Flash Back: Romney’s Four Wedge Issues
On Monday, November 19, the editors of HUMAN EVENTS had a wide-ranging interview with Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney. We spoke about the war, illegal immigration, social security and many other issues that will decide the 2008 presidential race. Here’s the interview.
On the War:
HUMAN EVENTS EDITOR Jed Babbin (JB): In this presidential campaign, one of the biggest issues, of course, is the War in Iraq. In the June 5th Republican debate, talking about another subject, Mayor Giuliani went off-topic a little bit, and he said, “…We need to look at nation-building as part of what we need to teach our military.” Nation-building seems to be either the biggest benefit or the biggest problem in Iraq. What is your view of nation-building? As a military exercise, is that a proper strategy for America?
GOV. MITT ROMNEY: Well, I’m not an expert in nation-building, and I don’t think our military is either. I do recognize that we have a responsibility for this nation, and for the world for that matter, to be successful in Iraq, and what that means to me is permanently assuring that Iraq will never be a state sponsor of terror. It will never be an Afghanistan-style, safe-haven for al-Qaeda, Hezbollah or the like. And that means defeating al-Qaeda, and their allies there. It also means that the strategy that is being pursued by General Petraeus is being pursued effectively and superbly well, and that we’re successful, and having Sunnis join with us to help us reject al Qaeda. And that for me is success in Iraq, and that’s the work that we should be carrying out in that country.
At the same time, I do believe in something which I described as a “special partnership force.” Let me describe what I have in mind. In nations like the Philippines, where Abu Sayyaf was increasingly successful in established a beachhead there, we put in place army special forces personnel, which worked together at the invitation of the Philippine government and military to help rid the country of Abu Sayyaf. And we not only advised on military matters, but we put in place water projects, we built bridges and so forth. We strengthened the local community such that they rejected the extreme, and ultimately Abu Sayyaf is down to a couple hundred members today.
So I have proposed that we would, in fact, create an entity, which I would call a “special partnership force,” which comprises both the expertise of our CIA operatives, as well as our special forces personnel, which could be called upon by a nation to help them reject the extreme and the violent within their midst. Now, I don’t consider that nation-building, but I do consider that smart military tactics to help a nation rid itself of al Qaeda or the like.
JB: That effort seems to be the classic counter-insurgency strategy. But how do you define the war? Is this war the wider war outside of Iraq? Is this just a counter-insurgency? Or… how do we get to victory?
ROMNEY: This is a very broad mission, which we have engaged in, and which other nations need to join us in – additional nations need to join us in – which is a worldwide effort on the part of a slice of Islam, which is to cause the collapse of all modern nations, to kill Americans and to kill people throughout the world, to cause the destruction of moderate governments, whether Islamic or Western, and replace them with a religious caliphate. This is by no means the religious view of all Muslims, or Muslim governments, of course, but it is nonetheless and worldwide effort which stretches from Indonesia to Nigeria, and probably even further. And the War in Iraq is one front in this broader war. It is a front which we must win, and are winning, and that we can successfully conclude. It is also a front — Afghanistan is also a front that we must win – and there will be efforts throughout the world as we, and hopefully our allies and friends that oppose this form of radical jihad come together with our military and non-military resources to confront and eliminate the ongoing threat of radical jihad.
JB: But then how can we define victory? If we’re there, how do we know we’ve won?
ROMNEY: Well if we’re successful in Iraq… if we have eliminated al Qaeda and Hezbollah as a significant threat from being able to establish a safe-haven from which they could train and recruit and finance and launch attacks against us. And if we have left in our place a military that is capable of keeping al Qaeda from reasserting itself, and turning Iraq into the kind of nation that Afghanistan once was under the Taliban. And that is something which is now occurring, as Sunnis are rejecting al Qaeda, and that is something that I believe you’ll see us be able to bring our troop level down.
As the Iraqi military stands up and is able to take the front line responsibility, consequently our military will be able to be in a support role, standing behind the Iraqi military with intelligence support, logistical support, aerial support, and so forth so that we do not see al Qaeda reassert itself. But I think they’re on the run — al Qaeda that is — I think they’re on the run, because when you listen to someone like Osama bin Laden calling for his cohorts around the world to come join him in Iraq — to join al Qaeda in Iraq — it suggests that things aren’t going they way they’d expected them to, and that’s the key front for them.
