JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, welcome.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It's good to be on the show, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Is the president willing to work with Congress to settle some of the legal disputes about the NSA surveillance program?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We believe, Jim, that we have all the legal authority we need. He indicated the other day he's willing to listen to ideas from the Congress, and certainly they have the right and the responsibility to suggest whatever they want to suggest. We'd have to make a decision as an administration whether or not we think it would help and would enhance our capabilities.
But as I say, we believe firmly that based on the Constitution, based on the authorization for the use of force Congress passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that we have all the legal authority we need with respect to the NSA program.
JIM LEHRER: There were two Republican senators at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday who made the strong point, Senator DeWine of Ohio, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said it would be in the interests of the country, interests of the president and interests of everybody involved for Congress and the president to sort this out and get it behind it, get it off the table. You don't agree with that?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I don't think it would necessarily be in the interest of the country especially if we get into a situation where the legislative process leads to the disclosure of sensitive operational matters with respect to this program. If we end up destroying the effectiveness of the program by broadcasting far and wide operational details that would allow our enemies to in effect negate it or neutralize its effectiveness, that's not in anybody's interest.
That clearly is not in the national interest, and the concern in the past when we have had discussions with those members of Congress that had been briefed into the program about the possible amendment, if you will, or additional legislation on this issue, there was a consensus that in fact proceeding to do that would disclose the program in ways that would potentially be damaging to it.
So there was a consensus between those of us in the administration who were involved as well as the leaders on Capitol Hill that were briefed on the program that legislation would not be helpful.
JIM LEHRER: But there has not been any new conversations about that with Congress just in the last two or three days since this thing has really mushroomed into a controversy?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Not that I've been -- not that I've been involved in. But some of the controversy, Jim again let me emphasize here, when we briefed the chairman and ranking members of the committee on this program which we've done at least a dozen times, I presided over most of those briefings, there was no great concern expressed that somehow we needed to come get additional legislative authority.
In fact, the program has operated for four years, Congress has been informed, a few members of Congress, informed throughout that period of time, and everything was fine until there was publicity in The New York Times.
Somebody leaked the program to The New York Times, then there was public disclosure of it, and at that point now we've had some members head for the hill, so to speak, and forget perhaps that they were in the briefings and fully informed of the program.
But in terms of the legal authority, there is a very solid analysis that includes the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, the counsel in the White House, the attorney general of the United States, and this has been reviewed 30 times now, more than 30 times, because it's had to be renewed every 45 days since we started the program.
So the legal issues have been thoroughly exhausted. There may be some disagreements, but, again, I think it's important for us if we're going to proceed legislatively to keep in mind that there's a price to be paid for that and it might well in fact do irreparable damage to our capacity to collect this information.
JIM LEHRER: You don't think it could be done without damaging--
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I can't say that. We've suggested, we said, look, if you've got suggestions, we're happy to listen to them, but that is a major concern.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. What do you make of Senator Graham's argument that he made yesterday in public to the attorney general which is using the force resolution which is one of the legal justifications, you cited and it has been cited by the administration, said if you go down that road, the future when the next president or this president or the next president comes and asks for a force resolution from Congress, there could be all kinds of exceptions, you can do this, this and this, but you can't wiretap, you can't do this, you can't do that, and he said if we don't settle this issue now, you will open up a difficult situation for the future. You don't agree with that?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think people are straining here to try to find an issue to some extent. Remember what's happened since the authorization of the use of force was approved in the aftermath of 9/11, and we've used it extensively in Afghanistan and so forth. We also had a Supreme Court decision in the Hamdi case where the court in effect found that there was implicit in the authorization of the use of force, the authorization for the president to hold an American citizen, and clearly that's more intrusive, if you will, use of power and authority than surveillance of the enemy.
