Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting
Manchester, New Hampshire
5:01 P.M. EDT
MRS. CHENEY: Well, thank you very much. Great crowd, Dick. It's a real pleasure to be here this afternoon in New Hampshire. And I have the job of introducing my husband. And I've had this job for four years now. I was assigned it in the beginning because I have known him for so long.
I have known him since we were 14 years old, and we were growing up together in Casper, Wyoming. And when I first knew Dick, he had a summer job -- or an after school job, and it was sweeping out the Ben Franklin store in Casper, Wyoming. And I've known him through many jobs since. I've known him since he was digging ditches at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds, which is right outside our hometown in Casper. And I've known him since he was loading sacks -- 100-pound sacks of bentonite onto railroad cars. And I've known him since he was building power line all across the West to pay his way through school. And I like to mention all those jobs because I think when you grow up working hard, you learn some very significant lessons. And one of those lessons is how important it is for the hard working men and women of this country to get to keep as much of their paychecks as possible. (Applause.)
And I think you also learn when you grow up working hard, you learn how competent and strong the American people are. And you learn that what we need is not a government that runs our lives, but a government that provides us opportunities to make our lives better. And that has become I know a central guiding philosophy of Dick's life. And I was so pleased to hear so many people talking about it at our convention. And I thought Arnold Schwarzenegger did an especially terrific job. (Applause.)
I left that convention thinking how proud -- how much pride we can all take in what we saw over those two days. And if I were to make a list of things I would be proud of, right at the top would be our President, George W. Bush. (Applause.) And let me just say that the Vice President is no slouch either. (Applause.)
And so, ladies and gentlemen, my husband, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And Governor, and Susan (ph). We appreciate very much your letting us come today and spend some time with all of you, and appreciate all your being here today, as well, too.
This is, of course, getting down to the final run on the campaign. I think the election is eight weeks from today. Who is counting, though, right? (Laughter.)
But I'm delighted always to have the chance to have Lynne come out and campaign with me on the campaign trail. She knows a lot about me. I'm never sure what she's going to say in the introduction. Sometimes I'm surprised.
But I like to tell people that we got married because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States. And I explain that in 1952, I was just a youngster living in Lincoln, Nebraska with my folks. Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected, and Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming after they reorganized the Agriculture Department. And in Casper, I met Lynne, and we grew up together, went to high school together, and a week ago Sunday, celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) Of course, I pointed out the other night that if it hadn't been for Dwight Eisenhower's election victory and Dad's transfer, Lynne would have married somebody else. She said, right, and now he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter and applause.) There's no doubt in my mind.
But we're delighted to have the opportunity to spend some time with you this afternoon. What we wanted to do, maybe I'd have a few opening remarks, talk about the choice we're going to make this year, and why I believe it's so important, and then throw it open to questions, have an opportunity to respond to your concerns and comments, as well.
And I did think the convention last week was really a great event. I've been to eight Republican conventions now. I thought that was top drawer. (Applause.) I must admit I was a little skeptical about going to New York City before the convention. I'm a Wyoming boy. But the folks in New York did a superb job. The NYPD was fantastic. The mayor was great, the governor welcoming us, and everybody had a great time, and we got the job done that needed to be done.
I thought it was important, too, because I thought the convention managed to convey on the one hand a fairly clear understanding for people on what the choices are in terms of the different approaches between what the President represents and what his opponent John Kerry represents. And that's what elections are to be all about.
But it also let us talk about the future, and about what our priorities will be going forward, and why we think this election is as important as it is. Now, I have, obviously, over the years participated in a lot of campaigns. But I really do believe that this is the most important I'll ever participate in. I say that not just because my own name is on the ballot, but because I think we're at one of those periods in our history where we do, in fact, make decisions that we then live with and set the stage for how we're going to function as a nation for the next 25, or 30, or 40 years.
We had one of those right after the end of World War II. You may remember as the Cold War began, we had to reorganize our national security. We created the Department of Defense, established the CIA, completely redesigned our military, created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, did a series of things that became fundamental strategy for the United States in terms of our national security policy, and then implemented on those policies -- Republican and Democrat, alike -- for about the next seven or eight administrations. I think we're again at one of those points when you think about national security and about the issues we've got to deal with there. And I want to talk about that in a minute.