And it’s important for us to win in Iraq and to be successful in routing al Qaeda there, because the nations that surround Iraq, in this region, are looking to see if we are a paper tiger, or if we will instead fight state sponsors of terror and eliminate the threat of radical jihad. And they’re watching us very carefully, and if we were to do as the Democrats had suggested and Barack Obama has called for, which is just withdrawing, we would send a very clear message that we’re not willing to stand up against radical jihad. That would reorient the calculus of nations like Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, and Egypt and many others while they consider whether America is their long-term ally.
On the Push-poll Attack on Mormonism
JB: Thank you very much. Editor in Chief, Tom Winter. Tom?
Tom Winter (TW): Governor, last week you told a columnist Larry Kudlow that the recent telephone push-polling in Iowa that negatively referred to your Mormon religion was ‘un-American.’ For months, we’ve heard about a speech that’s already written, a Kennedy-like speech, about your religious beliefs, that you’re just waiting for the right time to deliver. In view of this, and Christopher Hitchens remarks today that you’re religion is fair game in this campaign, do you think it’s now time to deliver this speech?
ROMNEY: I don’t have anything new on this at this stage. There is no speech written. I get lots of suggestions. I have several people –
TW: There is no speech written?
ROMNEY: There is no speech written. Not by me. And the speech that will be given is a speech I will write. And I do have people who propose speeches to me. Sometimes people give me ideas, “Why don’t you say this? Why don’t you say that?” It’s a decision I will make. I have some of my colleagues who think it’s a terrific idea. I have others who think it’s a terrible idea. And a lot of people in between. I listen to people’s perceptions, and I will weigh that in my own analysis and my own decision-making. But I have not made a decision at this point about whether and when to give such a speech.
TW: You don’t think it could become too late, it you let this boil over and become an issue? I mean the idea of the speech was, as Kennedy did, you would put an end to this kind of discussion.
ROMNEY: You know, in the case of Senator Kennedy — and later President Kennedy — as you point out, he made the speech, I think it was in September prior to the November election. And so, if I were to do so now, I would be nine or ten months before he did.
It’s just something which, you know, I have to take a look at. I do get the chance, of course, to take a look at a number of people’s articles about this. There’s a whole book written about it. By Hugh Hewitt, saying, “Don’t dare give such a speech. You can’t possibly satisfy the critics.” And of course no one could compare with the landmark address that was given by Senator Kennedy, so, it’s not something that I’m ready to announce any change on.
Managing Editor Chris Field (CF): Governor, what’s your reasoning behind saying that questions about your faith are un-American?
ROMNEY: Oh, I don’t think… I wouldn’t say questions about my faith are un-American, and I would be happy to answer questions about my faith — I’m happy to do that. What I’m saying is that the push-polling where people attacked my faith and communicated to people, and didn’t indicate who they were being sponsored by… One that’s illegal in New Hampshire, whether or not it’s about religion. And number two — to attack someone’s religion, in a nation which welcomes religious diversity is, in my view, and un-American approach.
TW: I just wanted to ask – did you ever find out who was doing that polling?
ROMNEY: We have not. And I know that the Attorney General of New Hampshire, by virtue of subpoena power and sanctions associated with people who don’t tell the truth – he presumably will have the capacity to actually find out where this is coming from. And as you can imagine, it is my profound hope he learn that soon rather than later.
I had Senator Judd Gregg get in touch, also, with the Attorney General of New Hampshire and encourage him to move forward with all due speed to determine where this has come from. Clearly, it’s my expectation that you will not find any campaign has their fingerprints on it, but it’s going to be 501-C3s, or a 527, where it’s going to be hard to say who’s responsible. Of course, if it’s a 501-C3, we won’t even by able to know who the donors are. And this is, of course, some of the frustrations that I have with the state of campaign finance in our country today: which is, we severely restrict the funds going to campaigns, but we leave wide open the money going to these other groups. And they end up having a disproportionate impact.
