August 23, 2019
The following are unedited transcriptions of remarks delivered by Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
Sen. Mitt Romney:
Thank you. Thank you, Robert. Appreciate the chance to be with you this morning. And Adam Gardiner. Where’s Adam? He’s here somewhere, back row, back here. He’s the person in Utah that makes sure that any one of our constituent requests or concerns is addressed appropriately and speedily. So you got a question or a concern, Adam Gardiner is right there.
So first I want to say thank you to Robert, Rick, Burgess. Thank you for being here. I got a call from Rick Larsen a few days ago. And he said, do I still believe in free speech. And I said, “Well, of course. I’m not part of the Republican establishment these days, but of course I believe in free speech.” He said, “Good, I’d like you to give one.”
So I am here, and I appreciate that the work of Sutherland. I’m not just saying that. Sutherland is one of the few places where we’re really talking about ideas and policy. Because in politics these days, there’s less and less discussion about policy and more about just seeing what it takes to beat the other side, the winner and the loser. Does my team win, or does their team win? And obviously, bluster and bombast goes a long way and being able to activate the base of the two respective parties. And that’s much more interesting perhaps than then talking about policy.
But today I want to talk about policy. And I’m going to use as my construct the latest Democrat debates. I’m sure you all spent the time as I did watching the entire debates. I find them very entertaining. I go back and relive all my own debates as I do so.
There was a great metaphor that was promoted by Jonah Goldberg. He was talking about a different topic, but I thought I would use the word “salad” of the democratic debates to see if I could find a crouton of good policy. I struggled, but I got to talk about each one of their points and discuss my own view about it.
I would note that because Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seem to represent the policy-focused portion of the Democratic field right now, particularly the left-leaning, more progressive-leaning wing of the Democratic Party, I’m gonna talk about them more than the others. They began talking about Medicare for All. And the politics of that term, I think, or that phrase, is those politics are probably pretty good, but I don’t think the policy is any good at all. And I anticipate that as people become more familiar with the policy, they’ll come to the same conclusion.
You probably know that Obamacare was designed to deal with about 10% to 12% or 13% of Americans who were uninsured. That was its focus. It was not intended to affect the rest of us who already have health insurance. And so far it hasn’t done a very good job at getting more people insured. But it made some progress. It got more people insured, but not the hoped-for entire population or virtually entire population being insured.
And so the call for Medicare for All would deal with that 10% and presumably get all of them insured. But the problem is not so much with what it might do for the 10%, but what it can do to the rest of us, the 90% of Americans who are insured. Because we would, the 180 million who have insurance through our job, we would lose our insurance under that plan. We would have no opportunity to choose the healthcare plan we wanted. We would not have the chance to shop around or compare plans or choose the benefits we wanted, a particular program. We’d get the program that would be a fit for us by government.
If you’re not happy with something that happened and how you were insured, I don’t know who you talk to. I mean, I think of the IRS or the Post Office, talking to them is not an easy process. And I presume when 330 million Americans had health issues, they’d find it very difficult to find someone to speak with. Of course, you could call Adam, and I’m sure that he’d be able to take care of the 3.5 million Utahns who have a health issue.
Bernie says that there’s gonna be about $500 billion in savings through Medicare for All. I don’t know where that comes from. He said there’s gonna be so much less processing, where hospitals and doctors are gonna have to not deal with all sorts of insurance companies. They’ll just have one to deal with. And so this will save $500 billion. That may have been true before computers, but, you know, Bernie I hope understands, we now have computers, and they’re able to deal with these things relatively smoothly without the cost of $500 billion.
He goes on to say that we’re gonna be just like Canada and Great Britain in terms of the healthcare system they have. Have you looked at Canada and Great Britain? And there’s some things that are nice about what goes on there with regards to healthcare. There’s some that are not so nice. In Britain, it takes three months to get an MRI. Three months.
I mean, I had a health condition the other day. I talked to my doctor. And she said, “Come on in and see me.” I saw her. She said, “Let’s get an MRI.” I went and got it that day. And it’s not unusual if you have something that looks like it might be of concern to be able to get an MRI the very day in this country. In Great Britain, it takes three months. In Canada, it’s reported that for elective surgeries, it takes as long as four months to get something organized. So if you’re dealing with something that’s of great significance to you, it might take a long, long time.
