their payroll taxes in personal accounts -- a reform to be phased in over a number of years, to ensure that it's fiscally responsible. Personal retirement accounts will be voluntary. We will make sure the money can only go into sound investment choices, a conservative portfolio of stocks and bonds. And we'll make sure that the earnings are not eaten up by hidden fees.
Here is where Social Security's future should be seen as more than a problem to be solved -- it is also a tremendous opportunity for all of our citizens. Personal accounts are part of a comprehensive solution to help the nation resolve the long-term challenges to Social Security in a way that is fair to future generations. They would continue a great American tradition of upward mobility and individual independence. Many low-income workers who have nothing to spare after taxes would have a chance to begin saving for their later years. In this way, personal accounts hold the promise of turning every American worker into an owner, giving them a retirement fund they control themselves and call their own. This is a wise step toward a public policy and an approach that can unite members of both parties: Let us give all Americans the tools they need to succeed in freedom, to grow in independence -- with a retirement nest egg that government can never take away. (Applause.)
To build a stronger, better America for the next generation, we must also uphold the values that sustain our society -- limited government, personal responsibility, free enterprise, reverence for life, and equal justice under the law.
Under the President's leadership, we will continue reforms that bring high standards to the public schools, but leave control in the hands of parents and state school boards, not bureaucrats in Washington. (Applause.)
We'll keep working to make health care more affordable for families, to protect good doctors from unreasonable lawsuits, to advance the system of private medicine that is the finest in the world by investing in health information technology and accelerating the creation of electronic medical records. We'll strive to build a culture of life that recognizes the dignity of every person. (Applause.) And we'll support medical research that is ambitious and ethical. (Applause.)
And in this new term President Bush will continue nominating federal judges who know their job is to faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench. (Applause.)
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, the President and I will never lose sight of our primary responsibility every day we serve in office: We will do all that is necessary to protect the liberty and the lives of the American people.
As the President has said, we will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy -- and chief among them is the freedom from fear. And we are fighting a global war on terror, because Americans refuse to live in fear.
We will continue our unprecedented efforts to defend the homeland with greatly improved security for people and cargo entering the country, new research on defenses against biological and chemical attack, more training for first responders, and vital reforms of our intelligence agencies. We'll continue working with friends and allies to counter the proliferation of deadly weapons. And we'll stay on the offensive against the terrorist enemy -- patiently hunting them down and bringing them to account, until this danger to America is fully and finally removed. (Applause.)
Defending our homeland and pursuing our enemies are central commitments in the war on terror. Yet the long-term safety of our nation depends on eliminating the conditions that breed ideologies of murder. If the Middle East is a place where tyrants incite hatred, support terrorist groups, and gain the most destructive weapons, then America and the world will face decades of violence. The only force that can overcome hatred, resentment, and tyranny is the force of human freedom -- and that is why the United States will stand with the allies of freedom to promote democracy, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. (Applause.)
A community of free and independent nations, with governments accountable to their citizens, will enhance the peace of future generations. Governments that terrorize their own people do not hesitate to support terror abroad; democracies respect their people, and the rights of their neighbors. Dictatorships prop themselves up by finding scapegoats for their failures; democracies succeed by encouraging hope and peaceful enterprise. So by serving the great ideals of America, we also serve the urgent security interests of America. By spreading freedom, we defend our own.
Advancing freedom will require different methods in different places. Like other great causes in history, it will require decades of patient effort -- and it will be resisted by those whose only hope for power is the spread of violence. Yet we live in a time of tremendous progress, and the direction of events is clear: Afghanistan has held the first free elections in the nation's 5,000-year history. The Palestinian people have chosen a new President and new hopes for democracy and peace. The citizens of Ukraine have stood strongly for their democratic rights, and chosen a new leader for their country. We are seeing the power of freedom to change our world, and all who strive for freedom can know that the United States of America is on their side. (Applause.)
Our commitment to freedom is being tested today in Iraq. That country remains a vital front in the war on terror, and the terrorists and insurgents will continue their violent opposition to the rise of democracy. Yet as the entire world saw in the elections three weeks ago, the people of Iraq are determined to defend their freedom, and they will not permit a small group of assassins to subvert the will of the peaceful majority.
With the dictator overthrown, their sovereignty restored, their votes cast, the Iraqi people are now in charge of their own destiny. Iraq's elected legislators will soon appoint a government. By next October, a new constitution will be submitted to the public for ratification. If it is approved, then by December the voters of Iraq will elect a fully democratic constitutional government.
As Iraqis take up these responsibilities -- (applause) -- as Iraqis take up these responsibilities during the coming year, America will keep its commitment to them. The most practical way to enhance Iraq's security is to build the skill and the confidence of its security forces. The United States and our coalition partners have already trained and equipped many of these forces, and we'll continue to train more. And we are working toward a clear objective: To enable the government and citizens of democratic Iraq to defend their own country, and their own freedom. And when that work is done, our servicemen and women will return home to a proud and grateful nation. (Applause.)
Freedom's advance in the broader Middle East is bringing new hope to a troubled part of the world, and freedom's victory in that region will make America safer for generations to come. The effort has been difficult, and there is more hardship and hard work ahead. And our whole nation is grateful to every member of our military, and to the families who share in their sacrifice.
Our deepest debt is owed to the men and women who have fallen in service to America. (Applause.) We think of young volunteers like Jeff LeBrun, the son of Haitian immigrants, who used to ride the A train into Manhattan -- and passed under the World Trade Center every morning on the way to school. After experiencing the events of 9/11, both he and his brother Stanley decided they were going to join the military to defend the country. Jeff became an Army specialist, and was serving in Iraq when he was killed by terrorists last month. He was 21.
We think of soldiers like Sergeant Christian Engeldrum. He was a New York City firefighter, and was one of those who helped raise the flag over the ruins at Ground Zero. Last year his National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq. He was killed in action near Baghdad, age 39. At his funeral, the New York Fire Commissioner said that Christian Engeldrum "gave more than most men who live twice as long."
Ladies and gentlemen, this time of challenge for our country is also a time of rising hopes for peace in our world. May we never forget the price that some have paid, and are paying today, for the safety of us all, and the security of the land we love. May we always be grateful for the skill, and sacrifice, and unselfish courage of America's Armed Forces.
In these four years, both at home and in far corners of the world, the American people have faced one challenge after another. We have lived with adversity, and sometimes with sorrow, and often with uncertainty. Yet we have never been intimidated by our tasks, and we have shown a watching world the good, and generous, and persevering character of this nation. Because we have taken up hard duties -- and stayed at them without wavering -- we can be confident that our children and grandchildren will live in a better, stronger, safer America.
All of us know there is much yet to do, and you can be certain that President Bush and I are eager for the work ahead. On his behalf, I want to thank our many friends gathered here tonight. We are deeply grateful for your support, and for the high honor of serving the American people for four more years.
Thank you very much.
END 8:12 P.M. EST