But I also want to talk about -- to begin with, the economic situation, and spend a few minutes on that because that's the other major piece of the debate. And in terms of the kind of decision we have to make, it goes to the heart of what I think is a philosophical difference between what Senator Kerry represents and what his record would indicate and what his campaign promises would indicate, and what I think George Bush represents and what he has done over the course of the last four years, and what we expect will be the priorities going forward into the future.
9/11 was a very significant event, obviously, for our administration -- something nobody anticipated when we were sworn in. And all of a sudden it hit, and it changed everything -- I think both domestically and internationally.
Domestically, of course, it came on the heels of the recession that we'd inherited when we arrived. And that shock to the economy on September 11th cost at least a million jobs within a few weeks after 9/11 because of what it did to the travel and tourism industry. It made the recession much tougher for us to recover from than would have otherwise been the case.
The President adopted, I think, based on a fundamental guidance, and fundamental belief that we would be better off if we left more resources in the hands of the American people to make fundamental decisions going forward than if we appropriated those to the government in the form of taxes. So he made that basic decision with respect to tax policy. And over the course of the next three years, we cut taxes three times in ways that were designed specifically to promote the growth of the economy and to allow the American people to keep more of what they earn. We did everything from cut rates across the board, including the top rates that many small businesses have to pay, created a 10 percent bracket. We doubled the child credit, reduced the marriage penalty, provided for a quadrupling of expensing for small businesses so they could write off more of basic equipment you needed for businesses up front to create more jobs, and more incentive, and more investment -- a series of steps, including, for example, phasing out the death tax so that people who own small businesses or farms and ranches can pass on to the next generation what they've already been taxed on once when they earn, the basic businesses or enterprises that they've created with their hard work over the years -- a series of fundamental decisions that represented basic reform, but also were designed to help bring us out of that economic slow-down that occurred in 2001.
We think we've made very significant results -- progress out of that. You can look at the fact we've added 1.7 million new jobs over the course of the last year. (Applause.) We've got growth for the last four quarters of about 4.8 percent in GDP; 144,000 jobs last month alone. We think we're on the right track and we're headed in the right direction. And the key for us with respect to tax policy in the future is to make those tax changes permanent because they're not permanent now.
The way we had to put them in under the Senate act means that we phase out. (Applause.) They will phase out over time because of the way the bill was structured when we sent them up. And it will require legislation to be passed by the Congress to make those tax changes permanent. And that will be a top priority for us going forward.
The President has also talked about -- mentioned the other night in his acceptance speech at the convention that he wants to begin to address this problem of simplifying the tax code. Anybody who tries to pay their own taxes, or looks at the complexity of the tax code today, contemplates the enormous complexity that goes with it, the huge amounts of money that are spent every year simply in compliance, simplification, obviously, is something we really need to consider. And that will be a top priority for us going forward in the second term, as well, too.
In addition to that, other priorities the President wanted to focus on is to do everything we can to make America the best place in the world to do business, that the perspective that we have to have -- especially in terms of our ability to compete with other countries, and with companies based in other counties is that you ought to be able to start a business here. You ought to be able to have a fair trading field, in terms of international competition, that you ought to have a tax system and a regulatory system that encourages savings and investment and innovation, rewards entrepreneurship, but you're not penalized for operating in the United States of America relative to our competitors around the world -- because it is a global economy. And we benefit from that global economy. That means we've got to work to make absolutely certain that the rules are fair for everybody, and that we take the necessary steps here at home to make certain that we've cleared away as much underbrush as we can so that there is a level playing field.
One of the things we think we need to address is the whole question of lawsuit abuse, and especially medical liability -- the medical liability problem, and the way it relates to health costs. (Applause.)
One estimate that I've seen is that the medical liability system -- the way it functions today -- loads an annual cost on the American individual who has got to pay for health insurance and so forth, a cost of about $108 billion a year, by one estimate.
We've got a situation now in many states -- including our home state of Wyoming -- where malpractice insurance rates have risen so high that we're driving doctors out of the state. They simply can't afford to continue to operate there. We've had -- the premium on a malpractice insurance package now for a doctor in my hometown of Casper has more than doubled over the course of the last three years. We can't attract new docs to the state because after they come out of medical school, they need about an $80,000 nugget up front just to get into business in order to be able to cover their insurance costs. We need to address that. We can fix it. We need to reform our medical liability system.