JB: Governor, let me follow up on Tom’s question. In terms of McCain-Feingold, if you were president, would you propose a legislative fix for it, and if so, what would it be?
ROMNEY: The answer is, I would work to repeal McCain-Feingold. I know that the authors of McCain-Feingold had hoped that it would remove the influence of money in politics, and provide more sunshine and better disclosure; and it has done exactly the opposite. It has not reduced the influence of money in politics – if anything, it’s made the influence of money even greater. It has not led to more disclosure: it has led to less disclosure. I mean, you know this.
People now have to give every piece of information if they want to give $2,300 dollars, but if they want to give $20 million under a 501-C3 they don’t even have to give their name. It has not done what people expected. It has also hurt my party very badly, because my party was outspent in the last president election by $127 million, according to [former Republican Party Chairman] Ken Mehlman. And so, this has not been good for my party; it has not been good for America.
Now I’ve seen other ideas. We had, in my state, taxpayer-funded campaigns, and I know a lot people think it’s a good idea, well then, just try it. In the my state, it did not work, and I was happy to sign a bill which repealed so-called “fair elections.” It was called the Clean Elections Act, and I repealed it. I signed a bill to repeal it so we could get that off our books. And so, there have been efforts over time to try to find ways to take money out of politics, and I guess I’ve never found anything that’s better than saying, “You know what? Let people contribute what they want to to campaigns, and then disclose that information fully, immediately, so people know who’s giving to who.
And you know what, as Ross Perot used to say, “I’m all ears.” I’ll listen to what people have to say, I’ll what experiences. If someone comes up with something better, fine, but at this stage, it seems that the first amendment and simple experience of fairness exist, let people contribute what they want to the campaigns, not the parties, so the candidates in the campaigns know what’s being said, and they know who’s doing it.
JB: You mentioned the First Amendment. In your mind, is this a constitutional issue? Is it unconstitutional to restrict participation in campaigns with financial means?
ROMNEY: Well, the court weighed in on an aspect of McCain-Feingold, and found that unconstitutional. And they have not chosen to rule that the $2300 limit is unconstitutional… It certainly raises constitutional questions in my mind, I admit. Perhaps the failsafe for people is that they can take their money and run ads of their own, through a 501-C3 or a 527, but that strikes me as a very counter-productive way to run a campaign.
JB: All right, chief political correspondent, John Gizzi. John?
John Gizzi (JG): Governor, just one quick follow-up on the last question: I assume if you’re supported full disclosure, no limits, that means along with repealing McCain-Feingold that you’d like to go back to the 1970s and repeal the Campaign Finance Act which first set limitations on how much money you can put in candidates’ races for federal office?
ROMNEY: That indeed seems to be the preferred course.
Action on Pakistan?
JG: Okay. Now — another matter — just getting back to the War on Terrorism, briefly. President Bush has been criticized for standing by General Musharraf, at a time that he has shut down opposition, jailed opponents, and limited freedom of the press, particularly the broadcast by independent stations. Would you deal with the current situation any differently than the current president is?
ROMNEY: I would speak very clearly to the people of Pakistan, and the rest of the world, that America is very unhappy, and disapproves of the actions taken by General Musharraf — that he has struck at the foundations of democracy in that country, that the action he has taken has diverted the progress that was being made towards establishing a more-democratic and non military-oriented government. And that he is acting in a way that is contrary to the interests of his people, and of his nation.
At the same time, I would not cut off funding for the military effort which works with us to help combat al Qaeda and the Taliban. And I would work behind the scenes to see if there’s not a way to remove the martial law provision which Musharraf has put in place. I also believe that Musharraf has made a very bad personal calculation. I understand that he may have felt like his hand was being forced. I saw a pathway towards greater democracy that seemed to be occurring with Madam Bhutto and General Musharraf, perhaps combining in some sort of government, which in some respect was a hybrid-military and democratic institution, over time moving to become more and more of a democratic institution. Then of course the Supreme Court acted – or was prepare to act, perhaps on the verge of acting and declaring Musharraf’s election to be invalid, and in the face of that, he took precipitous action. And in some respects, it may well turn out that the Supreme Court was the party that had led to this very unfortunate turn of events in Pakistan.