Incident to the authorization of the use of force, military force, clearly I would expect would be a decision that that implies as well the ability to intercept the communications of the enemy. That's an inherent part of warfare. There's ample precedent we believe on the books based on the Supreme Court decision, based on the statute, based on the president's constitutional authorities, for us to do exactly what we're doing.
Now, there may be suggestions from some that we need to have some additional authorization passed and we don't believe it's required, but as the president said the other day, we're perfectly willing to listen to suggestions from the Congress.
JIM LEHRER: You don't think the public disclosure of this and the controversy that has risen as a result of it requires that kind of second look at this issue?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It's been looked at thoroughly within the administration and with those members of Congress that have been briefed into the program. This is not something that's been kept out of the normal governmental processes.
When you have the inspector general of the National Security Agency who is responsible for ensuring compliance at NSA with the statutes and laws of the land intimately involved in this program from the very beginning; when you had the top elected leadership of the Congress of both parties, the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committees of both Houses briefed into this program since the very beginning; when you've got the attorney general of the United States and the Office of Legal Counsel, there's a lot of work that's gone into this.
Now there are a number of members of Congress who didn't know about the program until it was leaked. That was intentional in the sense that we were trying to restrict it as much as possible so that the program would retain its effectiveness. The biggest problem we've got right now, frankly, I think is all the public discussion about it. I think we have in fact probably done serious damage to our long-term capabilities in this area because it was printed first in The New York Times and subsequently because there have been succeeding stories about it.
JIM LEHRER: So you never intended this to ever get out?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Correct.
JIM LEHRER: This would remain a secret forever? That was the intention of the administration?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, certainly as long as there was a war on.
JIM LEHRER: What about the points that were made yesterday that all the things you just outlined are all within the executive branch with the exception of the members of Congress, these eight members, four Democrats, four Republicans, one of whom wrote you a letter afterward raising concerns about, Senator Rockefeller.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Wrote a letter three years ago and never raised any concerns after that, sat through numerous briefings, never had any questions that weren't answered.
JIM LEHRER: And none of those other eight did either?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Correct.
JIM LEHRER: So what's going on here do you think?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I think a lot of people decided after it became public that they wanted to take a different position than they had in private. This process of briefing just a few members of Congress is well established, Jim. I've been involved one way or another in the intelligence operations of our government going back 30 years to the Ford administration, or when I was on the Intelligence Committee myself in the '80s, or when I was secretary of defense in the early '90s. The practice of the president deciding to brief only a few members of Congress on really sensitive programs is well established. We've operated that way now for a very long time, and this program was treated in that fashion. It's important we preserve that capability.
If we had briefed all of the members of the Intelligence Committee, both Houses as some have suggested, we would have had to brief 70 members of Congress into this program because that's how many people have served on those two committees over the intervening four years.
JIM LEHRER: That would have been wrong?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: That's not a good way to keep a secret, to brief 70 members of Congress when the practice is well established and has been used in the past to brief just eight, just the speaker, the majority leader, the minority leaders of both Houses, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the committees.
JIM LEHRER: Is there a conflict of priorities here, Mr. Vice President? You say keep things secret. That's one priority. There's another priority, of course, in our government which is congressional oversight and checks and balances within the system. You would go that secrecy is more important than the checks and balances?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think you can do both. That's why you brief the Congress in the first place, so that they know what's going on, so that there isn't anything that they're not aware of, but you can't take 535 members of Congress and tell them everything and protect the nation's secrets. And when people take on the responsibility to serve as a chairman or a ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, they accept that extra burden, that they are going to know things nobody else knows and they're going to have to stand up when some issue like this does come up as Pat Roberts has and Peter Hoekstra, the chairmen of the respective committees in the House and Senate, and said, right, we were briefed into the program, it's a good program, it's an important program and we need to continue it.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Rockefeller said at a hearing last week that you should assume that the leak on this came from the executive branch. Is he right?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We don't know. There's an investigation underway to find out.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have a hunch that it would probably in the executive branch?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It would be inappropriate for me to comment. We just don't know.