You want to make certain that people who have legitimate grievances can go to the courts and address those grievances, but we need to make absolutely certain that the system doesn't function the way it is now where it is clearly driving up health cost to virtually everybody in the society. And that's a problem that can be addressed. We've passed legislation through the House of Representatives. We haven't been able to get it through the Senate. Senators Kerry and Edwards have opposed it consistently. That's another fundamental difference between our ticket and their ticket.
With respect, to tax policy, as well, I think it's clear where Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are. Senator Kerry talks about wanting to cut the deficit in half over five years. But he's got $2 trillion in new spending proposals. We're going to cut the deficit in half over the next five years, and we can get there. We're on the path to do that. The only way he can get there -- given his $2 trillion in spending proposals -- is to raise everybody's taxes pretty much across the board. He's talking about only taxing the rich, but the bottom line is they don't generate enough to be able to cover costs of the magnitude that he's talking about -- so another basic, fundamental difference with respect to tax policy.
So there's that fundamental, philosophical approach in terms of whether or not we're going to have government do it, or whether we're going to do everything we can to encourage private citizens, private individuals, businesses, the private sector to make basic choices about how we allocated resources and create jobs in this society is at the heart of this campaign. And obviously, I have a strong bias in terms of how we ought to proceed. But I think also that's a view that is reflective of the majority of the people who live in New Hampshire, frankly, as well, too. (Applause.)
On the national security front, we've also got some major challenges, clearly. And once again, let me emphasize 9/11 forced us to think new thoughts about how we defend the nation, and about what the threat is that we have to deal with. Now, most of us grew up with and spent our adult lives during the period of the Cold War. And we were forced to contemplate the possibility of all-out global war with the Soviet Union. We put in place a set of strategies that worked to deter an attack by the Soviets, a system of alliances. We deployed forces and so forth around the world. And it worked. And ultimately, we prevailed in the Cold War. But those concepts that worked when we were talking about the Soviets and the Cold War have no meaning whatsoever when you try to apply them to al Qaeda.
What does deterrence mean to the terrorist who has no piece of real estate he wants to defend, whose prime motive is jihad, who wants to kill infidels, and he's prepared to die in the process? Deterrence is not a meaningful concept with that kind of an adversary.
We also know based on what we've learned after 9/11 that we're faced with the potential threat here of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction -- chemical and biological agents, or nuclear weapons and trying to use that against us. We know that because we found evidence that they had been trying to acquire that kind of capability in the caves and training camps in Afghanistan. We know that from interrogating the people that we've captured out of the al Qaeda along the way. That's the ultimate threat today, is a terror cell in the middle of one of our own cities with that very deadly capability that could conceivably threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans in one day.
And that's a pretty awesome threat to contemplate. And it requires us to do everything we can, obviously, to defend ourselves against it, to guarantee that that never happens to the United States.
To do that, we recognize up front that the strategies that we had used with respect to terror attacks before 9/11 didn't work. We thought about those problems as law enforcement problems, as individual criminal acts. You go out and find the individual who set off the bomb and put them in jail. We did that. We got Ramzi Yousef who led the way on the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. But we never went beyond that. We never recognized that we were at war against an organization that had a global reach, and that in fact had declared war on us in about 1996, and began in 1996 to plan the attack of 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York, the attack on the Pentagon.
A new strategy was required in addition to aggressively improving our defenses here at home, creating a Department of Homeland Security, beefing up our intelligence capabilities, reorganizing the federal government to be able to defend ourselves better had to be matched by a new strategy that recognized you also have to go on offense.
Bottom line is, if we're successful on defense 99 percent of the time, that's not good enough. That 1 percent that gets through can still kill you. And the only way to guarantee that the United States is safe and secure from the al Qaeda organization or other terrorists with similar desires against the United States is to aggressively go after the terrorists, as well, and those who support them. And that's a new departure. (Applause.)
Not everybody has made the transition from pre-9/11 to post-9/11. That's partly what the debate is all about this year. And you have to sit down. It is a significant step forward to do what the President has done, for example, and say, look we're not only going to go after the terrorists, we're going to go after those who support terror. We're going to go after those who provide a sanctuary or a safe harbor for terrorists. And of course, that's exactly what we've done in Afghanistan, where we took down the Taliban, routed the al Qaeda -- captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda, closed down the training camps where some 20,000 terrorists trained in the latter part of the '90s, including those who launched strikes against the United States on 9/11. And we've now stood up an interim government. And they're off and running. We'll have elections next month before we do -- and so significant progress there.