So those are some of the concerns that come into play. Of course, the other challenge with Medicare for All is it means our taxes would go up a lot. And by the way, kudos to Bernie Sanders for admitting that taxes will go up, but they’re gonna go up a lot more than he thinks they’d go up. Because he believes that the hospitals and doctors will get by with the payments that they’re getting by with today when Medicare pays them.
But Medicare has a very deeply discounted rate, which the hospitals and doctors are able to make up for or compensate for by charging a much higher rate to private insurers, the great majority of us, the 90% of us. And actually, it was Representative Delaney, or Congressman Delaney, who noted that in his survey of hospitals across the country, that virtually every hospital in rural America, and that includes every hospital in rural Utah, would go out of business, would go bankrupt and close, if their only source of revenue were the Medicare payments.
Now all of that sounds like it’s pretty unattractive, I would note that. But, you know what, even if Medicare for All were to pass, all those bad things would not happen, there’d be other bad things. And the reason for that is that once it passed, there be a flood of lobbyists and angry patients that would run to Washington and say, “My hospital is gonna close. My rural hospital is gonna close because of these payments being too little.” Or perhaps even urban hospitals, they’re gonna close. This urban hospital is gonna go out of business because of these new lower payments.
And Congress, putting their finger in the air, would recognize something has to be done. They would raise the rates, and you’d see rates go up dramatically, I believe. And of course, that would mean that there’d be the characteristic Washington feeding frenzy at the government trough to get more money to one’s favorite Hospital.
By the way, Bernie’s best line, I thought, in the debate, in case you didn’t watch it like I did, was that…Someone was saying that there was something in the Medicare for All bill that was wrong. And he said, “I know better than that, because I wrote that law.” And I thought to myself, well, that’s a good point. Bernie wrote it. But I was stunned for a reason he might not have imagined. And that is he’s been in Congress for about 28 years. And, you know how much of the socialist legislation that he’s written has actually become law? None. Nothing.
One thing you can be sure of, if Bernie Sanders became President of the United States, you’d not have Medicare for All, or virtually anything else he’s campaigning on, because he has proven over a long period of time he can’t get stuff done in Washington. He is, as the saying goes, all hat and no cattle.
So now Elizabeth Warren weighed in, I would note, and she said, “Look, we’re gonna save a lot of money with Medicare for All because there will not be any profit that’s gonna be going to the insurance companies.” And that’s something a lot of people hear and go, “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”
It reminds me a bit of my experience. I served, as you know, as Governor of Massachusetts, and we were looking for ways to balance our budget. And I suggested to the legislative leadership, why don’t we invite in one of these prison companies that manages prisons, these for-profit prison companies, to see if they can manage our prisons for less money than we do. And they were shocked. They said, “Why would you think that?” They said, “By definition, they’re gonna be higher costs than we are.” I said, “Why is that?” They said, “Well, they have to earn a profit, and we don’t.” And I said, “I don’t think you understand how the free enterprise system works.”
Why, we have a profit motive after all. And you understand this, which is we create, as Adam Smith indicated, a profit motive, which gives people an incentive to find ways to do things in a better and better way at a lower and lower cost, and therefore to supplant their competitors and provide better services and better products at lower cost. That’s the whole idea. That’s why you have a profit motive. And, yeah, they have to earn a profit, but the profit they earn, the percentage they earn, should be much smaller, the total cost, as a result of the effectiveness and bringing down the cost and the improvement equality of the service that they provide.
Now I might have said that to Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, but they would probably look at me like I was speaking Greek, in part because they haven’t had the experience of working in the private sector and seeing the power of that profit motive.
One more thing about Medicare for All before I go away from it, and that is Bernie Sanders said that under his plan, there’d be no copays and no deductibles, which, again, sounds pretty attractive. But now think about the incentives that provides every person in America. So you have entirely free healthcare. You pay nothing. No copays, no deductibles at all. So think how many times you’re gonna run to the hospital if something comes up, or go see a doctor, or, I mean, you got a headache, let’s get an MRI. I mean, the incentive would be dramatically shifted.