JIM LEHRER: You told CNN last week that thousands of lives have been saved by this NSA surveillance program. Are we talking about American lives have been saved?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I can't go beyond that. I do believe that a great many lives have been saved because of what we've been able to do with this program.
JIM LEHRER: According to what the president has said, this only involves conversations between people who are believed to have al-Qaida contacts, international calls. You're saying that those calls by themselves have saved lives, thousands of lives?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I'm saying this program has produced intelligence for us that has been very valuable in the global war on terror both in terms of saving lives and breaking up plots directed at the United States. It has been a very useful source of intelligence for us and we need to continue the program.
JIM LEHRER: I just want to make sure I understand what you're saying. If we had not had this program, Americans would have been killed in terrorist attacks by al-Qaida or related organizations?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: That's my belief.
JIM LEHRER: It's just a belief or is it--
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: No, and I think it's based on the facts, Jim, but I cannot talk about operational details. You're going to ask those questions, but we're not going to get into them. This has been one of the most important sources of intelligence we've had during the global war on terror. It's not an accident that we haven't been struck in the last four years. Some people think well it's just dumb luck. No, it's not. It's because the president has made some very good decisions, because we've had first-rate military and intelligence capabilities working on this problem, it's because we've aggressively gone after the terrorists wherever we could find them, and it's because we've had very good intelligence.
This program has been an important part of that intelligence capability. And as I said, the tragedy is, now that it has become the subject of so much discussion in the press and in the public arena that there is a real danger here that we will lose our capabilities in this area and will not have the kind of intelligence going forward that we've had in the past that has made it possible for us to successfully defend the nation against terrorist attacks. It doesn't mean there won't be future attacks. There may well be. We're working on it every day. But the fact is we have not been struck in over four years and that's because of a lot of good work by some very able and capable people.
JIM LEHRER: And this NSA surveillance program?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: And this is part of it.
JIM LEHRER: Conflicting priorities question again. As vice president of the United States, can you assure any American who's out there, any innocent American who has no connections to al-Qaida, absolutely none, that his and her rights are not being violated by this NSA surveillance program?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I can.
JIM LEHRER: In any whatsoever?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Let me emphasize again, people call it domestic surveillance. No, it's not domestic surveillance. The requirements for this authorization to be utilized are that one end of the communication has to be outside the United States, and one end of the communication has to involve reason to believe that it's al-Qaida related or affiliated or part of the al-Qaida network. Now those are two very important and very clear-cut criteria, and for this presidential authorization to be used in this way, those two conditions have to be met.
JIM LEHRER: Do you understand why some average Americans might say, wait a minute, whose definition is it of an al-Qaida possibility or whatever, that they would ask serious questions and want accountability?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I can assure them that the program is operating in a very cautious and prudent manner. As I said, I've been involved off and on for more than 30 years in various aspects of the government's intelligence business as a consumer, as somebody who was responsible for part of the community at one time. I've never seen as much care and caution exercised as there is in this program. It has been done with immaculate concern to guarantee that we protect the civil liberties of the American people, but at the same time that we're able to collect intelligence that will allow us to defend the country against further terrorist attacks.
I think, Jim, that I'd make a couple of more points. I think the vast majority of the American people support this program, and I also think when ultimately the history is written about this period, the relevant reaction of the Congress will be the reaction of the leadership when we briefed them into the program in years past and they signed up to it and they agreed that it was an extraordinarily important program and they urged us to continue. And that's an independent, outside separate group, bipartisan, it did not involve just a selected group of Republicans, and that that's the reaction that's important, not the one that comes after it becomes a political issue and people are trying to score political points.
JIM LEHRER: It's Senator DeWine, Senator Graham, Senator Specter and Senator Brownback who have raised questions about this and they're Republicans. They're not attempting to score political points are they?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: None of them have been briefed into the program.