With respect to Iraq, obviously, we went in and did the same thing there. Saddam Hussein was a man who had defied the United Nations and the international community for 12 years. He'd started two wars. He had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction -- used chemical weapons on his own people and on the Iranians, who had harbored terrorists, and provided a sanctuary for terrorists, and provided funding for terrorists in the past -- for example, payments to suicide bombers, families of suicide bombers -- by any standards a major and emerging threat to the United States, as well, too. And we did exactly the right thing. And today, of course, Saddam Hussein is in jail. (Applause.)
I was intrigued this afternoon because I had noticed yesterday that John Kerry, who voted for using military force in Iraq and then, of course, he voted against funding the effort once we got there -- but who just a few days ago had said that if he had to make the decision knowing what he knows now with respect to approving the President's use of force in Iraq, he would have then again voted to authorize him to do that. Yesterday, he was out saying, no Iraq was the wrong war, and the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now, that struck a note because I thought I'd heard somebody else say that. And of course, you go back and look, and you'll find out, well, that's exactly what Howard Dean said last December 15th. And the fascinating thing is that when Howard Dean said that in December of last year, the wrong war et cetera, John Kerry is the one who challenged Howard Dean immediately. And here's what he said.
At Drake University in Iowa, Kerry asserted that, "Those who doubted whether Iraq or would be better off with Saddam Hussein and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be President or the credibility to be elected President." (Applause.)
Senator Kerry gets upset when we talk about his record. Let me say at the outset, as I've said repeatedly, and I said the other night in my speech to the Republican Convention, we honor him for his service in Vietnam. He's a veteran who served the nation, and we honor all our veterans, including John Kerry. (Applause.) I don't question his patriotism, I question his judgment.
For 20 years he served in the United States Senate and he cast votes on a whole series of issues that were, in fact, the issues of the day that related to national security strategy -- to weapons systems, military appropriation, to whether or not we should or shouldn't use force under various circumstances. But there's a record there where he voted during the Reagan administration on whether we'd buy the systems that President Reagan recommended with respect to equipping U.S. forces; on the first Gulf War, on Desert Storm, when I was Secretary of Defense, he voted on that -- or of course -- well, I was going to explain that in a statement after that. But the fact of the matter is he got it wrong most of the time.
In 1984, when he ran for the Senate for the first time, he had a list of 65 weapons systems that he wanted to get rid of or eliminate. And many of them are the backbone of our military capabilities today -- things like the B2 Bomber, Tomahawk Cruise Missile. At the time of the Gulf War when it was time to authorize force to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait in Desert Storm, he opposed it -- got up on the floor and spoke against it, and was one of the senators who voted against it. He has, I think, on national security issues pretty consistently gotten it wrong over the course of that 20-year period that he's been in the Senate. That's not a personal attack to disagree with the positions he took on issues. He probably disagrees with positions I took on issues. My positions were a little different than his.
But the bottom line is that a senator can vote wrong for 20 years, as John Kerry did, without consequence to the nation. But a President always -- always -- casts the decisive vote. (Applause.) So if someone wants to move from the Senate to the executive branch, wants to go from being the Junior Senator from Massachusetts to being the Commander-in-Chief of America's Armed Forces, the individual we trust to make those basic, fundamental, life-and-death decisions for all of us -- and especially for our men and women who go in harm's way, that's a big step. And we have every right to evaluate the public record, to make judgments about it, to ask questions about it, and debate it as the work-up and the run-up to the decision that we'll all make here on November 2nd. And that's what we're doing.
It's important that we have that debate and that discussion. And as I say, I feel very strongly that it's important that we adhere for the long haul, for the future to the kinds of policies George Bush has put in place in the post-9/11, and that we not fall back to the trap of looking at the world through those lenses of pre-9/11, when we tended to treat each one of these terrorist acts as an individual criminal enterprise, sort of a turn the other cheek, don't go after the states that sponsor, don't take action against those who provide support to terrorists. That way was tried. We did it for years. It didn't work. All the terrorists took away from that was the conviction that they could strike us with impunity because they did repeatedly.