My experience is sometimes our friends on the progressive side of the aisle don’t fully appreciate the power of incentives and how those incentives shaped behavior. I remember, again, when I served as governor, I was trying to find a way, as I indicated, to lower the cost. And I said I wouldn’t cut vital services. And I looked at the homeless budget.
People said, “Well, you can’t cut the homeless budget.” I said, “I know, but I’m just gonna look at it line by line.” We’re out there with my staff and the members of our team, and there was a line in there for hotels. And I said, “Oh, what’s this?” And they said, “Well, governor, you have to understand that if a homeless family or person comes to one of our shelters, and it’s full, we tell them, ‘I’m sorry, the shelter is full. Check into hotel, and we’ll pick up the bill.'” And I said, “I bet the word gets around,” you know. Shelters full, right? Just go to there, get a voucher, and go to the hotel. The state will pick up the bill.
I said, “So how many rooms do we rent a night?” They said, “On average we rent 600 rooms a night.” “What’s the cost?” “Twenty-seven million dollars a year.” I said, “I have a new policy to put in place. It’s gonna change the incentives.” The new policy is, if someone comes to one of our shelters, and it’s full, you let them in. And the person that’s been there the longest, you send them to the hotel. So after a year, I said, “How’s it going?” Well, they said, “We don’t have any hotels rent at all. Zero. We saved all $27 million.” And the $27 million we were able to use to help people get on their feet and get permanent housing.”
So incentives have an enormous impact. And so with regards to healthcare, the idea of no copays, no coinsurance, and so forth, no deductibles, would have a dramatic impact on the cost of healthcare. The comedian PJ O’Rourke that has once said, “If you think healthcare is expensive now. Wait till it’s free.” So I’m suggesting that Medicare for All, as is described, would be expensive. It would be intrusive on our personal liberties. And it would be an unmitigated bust in this country.
So what’s my proposal instead, by the way? And I’ll just mention three things. One is we have to address the costs that individuals have in their health experience. And prescription drugs is the single largest of our cost of that nature. And I would limit the prices that pharmaceutical companies can charge on drugs to the international price they charge. So in other words, no more insulin being $45 in Canada and $450 here in the United States. One price across the world. That would bring the prices down dramatically in our country.
Number two, there’s something known as surprise billing. And the TV, you probably noticed, the last couple of weeks, the TV evening news programs have been showing examples of what happens with regards to surprise billing, where people go to a hospital that’s in network, have a doctor that’s in network, but after they get out of the hospital, they get a bill for thousands of dollars. It’s like, “What’s this?” It was an in-network hospital, in-network doctor.” They said, “Oh, but the anesthesiologists we had to use was not in network.” And they get a bill for the anesthesiologists and for other services that were not in network.
My proposal, then, it’s one that’s working its way through Congress right now, is that the insurance company would be responsible for all of one’s costs in a setting of that nature, where one did not have a choice. It was either an emergency, or it was a setting where they couldn’t find an in-network participant at the time that was necessary.
And then the third area is what do you do about the 10% or so that are uninsured? And my own approach to that is, as it has been for a long time, which is instead of the Federal Government trying to figure out how to get people insured in Utah, in Vermont, and Texas, and Montana, to let each state find its own way to care for its own uninsured, and to take the Obamacare dollars and the Medicaid expansion dollars that Washington takes in and spends and send that back to the states in a Federal-state partnership and allow the state to be able to care for its own people in the way it thinks best.
Now the next topic in the debate was immigration. It began with the expected angst about the separation of children for their families of the border. By the way, I share that angst. I think that was a very dark chapter in our history. But the stunner in the debate, I think, was the almost unanimous view on the part of the participants that all those that come into our country illegally, or are here illegally, should be entitled to Medicare for All, entirely free healthcare, paid for by American taxpayers.
I mean, just think about the incentives that would create, not just the cost, which is obvious, but the incentives, which is, right now, a lot of people wanna come here anyway for a good job, a better job. But if you can come here and not only get a better job, but also get entirely free healthcare, for whatever your condition might be, I mean, can you imagine what kind of a magnet that would provide for people to come into our country?
