Just taped an interview with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney which will air with the transcript posted here. My projection of the state of the race slips into the conversation when I call him “Mr. President” before correcting myself. On a serious note, he asserts that now is not the time to (1) be tinkering with the home mortgage interest deduction or (2) withdrawing the surge troops from Afghanistan even as he predicts it would be very difficult to reintroduce troops into Iraq after our bases our shuttered there.
Governor Romney also promised to campaign against the $600 billion DoD sequestration if it happens as a result of the failure of the Supercommittee and he is the GOP nominee. Best news of the day. That sequestration will not happen, and any Democrat who tries to allow it to do so will be rebuked for using the United States military as a bargaining chip to protect unsustainable federal spending.
HH: I start today’s show with former Massachusetts Governor and candidate for the presidency, Mitt Romney. An early Happy Thanksgiving to you, Governor. I hope you get to spend it with as much family as possible.
MR: Well, I certainly will. I’m going to be in San Diego, and my guess is that the Hewitt family will also be enjoying some turkey this season.
HH: You bet. I’ve got to ask you a little human interest before we dive in. Back when you were growing up in Michigan, you must have had a lot of bleak Thanksgivings after Ohio State pounded the Wolverines. Did your dad as governor have any special Thanksgiving traditions?
MR: Well, we as a family would go to the Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers game, which was a tradition that was held on Thanksgiving. And we did pretty darn well, Detroit did, during those days, believe it or not. And that tradition has changed a bit. Now, different teams play. But football on Thanksgiving has always been part of our tradition. And in my own family, we start off playing a little touch football outside with the boys.
HH: All right, now to the serious stuff, Governor. Senator Pat Toomey and Representative Jeb Hensarling, two of our Supercommittee Republicans, have put forward a plan that calls for lowering tax rates across the board, and extending the current tax rates permanently, but to do so by cutting three key deductions – mortgage home interest, state and local taxes, and charities. What do you make of their plan, and the extra $300 billion in extra revenue it says it will raise?
MR: Well, I haven’t seen their specific proposal, so I’m not going to sign up for it, of course, without reviewing it. My own view is that the idea of limiting deductions in the way the Bowles-Simpson panel recommended makes a good deal of sense. I’d like to see us have lower tax rates, and have a broader base. And it sounds like their idea is looking for a way of doing that. I must admit, I don’t think that this is a great time to be eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction. We obviously have a lot of trouble in the housing sector right now, but I haven’t seen their proposal. It may work just fine, but I just haven’t seen it, so I wouldn’t want to comment on that. But the home mortgage interest deduction right now is something that I think we need to keep in place. [# More #]
HH: Let me talk to you about the charitable deduction, because obviously without it, churches, synagogues, schools, hospitals, colleges, they’re all going to get hammered. Is that a good idea for us to weaken the not-for-profit sector?
MR: Well, you know, anytime you talk about lowering the rates and expanding the base, why, you’re talking about eliminating certain deductions. And I for one value the charitable contribution deduction. I recognize that in my own view, the American people do a better job picking charities that make a difference in the lives of people than government does. I mean, government wants to get our money so they can take care of people. I don’t think the government does as well as our charities do, and I’d rather let people in the marketplace of ideas send their money to charities they think will have the biggest impact. So I don’t like getting rid of the charitable deduction, either.
HH: There is a $600 billion dollar sequestration over the horizon, Governor Romney, that if the Supercommittee doesn’t get a deal done, will kick into the Department of Defense in 2013 with devastating consequences. If that happens, if that’s on the calendar to happen because of the failure, will you campaign, if you’re the nominee against President Obama, to reverse that sequestration?
MR: Absolutely. This is a Faustian choice that the President and his people put in place. The idea of drastic cuts to our national security at a time when the world is as dangerous as it is, and when frankly, we have men and women in harm’s way around the world, is a terrible idea. Even Secretary Panetta, who works for President Obama, has said that these cuts would be draconian. And I just, I vehemently agree with the course that’s being set. I think it was a very bad idea to put our national security on the chopping block, and will, if elected president, reverse those cuts, and reverse the prior cuts that President Obama has made to Defense as well. Look, my view is we need to upgrade our weapons systems, we need to have more troops, more active duty personnel, and we need to increase our commitment to caring for our veterans. We’ve got a lot of veterans who need a lot of help.