And secondly, if they hit us hard enough, they could change our policy -- because they did, for example, in Somalia in 1994, when they killed 19 of our guys, and within weeks, we had pulled everybody out of Somalia. So the choice we're going to make is absolutely essential, and I feel especially strongly about it. I think everybody does. When you start to think about the kind of decision we're going to make now, if you put it back into that late 1940s, early 1950s time frame and think about how long those policies were place, and how vital they were to our success in the Cold War, and to our emerging from that period of time without all the potential, the negative effects that could have emerged from it. And remember, the decisions we're going to make this year will probably set the terms and conditions for our kids and grandkids in terms of what kind of world they're going to inherit, whether or not we'll be safe and secure here in the United States -- or whether or not we're going to be faced once again with a series of terrorist attacks the kind that we've seen around the world since 9/11.
And remember we're not the only ones who have been hit. We've seen attacks in Madrid, in Casablanca, in Riyadh, in Mombassa, in Istanbul, in Jakarta, in Bali -- most recently in Russia, in Beslan, where they this week killed hundreds school kids.
And we don't know yet exactly who was behind that attack, but we do know this resort to terror and that kind of assault, bloody assault on civilians -- innocent men, women and children -- to achieve political aims has become all to prevalent around the world. And we have to deal with it. We have to deal with it where we find it. We have to be on offense, as well as defense, and we have to reelect George Bush President of the United States on November 2nd. (Applause.)
Now, I think we've got people in the audience with microphones. The folks in the orange blouses or T-shirts have got there mikes. And we'll be happy to try to answer questions. I don't mean to ignore the folks behind us here. We'll try to get to yours, too. So why don't we go ahead. If somebody has got a question they're ready to offer up. We got somebody here.
Q: Mr. Vice President and Lynne, it's wonderful to be with you here today. I'm out of North Hampton, New Hampshire, that's along the sea coast, in case you guys don't get over there because you missed her twice this year -- the President and yourself. But I can donate a couple of steaks to you if you like. (Laughter.) And you want to swing by. I'm in the meat business. My wife and I have been in the meat business for 36 years. Twenty years in New Hampshire. We just turned our 20th year. My question is the FBI, which is -- I believe is the number one deterrence going to be for the al Qaeda terrorists. Two weeks ago, on CNN and also on Fox, there's been two ladies let go from the FBI. You have internal problems with the FBI. I want to know if the President and yourself have been aware of this. They're whistle blowers, all right? And now the FBI has squashed their complaints. Now, if they have a legitimate gripe, and it sure sounds like they do, just like in my business, or every other person here, if we have a problem internally, the guy at the top has to take care of that, all right? I don't care if it's a bad employee or an employee that's stealing, all right? Something has to be dealt with the matter. Now, I believe in our FBI. I'm a big supporter of George Bush and yourself. I'm a Vietnam veteran, U.S. Navy, '65 to '67. And I want to know if you knew about this, and instead of squashing it, both these ladies that seem to have a legitimate complaint -- and I know, Lynne, you respect them for bringing it forward. But I just don't want it squashed because I like to see the guy at the bottom of the FBI ranks have his voice heard all the way to the top and not have to take so long to get there, all right? Because there's a legitimate complaint with a terrorist, or with somebody internally, the only way we're going to straighten out this country, or the terrorists, we're going to have to make sure the FBI is straight forward like they should be. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not familiar with the specific cases you're talking about. I'd be happy to take a look at it if you want to give me your card or something afterwards. Are these people in Washington? Or locally?
Q: There's one case in particular, the woman I was watching, she's one of your translator. Her number one complaint -- she had two complaints, her number one is the translator you have down in Guantanamo -- Gitmo Bay, she claims that translator cannot speak Arabic. He flunked the test down there, and we got him as our number one translator for two years down in Guantanamo Bay. I don't know if there's any truth to that or not.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, that's the kind of thing we can check out. And I'll be happy to take a look at it.
Let me say a word on behalf of Bob Mueller, and the folks at the FBI. One of the things that has happened since 9/11 is every morning at about 8:30 a.m. in the Oval Office, the President and I sit down with the Director of the CIA and the Director of the FBI -- the two of them together. Because, frankly, one of the problems we encountered in the run-up to 9/11 -- and the 9/11 Commission I thought covered this fairly well -- was we had inadequate communications between our foreign intelligence apparatus and our domestic operation. That's no longer the case. They have to sit together in the front of the President on a regular basis and talk about these problems and the existing threats.
