Tuesday, March 08, 2005

WH admits even THEY have no idea what W is talking about

Tue Mar 8th, 2005 at 13:24:44 PST

Apparently, when W speaks these days no one, including his own staff has any idea what he's talking about

So it was in a speech on Friday: Dan Froomkin sets the scene:

There are two couldn't-be-more-different ways of introducing private accounts into the Social Security system.

You can either take the money out of current Social Security payroll taxes -- the "carve-out" model. Or, you can create an additional program to supplement Social Security -- that's "add-on"

President Bush has been adamantly "carve-out" for as long as anyone can remember.

That was until the Press conference:

So what was the White House press corps to make of it on Friday when Bush suddenly started talking "add-on"? Well, to put it bluntly, they were so confused they didn't say much of anything.
Here you had the president -- apparently blurting out something that sounded an awful lot like news.
But only if anyone could figure out what it meant.

And the reporters tried mightily over the next few days to do just that, and the transcripts of their efforts read like vintage Abbot and Costello:

he President's Speech was hardly an exemplary model of clarity:(English IS his first language right?)

"This is a retirement account we're talking about. But it's your money, and the interest off that money goes to supplement the Social Security check that you're going to get from the federal government. See, personal accounts is an add-on to that which the government is going to pay you. It doesn't replace the Social Security system. It is a part of making -- getting a better rate of return, though, so -- to come closer to the promises made. That's important to know.

Mike Allen of the WAPO explains why this language in particular was so important:

MR. ALLEN: Well, the president on Friday described private and personal accounts as an add-on to Social Security, something extra. And that set off a lot of bells because Democrats said either he's being deceptive or he's completely changed his negotiating position. I checked on this. The White House says he has not changed anything. They said it's just how it came out and you won't hear that again.

Which appears to be the WH saying "W has utterly no idea what he is talking about, pay no attention to his speeches"

Still this was the president's signature issue of the 2nd term, so some damage control was called for : The boys at Faux News Sunday tried to provide a little cover by letting Good ol' Dan Bartlett clarify (explain away) the remarks. Unfortunately he did far more harm than good thoroughly confusing Chris Wallace:

"Mr. Bartlett, that's not right. The president's plan is not an add-on, is it?

"BARTLETT: Absolutely. Absolutely.

"WALLACE: It's an add-on?

"BARTLETT: Absolutely. See, this . . .

"WALLACE: Well, wait a minute. Wouldn't it take revenue out of Social Security?

"BARTLETT: Well, an add-on in the respect that there is disinformation being spread across the country that there will be no government benefit provided to future retirees. That is absolutely false. Every person who would select and voluntarily take a personal retirement account would be able to still receive benefits from the government.

"Added on to that benefit would be the returns from a personal retirement account. So in that essence, it is an add-on.

"WALLACE: But forgive me, most people up on Capitol Hill, when they talk about add-ons, are talking about you're going to have your regular, full, unchanged Social Security, and then we're going to add on the idea of personal accounts.

"The plan the president's talking about, you would be taking revenues out of Social Security and if you invested in the accounts, you would lose some of your guaranteed benefits under Social Security.

"BARTLETT: Well, you're not taking revenues out of Social Security. You're giving those revenues directly to the recipients, allowing it to grow in an account, which is a critical part of making sure that individuals are able to realize. . . .

"WALLACE: But they would be putting it in private accounts, not into the . . .

"BARTLETT: They would be putting it in personal accounts . . .

"WALLACE: Right.

OUCH. well THAT didn't go well. Time to bring in the media pros to show the policy advisors how its done. First up Scottie McC's Minnie C Trent Duffy (who wins the prize as most lucid):

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Bush was not embracing the alternate plan, which he said would amount to creating an entirely new program outside Social Security. Instead, Mr. Duffy said the president used the term 'add-on' to describe his own proposal."

Except that everybody else calls the president's plan a Carve-out Rather than an Add On, and to the people who actually have to make the laws, they are completely different ideas (both Bad by the way)

{Trent's next trick will be to assert that Black is white and vice versa, thus when the President said he was committed to the causes of Black Americans.....}

Awright the pesky reporters are STILL trying to maliciously report the EXACT words of the president and have the temerity to ask what exactly they mean. Time to bring in the big guns. Oh Scottie? You're up next:(from Todays gaggle :

CBS's John Roberts:

"Q Would private accounts as an add-on, as a supplement to Social Security, as opposed to an integral part of Social Security, satisfy the President's desire to create private accounts?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views clear. The President firmly believes that personal accounts are an important part of a comprehensive solution for strengthening Social Security. . . .

Ever Notice that whenever the president has been as clear as mud, Scottie always says "I think the President has made his views clear". Bzzzt Sorry! if he'd made his views clear, the reporter wouldn't be asking about it now would they? Simply stating the president has made his views clear doesn't make it any more so than the claim that "major combat operations" were over in Iraq

But Give Robert's props, he didn't give up:

"Q Is that still an absolute red line for him?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Is what an absolute red line?

"Q Personal accounts within the framework of Social Security?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard the President talk about how this is a time when we all have to talk about the problems facing Social Security . . . [112 extra boring words}

"Q So I take it, then, from this long explanation, simply yes or no, that he is leaving the door open, that this is not necessarily a red line?

"MR. McCLELLAN: He is saying he welcomes all ideas. He is not embracing those ideas. He has put forward what his ideas are, but he welcomes all ideas for solving this problem.

"Q So it's not a red line.

"MR. McCLELLAN: The President's principles are clear, John. He believes firmly that personal accounts are part of a comprehensive solution.

"Q But it's not a red line.

"MR. McCLELLAN: John, that's not the way I would describe it.

Okay the Line is not red. I repeat there is no RED line, and the white zone is for loading an unloading only

Roberts gets downright impertinent then and STILL tries to actually get a straight answer from Scottie:

"Q How would you describe it? . . .

"MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what part you weren't hearing, because, I mean, his views are very clear. But --

"Q It was the yes or no part that I didn't hear.

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, the point that the President has made, John, is that we should work together. This is a serious problem, and we need a bipartisan solution.

"Q Red line, yes or no?

"MR. McCLELLAN: That's why the President is not getting into ruling things in or out. He made it very clear to you all several times that we're not going to get into commenting on each and every idea that is thrown out there by members of Congress --

"Q He threw out the idea!

well How DARE he! ruining a perfectly good non-answer by pointing out that its irrelevant to the facts at hand. Good thing we have a Pro in there who undeterred by such shenanigans. When in Doubt play the broken record over and over again:

"MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome ideas by members of Congress for solving this problem. That's how we get things done in this town. We've managed to get a lot done in the first term through the President's leadership and the willingness to tackle the big challenges that we face. And the President believes that the approach that we're taking now is the right way to proceed."

And there was no joy in Pressville that day as Mighty Roberts struck out.

Admittedly my memories only really go back to Reagan circa 1980 but has this ever happened before? Has the press ever been unable to get a simple yes or no answer on where the president stands on what he himself has call the signature issue of his presidency? I've worked for "mushroom managers" before, i just never dreamed we'd elect one.


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