HH: Joined now by United States Senator John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Senator Thune, welcome, it’s always good to talk to you.
JT: Hi, Hugh, it’s always good to be with you.
HH: Now how surprised were you to hear the President declare that the private sector is doing just fine?
JT: Pretty shocked, actually (laughing). It makes you wonder what planet he’s living on. That was a really…although every once in a while, once in a while, you kind of get a glimpse into the soul of some of these folks. And I think that was an honest moment for him, and I think it gave us a really good idea about what he really thinks. Now people are writing it off. They were trying to write it off as a gaffe and walk back from it, but I think that was very revealing.
HH: Now do you believe that he believes it’s just a public sector employment issue?
JT: No, I mean, I think that, and if you look at the public sector unemployment number, of course, it’s way lower than the private sector number. But for him, I really do think, Hugh, that he believes that the way you create jobs is you grow government. And that, like I said, this was an honest moment for him, and I think it was a very, it was a real insight into his thinking with regards to this issue. That is very different from where most Americans are, who I think believe, still believe that the real good, permanent jobs in this country are created by the private economy.
HH: David Axelrod, his senior advisor, made the rounds of all the Sunday shows he could find yesterday. I think if I’d been on the radio yesterday, Axe would have shown up here to say hey, he held a press conference to tell everyone he was concerned. Did that impact the opinion cycle on this, John Tune? Or is it, the cake is baked on that faux pas?
JT: It doesn’t seem to have, and the reason for that is because anybody who’s seen the video of the President, it just came across as so, I mean, this was just his sort of stream of consciousness thinking. This wasn’t scripted. This wasn’t, you know, there was no teleprompter. This was sort of what he really thinks. And I think it’s very hard for them now to try and recreate the history of that moment. So I think their attempts are failing, and I think most Americans recognize that this was really a true look into the heart of the way that a liberal views the world.
HH: Now there is an article in The New Yorker today by Ryan Lizza on the second term, what would Obama do if re-elected. It’s really quite amazing on many levels. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it, yet, Senator. Have you?
JT: I’ll have to get it. No, Ryan Lizza, I know who he is, yeah.
HH: Well, among the things is says is it seems implausible that Obama would go left in the second term, but that he really will need a sense of humility and “a revitalized faction of Republican lawmakers willing to make deals with the President.” And this is the theme, Senator, that your side has been obstructionist in Washington, D.C, and the President’s been trying. How do you respond to that?
JT: Yeah, I mean, that’s crazy talk. It’s so hard for me to even entertain, when they say that, that they could say that with a straight face, because as you know, they had, for a while there, everything. They had a 60 vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, a huge majority in the House, President. And you know, but to blame Republicans for this? They control the agenda. They run this town. The President has been implementing his policy, much of it through the executive branch of various agencies and regulations. These are big government folks, these are people who are running the show today. And to blame Republicans is just an absolute, flies in the face of reality since he’s been in office now for three and a half years. This is what you get when you elect people who share his worldview, and he’s got a lot of allies up here in Congress right now who have the same point of view about doubling down on government, and that the way that you grow the economy and create jobs in this country is you make government larger.
HH: Lizza quotes a senior Obama advisor, and the intimation of course is that it’s Axelrod or Plouffe, but he quotes, “The hope is that some of the moderate Republicans, if there are any left, are like look, we tried it your way, we lost the election, you have to compromise in American politics and divided government.” Again, this is an effort to paint you, Senator Thune, and your colleagues as the problem.
JT: Well, and I really think, I start a lot of my speeches nowadays, Hugh, with the question what do you think a second Obama term would look like, because I think it’s terrifying to people when they look at the three and a half years that we’ve just been through, that unconstrained by having to run for re-election, if he was able to do what he wanted to do, you would have even more regulations, you’d have higher taxes, you would have more government spending, and that is a prescription for disaster for this country. But I do think that he wants to blame Congress, the reason that we are where we are is because we haven’t worked with him to put his agenda through. The fact of the matter is they had everything that they wanted there for a long time. They got their massive health care expansion, they got a trillion dollar stimulus bill which didn’t create any jobs. And they want to double down on that now. Everything he’s talking about is a stimulus II, which would be more government spending, and that’s just the wrong prescription for the economy. And it’s ironic to me in a lot of ways that his folks out there keep trying to spin this as somehow, this is a problem with Congress, as opposed to a President who for three and a half years now has tried to make this country stronger by making government bigger, which is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing.