Let me also say that I think Bob Mueller has done a good job of reorganizing the FBI, redirecting its focus. The Bureau for year -- it was designed this way -- was the top law enforcement agency. So they could go to Oklahoma City after the truck bomb went off, find the axle of the truck, find the serial number on it, get back to the U-Haul rental agency in Kansas or wherever it was, and eventually find the guilty party and prosecute Tim McVeigh, as they did.
But this proposition we got now is very different. We don't want to go get the truck axle after the bomb has gone off, we want to stop the bomb from going off in the first place. It requires a whole different approach -- analytical approach and intelligence collection approach and so forth. And Bob Mueller has done a superb job of moving us in that direction.
There may be individual problems. There are in every agency from time to time. And we'll be happy to take a look at them.
We got a mike over here?
Q: Thank you for coming to the Live Free or Die State. At age 55, I am not worried about Social Security for myself. But I am worried about Social Security for the next generation. If we do reform Social Security, what will be the effect on people currently retired or near retirement? If we do not reform Social Security, what will be the effect on younger people?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the key on Social Security in terms of the reform efforts that are clearly going to be needed is to focus on the future generation. That is to say, to the extent we've had conversations about this, the President talked about it some in the last campaign. He
mentioned it more recently, as well, too, we're talking about a system that would allow the younger workers who have got several years left in the work force before they reach retirement age to put a portion of their Social Security into their own personal retirement account, that would theirs, controlled by them. They'd be able to invest it in approve plans, and they would be able to earn a higher rate of return than they could get just by putting it straight into the Social Security system.
That would not apply to those who are already retired. The program would be unchanged for them, and those nearing retirement age. You need to have several years to be able to build up the kind of equity in that kind of program to make it worthwhile. But I expect in the next term we'll have a big debate -- should have. And we need to be able to build a bipartisan solution to improve on the Social Security system. And the focus really does need to be on those younger generations. The system is going to be fine for those now retired and those soon to retire. But younger workers, folks in their 20s and 30s now have legitimate concerns about what is going to be there for them 30 years from now when it is their turn to retire.
Secondly, let me say with respect to the Live Free or Die State, my great grandfather was born in New Hampshire. (Applause.) And we were tracing the family history the other day. It was Boscowen -- Boscowen, in about 1831; then emigrated to Ohio, served with an Ohio regiment in the Civil War, and then after the Civil War, took the family on west to Nebraska, which is how we got migrated on across the country. But we had New Hampshire roots back -- I'm sure there's some Live Free or Die blood someplace in the chain. (Laughter.)
Yes, got somebody in the back here.
Q: Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cheney, welcome -- a very warm welcome to New Hampshire. I have a second part question to that question on Social Security. We know that there are a lot of families in this country that live paycheck to paycheck. And the odds of them saving their money properly or handling it to get to the point of retirement and being able to survive on that are probably a long shot for some families. And my question is this, if, in fact, that does happen and we do have a change in the Social Security system what will happen to those families that kind fall through the cracks? Does that mean that in the end we're going to have to have another program designed to pick up the slack and provide those families? Is there going to be another Social Security system designed for that so that we're really leaving one and going into another?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there's usually been discussions -- again, it depends on when you would start it. Who you would authorize to participate in it. The discussions generally have turned, in terms of persevering -- especially for those folks at the upper end of the age bracket now, giving them the opportunity to stay with the existing system -- which is what I would expect they would want to do.
When you go to the younger generation, then those debates -- you'd have to have a debate and decide and discuss exactly how it would work and where the cut-off would be. Do you start, for example, at age 45 or age 40? What kind of plans are they allowed to invest in? Do you have, say, two or three approve plans that are relatively safe that will provide a higher rate of return, but aren't high risk in terms of the potential for them losing part of their savings, those kinds of issues would have to be debated.
Part of the concept here -- and I think it's a good one -- is this notion of private ownership of your own retirement assets. And partly what we believe in -- I think and feel very strongly about -- is to the maximum extent possible we want the American people to have as much freedom to make basic fundamental decisions for themselves.
