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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 11, 2005

                    January 11, 2005 Index

Announcement of DHS nominee 1-3, 10, 13

Social Security 1, 3-10, 16

Partisan atmosphere in Congress 8-9, 14

President-elect Abbas 11-13

Debt repayment from Indonesia 12

Allawi phone call/elections in Iraq 12-14

Medicare 15

Iraq/barring Baathists from political process 16-17


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release January 11, 2005



James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:24 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President was pleased to participate, earlier today, in a conversation on Social Security. As you all are aware, we are stepping up our public outreach and national discussion with the American people about the need to strengthen Social Security for our children and grandchildren. It will require a common understanding of the problem, first, and it will also require that we move forward in a bipartisan way to fix Social Security. And the President looks forward to continuing to visit with the American people about this important priority, as well as discussing with members of Congress ways we can go about solving this problem together.

The President, earlier today, also was pleased to announce his choice for the new nominee for the Department of Homeland Security, Judge Chertoff. Judge Chertoff is a talented, experienced public servant. He is someone who enjoys wide respect from Democrats and Republicans alike, and he is someone who enjoys broad support from our law enforcement community, who he has worked closely with over the last few years in the course of his public service career. He is also someone who has a deep commitment to making sure we are doing everything we can to protect the American people. He knows that the strategy is to disrupt and prevent attacks from happening in the first place. And so the President was pleased that he agreed to the nomination, and hopes that Congress will move quickly on his confirmation.

The President is also pleased that Fran Townsend has agreed to continue serving in her position as Homeland Security Advisor. It is a critical position, and Fran has done a tremendous job coordinating our homeland security efforts. She is someone who enjoys the full trust of the President. He believes she has done a tremendous and outstanding job, and is pleased that she has agreed to continue serving in that critical post.

And with that, I will be glad to take your questions.

Q The President made a point of saying that Judge Chertoff has been confirmed three times. Why did he make that point?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's someone who, like I said, enjoys wide respect from Democrats and Republicans alike, particularly on the Hill. He is someone who has a lot of experience and brings a lot of talent to this position. And that's why the President talked about it.

Q Did it have anything to do with the flameout of his last nominee?

MR. McCLELLAN: That issue is behind us. The President is moving forward on this new nominee. He is someone who was on the list previously that we were looking at. However, he has only been serving as a judge for the past couple of years, and I think the presumption here at the White House was that he wanted to continue serving in that position. We found out since that he was interested in taking over this critical post, and we're pleased that he agreed to accept this nomination.

Q But the suggestion seemed to be implied that we're not going to have any of the previous problems with this nominee.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's someone who has been confirmed over the course of the last few years on those occasions.

Q Are you suggesting that you found out later that he was interested from the beginning, even when you chose Kerik; that he had always been interested in taking over --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that he is someone that brings a tremendous amount of experience and talent to this position, and someone that -- was always someone who we considered could be a great person for this position. But previously we were working under the presumption that maybe he'd want to continue serving as a judge on the court of appeals. And that assumption was wrong, so we're pleased that he agreed to accept this nomination.

Q Let me ask you a question about Social Security. As the President has made clear in his comments today, and the memo from last week that was made public also made clear, that you're in a kind of a definition phase, trying to make the case that Social Security is in a state of crisis, even though that's a debatable point. Does the President think he's got to do a lot more to convince people that that's, in fact, the case? And so does he want to take his time before he actually commits to a real --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I would say that this is a very high priority, and it's an important challenge facing the American people -- all Americans. This was an issue that was discussed at length in the campaign. There were two different views that were presented to the American people. And it was one of the critical choices that the American people faced in this election. The American people voted decisively for the President's agenda, and that includes his agenda to strengthen Social Security for future generations.

The President made it very clear that we're not going to change anything for those at or near retirement. This is about strengthening Social Security so that those benefits are there for our younger workers, for our children and grandchildren, so that they can build a nest egg and realize a greater rate of return on their own savings. That's what this was about.

And the American people spoke very clearly in the election. It's important, as we move into the second-term agenda, that we continue to have a discussion directly with the American people about how we move forward. And the President has been able to accomplish many big things over the last four years and he has a big agenda for the next four years. He wants to build upon that agenda, and he believes the best way to proceed going forward is to work closely with members of Congress in a bipartisan way to solve this problem.