JG: Final, just a post script on your answer about Pakistan: how do you feel former Prime Minister Shareef during the Clinton administration dealt with, along with dealing with Madam Bhutto and President Musharraf?
ROMNEY: I would talked to people who I believe had the potential of contributing to the democratic foundations of [tape crackles]. But I would also recognize that, in these communications, I would want to be talking to General Musharraf and not doing something that threatens stability of the country.
Romney’s Four Wedge Issues to Win in 2008
JG: Turning to a political question, assuming that Senator Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president, what would be three issues that you would emphasize to delineate a difference between the two of you, and put her on the fence in general, if you can?
ROMNEY: Well, first would be Iraq, and the fact that she was in favor of the war, and now not in favor of the war. Her policies of withdrawal, and declaring defeat, would be something well known in people’s minds, pointing out that we are seeing success in Iraq. I believe that by November of ’08, we will see a very clear pathway to eliminating the threat from radical jihad, and particularly al Qaeda there, and that she was frankly on the wrong side of that for the past months, and years by that time. That issue will be one.
The second issue — of a more domestic nature — will be health care, which is one of her signature failures, as a first lady, and now as a nominee of her party, if she were the nominee. She’ll be talking about health care, and I will make it very clear that her pathway is a government insurance program; and that mine is a private, free-enterprise market-based system that gets people insured without having to spend $110 billion more a year, without having to raise taxes, without having to have to government take over health care. So we have very different approaches to doing that.
The third area that I think may become a more substantive issue will be how to strengthen our economy, and make it a more vibrant economy. She, of course, is calling for tax increases of virtually every kind: a tax increase for social security, a tax increase for individuals and their income tax, probably the Charlie Wrangle tax increase, she would also sign. She’s called for corporate taxes — actually her phrase was that ‘corporations should pay their fair share.’ Which I think is code for higher taxes, which I think is the last thing you want to do when the economy is struggling under the weight of the credit crunch and the high prices of energy, it’s to be raising taxes. So that would definitely be a major area of issue difference.
But I’d also note a difference in experience. My life has been spent in the private sector, hers has been in the White House and in the government sector. And the experience of working in the private sector is something that I think Americans will recognize we desperately need, particularly for our economy. If our economy has slowed down, as a it may well by that time.
I can’t resist also mentioning (though it’s not one of the major three pillars of the debate) I think one of the major wedge issues will be on immigration, and her vacillation on drivers’ licenses for illegals will underscore her perception that she is part of a sanctuary state of mind, and that issue will hurt her very badly. My record as governor is clear. I have opposed drivers’ licenses for illegals. I vetoed a bill that would have given in-state tuition credit to the illegals in our state to go to institutions of higher learning. And when I learned that three of 351 of our cities and towns had declared themselves sanctuary cities, I authorized our state police to participate in a federal program that allowed them to enforce federal immigration laws.
And actually, just today you may have seen that Mayor Giuliani defended his posture — his illegal immigration posture. And as you know, as mayor he said that if you happened to be of undocumented status, that you’re welcome in New York City, and that you would be protected there. And I think that’s exactly the wrong policy. He said that policy led to a more lawful society, which I think turns reason on its head. To say we’re going to make illegality legal, and therefore we have a more lawful society is absurd.
JB: Governor, let me follow up on that, in a couple of very specific things, if I might. One of the big upheavals in conservative politics, obviously, was over the comprehensive immigration reform President Bush had proposed, that a lot of people opposed that, on the grounds that basically you have to secure the border first, and prove to us that you’re going to do it, and then maybe at some point, we’ll talk about guest workers or whatever else. What is your view? How would Mitt Romney solve the problem on a national basis?
ROMNEY: Well first of all, you do secure the border — but that alone is inadequate. I would also put in place an employment verification system, and there are various forms of it, how this might be developed.