JIM LEHRER: You think if they were briefed they wouldn't be saying what they're saying?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Yes, I think they'd be satisfied that in fact it's being done in a totally appropriate fashion.
JIM LEHRER: What about Senator Specter's suggestion yesterday that, and then we'll move on to something else here, a special federal court be constituted to review the legal disputes?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I don't want to get into the business of passing judgment or giving an administration position in the various ideas that have been suggested. The president said we welcome whatever suggestions they've got, and Senator Specter is a respected member and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he's a good friend and ally, and the other members, Mike DeWine I've known for 30 years, served with him in the House, Lindsey Graham, these are competent, capable, reputable people, and folks like that on the Democratic side, too. They may have ideas that we ought to listen to, and we're happy to entertain those ideas.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, how dangerous is the situation with Iran right now?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We think it's dangerous and I think the international community believes that. We've seen the situation develop as they appear to be determined to develop their capacity to produce nuclear weapons. I think everybody also has had their level of concern increase because of the current leadership in Iran. The new president has made some pretty outrageous statements.
Now the international community has come together, we had the vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors this past week to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council. We think that's the right step.
JIM LEHRER: Some people have seen some striking parallels between this situation and the buildup to military action against Iraq. Should they see parallels?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think you've got to be careful to draw analogies where they may not apply. I think you have to look at Iran all by itself, and it has been a problem for a long time. But we've tried very hard to work diplomatically to resolve the matter. We've supported the work of the EU and the British, French and German governments in their efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution. We'll continue to support those efforts.
But as I say, we've finally reached the point now -- not just the United States, but the international community. The world, broadly defined, seems to be on board with respect to the concern that all of us share, and the belief that this needs to go before the U.N. Security Council.
JIM LEHRER: With the Iraq parallel, it was believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; turned out they didn't. But in Iran's case we know they have a program of enrichment that could lead to nuclear weapons. So isn't it a more aggravated situation on the surface now than it was when we took action against Iraq or not?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, again, I'm going to be careful not to draw parallels, Jim, where they're not appropriate. But you have stated correctly the situation, that in the case of Iran we know they have a program to develop nuclear power. We know they're trying hard to retain the capacity to enrich uranium, which is the first step, obviously, in terms of developing nuclear weapons.
They've been offered a process by which they could have nuclear power, have the Russians enrich the fuel to the level required for a civilian reactor, and then reclaim the fuel once it's been used. They've rejected that. That leads everybody to believe that they obviously want to have their own enrichment capacity to be able to go all the way to the levels required for a nuclear weapon. So there doesn't seem to be any doubt of what their intentions are.
JIM LEHRER: Senator McCain said over the weekend that the only thing worse than taking military action against Iran would be Iran as a nuclear power. Do you agree with him?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think we're all very, very concerned, as is Senator McCain. And when you think about a government like Iran that has a history of sponsorship of terrorist organizations as the prime mover behind Hezbollah, a nation that is now governed by a man who has talked repeatedly, for example, about the destruction of Israel, that everybody's concerned that if Iran were equipped with nuclear weapons, that would become a major source of instability, if you will, in that part of the world.
I know others who live in the region, the governments I have talked with, the president's talked with, obviously, are very concerned about what's happening in Iran.
JIM LEHRER: Should the president of Iran be on notice that the military option is not off the table as far as the United States is concerned?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We have made it clear that no options are off the table. We, obviously, are pursuing a diplomatic road to resolve this matter. We think that's the way to go. But the president's also made it clear that no options are off the table.
JIM LEHRER: So Iraq should not be read by Iran in any particular way, what we did in Iraq?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think we're dealing with Iran as this actual situation in Iran. You keep trying to pull--
JIM LEHRER: I know.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: --draw a parallel with Iraq and --
JIM LEHRER: People are doing that, Mr. Vice President, it isn't just me. It isn't just me.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I understand that, Jim, but the president and his advisers, obviously, have to treat it as a special set of circumstances.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Iraq, what's the strength of the insurgency right now?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I think we're making progress against the insurgency. I think we have been now. I think we'll look back several years from now and see that 2005 was really a turning point in the sense of the progress we made, both in terms of training Iraqi forces -- because we've now got a large number of Iraqis taking the lead various placed around the country, from a security and military standpoint -- but also because of the political milestones that were achieved, that -- from the elections in January of '05, the writing of the constitution, the ratification of that constitution in October, the national elections in December under the new constitution.