We can debate words like, crisis, but -- or not a crisis, but I think it's very clear that this is a significant problem facing the American people. If people want to say otherwise, they're welcome to make that argument. People can look the other way and ignore the problem and hope that it goes away, but that's the same as sticking your head in the sand. This is a very real challenge facing the American people, and now is the time to act. That's why the President is going out talking to the American people; that's why he's meeting with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, to get this problem fixed now.

Q You've got -- you've obviously got a problem in that convincing the American people at large that it's a crisis or even a significant problem takes some doing, as well.

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree.

Q You do? So, I mean, my question was, does the President feel that way? And if so, does he want to take his time before actually committing to a reform plan?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the first step is to make sure that we have a common understanding of the problem facing Social Security. We can go back through what the President talked about earlier. We know that in 2018, the benefits being paid out are going to exceed the taxes coming into the system. And then by 2042, you're going to have a system that goes bankrupt. That's the crisis or significant problem facing Social Security today.

The demographic facts have changed. When Social Security -- back in 1950, you had 16 workers for every one retiree. Today, you have, I think, 3.3 workers per every -- for every retiree, and that number continues to go down. So you have less people paying into the system to support a growing number of people who are retiring and receiving those benefits. And the President doesn't believe we should pass this problem on to future generations. He believes we should act now to solve it. And that's what he will continue to do.

Q One more try here. Does he feel that he's got to slow down, take his time, before he actually commits --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, okay, back to the first part of your follow-up question there. The President believes that, first, it's important to have a common understanding of the problem. That's first and foremost. He also believes that we must move forward in a bipartisan way because this is a big challenge facing all Americans. That's the way he's proceeding as we move forward.

But he's made it very clear that as we move forward, he intends to put forward some possible solutions so that we can continue to move forward on acting on this problem this year. That's why he wants to get this solved this year. So as we move forward, he recognizes the importance of leading on this issue, and that's exactly what he's doing. It's what he did during the campaign. Many people said, you shouldn't touch this issue, you should not discuss it, it could hurt you. Well, quite the opposite. The American people responded in a strong fashion to the President's agenda, including his agenda for strengthening Social Security.

So the President is going to lead on this issue, and as we move forward in a bipartisan way, he will put forward some possible solutions that we can discuss and act on.

Q You talk about public support. Some of the polls suggest that only about 1 percent of the people actually voted on the basis of the Social Security issue. Now, it obviously didn't keep the President from winning, even though he talked about it. But do you have any figures that suggest that he actually -- that there is something that suggests he has a mandate on this issue as a result of the election?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the election is one thing to point to, and he discussed it in the 2000 election, as well. But it was something that was debated in great detail in this election. I mean, both candidates presented their views on the issue. One candidate was saying that there's not a problem, that we can deal with this later. The other candidate said -- and that was the President -- said, this is a growing problem; if we look the other way, it's only going to get worse over time and our options are going to become more limited; that's why we need to act now. And he won, running on that position.

I think you can look at -- there are a number of independent surveys out there that show there's a lot of support for moving forward to -- for strengthening Social Security and allowing younger workers to have personal retirement accounts, so that they can realize a greater rate of return on their own savings. And I think that most Americans recognize that there is a problem facing Social Security. And the President believes we were elected to come here and solve problems, not pass them on. That's why he's acting on this initiative now.

Q Yes, I understand. But one of the problems you obviously have is, aside from the fact that many Democrats are dead-set against this, is that some Republicans are experiencing some angst over the President raising this issue in public, and some of them even appeared in the newspaper today, saying that they don't think this is a wise thing to do, and it could hurt the party in the future, it could hurt it in the midterm elections, and so on and so forth. One of the first tasks, obviously, would be to get people in his own party to go along with him.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's reaching out to members of both parties to move forward in a bipartisan way to solve this problem. One of the first meetings he had on this issue after the election was with a bipartisan group of leaders from the Senate and House. I think that was before the end of last year. And then just last week, he had a meeting with Republican leaders from the Senate and House on this very issue. And all those members in that room, I think, understood clearly the problem facing Social Security. And the President told them that he was going to be out front leading this effort, and that it's important that we work together and reach out to members on the other side of the aisle to get this problem solved.

Now, there are a number of Democrats that understand we have a very real structural problem facing Social Security, and that now is the time to act to fix it. Congressman Boyd is someone who recently came out in support of acting on legislation. The bipartisan Social Security Commission, which included Democrats, stated that personal retirement accounts were an important part of a comprehensive solution for strengthening Social Security. That will add a new benefit, and allow younger workers, if they choose -- because these are voluntary -- to realize a greater rate of return on their savings.

