Wednesday, September 22, 2004

White House political adviser Karl Rove said President Bush, if re-elected, will claim a legislative mandate to institute personal Social Security accounts, to simplify and reform the tax code and to extend No Child Left Behind standards into high school.

Although the election debate has been dominated by foreign policy and national security, Mr. Rove told editors and reporters of The Washington Times at a luncheon yesterday that the president also will claim a mandate to move on domestic issues.

He said it can be boiled down to a brief statement: “If you want three, I can give you three: win the war on terror, make the tax cuts permanent to grow the economy and reform fundamental institutions that have sort of gotten out of sync.”

That last item includes restructuring job retraining to include worker accounts that can be tailored to a worker’s needs and the long-term reform of Social Security.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which would handle any Social Security legislation, said last year that reform would have to be an issue in the presidential campaign in order to move anything forward.

Mr. Rove yesterday said the administration won’t produce specific policy for changing Social Security during this campaign, but it’s clear what Mr. Bush wants and, if he wins, he will consider that a mandate to move forward.

“Do I believe he needs to have a 1,300-page bill for each one of these? No. But it is clear where he wants to go, which is to find a way by which younger workers have the ability to divert some of the Social Security taxes they pay into a personal retirement account the decisions about which they make and which they own, they have a property right in,” he said.

“We can talk about the mechanism — whether it’s at 2 percent, 4 percent, 6 percent. We can talk about how that affects this component or that component. There are lots of issues. But that’s pretty clear. That’s what it is,” he said. “The election will be a victory for that approach.”

Mr. Rove said Mr. Bush’s record from the 2000 election proves he can follow through this time.

“Education reform, tax cuts, prescription-drug coverage under Medicare — Medicare modernization — those are at least three big things the president talked about last time around that have become real,” he said.

Mr. Rove said he thinks the mandate also would include further free-trade opportunities, including bilateral agreements, like those signed with Australia, Chile, Jordan and other nations; regional agreements such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement; and the broader Doha round of free-trade agreements.

But Mr. Rove would not say the president’s election was a mandate for his guest-worker proposal for immigrants. Instead, he said, “It’ll be an opportunity.”

He also took issue with critics who have labeled the Bush plan an amnesty, saying that the proposal does not offer illegal aliens a path to citizenship.

“We’re against amnesty. We don’t want amnesty. We’re against earned legalization,” he said.

The principles Mr. Bush set out early this year call for a temporary-worker program, renewable an unspecified amount of times, which led many to believe it would be indefinite. But Mr. Rove said that’s not the case.

“There is a belief, that’s an item we ought to work out with Congress, but there ought to be a limit,” he said. “The object is not to say come here, fill a job and be here for the next 20 or 30 years.”

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