I think those political milestones, every single one of which has been met, are vital in terms of our ultimate success in Iraq of establishing a democratically elected government and a security situation that the Iraqis themselves can handle.
JIM LEHRER: You drew a lot of heat and ridicule when you said eight months ago, insurgency is in its last throes. You regret having said that?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: No. I think the way I think about it, as I just described. I think about when we look back and get some historical perspective on this period, I'll believe that the period we were in through 2005 was in fact a turning point, that putting in place a democratic government in Iraq was the, sort of the cornerstone, if you will, of victory against the insurgency.
JIM LEHRER: But every report -- the inspector general who's in charge, looking at what the reconstruction program is like, et cetera, just was on our program just a few days ago, and he said that the insurgency's strength is keeping the reconstruction from happening. I mean, they're not even back to power, their electricity and water, what they had prewar in large parts of the country. That doesn't concern you about the reconstruction?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Certainly, we're concerned, but I think you will find that the strategy that we've got in place, both on the security side and on the political side, is what's going to ultimately produce victory there, and the success, for example, at rebuilding the refineries and the infrastructure that relates to the oil industry, and the power grid and so forth, turns very much upon having effective elected leaders in charge of those ministries, having the Iraqis with the kind of security forces that can deal with the insurgency and provide the kind of security that's required for them to go forward and rebuild the basic infrastructure of the country.
Part of the problem wasn't just the military campaign itself. I mean, one of the reasons the infrastructure was in such bad shape is because there had been no investment in it for years, and the oil industry was in far worse shape than anybody thought because Saddam had not invested anything new there. The pipelines are worn out, refineries are worn out. A lot needed to be done to bring them up to par.
JIM LEHRER: Stuart Vaughn, the inspector general I was just talking about, said, again on our program, that the reason reconstruction is going so poorly or hasn't gone any better -- let's put a different kind of phraseology there -- is confronting an insurgent -- we're having to confront an insurgency we didn't anticipate. Is that correct?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think that's fair. I don't think anybody thought --
JIM LEHRER: Why didn't we anticipate it?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, you can't anticipate everything. You know, we did anticipate a lot of things that didn't happen. We anticipated the possibility of a civil war between Sunni and Shia. That hasn't happened. We anticipated that Saddam would do to his oil fields what he did to the Kuwaiti oil fields 15 years ago, and try to destroy them and set them on fire. We saw them putting explosives out on the wells before the military operation began. That didn't happen.
So there are a number of things that you plan for that didn't happen, but still it's warfare, there are always surprises, and I think it would be fair to say the insurgency has been stronger than anybody anticipated.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, do you believe the Muslim anger and violence over these cartoons in Europe is justified?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I don't, but, obviously, we think the violence is not justified in terms of what's happened there. I think it's been overdone, I guess if I can put it in those terms.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think the newspapers were justified, under freedom of the press, and freedom of expression concepts, to publish those cartoons of Muhammad?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, we believe very deeply in freedom of expression. Obviously, we think, you know, that it's appropriate for people to respect one another's religions, but I don't believe that the printing of those cartoons justifies the violence that we've seen.
JIM LEHRER: Moving to the Middle East and Hamas, would the administration have pushed so hard for those elections to have gone ahead if you had known Hamas was going to win in such an overwhelming way?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The elections were -- really flowed out of the Oslo process. They were scheduled a long, long time ago. The elections that have been held, I think, more than anything else, was a referendum on the inadequacy of the old Fatah organization. I think that the Palestinian people had grown so fed up, if you will, with the old Arafat operation. Somebody suggested this was the last election of the Arafat era, the corruption, the incompetence, if you will, that they voted for anybody else, and in effect, they elected Hamas to a majority position now in the Palestinian parliament.