Q The President made a direct appeal to people who are a little nervous about this today, and he seemed to say, especially to Republicans who aren't quite on board, get on board or get left behind.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people spoke very clearly in the election. I think, also, that you've seen over the years that people have tried to use scare tactics with our seniors. But the President has made it very clear -- this is about future generations. This is about our children and grandchildren. Our seniors are going to continue to have the same system they have today. This is about strengthening it for future generations --

Q -- don't want to say anything to Republicans --

MR. McCLELLAN: And there are a lot of people -- there are people on both sides of the aisle. The President is reaching out to all those members, and saying, we need to move forward and act on this problem, now. And he stated the reasons why. There are very clear reasons why we should act now to solve this problem. We were elected to come to Washington to solve problems, not to pass them on to future generations. That's one of the key things the President will continue to emphasize. This is one of the biggest challenges facing the American people for the future. And that's why we need to act today to solve it.

Q Scott, you mentioned that the President reached out to Democrats recently. And, of course, you did that when you first came to the White House, but even Democrats who worked with him felt very much let down afterward. What can the President do now to reassure Democrats that he really means it this time?

MR. McCLELLAN: Why were they let down?

Q Well, for a variety of reasons. We can look at all the Democrats who worked with him on No Child Left Behind, they absolutely feel --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're saying the Democrats that met with him on Social Security before the end of the year?

Q I'm saying that the President says he wants to reach out in a bipartisan way. He seems to have done some of that. He did it the first time, in his first term, but shortly after, in so many cases, Democrats felt like they were let down. And I'm just asking, what can the President and the White House say to reassure them --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a broad characterization. I mean, I think there were some that maybe tried to score some political points during the heat of a campaign on some of those issues. This isn't about -- these are big priorities facing the American people, the ones that you mentioned in the first term.

And the President recognizes that there has been a partisan tone that has grown over the years in Washington, D.C. It's not like when he was in Texas, and he was able to work across the partisan aisle in a bipartisan way on many issues. Too often in this town people get caught up in who gets credit for solving this problem. The President isn't interested in who gets credit. He's glad to share credit with all those who are committed to working together to solve problems. But we need to recognize that -- what we were elected to do. We were elected to come to Washington to solve these problems.

And the President, in his first term, was able to pass historic education reforms. We were able to pass important tax cuts to get the economy growing. And we're seeing strong job creation now because of those policies. And we were able to act on a plan to modernize Medicare, so that seniors would have some of the same choices that members of Congress have today. And that's one of the same things we're talking about here, with strengthening Social Security, is allowing younger workers to have options that are similar to what federal employees have now, today, through their plans, through retirement plans, and giving them more control over their own savings.

Q Just to be clear, you're saying the President has not at all contributed to the partisan atmosphere in Washington?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think if you've looked at the President's leadership over the course of the last four years and the course of his previous years as governor of Texas, he is someone who has always worked to elevate the tone, and to -- he is someone who has always reached out. Now, people have to reach back in order to get things done, but he's going to continue extending his hand and saying, if you agree with me that this is a problem, if you agree with the American people that this is a growing problem that only gets worse over time, then lets work together and solve this. I welcome your ideas; I welcome your suggestions. Let's talk about how we can move forward together to get it done.

Q Scott, back on Social Security. At the end of the President's conversation on this matter, he said something that Social Security should be part of retirement savings. Is that what he's basically looking at now, not -- for Americans not to really just rely on it totally, just do other things, as well?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't think Americans do today. You've heard people talk about the three legs of the stool, and Social Security was designed to provide Americans with a guaranteed retirement benefit, and particularly some lower-income Americans to make sure that they had those retirement benefits. But it's a system that was created for a different time period, and that's why we need to take steps to strengthen it today for tomorrow's retirees.

Q All right. And then another question -- listening to panelists, they were saying they were promoting the fact that they liked the idea of the private investment accounts, but they were talking about the inheritance. The current system now does not allow -- if the person dies, the money dies with them.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

Q It doesn't come back -- but for this new proposal, that it could be an inheritance. What kind of safeguards are in the proposal that if the money is inherited, there won't be penalties, there won't be certain taxes, that the money would just go free and clear to a family member?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're working with members of Congress on all the specific details. As you know, the President hasn't put forward a specific proposal, but he's outlined some very clear principles. And one of the things he's talked about is giving Americans the ability to pass on their savings to their heirs. And that's what he wants to do as part of a comprehensive reform plan.

