Radio Interview of the Vice President by Scott Hennen, WDAY 970 AM
10:06 A.M. EDT
Q: But our next guest has been a frequent visitor to the Red River Valley, most recently, I guess, last fall in Moorehead; East Grand Forks before that, last summer, where I had the honor of introducing him at Cabela's. He joins us here on our news maker line this morning, the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney.
Welcome back, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?
Q: I'm well. Happy summer to you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's starting to get hot back here in Washington.
Q: In many ways.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. (Laughter.) Q: As always. Well, let me begin asking you a little bit about the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q: And start -- start first, if we could, to just lay out the picture on what's at stake in this debate over CAFTA.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's an agreement with five Central American countries -- Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and so forth, plus the Dominican Republic. It's -- the situation today is that most of their products already come into the United States duty-free. What this agreement will do, among other things, is allow us to have the same kind of access to that market. And while there are no big countries there, about 44 million people altogether live in the area affected down there in Central America, so it's an important market for us to have access to.
It also -- another element that's working here is that these are all, for the most part, new democracies. And they've, in effect, been willing to bet the farm on aligning with the United States, tying their economies closer to ours. And we think it's an important agreement that we need to get it approved by the Congress. And that's what we're working on.
Q: You know well from your visits here that this is sugar country.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes.
Q: And as Senator Coleman announced last night that he and the White House have come to an agreement on some additional protections for the sugar industry through the current farm bill, which would be 2007. But the response has been lukewarm at best from growers. They really want more than three years of protection. Can you give it to them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we're going to have to come back on the farm bill anyway in '07, which is when it expires. And that's -- that's true for all of our commodities. Everything will get a fresh look in '07. And sugar will be treated the same as everybody else at that time in terms of being reviewed at that time.
The important thing here is that I think we've found a way to avoid having the Central American Free Trade Agreement have any adverse impact on our sugar growers here at home. In effect, they've set up an arrangement so that if, in fact, there were to be excess sugar, that the Commodity Credit Corporation would step in and buy it, purchase it, and make it available for conversion to ethanol, that is to keep it off of the domestic sugar market. And at the same time, if -- and we think this will probably be the case -- that the farm bill import trigger is not exceeded, and the domestic market needs the extra sugar, then the extra imports would be allowed.
But at the same time, the USDA will go forward with a study on the feasibility of converting sugar into ethanol. And that's to be completed and submitted to Congress no later than a year from July 1st, which is important because one of the things we've been doing -- obviously, for example, I think everybody is familiar with what we're doing in the area of corn, of developing ethanol as a major additional fuel source for the United States. It's something we grow and produce domestically, makes us less dependent on foreign sources of oil. And it's going to create a big, new market out there for our corn, for example. And we'll take a look to see if we can't have similar impact with respect to sugar.
Q: The growers we're hearing from this morning say they are still steadfast in their opposition to CAFTA. Do you think that you've fulfilled the promise that you brought to the valley when you were here last about being sensitive to sugar, despite them still continuing to say they're opposed, even with this new deal?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do, indeed. I think we've been very sensitive to the concerns of the sugar industry. Remember an awful lot of agriculture here will benefit from this, in terms of having better access to those Central American markets. So if you look across the spectrum here, in fact, nearly all the agricultural groups have been supportive of this. And at this point, frankly, if you look at what's been put together here, it should have no adverse impact whatsoever on sugar. So if that's the case then I -- I fail to see any reason why they should oppose the bill.
Q: Senate passage is about assured now, especially with Senator Coleman and a few others, Saxby Chambliss, coming on board here. But do you have the votes in the House to pass CAFTA, do you believe?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe we do. We got it out of committee in the Senate Finance Committee this week on a voice vote. They have agreed to schedule the vote on the floor of the Senate, I believe by tomorrow night. And so I think it will pass the Senate this week, and the House will take it up when they come back from the Fourth of July recess. But I think we'll get it done, and it really is a good piece of legislation. It's something that needs to be done. We need to expand trade wherever we can. It's basically in our good, long-term interest. And it's also important for us to encourage economic growth and development in those Central American countries.
One of our big problems these days is illegal immigration. A certain amount of it is coming out of those Central American countries. Best way to counter that is to make certain that they have the opportunity to grow and develop their own economies so their folks will stay at home and can find decent jobs there, instead of trying to come to the United States illegally.
Q: Let's switch gears and talk a little about the President's efforts to bring about Social Security reform. If the polls are to be believed these days, the job is getting tougher. Why do you think that is?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- I don't read the polls quite that way. We've been working hard to explain to people that there is a problem with Social Security out there. It doesn't affect anybody who is currently retired, or anybody who will soon retire. If you were born before 1950, this debate isn't really about you; your benefits are covered.
But those younger generations are in jeopardy in the sense that we've never funded the commitments that are implied out there with respect to the Social Security program. We've had a situation develop now in which we got the baby boom generation approaching retirement age. We're going to go from about 40 million retired people over 65 to upwards of 75 million over the next several years. And the other thing that's happened, of course, is that people live a lot longer now than they did when the Social Security program was set up.
