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Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz On His Potential Senate Run Against Orrin Hatch

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

HH: A little 2012 preview right now with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who is of course from the great state of Utah. Congressman, great to have you, welcome.

JC: Hey, thanks, Hugh.

HH: Have you made a choice yet between Romney and Huntsman who have both got Utah ties?

JC: Hey look, my number one thing is I want to beat Barack Obama. So I happen to think at least at the present time that Mitt Romney’s in a much better position to do that. He seems to have a bigger organization, I think his background in business…but look, Jon Huntsman’s going to be very formidable in whatever he decides to do.

HH: Now there is some thought that the Tea Party, with whom you are closely identified, has not yet found a candidate out there. What’s your belief about that?

JC: I think that’s probably right. I think that this is the good part of the process. You have the most fully attended debate that’s going to happen tonight, as you mentioned, and people have got to shake the trees. They’ve got to ask the hard questions, and these have got to roll up their sleeves, get their fingernails dirty, men and women, I should say, and let people ask them the hard questions. That’s what it’s all about.

HH: All right, now I want to talk about interleague play, because you and Orrin Hatch have been throwing haymakers at each other.

JC: Yeah.

HH: And you gave an interview to Politico, and then I had Senator Hatch on and he responded. Did you have a chance to read what he had to say on…

JC: I did. I did.

HH: Okay, what did you think about that?

JC: Well look, Orrin Hatch is a patriotic member, he’s done a lot of good through the years, but he’s asking voters to keep him there for 42 contiguous years, which I don’t know that that’s necessarily a healthy thing. And I, quite frankly, Hugh, I just disagree with him on a lot of major issues. I just do.

HH: Okay, let’s walk through those, but let’s start by this. His first criticism was that you’ve been running for the Senate for a long time, that you really haven’t doing your job as a Congressman. How do you respond to that?

JC: Well, I’d be happy to put up my record versus his. It’s true, I’ve only been here, I’m only just starting my second term. But I’ve cast nearly 2,000 votes, and I guess if I was just going to run for the United States Senate, I would have run against Bob Bennett, but I didn’t. I stayed in the House. I won a second term.

HH: All right, so are you definitely going to make the run for the Utah Senate seat?

JC: No, I’m not. And not necessarily. I’m trying not to be coy about it, but as I like to say, I’m a definite maybe. I really am thinking about it. And I just believe that our country’s on the wrong track, and if you want different results, you’re going to have to elect different people, and let somebody else give it a go. And I think people want new, fresh eyes, new energy. And whether or not I run, I think somebody’s actually going to win that seat.

HH: Now a lot of us, Congressman, have great affection for Senator Hatch, because of, especially his defense of Clarence Thomas many years ago. And he brings a lot to that committee. What committee would you focus on, and would it be Judiciary?

JC: It probably would not be Judiciary. First of all, we have Mike Lee, who’s got a great legal background. I’m not an attorney. He is, they got a waiver, and Mike Lee is on that committee, and he’s going to do a fabulous, bang-up job. And you’re fight. Senator Hatch did do a great job with Clarence Thomas and some others. And you know, I’m not here to blame all the country’s ill on Orrin Hatch. But I am much more engaged, I think, on the economy and jobs. I put as my number one issue the debt, and getting our country turned around financially, because I happen to think it’s the biggest threat to our safety, security and our well-being in this country.

HH: So what, let’s get to the issues that separate you and Senator Hatch, so the audience can understand. What votes would you have cast differently over the four years you’ve been in Congress that you’ve been watching him as a Senator, that you would have voted differently if you had been representing Utah in the Senate.

JC: Well, one of the key concerns here, I think, is the debt ceiling. And the reality is if you go back to the mid-90s, and you look at where Senator Hatch had opportunities to vote on the debt ceiling, the reality is 13 of the 16 chances he had to vote yes or no, he voted yes, or allowed a unanimous consent to go through the Senate. Only three times in the last 16 times that the debt ceiling came up for a vote did he vote no. And I think that’s part of the problem.

HH: And have you voted against the debt ceiling every time?

JC: I have. Now I haven’t been here that long, but I voted no, and I think part of the problem, the reason we have a $14 trillion dollar debt ceiling, is because 13 of the last 16 times, he either voted yes or allowed it to go through.

HH: All right, did you vote for TARP?

JC: I did not. I wasn’t here.

HH: Oh, you weren’t here for TARP yet. Okay.

JC: No, but he voted for it, and then on the second, remember, there was a second tranche there, where you had another opportunity for the second half of the money, and he didn’t vote. He chose to kind of skip the vote. I’ve got a problem with that.

HH: Now a lot of my conservative buddies, I know there’s a big division on this, say that TARP was necessary given the times in which we were living. Do you reject that?

JC: I do. I think you have to allow it to bottom out, and sometimes, it’s painful. But even Senator Hatch said he thought it was the wrong vote. He said he would vote again, when I read your transcript, he said he’d vote for it again, but it was a mistake, and that he shouldn’t have done it.