Q Okay, but you said, no payroll taxes, but is there any guarantee that there will not be some kind of inheritance tax associated with the savings --

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, April, we're trying to jump ahead of where we are right now. The President has made it very clear that this would be their own money -- this would be their money, and that's what's important to talk --

Q Well, would it be taxed --

MR. McCLELLAN: When we outline a specific proposal, then we'll be able to talk more about all those ideas within that proposal.

Kathleen, go ahead.

Q Can you elaborate on how and when the White House became aware that Judge Chertoff was interested in the Homeland Security Cabinet post? Did he make the White House aware of it? Did the White House contact him? And is it safe to assume this occurred sometime after December 3rd?

MR. McCLELLAN: It occurred after Commissioner Kerick withdrew his name from consideration. The White House reached out to Judge Chertoff and started to talk to Judge Chertoff, and he expressed that he would be interested. The President met with him last Saturday here at the White House -- Saturday morning -- to discuss the position.

And then on Sunday morning -- I know that Andy Card had been in touch with Judge Chertoff prior to that, and he was in touch with Judge Chertoff after the President met with him, as well. The President talked with his Chief of Staff Andy Card on a few occasions over the course of the weekend. And I believe it was Sunday morning, the President had attended church service over here at St. John's, and then he went for a bike ride over at Beltsville. And on his way back from that bike ride, he called Judge Chertoff from the motorcade and offered him the nomination, and was pleased that Judge Chertoff accepted the position.

Go ahead, Sarah.

Q Thank you. Scott, is the President considering inviting the new Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to meet with him at Camp David to take a jump-start in the Middle East peace process?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, the President had a very good conversation with President-elect Abbas yesterday. The President called to congratulate him; it was a congratulatory call. And one thing the President did in the call was extend an invitation to President-elect Abbas to come to Washington, D.C. when he felt it was a good time to do so.

I think right now there are a couple things at play as we work to move forward toward the President's two-state vision that he outlined back in 2002. First of all, you still have the disengagement plan by Prime Minister Sharon that he has outlined, and he is working to move forward on that disengagement plan. That presents us with a unique opportunity to move forward on the road map that was agreed to by the parties.

And you also have new leadership that has now been elected by the Palestinian people. And the President has made it very clear that we want to do everything to support the Palestinian cabinet and the new leaders as they move forward to address some of their responsibilities, starting with addressing the security situation and having a unified security force structure, cracking down on terrorism, taking steps to build upon some of the efforts that have already been made to have a more transparent and open government, so that they will fight corruption and end corruption, and putting in place institutions that will lead to a democratic state, as well as addressing some of the economic issues. And the President made it very clear that Israel has responsibilities in this, as well.

The immediate focus right now I think is on doing everything we can to support the Palestinian leadership as they move forward on those steps, and there's an upcoming meeting in London on March 1st, I believe, that Prime Minister Blair is hosting, and that's where our focus is right now. That meeting is focused on helping the Palestinians develop the institutions they need for a viable democratic state to emerge. And so that's where our focus is right now. The President has met with both of these leaders in the past, and he believes both leaders are committed to moving forward on the two-state vision. We have a very unique opportunity before us and it's time to seize that opportunity. And President-elect Abbas said just that in his phone conversation with the President yesterday.

Q On the tsunami relief effort, Indonesia has asked Paris Club nations to delay payment of its debt. Is that something the President wants -- would allow? Does he want to see --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me update you on where we are because that is an issue that they're discussing. We and some of the other G7 countries have agreed that the immediate aid focus is on delivering the urgent humanitarian assistance for the relief of disaster victims. At the same time, we recognize that some countries may be unable to make debt payments, and that any delay in such payments must be implemented consistent with our relevant laws in the United States. We and other G7 countries would not expect debt payments from affected countries requesting such treatment until with World Bank and IMF have completed a full assessment of their reconstruction and financing requirements. And so we'll be working with other creditors to achieve a consensus for this approach at the Paris Club's regular monthly meeting that is going on this week.

Q So you're saying you're going to delay, you and the other G7 countries are going to allow a delay in the debt payment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying what I just said, we'll work on a consensus approach, recognizing that some countries may be unable to make some of their debt payments.