In many respects that's unfortunate. On the other hand, perhaps not surprising given the inadequacy, if you will, of the government that had been provided by the Palestinian Authority to the people of Palestine. I think they reacted and responded by voting for Hamas.
JIM LEHRER: Why was everybody in the U.S. government and elsewhere so surprised by this end result then, if everybody knew that the unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories was over 50 percent? All these things that you just mentioned were very well known, so why was the result such a shock?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I don't know, Jim. Did you guys ever miscall an election here in the United States?
JIM LEHRER: Never, never.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Never happened.
JIM LEHRER: Never happened.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It -- most of the forecasts that I had seen were that the Abu Mazen and the Fatah organization would win by a narrow margin. Obviously, what happened was Hamas won bigger than anybody thought, but it's an election. And you --
JIM LEHRER: Not an -- you don't see this as another intelligence failure by the U.S. intelligence community?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: No. When it comes to calling elections, I hope not. I approach that with a little humility.
JIM LEHRER: Darfur, the killing, the raping, the terrible, terrible treatment of the people in the Darfur region of Sudan continues as we sit here. It has been going on now for months, for years. Why doesn't the United States take a leadership role and stop it?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, we played an active role in terms of urging the folks that are involved in it to try to end it. We've supported the work of the African Union and the insertion of peacekeeping forces in there.
The president, of course, early on, in terms of the basic conflict between the north and the south in Sudan, sent former Senator Danforth down there, put a lot of personal time in as a, as an envoy --
JIM LEHRER: That was the earlier thing, not the Darfur part.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: That was the earlier conflict before the problem developed in Darfur. It's a huge area. It's difficult to get at, and -- but we have been actively involved. Secretary Powell was over there towards the end of his tour as secretary of state, and personally visited the area.
JIM LEHRER: And it's still happening. There's now 2 million people homeless --
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Still happening, correct.
JIM LEHRER: Hundreds of thousands of people have died, and -- so you're satisfied the U.S. is doing everything it can do?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I am satisfied we are doing everything we can do.
JIM LEHRER: On the budget that the president announced yesterday, $2.7 trillion, critics are calling it mostly fiction because there's no way in the world the Congress, in an election year, Republicans as well as Democrats, are going to cut all these domestic programs that it's going to take to support the increases that the president is asking in defense and homeland security. You disagree with the critics?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I do. I think the president's got to establish priorities, and he's done that. He's made some tough decisions with respect to, I think, about 140 programs that are proposed to be reduced or eliminated. He, you know, he gets paid to make these decisions and recommendations. Congress is going to have to respond to that, and I'm sure they will.
But I would by no means think that we're not going to have some success there. I think we will. I think the Congress of the United States is under a lot of pressure in terms of their performance. I think they're going to find that the public does in fact support a lot of what the president's recommended, and as I said, the decisions he's made are reflected in these budget priorities.
That's a strong focus on fighting the war on terror, on defense, on homeland security, and that's as it should be, as well as we look for programs that aren't working or aren't performing in accordance to what our national priorities are, and reduce or eliminate them.
JIM LEHRER: I assume, Mr. Vice President, you agree with the president that the United States is addicted to oil and that's a bad thing?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, we clearly depend very heavily on it. We burn about 20 million barrels a day, and the president suggestion in his State of the Union speech, and I think wisely so, that we need to invest more money in developing alternatives. The notion, for example, of expanding our R&D spending with respect to the development of ethanol from competing sources, I think is a good one, and the exercise that's under way will, over time, we believe, reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. That's been an administration goal, not only for this administration, but for many of our predecessors.