HH: Governor Romney, in just the last six weeks, President Obama has said three extraordinary things. In Orlando, he said, or to an Orlando television station, he said this is a great, great country that has gotten a little soft, and we don’t have the same competitive edge that we needed. In San Francisco, he said we’ve lost our ambition, our imagination and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam. And in Hawaii, just this week, he said we’ve been a little bit lazy over the last couple of decades. He’s gone from apologizing for America abroad to a soft sort of contempt for it at home. What do you make of this?
MR: You know, I don’t think that President Obama understands America. I don’t think he understands what makes America work. I think his failure to get this economy going flows from the fact that he doesn’t understand how free individuals and free enterprise drive the American economy. He is under the mistaken impression that government is what makes America work. And so he’s done the governmental things he wanted to do, and not surprisingly, they have not worked to help the economy, so he’s trying to find someone to blame. And having begun by blaming President Bush, and then blaming Congress and Republicans and ATM machines, he’s finally come down to blaming the American people. And the truth is, as Harry Truman pointed out, the buck stops at his desk. His desk is where the mistakes have been made, and it is not the American people that don’t know what to do. It’s American people who are being oppressed and overwhelmed by a government that is simply too intrusive in our lives. We’ve got to scale back the size of the federal government. And if we do that, America will be cooking again, and he’s simply wrong to suggest it’s the American people’s fault.
HH: I want to switch now to foreign affairs, Governor Romney. The big debate on Tuesday night next between you and the other contenders for the nomination will occur at the Constitution Hall, and hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. I’ll be talking with Wolf Blitzer a little bit later about that. Has foreign affairs gotten its due thus far? And what do you make of the time limits on questions as complicated as loose nukes in Pakistan?
MR: Yeah, it’s a little challenging, isn’t it, to try and respond to issue of such significance in such short time periods. Of course, we have eight people on the stage, and a one and a half hour debate time period. So you can’t give everybody five minutes, or you’re only have one or two questions each. It’s a touch conundrum for the people who are running the debate. I think you’re right that we have not spent enough time talking about foreign affairs, although we will now have two debates, the last debate on CBS was on that subject, and the next one will be as well. We’ll get a chance also in our addresses, and our white papers, to talk about foreign affairs. But in the final analysis, I think keeping America safe is the primary responsibility of government. And it’s something which hopefully the people in America will get a chance to understand our various viewpoints on this. I’m, I think I’m the only guy suggesting that we should raise our Defense budget to 4% of our total GDP, which is about one-fifth of federal spending. For me, that’s essential to keep America safe.
HH: Now Governor Romney, one specific, the President and his team are proposing, I believe, to cut the Marine Corps from about 200,000 to closer to 180,000. What do you make of that idea?
MR: You know, I just don’t believe in cutting the number of troops in our military. These last conflicts we’ve had have shown that we do not have enough active duty personnel. I would increase our active duty personnel by about 100,000. I would make sure we had 11 aircraft carrier task forces. I would take the shipbuilding forecast from nine per year up to 15 per year. I would increase the number of aircraft in our Air Force. We have to modernize our weapons systems. We have to make sure that our military is so strong no one in the world would ever think of challenging it.
HH: Now the President said he was going to allocate more resources to the Pacific this week. I’m not sure what that means. What do you think it means, Mr. President…er, Governor Romney?
MR: You know what? I appreciate the Freudian slip. I hope it comes true (laughing).