Q Can you tell us about the Allawi phone call this morning, and whether the President and Allawi discussed the fact that three weeks from now there will be elections that, in effect, won't happen in some parts of the country?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think what they discussed was the preparations for the upcoming elections, and making sure that we're moving forward on the timetable set by the Independent Iraqi Election Commission of January 30th. This will be a very important moment in the history of Iraq, in the history of the Iraqi people. It's one step in the process because it's one of three elections that will take place over the course of the next three years. And I think both leaders are committed to making sure we have the best possible election with the widest possible participation.

And so we're working to address security issues and make sure that that can happen, and we have to recognize that this is the beginning of building a democratic and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people. This will be the first time in decades -- the first time ever that the Iraqi people have gone and been able to freely choose their leaders. It's the transitional national government, which will then pick leaders from within the Iraqi community to serve in the leadership positions, and then work on drafting a constitution.

And so that's where our focus is, on moving forward to make sure that we have the best possible election, recognizing that democracy takes time and that this election no one expects to be perfect, but we want to make it the best possible election with the broadest possible participation.

Q When they talked about that, though, did they not talk about how imperfect it's likely to be, with a large -- with one of the major ethnic groups almost unrepresented?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Prime Minister Allawi is doing a lot to reach out to the Sunni population, encourage all in that population to participate in the elections. That's the best way for them to have a say in the future of Iraq. And Prime Minister Allawi is emphasizing to them that you have an important role to play in the future of Iraq, and the way to do that is to participate in these elections. And I think you've also heard from other leaders from the Shiia community, in press reports, talk about the importance of making sure that they do reach out to all people in Iraq and that we have a representative transitional government as we move forward. So they've talked about that in press reports, and recognize that there are some security challenges in certain areas of Iraq that remain. That's why we're partnering closely with Iraqi security forces to address those situations.

No one more than the terrorists want to see the elections delayed. That's all the more reason to push forward to hold these elections. It's the first step, and it's a significant step, in moving forward on building a permanent representative government for the Iraqi people, which is key to a democratic future for the Iraqi people.

Q Going back to Judge Chertoff, there are about 120,000 people under the Homeland Security umbrella. Can you tell us what experience Judge Chertoff has in managing large bureaucracies?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. He has managed the criminal division at the Department of Justice, where he's overseen hundreds of employees there. Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security was the largest reorganization of the government in 50 years, when it took place. And Secretary Ridge did a tremendous job of getting that organization up and running and improving our airline security and strengthening our border and port security, and taking steps to protect our political infrastructure. Judge Chertoff will build upon that. And you have very capable people in the positions in each of those agencies that operate under the Department of Homeland Security. But he is a skilled manager who has a record of -- who has a background of overseeing a large number of people.

Q Is the White House or the President aware of the fact that Allawi's political party is paying journalists over there?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Paying journalists?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw a report on that, but I haven't seen any response from Prime Minister Allawi, so I'd like to hear more about the other side of that and whether or not that is an accurate account.

Q -- says on the front page of the Financial --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, Russell, I just said, I read the report, and I'd like to hear more from Prime Minister Allawi and see what they say in response to that. I like to check my sources before I comment on it.

Q If I could follow up, Scott, he was handing --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you can't. Go ahead, Greg. I'll come back to you later.

Q A follow on Mark's line of questioning. Based on the President's phone call this morning and other recent Iraq briefings he may have had, does the President believe that there's any possible scenario that would justify a delay of the elections?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes it is important to move forward and support the Iraqi people as they move forward on holding these elections. Like I said, this will be one of three elections over the course of the year. This transitional government will draft a

constitution, present it to the Iraqi people for adoption, and then the Iraqi people will move forward on electing a permanent representative government for their future. And it's important that we all support the international community, do everything -- that the international community does everything it can to support the ambitions of the -- the aspirations of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people want to vote, they want to choose their leaders. I think it's very clear that the Iraqi people want to take more responsibility for their future. And that begins with being able to choose their leaders. But this will be a commitment that will continue after this election. There is more to do beyond this election to help the Iraqi people build a democratic and peaceful future. And we will be there to support them, every step of the way.

Q So at this point there's nothing that can happen on the ground that would prevent the elections?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what the President want, delay elections. That's why you're seeing the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists desperately trying to stop those elections from happening, through fear and intimidation and suicide bombings. They will be defeated. We are going to defeat them. And part of the way of defeating the regime elements and the terrorists who want to turn back to the past of tyranny is to move forward on the path to democracy. And this election is a significant step in that direction.