When it was set up back in the mid '30s, life expectancy was 62, today it's 77 or 78. So we're going to have a lot more people retired, living a lot longer, drawing benefits out of the program than has been true in the past. And you can look at the demographics, and it's clear that the funds aren't going to be there given the current level of benefits that have been promised for the future generations.
It's not going to affect me. I'm 64 years old. But it will affect my kids and grandkids. And so we --
Q: The Democrats -- I'm sorry to interrupt you, sir, but I just wanted to get on something that concerns me.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q: I'm curious if it does you, too. The Democrats seem to be getting a pass on providing any meaningful alternatives to this debate.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They have --
Q: I mean, the rhetoric is heated. Let me give you an example. Senator Conrad, North Dakota, said this not long ago:
(Start of sound bite.)
SENATOR CONRAD: Mark my words, he's headed for shredding Social Security.
(End of sound bite.)
Now, there's somebody that the President came to try and court his vote, and he's saying you're out to shred Social Security. But can you have a meaningful dialogue with the American people in that environment?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's hard. But they -- the President and I believe that we were elected to do hard things. We didn't come back here to do easy things. And the position that Senator Conrad has taken there, basically a do-nothing position, means that down the road, when somebody currently in their 30s, say, gets ready to retire, the money is not going to be there to pay their benefits. If you don't do anything at all, if you take no action, if you don't adopt any measures here to address this issue, you're guaranteeing those future generations won't have Social Security benefits.
And what we need to do is to honestly and openly address the problem. The President has been in some 35 states -- I've been in a number myself since the State of the Union -- talking about this problem. We've put a number of proposals on the table. And there are some good ideas floating around out there, and we just need to keep working at it until we get a package that can be supported.
Part of the problem we've had, frankly, is that Democrats on the other side of the aisle have refused to participate at all. They've sort of stuck their heads in the sand, for the most part, and said there's no problem, and by the way, we don't want to deal with it anyway.
Now, I don't think they got paid -- or got sent back here to draw big paychecks and enjoy the benefits of a plush, congressional retirement program, which includes personal accounts, and ignore a very important problem from the standpoint of the American people.
Q: Lastly, I wanted to ask you, as a follow-up to the President's speech this week on Iraq, there was immediate criticism of his five references to 9/11 in a speech about Iraq. Why do you believe that linkage was important in reminding the American people about this mission we have in the war on terror in Iraq?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, remember what happened on 9/11, we lost 3,000 people. We had suddenly had a situation where we were at war. That's more people than we lost at Pearl Harbor. We were attacked from -- in that case, Afghanistan, a country that had been -- provided a refuge, if you will, a safe haven for terrorists, training camps and so forth. What we had in Iraq was a somewhat similar situation. The biggest threat we face today is the possibility of terrorists in the midst of one our cities with a nuclear weapon, or a biological agent like plague or smallpox, something like that. So we're especially concerned about those areas of the world where, on the one hand, terrorists can find safe haven or refuge, and on the other hand, there's a record of people developing or using weapons of mass destruction. And you had both of those in Iraq.
In Iraq you had with Saddam Hussein a man who was paying $25,000 for suicide bombers to kill Israelis; who provided sanctuary for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam, an al Qaeda-affiliated group. You also had a man who had started two wars, who had produced and used weapons of mass destruction against the Iranians and against his own people. And that potential link between terrorists on one hand and those deadly technologies on the other were of great concern to us.
And so we believe that -- very much that Iraq is, in fact, sort of the central battlefront today in the global war on terror. This is a global problem. We've seen attacks all over the world in Spain, in Turkey, in Algeria, in Kenya, in Indonesia. This is not just a U.S. problem. And we believe that it's absolutely crucial for us to go after those locales that provide sanctuary or safe haven for terrorists, and we've done that.
We did it in Afghanistan. We've done it in Iraq. And we think carrying the fight to the enemy is the best way to protect our people here at home.
Q: Interesting sidebar, did a little research, there were actually four references to 9/11 in the Congressional Iraq War Resolution in 2002, which, of course, overwhelmingly passed Congress. So I guess, it was okay for Congress to reference 9/11, but not the President --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q: So I mean what -- there's not much of a constructive opposition out there. That's for sure.
Mr. Vice President, I know your time is short, and you need to know that we talk to hard working folks every day here in the heartland, and the vast majority of them express their gratitude every day for the leadership you and this President provide us in these difficult times in which we live. So I hope you feel that, and thank you for the time today, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Scott. It's always a pleasure doing your show.
Q: Well, good. I hope to see you again in the Red River Valley. We'd welcome you back any time.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, I'd love to come back.
Q: All right, take care, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right.
END 10:17 A.M. EDT
Richard B. Cheney, Radio Interview of the Vice President by Scott Hennen, WDAY 970 AM Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285894