Right now today, for example, the way the current system works, you may have invested in Social Security your whole life, but if you die at age 65 that's it. You're obviously never going to see any of it, and you can't give it to anybody else. Your spouse will get whatever their entitled to by way of spousal benefits. This would be a system where you'd have -- a portion of your retirement would be yours. And if there was some left, when you passed on, you would be able to transfer it to your kids. It would be owned by our personally.
Q: (Inaudible) families who are not successful in doing that. We know it's not a matter of a question of if, it's a matter of when -- because there will be lots of families that are not successful in doing that. And at the end of the line for them, where does that leave them? And there will be people like that. So how are we going to provide for those families?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, again, there's no detailed proposal out there on the table. There are just ideas and thoughts and discussions and principles involved. But nobody has really suggested, for example, that somebody would have the choice of setting aside, say, just half of their Social Security payment and spending the rest of it. They would have other -- whatever the total tax amount is, say it were 6 percent, 6.5 percent, 7 percent of your paycheck that currently goes into Social Security, that portion of that you would be able to put into a different kind of fund. But it would have to be set aside. You wouldn't have the option of put it in your pocket, or making your car payment with it. That wouldn't be an option. You would have -- you would be committed for that basic minimal amount that everybody has to contribute to the Social Security system -- probably.
Now, again, nobody has made a final proposal or a decision here. These are just ideas that are being kicked around. But the idea that, frankly, you can if you're now in your 20s or 30s think about the return you can earn if you were to set aside a portion of your Social Security in another kind of account. You'll get a higher rate of return than you'll get by giving it to Uncle Sam and putting it into the Social Security trust fund. And it will be yours.
Yes. Need a microphone. I'm sorry. I'm supposed to look at the shirts.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Cheney, and, Lynne. Thank you for coming. My question is related to President Bush's proposal to overhaul the tax system. Do you have any details on what he has in mind for that and how he's going to simplify the current IRS code?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, there are no proposals yet. There's the desire. Treasury is looking into various and sundry alternatives. But nobody has come up with a final package yet that anybody wants to recommend. The general sense that the tax code is extraordinarily complex, that we've got a system in which we spend vast resources just in compliance so we can collect taxes, that's basically money that we could apply to some other purpose if we had a simpler code, so it was easier for people to, in fact, pay.
We've gone through similar situations before. I think the one I recall was back in the 1980s, in the Reagan administration, when we moved toward simplification. And we reduced the number of brackets and so forth, and made it easier for people to comply with the code. But then gradually over time, the complexity gets added back in for various and sundry reasons. So there's a desire there -- a belief that we can do much better than we have. You'd have to put together, again, a bipartisan group to work on it. You'd want to get the technical experts in to take a look at it because when you start to tamper with the tax code, obviously, you can have an impact on virtually everybody -- depending upon how you go about it. And so it would be a difficult, complex task. And you'd want to get some real experts working it, and you'd want bipartisan support, otherwise it will never pass anyway. But we don't have a specific proposal currently in mind.
Yes, we got a microphone someplace. Here we go right here.
Q: Thank you. Vice President Cheney, Mrs. Cheney. I'd like to express an agreement I had with you last Wednesday night. I also agree that the terrorists would not be impressed with our softer side. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q: Fighting and winning the war on terrorism and strengthening our economy are two equally important issues facing the country. Could you explain to the naysayers how your administration is actually -- yours and the President's administration has actually done that without slighting the other?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You want to repeat that question again, the trade-off -- the economy and fighting the war on terror?
Q: How you've done both of them successfully without slighting either one.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, those are the kinds of choices the President has to make. It's why we pay him the big bucks and he gets to live in the White House. The way it actually works I think is in terms of establishing priorities, in terms of what is the most important thing that we've got to do at any particular time as you put together the budget. And right at the top of our list ever since 9/11 has been prosecute the war on terror. We've sent people in harm's way. We've got troops committed various places around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they come first. Whatever they need, they get in terms of carrying out their mission and doing what it is we're asking them to do for all of us. That's crucial. (Applause.)
Second, and right up there on a par I would say with respect to what we provide for our military forces, and especially those folks that are committed and deployed is the whole area of homeland security, and doing those things that we need to do in order to be able to toughen the target here at home. We're an open society. That's an important part of who we are, the free movement of goods and ideas, services back and forth across international borders, the right to go wherever we want to go and do whatever we want to do, that's part of being an American. It also makes us a relatively soft target for a group of dedicated terrorists who can come into the United States, enroll in our flight schools, learn how to fly airplanes, go get a boarding pass and a box cutter and they're in business. And so we've had to do a lot to improve our security here at home, and that has been a top priority for us, as well, too.