Q The President has been the only one talking about reaching across the aisle. It doesn't seem like anybody has the intention of reaching back. In fact, The Washington Post reported yesterday that Democrats in Washington are organizing for a year of confrontation and resistance, aimed at blocking the President's major initiatives. Just how long are the President's arms, and would he try to do this without Democrats if he had to?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw that story, too. And, again, I think the American people elected us to come here to Washington to work together to solve problems. That's the spirit in which the President is working. That's the spirit in which he worked in the first term. There was a clear choice in this election for the candidate's agendas and the American people made a decisive statement back in November, saying that they want to proceed forward with the agenda that the President has outlined for the future.

Now, the President wants to work closely with members of Congress to move forward on that agenda. It would be very unfortunate if there are Democratic leaders who simply want to block and obstruct the agenda, because this is about helping the American people have a better future. And this is about building a safer world and a better America. And that's the spirit in which the President will proceed going forward.

Paula, go ahead.

Q Why did the administration decide to address the insolvency problem in Social Security before Medicare, given that Medicare faces insolvency before Social Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not sure that I look at it the same way you do, because remember, one of the things we did in the first term was to work to pass historic improvements to Medicare. For the first time in its history, we were able to take steps to modernize it and improve it for seniors. And that's -- that was a very important step. And that measure included some cost controls. What we need to do right now on Medicare is focus on implementing those reforms that we put in place. And that's exactly what we are doing so that seniors will have more choices and be able to choose the kind of health care that fits their individual needs and be able to have prescription drug coverage.

And like I said, there are some steps in there to control some of the cost. But as we move forward on implementing this, it will address some of those issues. And so right now, that's where the focus needs to be on Medicare.

And in terms of Social Security, we've been through the reasons why we need to act on Social Security now.

Q It's been argued, though, that the prescription drug benefit law actually is bringing insolvency closer for Medicare because there was no structural changes done in time the law was enacted.

MR. McCLELLAN: I just pointed out there were some cost controls put into that. We're working to provide seniors with more options and better quality care. They can stay in the current system if they want to -- that was one of the things that we passed -- while also working to address some of those cost issues and bring down those costs for our seniors.

Q But not --

MR. McCLELLAN: Keep going. No, I didn't say that at all. In fact, you should listen to what I just said a minute ago. I said that was an important step when it comes to addressing Medicare. But right now, we need to focus on implementing those reforms.

Go ahead.

Q In your opening remarks you talked about outreach and public discussion. How come the first -- the kickoff for your big campaign to make it a crisis -- that's a scare tactic -- you had no opposition voices? You only staged a situation where everybody supported the President. That's not a public discussion. That's not outreach.

MR. McCLELLAN: There is plenty of public discussion going on this -- going on right now on this issue.

Q Well, is the White House going to promote a real debate on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President welcomes the debate about the problem facing Social Security. He wants to move forward on that discussion. And what the President did today was talk with generations of family members to highlight the problem facing Social Security. If others want to go out there and say that it's not a problem --

Q Don't call it outreach then --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- they are welcome -- they are welcome to do so.

Q -- it just has one side.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- talking directly with the American people, and he had the conversation participants. He's also reaching out to people all across the nation who hear what he is saying and who are paying attention to this important issue.

Q You are building a whole big campaign, aren't you?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll go to the back. Go ahead.

Q In hindsight, it appears to be a gross miscalculation to bar all Baathists from the political process and to dismantle the Iraqi army so quickly, which many believe has added to the number of insurgents. Has anyone either at the State Department or the Department of Defense been held accountable for this decision? Because no one anticipated the insurgents to have the kind of effect and disruptive power that they've had, and this appears to be a political mistake as you try to move up to the election.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think that this issue has been addressed repeatedly by Ambassador Bremer, by others, and it has been fully discussed. What we're focused on now is moving forward to help the Iraqi people realize a brighter future, and to help them move forward on these elections that they will be holding over the course --

Q The insurgents are getting stronger.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- over the course -- over the course of the next year. Well, I would say that the regime elements and the terrorists are becoming more violent because they recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. And I think you've heard us say it doesn't take much when you have an individual who is willing to go and strap a bomb onto himself and try to kill innocent civilians to cause some damage. And that's what we're up against.

But Iraqis and the international community and the American people recognize the stakes that are involved in Iraq. This is about making the world a safer place and helping to transform the Middle East. These elections, following on the elections that just took place in the Palestinian areas, will be a historic day for the Middle East and the people of Iraq. Two elections taking place in this month sends quite a message to people everywhere that all people yearn to be free. And the President supports them in those efforts.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.

END 1:00 P.M. EST

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