HH: Now the New Yorker and others seem willing to accept this premise that there’s been obstructionism in Washington. But of course, they promised not higher than 8% unemployment with the stimulus. They promised a recovery summer. They promised a lot of things, Senator Thune. And as you pointed out, it’s not obstructionism. It’s simply bad economics on their part.
JT: Yeah, it is, and this is the two year anniversary of recovery summer. Two years ago, you know, the President and Vice President Biden and Tim Geithner all got out there and said this was recovery summer. They pointed to the supposed successes of their $831 billion dollar stimulus bill. But you know, it is what it is, and these are, they are now, what we have today are the results of their policies. They have had plenty of time to put their vision in place, and to implement that. And it’s interesting to me, too, that the Democrats up there, Reid and Durbin got up on the floor of the Senate last week, and the speech, just attacking, denouncing Republicans for obstructionism. And if you look at it, you know, Harry Reid now has filled the amendment tree, which is procedural language for shutting down Republican amendments 59 times, which is 50% more than the last six majority leaders combined. I mean, they have tried everything they can to prevent their members from having to make tough votes, and to make these hard decisions, and yet they want to blame Republicans. And it’s a distraction for them. I understand why they have to do it, but it doesn’t fit with the facts.
HH: I’ve got to ask you about the New York Times piece today by Jonathan Weisman, Push For A Fiscal Pact Picks Up Speed And Power. I’m always alarmed by the prospect of secret deals. This does not attribute to any Republican participation. It says Dianne Feinstein, Durbin, Schumer, Baucus and Kent Conrad are getting together to negotiate among themselves on something. But what is your assessment of this?
JT: Well, you know, I think they, for them, though, for the Democrats, it always starts with taxes. It always starts with revenues. There is a, it’s just complete denial of why we are where we are. And they think that government doesn’t have enough revenue, that we tax too little. The problem is we spend too much here. And so the Democrats who are in these discussions, and I know Republicans who are trying to reach out in good faith to work with Democrats, but until they acknowledge what the problem is, and address fundamentally what’s driving federal spending in this country, which is entitlement programs – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, if we don’t reform those programs, we continue on this trajectory that literally bankrupts the country. And they refuse to go there, and the President refuses to go there. And I think that’s what’s going to hold up any type of plan. The Democrats insist that it’s all about revenues, the Republicans know that this is about spending, and that we’ve got to get spending reined in, we’ve got to reform these programs, and then, you know, we’ll talk about, we can talk about revenues. But we like to talk about revenues the old-fashioned way, which is growing the economy. And in order to grow the economy, we’ve got to make government smaller, not bigger.
HH: Now Senator Thune, you know, we’ve had gangs of four, six, eight, ten, twelve, I don’t know, fourteen, sixteen, up to a hundred, gangs of a hundred. What seems to me to have been missing in the last three and a half years is the President.
HH: And the one time he got involved with Speaker Boehner, he pulled the tablecloth off at the last minute, crashed the deal, and walked away and pouted. And you guys had to pick up the china. Am I correct? He has simply never been engaged in this?
JT: Right, and in his budget this last year was the best example of that. It added $11 trillion dollars to the debt, spends $46 trillion dollars over the next decade. And if you look at what it does in terms of fixing the problems, nothing. I mean, it does absolutely nothing to address what is fundamentally the problem affecting this country fiscally, and that is we’ve made promises that we can’t keep, that if we’re going to save Social Security and Medicare for the next generation, we have to reform, and that has to start now. And this President refuses to acknowledge that, but consistently blames Congress, and particularly Republicans for not working with him, when in fact, as you pointed out, last summer, Speaker Boehner, they went down there, they tried to strike a deal on entitlement reform, and that was a bridge this President could not cross. And I think it’s because his base out there won’t accept that. And so we’ve had no leadership out of the White House. And you cannot do big things in this town absent presidential leadership, and we don’t have it.
HH: One minute left, Senator. What do you think a second Obama term would look like in terms of the fiscal situation in the United States? If for some reason I don’t anticipate, because I think we’re winning, but if he were to pull this off somehow with an October surprise, what do you think a second term would look like?
JT: I think it looks like Europe. I think that he and some of the people around him have this vision of a Western European social-type democracy as opposed to an American form, an American model of government that’s built around freedom and built around a private economy, and economic freedom, and personal freedom coupled with individual responsibility. Those are things that are the building blocks for America’s exceptionalism, and I’m fearful that a second term would take us down the slippery slope toward Europe. That’s where I think we’re headed.
HH: United States Senator John Thune, thanks for the time, Senator. Hope to see you if not before, in Tampa Bay.
End of interview.