HH: Okay, that is in fact what he said, and people can go back and read that. Now let’s talk about some of your votes, the continuing resolution. There were three of them before the final one passed, so I think a total of four, correct?

JC: I think so, yeah. I voted for one of the very short term ones, but I voted against the other ones, and then I voted against the final package, the $38 billion dollars or so.

HH: Did the Speaker cave?

JC: I think we were wimpy (laughing). I don’t think, I think it was the time to hold the line a little bit firmer. We’ve got a multi-trillion dollar challenge, and we made a couple of billion dollars difference, and that wasn’t good enough.

HH: No, it’s not.

JC: And it didn’t live up to the Pledge. You know, I signed a Pledge. The Pledge to America said $100 billion dollars. $38 billion’s a lot less. It was wimpy.

HH: Now last time you were on the program in December, we debated a little bit your vote for the tax deal that was the two year extension of the Bush tax rates. Do you regret that vote, because I thought that was a folding chair as well.

JC: No, I voted against that. I did not vote in favor of that tax deal.

HH: Oh, I thought you did. Okay, I stand corrected.

JC: No, no. I was one of the very few who didn’t vote for that, because yeah, I want to extend the Bush tax cuts, and I thought that the Republicans were poor on their messaging by allowing the President to categorize that as a tax cut. But what that tax package did was it added $300 billion dollars of debt without cutting one penny in spending. And I was the only member of our delegation, we have two Senators, obviously, and three members of the House. I was the only member of our delegation to vote against it.

HH: And so in terms of the debt ceiling that’s coming up, do you expect, will you be adamant in the conference that the Republicans cannot settle for less than massive cuts in entitlement spending?

JC: No, absolutely. And I think there’s a new-found strength there. I want all of my colleagues to hold the line. This is a chance to really make a multi-trillion dollar difference, and we’ve got to do that, or I’m going to vote no.

HH: I know you voted for the Ryan budget, but Democrats are now going after the Medicare plan portion of that. Do you defend that part?

JC: Oh, absolutely. I mean, what we should get credit for, and what is a sea change from a year ago, is the fact that we’re talking about entitlement reform, because the reality is Medicare goes bankrupt, Social Security runs out of money, really, if you look at the trust fund, it’s paper anyway. And of course, of course we’ve got to make those changes. The fundamental difference between the budget that we put out, and I’m on that Budget Committee, is that our budget balances and then pays off the debt over the course of the time. The President’s budget never balances, and doubles and triples the debt.

HH: All right, so in terms of the corporate tax rate, where should that be set?

JC: Well, you want to drop it to at least 25%, broaden the base, lower the rates. I think that’s the right move. That’s what we called for in the budget. I’d like to see it go even lower if we could. But 25% would be a great start.

HH: Now I don’t want to trick you. I hate the Fair Tax, right? I wrote a book against the Fair Tax. But I want to ask you, do you support the Fair Tax?

JC: I bet if we sat down with a group of people, we could convince them that we ought to tax based on consumption rather than productivity. Now how to get from here to there is very, very difficult. But the concept is spot on.

HH: So you really would go for eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction, and getting rid of the charitable deduction, and that whole plan?

JC: That’s where you get holes in the ceiling, and that’s where it becomes problematic. And that’s why I said the transition of getting from here to there is very difficult, and I do not have a good answer for that. But I think the concept of taxing based on consumption is the right direction. Do we want to incentivize and allow for more mortgages and for charitable deductions? Of course we do. But again, that’s the tough part of the transition. But I have not seen anybody be able to successfully answer it.

HH: I’m talking with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who is a Congressman from Utah, maybe running for the United States Senate against incumbent Orrin Hatch. Congressman, in terms of when you’re going to make your decision, what’s your timeline?

JC: Oh, probably after Labor Day. People are now going to start focusing on baseball and warm sunshine, and rightfully so, so sometime after that. These things are already long enough as the are, so after Labor Day.

HH: And in Utah, it’s a convention, correct?

JC: Yes.

HH: Tell the audience how that works.

JC: Basically, in March, people are elected all around the state in their different precincts to become delegates. And then those delegates gather in May, and for the state, it’s about 3,300 people. And those 3,300 people hear the speeches, and they go to the meetings, and then they vote. If you get 60% of that vote, you are the nominee. Game over. But if it can’t be decided, they’re down to the final two candidate, and nobody gets 60%, then they have a primary about six weeks later.

HH: Now if you decide to run, can I get a commitment from you to come back and do a debate on this show with Senator Hatch? I like both of you guys. I’d be fair to both of you.

JC: Are you…I love your show. I’ll come on anytime you want. Absolutely.

HH: Now what about you two doing a series of Lincoln-Douglas kind of debates, really set…

JC: I’d love it. If I do it, the more debates we can have, the better off. I’d love to do it. I’d love to do it on your show, love to do it in every nook and corner of Utah.

HH: Jason Chaffetz, that is a deal. I look forward to hosting the first one and many more. Thanks for being here.

End of interview.

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