It’s a very simple concept: you give an identification card to people who come here legally with name, identification and their work status. You would then say to an employer, “when you hire someone or want to hire someone, check their social security number; if it’s valid, you can hire them. If they don’t have a social security number and they’re an alien, ask for the card. If they don’t have one, you can’t hire them. If they do have one, you’ve got to check the number on the Internet. If it’s valid, you can hire them. If it’s not valid, you can’t. And in cases where you break these rules, you will be sanctioned just like for not paying your taxes.”
Once that happens, you basically close down the avenue for illegal aliens coming into our country and getting work, and that’s overwhelmingly the reason that people do that. That’s the reason they come into this country illegally. And if you close down that magnet, if you will, you dramatically reduce the burden at the border, and our border patrol agents will be able to catch the bad guys that are coming in. You also still take action at the federal level, to close down sanctuary policies. So I would rein in federal funding for cities that won’t enforce the law — so-called “sanctuary cities.” I would cut back highway funds to any state that gives out drivers licenses to illegal aliens, and I would cut back higher education funds to states that give in-state tuition breaks to illegal aliens.
JB: What would you do, in terms of the 12 to 20 million people who are here? Do they earn citizenship? Do they just get guest worker status? How would you handle that seemingly intractable problem?
ROMNEY: Well, the principle for me is this one: that is that those that are here illegally should be allowed to apply for permanent residency, a green card, or citizenship just like anybody else. Get in line with everybody else. No special pathway by virtue of their having come here illegally. And I think that was the major problem, of course, in the Senate bill, and the reason the entire nation stood up and opposed it. And that was that everybody who was here illegally was given a special pathway to permanent residency. They paid their $5,000, they got to stay here forever, and that was what was wrong. Had they said, “Look, that Z visa is going to be a temporary phenomenon. People will have it for some period of time to arrange their affairs, to get in line whatever,” that would have been a far more acceptable bill. But an amnesty-type program: I know that there are some, like Senator McCain, that point out that they had to pay a tax, that’s not technically amnesty. Well maybe he’s technically right, but for all intents and purposes, it is a form of amnesty to allow everybody who’s come here illegally to stay here forever.
JB: So let me just be very clear, then. You would oppose a path to citizenship for people who did not otherwise get right with the law or stand in line like legal immigrants? Is that fair?
ROMNEY: Yeah, I… let me just restate mine, because I think what you said is spot on, but — what I would say is: to those who are here illegally, you are welcome to get in line with everybody else, but there will be no pathway, no special treatment, for those that have come here illegally to allow them to stay here permanently or to become citizens. They would be treated like everybody else.
JB: Okay. One last question from John, and then we’ll go to Allan Ryskind.
JG: Congressman Phil English of Pennsylvania, member of the Ways and Means Committee, said that abolition, or sunsetting, the alternative minimum tax is going to be a defining issue for Republicans in the future. He has been trying to amend the patch efforts on the AMT to have it sunsetted within five years. And when I asked about, what would he seek as an alternative for the revenue, he said, “No. We’ve got to make the cuts, and getting rid of the AMT – which was never meant to be permanent – will help us make these cuts. And make us make hard decisions.” Your thoughts on that?
ROMNEY: Well, I’ll lay out my proposal. If I’m fortunate enough to become president I will listen to the perspectives of others, including a far more comprehensive tax reform effort, and will consider the kinds of ideas that Congressman English has described, as well as other ideas that have been brought forward for more comprehensive tax relief and tax reform.
My platform has several elements. One is to make the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent. Killing the death tax forever, for instance. Two is to cut marginal rates across the board. Three is to lower the corporate tax rate. Four is to have a special savings program for middle-income Americans — for all people earning $200,000 a year and less, they would be able to save their money, that’s interest dividends and capital gains, at the rates of absolutely zero. And those are the major provisions of my tax plan.
I didn’t mention one more — and that is I would continue to patch the AMT so that is does not attack or affect additional families. Those major provisions are the basis of my platform and my campaign, but of course when we go forward, if we have a complete tax reform program, that’s something I’d obviously want to participate in fully and have a great deal of hand in. I do believe that the congressman is right, that we need to reign in spending. I proposed capping — and will propose, or will actually establish a cap — for Congress on non-military discretionary spending and inflation less one percent, and spending above that level, appropriations above that level I will veto. At the same time, I will work hard to pursue a process that reviews our entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.