JIM LEHRER: As you know, Mr. Vice President, it's common knowledge, or conventional wisdom -- let's put it that way -- that if you really want to stop the addiction that you can do it quickly one or two ways or a combination. First of all raise the mileage standards dramatically on cars, and the other just to slap a federal -- increase the federal gasoline tax. That would put people out of their cars or reduce the addiction. But the administration is against both of those ideas, right?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Correct.
JIM LEHRER: Now why?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We have raised the mileage standard in the past as part of the last energy bill. We also believe -- I believe that the -- from the standpoint of efficiency, that we have over time gotten to be much more efficient users, if you will, of energy.
If you look back to 1980 -- 25 years ago, roughly -- we used twice as much energy as we do today per unit of output in our economy. We've gotten twice as efficient. That's in part a response to market forces, to the cost of energy, the fact that prices have gone up and people have adjusted accordingly.
We are generally not enthusiastic about big tax increases. Big tax increases impose burdens on the economy, and the money being taken out of the hands of private citizens and spent by government, and government oftentimes doesn't spend it nearly as efficiently or as effectively from the standpoint of long-term economic growth and the creation of jobs and so forth as will the private sector. So we have generally resisted and I think will continue to resist the notion that a solution to our gasoline problem, for example, is a big tax on gasoline.
JIM LEHRER: So it's an ideology problem, right?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: No, it's a philosophy problem.
JIM LEHRER: That's what I meant.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We believe the economy works best when it has a lowest possible burden, tax burden placed on it. We think the 4.7 million new jobs that have been created in the last three years are a direct result of what we did with tax policy. When we reduced rates, when we cut the rate on capital gains and on dividends, provided other benefits by way of reducing the total tax burden on the American people, we think that's why we have a strong healthy economy. And when you start to get into the business of slapping taxes back on, we think that will simply slow down the economy and distort what otherwise is, we believe, the most successful economy on the face of the Earth.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Vice President, some of the things we've gone over, some of the things we haven't. There's an increasing thing -- here, again, among Republicans as well as others -- that have suggested that there may be a, quote, competence problem in the Bush administration, having to do with misjudging the insurgency, the Katrina thing, which we haven't even discussed, the prescription -- Medicare prescription drug program not functioning properly when it -- at its launch, the long list of things, Harriet Miers -- there's a long list of things.
How do you react when you hear that? It's about managing the government now, not philosophy, not ideology, not politics. It's managing the government on a day-to-day basis. Are you comfortable with the way you all are doing it?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I am, and I do have a slightly different perspective than the one you just lay down, Jim. I look at our economy and see that we inherited a recession that was then hammered by the effects of 9/11, and we've come through that in great shape. The resilience of the American economy has been phenomenal, but a lot of that was because of good, sound policy by this president and this administration. The 4.7 million new jobs in less than three years isn't to be sneezed at.
We've liberated 50 million people from two of the worst regimes in modern history, in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have successfully defended the nation against further terrorist attacks now for more than four years. We have reformed Medicare and put in place for the first time ever a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens, which needed to be there. In this day and age, how can you have an effective medical program that doesn't include prescription drugs? That's the biggest change --
JIM LEHRER: The management problem there was the one --
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It's a minor problem. The program's underway, and some 24 million Americans are going to have benefits as a result of that and live longer and be healthier while they do it.
The education reform the president put in place, No Child Left Behind, is a huge change in the way we do business in this country with respect to education.
The Supreme Court nominees of John Roberts and Sam Alito are outstanding, and they will have an impact on the Supreme Court for the next 30 years. We've also done great work with respect to the district courts and the federal appellate courts.
I think the success of this administration is very, very significant.
JIM LEHRER: They're good managers?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think we are good managers. We don't always get it right, but we've got plenty of critics out there to make sure that when we get it wrong, they let us know about it, and -- I've been involved in this business off and on over the years, and I think we've got a great president who's doing a fine job. And I'm delighted to be part of his administration.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Thank you, Jim.