All of this obviously has an impact on spending, on what your budget priorities are. But we've also believed -- and this has been a tougher sell in terms of getting Congress to understand it, but I think many of them do now -- that as you do that, and as that adds to the deficit, the key to reducing the deficit long-term is also economic growth here at home. You got to be restrained in some spending areas, and we have. We've been restrained with respect to the non-defense portion of the budget that doesn't relate to homeland security. We've reduced the rate of increase there every year for the last four years. But it is also vital to have a strong, growing economy because in the final analysis, it's our ability to generate growth, and generate revenues that reduces the deficit long-term, as well, too. And we've seen the results of that just in the last couple of days because the Congressional Budget Office is out now with their -- what is called the Mid Session Review. They've re-estimated the deficit for this year. And we've saved over $50 billion -- that is we've reduced the deficit by over $50 billion from where we were last January just by virtue of the increase flow of revenue into the Treasury because the economy is growing, doing better. People are making more money, and therefore, paying more tax at the same time.
But in the relative order of priority, we -- in wartime with a national emergency, those become our first priorities. And we have to make other adjustments accordingly.
MODERATOR: I know you and Mrs. Cheney have many miles to go before you sleep tonight, so we have time for one more question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, we got a lot of wannabees out here? Where's the mike? You got a mike here.
MRS. CHENEY: I choose the little girl.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, good idea.
Q: I love to read. What's your favorite book? (Laughter.)
MRS. CHENEY: There you go.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm just trying to think whether or not -- I probably should mention your book. (Applause.)
Well, I like to read, too. That's one of the most important things my parents taught me when I was young was to read a lot. So it's to be commended. One of my favorite books, and one I recommend to a lot of people is a book called "Across the Wide Missouri," written by historian Bernard DeVoto back in the late '40s. It deals with the early Rocky Mountain fur trade. It just happens to be a love of mine, and it deals with the West, where I grew up and so forth. But I would recommend for you my wife's books. (Laughter.) And let me give you a plug -- there's "A is for Abigail," which is the book about amazing American women throughout our history. And the other one is called "America," which is a history of the United States written for somebody about your age. And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Lynne, and let you talk about history.
MRS. CHENEY: Well, let me just -- since we brought up the book "A is for Abigail," and it's a book about amazing American women, let me just tell you there are wonderful heroines in it like Abigail Adams, and Sojourner Truth. But there also in this book people you've never heard of, people like a woman named Marjorie Dickie. And she is on the Z page. Z is Babe Didrikson Zaharias. And probably not many of you remember Babe Didriksen Zaharias, the finest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. But there's a page full of other athletes. Marjorie Dickie is on this page because she was a softball star in the 1930s. And she has this wonderful story. She lived in a little town in Nebraska -- Syracuse, Nebraska. And if you've seen the movie Hoosiers, you know it's about the little town in Indiana where they win the state championship, and that is so huge in basketball. Well, Marjorie Dickie's team, the Syracuse Bluebirds won the state championship in Nebraska. They went to nationals. This was a huge deal. So she was a star, maybe one you haven't heard of before. But I love this story because Marjorie Dickie later married, and she had three children -- and the oldest is the Vice President of the United States now. Isn't that a nice story. (Laughter.) So Dick has had strong women in his life for a long time. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No doubt about that. (Laughter.) Well, we again want to thank you for being here this afternoon. We're delighted to have the privilege of participating in this process. There's no more remarkable thing we do as a civilization than to select our leadership and hold them accountable for their performance. It's a privilege that unfortunately all too many of us take for granted. And this election, quite possibly, like the last one, may be very, very close. And when people say, well, it doesn't matter what I do, I remind them of those 537 votes in Florida that decided who was going to be President of the United States for the last four years. This is a crucial election. We're all privileged to be Americans. And we ought to take advantage of the right we're given to participate in that. We're delighted you're here today, and look forward to having the opportunity to see you again in the future.
So thank you very much for being here. (Applause.)
END 5:50 P.M. EDT
Richard B. Cheney, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/281582