And I will note that I have a budget box, much as the Bush campaign did eight years ago, where I look at the various cost estimates from proposals I have made on taxes, as well as the spending reductions I’ve put in place to make sure that we have a balanced budget by the end of my first term.
JB: All right… I think that feeds directly into contributing editor Allan Ryskind. Allan, over to you.
Allan Ryskind (AR): Well this goes to the entitlement programs, Governor, but you have singled out, as you mentioned. You mentioned Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and these programs, as you have noted, now consume 8% of GDP, but will eventually consume 18% in virtually all federal taxes. Now, I’m not asking for a detailed blueprint, but generally how would you fix each of these programs? And what evidence do you have that your programs might work?
ROMNEY: Well, I’m pretty confident the solutions work. The question is how to get them through Congress. So, I’ll describe first the solutions, and then we can talk about the process.
The first, which regards to Social Security — we know the major levers you could pull. The Democrats want to pull the tax lever — that’s the wrong one. They want to raise taxes on higher income individuals — that will slow the economy and that will therefore have a double impact of not only hurting people but slowing our economy and making it more difficult for the economy to grow.
So, the other alternatives mathematically are these: one is to have a lower rate of inflation in the calculation of the original benefit to higher income individuals. That was something put forth by Bob Posen, as you know, and that idea has economic merit. And because this adjustment is only on higher income individuals, it does not affect lower income families. The next lever, if you will, is to extend the retirement age. And the final one is to have a more ambitious program for personal accounts, which would allow people to divert some portion of their Social Security taxes into higher-returning assets. The latter three are the categories I believe have the most merit.
How to get any of those done — I believe Senator Judd Gregg just proposed a fair solution of putting together an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, have them work out a compromised solution, bring that forward for an up or down vote, with a 60% vote being required. I think that’s a fair process. We’ll see what comes of that.
Medicaid is, in my view, simpler to deal with. I would block-grant Medicaid funds to states, based on their prior year Medicaid figure, plus a inflation figure of 3 to 4%, depending of course on the actual inflation. And say to the states: “I know you want a lot more money than this, but this is your block grant number. And in exchange for taking this number, you’re going to be given flexibility to care for your poor and to fashion your Medicaid program in the way you would like,” — rather than having the mandate of entitlements that have been imposed by the federal government. And I know that I as, a governor, would have welcomed that level of flexibility and would have welcomed that solution. That was originally proposed, as you know, by Tommy Thompson in his legislation, and I think that’s the way to go.
Medicare is more complicated. I have to tell you, I was disappointed that the president added a multi-trillion dollar obligation to our balance sheet, with part D, without getting overall reform of Medicare. But that being said, we are where we are. In my view, what we’re going to have to do with Medicare is — to rein in the excessive growth and care for our seniors — is to see an overall reform in the overall medical care market. And for me, that means we’re going to finally have to have individuals – not just seniors, but all individuals in our health care market — have a stake in what the cost is of the health care they receive. Certainly, having health savings accounts is one powerful way of that occurring. The other is enabling more co-insurance — not co-pays, but co-insurance, where individuals buy policies that require them to pay 5 or 10% of their health care bills, so they care how much something costs. Right now, people don’t care how much something costs because they have no stake in it whatsoever once they pass their deductible amount.
AR: In the kind of health care programs Americans don’t really purchase through their employer; and as governor, of course, you famously persuaded Massachusetts to pass major health care reform legislation that deals with this issue. Is there any evidence that it’s working to reduce or contain health care premiums, or reduce federal and state subsidies?