MR: You know, I don’t know what he has in mind, but clearly it’s about time for him, and for the nation at large, to recognize that China’s assertiveness in the Pacific has troubling consequences for the world. They say they own, effectively, they control the South China Sea. Almost half of the world’s trade flows through that sea. They want the capacity to repel anybody from coming into those waters. We simply can’t allow them to intimidate their neighbors, and to assert control over large swathes of what have been common waters for the world. And so if the President is going to assert America’s military presence in that region, that’s a good thing. I also think the President should send two aircraft carrier task forces to the Middle East, one for the Mediterranean, one for the Gulf, to make it very clear to Iran we’re watching, as their nuclear plans are not acceptable.
HH: Yesterday on this program, Governor Romney, Governor Huntsman told me that China had lost respect for our country in recent years. What do you think of that? And why, if you agree with it, do you think it happened?
MR: Well, he was the ambassador there, so he’s going to have to explain how that happened under his watch. I think President Obama has shown a weak hand not just in China, but around the world. And I think tyrants and nations generally respect strength. And they saw President Obama going around the world apologizing for America. They saw him continually cutting our military budget. And the results of these missteps, in my view, and our failure, by the way, to stand up to their theft of our intellectual property, and their hacking into our computers, has led them to conclude that we’re a weak nation. And I don’t agree with the policies of Barack Obama as they relate to China. I think they were very badly misguided, and I’m not surprised to hear from our ambassador there that China has lost respect for America. And it’s something for which President Obama deserves a great deal of the blame.
HH: I want to turn to Europe and then Afghanistan in the remaining minutes we’ve got, Governor Romney. In Europe, there’s a debt crisis. The President is famed in the New Yorker for “leading from behind”. Has he led from behind in Europe? And ought he to be more active in helping arrange a solution to the European debt crisis?
MR: You know, the European debt crisis is a crisis of their making, and they have the capability to solve that problem. I just don’t think the United States of America should be sending checks to the European Union to try and bail out their problems. Look, they’re a very large economy capable of solving this on their own. If we have some advice we can offer, why I’m sure they’d be all ears. But let’s not have America spend, and financially rescue sovereign debt of nations that are, have been profligate in their spending.
HH: Do you worry about the exposure of U.S. banking institutions to that European sovereign debt crisis?
MR: Absolutely. And you know, I haven’t seen those banks…(unintelligible)…those banks may face a real crisis. And if they do, why, we should let them go through the normal process of reorganization if necessary. The responsibility of our government is let individual institutions make that decision.
HH: Okay, we’re breaking up, Governor, so I’ll get one more question in before we lose your signal, which is in Afghanistan. There is concern that the President will order a drawdown so drastic it will not be possible to reestablish the American presence there as is happening in Iraq. What’s your concern over that? And what would your policy be in Afghanistan, if in fact you get the nomination and go on to win the presidency?
MR: Well, first of all, the idea of a withdrawal in September of our surge forces is a mistake. The commanders on the ground there believe that bringing out our surge forces during the height of the fighting season is a mistake, and puts our victories at risk. That’s mistake number one. If he follows that with a precipitous withdrawal before December of 2014, that would be even worse. I hope he does not do that. His mistake in Iran of pulling all of our troops out by the end of this year…
HH: You mean Iraq, I think.
MR: Excuse me, thank you, Iraq, by pulling all of our troops out by the end of this year is another very serious mistake on his part. He should have been working personally for a status of forces agreement to keep our troops there, to keep at least 10,000-30,000 troops there on a bases beyond December of this year. I just have to tell you, I’m very, very concerned.
HH: Do you think that it’s possible to change that if you become the president, to get a status of forces agreement, and to get American troops in some decent amount back into Iraq?
MR: Well, we’re going to have to see what the circumstances are at the time the new president takes the oath of office. If our troops have all left, and have been out for a year, and our bases are closed, why the idea of reinserting our troops could be very difficult. We’ll see what the feeling is of the Iraqi leadership, and whether they would welcome involvement by our troops again, and in what way. But I have not spoken with military leaders with regards to this, but my guesstimate would be that if we pull all of our troops out by December of this year out of Iraq, that it would be very difficult indeed to have them move back in.
HH: Governor Romney, on that note, a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, and thanks for joining us. Look forward to talking to you again soon.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, it’s good to be with you, Happy Thanksgiving.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.