HH: Joined now by United States Senator John Thune from the great state of South Dakota. Senator Thune, welcome back, always a pleasure.
JT: Great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: How does it feel from the perspective of someone up on the ballot running pretty easily in South Dakota, but you’ve got to have your finger on the national pulse as well.
JT: A lot going on. Your state’s kind of a hotbed of political activity out there, and I’m traveling on behalf of candidates this week and the next couple of weeks. But this is an extraordinarily important year, and a lot of really important elections. I mean, we’re at a crossroads, and in terms of the country’s future. And it’s really important that people turn out in big numbers this year, and express their views. And I hope that that will lead to some reinforcements for us in the House and Senate.
HH: Now I will talk a little bit later about the politics, but you wrote a column for Townhall.com earlier this week about a bill you’ve introduced to try and get control of spending. It’s normally not the kind of thing that candidates like to talk about, the arcane of political process. But this year, I think it is. Explain to people what you’d like to see done.
JT: Well, a couple of things, Hugh. To me, the most fundamental thing that we could do to change the way Washington works, and to end business as usual in Washington, is to reform the budget process. The budget process is broken. It is dysfunctional. We have a $3.5 trillion dollar enterprise called the federal government, and this year, we didn’t even pass a budget, which is the most fundamental responsibility that we have as stewards of the taxpayers. And there is nothing that puts downward pressure on spending in Washington. Everything, there’s this inertia to spend more and more and more. So I’ve got a number of reforms. One make the budget resolution that we pass binding, which it isn’t today. It has the force of law, has to be signed by the President. Two, you’d do it biannually, so that in a non-election year, you’re doing the budget. And in election year, you’re actually doing oversight and looking for ways to save money. I would create a new committee that’s specifically committed to spending cuts, and have a certain statutory threshold that they would have to reach every budget cycle. And because we have 26 committees in Congress that spend money, we don’t have one that saves money. And then I would also cap, freeze discretionary spending at 2008 levels, index it for inflation, and that saves you about $450 billion dollars right there. So those are some of the things that are included in there. There’s a line item veto in there. There’s some PayGo reforms. But basically, we have got to get after this. And if we don’t, we’re just going to continue to stay on this trajectory where we’re going to bankrupt the country.
HH: Now I have linked the column over at Hughhewitt.com, if people want to read John Thune’s piece on budget reform. I have to ask you, the President is interviewed in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, an early release of which occurred this morning. And the President comes to the recognition, “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” John Thune, isn’t that an admission that the stimulus was completely ill-conceived?
JT: It seems like he’s coming to that conclusion, Hugh. That’s a really interesting piece, if you look at some of the things, you know, some of the stuff that’s in that, and even things that his staff is saying about all this. I think that maybe they’re looking and saying you know, maybe we overreached, which I think they’re hearing loudly and clearly from the American people, because they did. I mean, this amount, this is the most massive increase in spending and government that we’ve seen since the 1960s. And there isn’t anything they can do to run away from it. They like to blame the previous administration, but this is all stuff that happened on their watch.
HH: Now a question I get a lot when I’m out on the road, and I know you’ve been campaigning with Carly and a whole bunch of people across the country, is will the Republicans actually walk the walk that they’ve been talking for the last year when you get, and you’re in the Senate leadership. Will the knives come out? Will the Senate and the House move quickly to cut back the government?
JT: I think we have to. If we don’t, the American people are going to throw us out. If they were to give Republicans the majority in the House or the Senate, I think that what they’re saying is we’ve seen what these other guys are like. We’re going to give you guys another chance. But if you don’t get it right, you know, we’ll give you the same treatment. I think that people in this country are frustrated, and they want to see elected leaders who are serious about containing the growth and the size of government in this country, getting spending under control, and putting our country on a more sound, fiscal footing, that we aren’t piling, you know, this huge amount of debt on future generations. So we are going to have to if we get the majorities back, govern in a different way than we did the last time that we held power.
HH: John Thune, a lot of people are asking whether or not you’re going to run for President in 2012. When will you make that decision?
JT: Well, you know, right now, as everybody else is, focused very narrowly on the midterm elections, because it’s the best thing we can do right now to change the direction of the country. But after those elections are over, we’ll take a look at it. We’re having some discussions about that now, and obviously, that would be a very big undertaking. But I think that people in this country are going to be ready for, hopefully, some kind of Midwestern common sense type leadership, and we certainly have got to make a change in the White House in 2012, and in particularly, if we can make some significant gains in the Congress in this election, because there is so much that I think has to be undone that this administration has done in terms of damage to the country.
HH: John Thune, always a pleasure, Senator. www.johnthune.com, America.
End of interview.