ROMNEY: Well, not at this stage. I haven’t seen the full results of the implementation of the program, and I’m sure it’s going to take some time to be able to see what impact the Massachusetts plan is having on health care costs. There are some very encouraging signs, however, at this early date. One is that the premiums, for instance, for an individual have gone from $350 a month to $180 a month. So the premiums have come down as we deregulated the health insurance market. And we took off some of the restrictions on programs that have previously been in place. There is no question that we’ve been able to get premiums down. Number two – we’re getting people in the system, and that’s important. And the reason for that, of course, is if you have, in our case, 500,00 people without insurance and on the national case 47 million without insurance. They still get health care, as you know, they show up at the hospital if they’re seriously ill, and get treatment. Under federal law, they’re required to be treated, and the cost of that treatment is being borne by everybody else. I would far rather have them participating in some kind of program where they’re paying their fair share, they’re not free riders, and where they’re getting good preventative care, so that we reduce the cost of expensive hospital care.
AR: Couldn’t we make health insurance far more affordable if we’d just embrace a policy to make certain people protected from catastrophic expenses?
ROMNEY: Yes, as a matter of fact, and that’s the logic of the health savings account, which is that people would marry their health savings account with a catastrophic care policy, and that certainly is an excellent vehicle for helping rein in excessive costs in the system. And I also believe that co-insurance is an effective way of doing that, too. I mean, right now we’ll have corporations that give very comprehensive plans to their employees, they’ve been negotiated in many cases, but the employee has no stake in cost of the care that they receive. And in order for health care to operate like a free market, individuals must feel that they have stake in the cost of the care.
JB: Governor, thank you. All right, managing editor Chris Field.
CF: Governor, I have a couple quick follow-ups on health care, and then I want to ask you about energy. First, in the Wall Street Journal today [Monday], there’s a small chart parsing the plans of the candidates, and it says that Giuliani and McCain’s health care plans allow people to buy out of state but yours does not. Is that accurate, and if so, why is that?
ROMNEY: You know, I don’t oppose buying plans out of state. Here’s the concern I have about going to that immediately – and that is that you have right now state insurance commissions that regulate the insurance products in their state. And I want those to be reformed. I want the states to reform their insurance markets. That’s what we had to do to get our policy costs cut in half. I’d like to see that happen.
Now, people can say, “Well, just let people buy policies from out of state.” And there are two flaws in that right now, and they’re not so severe that I would oppose it, but here are the flaws. One is, the biggest single reduction we got in our health care premiums occurred because the insurance companies were able to direct people to certain hospitals and certain clinics for their care, and if you have out of state policies, they’re not going to be able to let people to put those kind of networks and restrictions in and get the policies costs down.
Number two, and here’s the real problem I got (and maybe it’s going to disappear) but here’s the problem. If everybody’s going to be able to buy policies from across state lines, of course state insurance commissions will become quickly irrelevant, which is fine, except you know what’s going to happen next. Someone’s going to want to regulate this insurance, and they will establish a federal insurance commission, and the federal insurance commission will be regulating policies that are sold across state lines. And then there will be lobbying to put mandates in federal insurance: mental health mandates, chiropractic mandates, and so forth. And you will end up having a monster that ends up crushing the health care systems.
So, I’m a federalist by orientation, and I’m a little concerned about creating a federal insurance commission, which I’m sure would follow. You know, so I’m open on this, I like the idea of people being able to buy insurance from other states, but I would prefer, at least initially, seeing state markets reform, and creating federal incentives to create insurance markets.
CF: I had a quick follow-up again on the health care and then to energy. On health care, on the federalism grounds, your Massachusetts plan is frequently described as forcing all citizens of Massachusetts to have health care insurance.
CF: That’s true?
ROMNEY: Yes. My plan was actually slightly different: I said people should either buy insurance or pay their own way. And I said if people could pay their own way, that was fine. But no more, people making, let’s say $75,000 a year, showing up at the hospital saying, “I don’t have health insurance and I can’t pay. Someone’s got to take care of me.” I said, “Look, that’s a free ride, we’re not going to allow it.”
CF: On the requirement side, then, if that’s good for the people of Massachusetts then is that something you would seek as president, to require all citizens to have health insurance?
ROMNEY: No. My view is I do want to get everybody insured, but I don’t think the program that we created for Massachusetts is one that necessarily would be effectively adopted in all 50 states. Massachusetts had 7% of our population uninsured; Texas has 25%. So I would prefer, again in a federalist model, for Texas to find its own way to get more of its citizens insured, and I would provide to them the flexibility with Medicaid and dish payments so they can create their own plan that meets the needs of the people of Texas. And because the states are laboratories of democracy we’ll be able to see whether my plan worked or Texas works better or California — Governor Schwarzenegger has his own plan — other states have theirs, and ultimately we’ll find out the best way to get our citizens insured. But this is not something I would tell every state they would have to do. Instead what I would do is create incentives for states to deregulate their health insurance commissions and markets, and number two, to use federal dollars in a more flexible way, to get more people insured.
CF: On energy — you mentioned earlier the energy crisis, or crunch, we have in America today: how do you address that?
ROMNEY: I think with two parts of the equation. One is supply, the other is demand. On the supply front, more drilling in ANWR, Outer Continental Shelf; more nuclear power, on a much more streamlined basis; more clean burning coal, investments in clean burning technologies and sequestering CO2.
Liquid coal, I think, has a potential, and would want to invest in technology in sequestering CO2 there; renewable resources — biodiesel, biofuel, ethanol sale, elastic ethanol, solar, wind, all of the additional sources of energy — gas power, plants, and so forth. All those supply sources are ones to be pursued.
On the efficiency side, a more efficient fleet, auto a truck, more efficient homes, more efficient business. And finally, to do theses things, when you encourage these things, a significant enhancement in our investment in basic science and technology relating to energy production and energy efficiency. We spend about $4 billion a year federally on energy, research. That in my view needs to be substantially grown over the coming years. You can’t jump at it in a big hurry, but I think the call for a Manhattan-style project or an Apollo-style project is the right approach as well.
CF: Would you mandate these efficiency standards in cars and homes?
ROMNEY: I don’t like mandates, I like free market, and provisions instead. And I’m looking at a wide array of ways of accomplishing that. I can tell you as well that CO2 limits — I resist on an America-only basis, meaning, we don’t call it “America warming,” we call it “global warming.” And I want to make sure that what we’re going to do — if we’re going to have some kinds of limits on greenhouse gases — I want to make sure the whole world participates in that, including the number one greenhouse gases emitter in the world: China. Not to mention other nations like Indonesia and Brazil that affect their environment through the burning of their forests. We’ve got to do this on a global basis.
JB: Okay, let me move back to Tom Winter.
TW: Several of your rivals said they opposed criminalizing abortion, by putting the women or the doctors involved in jail. Do you agree?
ROMNEY: You know, I don’t see putting doctors and women in jail. I don’t believe that’s ever been part of our history, even when states were able to put in place effective pro-life legislation. I haven’t seen provisions of that nature ever being proposed. But I do believe that the next step that should be taken is to overturn Roe v. Wade, and to no longer have the Supreme Court impose its one-size-fits-all philosophy on the entire nation. There will be steps beyond that, of course, but the next step is to overturn Roe v. Wade.
CF: Do you support a human life amendment?
ROMNEY: As an aspirational goal, yes, it’s part of our platform. I would welcome an America where there’s no abortion, and yet I see that, given where we are today, the American people are simply not there. But I do believe the American people would welcome a Supreme Court that follows the constitution, overturns Roe v. Wade, and returns the right to create pro-life legislation to elected officials.
JB: Governor, even in a lot of blue states, there’s an awful lot of gun rights concerns. Well, number one, you’re invited down here to go bird hunting any time the season’s on, but, in all seriousness: do you view the second amendment as vesting an individual right to keep and bear arms? I know the Supreme Court is about to consider the Parker v. District of Columbia case. Aside from the legalities: as you personally look at the Second Amendment, do you think that’s the right of the state or is that the right of the individual gun owner?
ROMNEY: It’s the right of the individual. I believe that our Constitution vests in the citizens of the United States the right to bear arms, to have weapons for their personal protection, for hunting and for any legal and lawful purpose. I’d like to see our gun laws enforced, to see people who use guns in the committing of crimes in jail for a long time, but I believe that individuals have the right to bear arms, and any incursion on that right, I would find in violation of the constitution.
JB: Governor, you’ve been very generous with your time.
ROMNEY: Thanks so much. Good to be with you.