I’ll also note I’m puzzled by the lack of progress we made on immigration. I mean, how many years has have been we’ve been talking about the immigration mess, and nothing seems to happen? And I can’t quite understand. I said I’m puzzled because I can’t quite understand why we make so little progress here.
Because I happen to think, and I think most Americans agree, that president Trump is right when he says, “We need to secure the border, and we need to stop the lottery immigration system, and we need to have a merit-based system where we decide who we wanna bring into the country legally.” And I think the Democrats are right in saying that the dreamers ought to find a way to be able to stay in our country legally. And so there are two sides. You can understand, well, I can see how a deal can get done, but somehow a deal doesn’t get done.
And there’s some people who are more cynical than I that think, well, maybe the parties don’t wanna do a deal. The one side likes firing up their base with our point of view, and the other side likes firing up their base with their point of view, and somehow we never get together. I hope that’s not the case. There are a number of us working on trying to see if we can reach a meeting of the minds. It will really take the leadership of the White House to get that done. And the White House is attempting to do that at this current time.
Now free college and forgiveness of college debt was the next topic that came up at the debates. Obviously, that would be expensive, very expensive, cost trillions of dollars, in addition to wiping out all the debt, $1.5 trillion of student debt that exists today. Going forward, there’d be continued expense on the part of the Federal Government.
But I would just note how upset would you be if instead of borrowing money to go to college, you worked your way through college, so you didn’t have any loans. And then government comes along and says, “Oh, we’re gonna wipe out of the loans of the people who have loans.” Or how about those who paid off their loans?
It’s like, can you imagine what’s happening right now, by the way, with all this discussion? Anybody who has student debt would, you know, not pass an IQ exam if they’re paying it off right now. It’s like, hold on, if Bernie gets elected, by some miracle, they’re gonna wipe out all my debt. So don’t pay it off. I mean, think of what the incentives are that are being created by this kind of discussion, of something which I think is expensive and ill-conceived.
The Green New Deal was up next. Of course, that’s been mocked regularly, and I’m not gonna add to that mocking, other than to describe what I think was one of the humorous moments during the debate. Dana Bash asked Kirsten Gellibrand this question. She said, “You’re a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, which includes the guarantee of a job for everyone in America with medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security for everyone in the country. Explain how that’s realistic.”
And her answer, in my opinion, goes down for the ages. She says this “So the first thing that I’m gonna do when I’m president, I’m gonna Clorox the Oval Office.” How in the world are those two things related? I do not know. But that settled that, and on we went.
A big topic that came up was the Green New Deal, as I’ve just described. And I will note that I’m one of the few Republicans that, while I don’t subscribe to the Green New Deal, and I think it’s just silliness, I do believe we’re experiencing global warming or climate change, and I believe that human activity is a significant contributor to that. But I’ll note this, which is that the United States represents about somewhere between 12% and 13% percent of the CO2 emissions of the world, all right? We’re not half the CO2 emissions of the world. We’re 11%, 12%, 13%, something in that range.
And so, you know, you’re going out and buying a Prius maybe well and good, but it’s not gonna change global emissions. It might change emissions a little bit here in the U.S., but all of the growth in emissions comes not from us or other developed nations. It comes from China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, the developing countries, which understandably are getting more cars and getting air conditioners and washing machines and things that we have. And as they do so, their CO2 emissions go up and up and up. And so as you look over the future in the world, CO2 emissions go up. And so what we’re doing here is the proverbial drop in a bucket.
If we want to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide, the only way we’re gonna be able to do so is if we’re able to show to the people in India and Brazil and China a way for them to generate power and to propel their economy with the technology that’s lower cost than the lowest cost alternative. And that might be coal or some natural gas. There’s got to be something less expensive. And for that to happen, we’ve got to have some kind of innovation. We’ve got to have some breakthroughs to occur.
So the answer, in my opinion, to not just, at a marginal level, affect the reduction in CO2, but to actually get things to turn around and take us on a different track, is to innovate and find new ways to provide power and power our economy that we don’t know today. And that maybe based on current technologies or new breakthrough technologies. And so for me, the question is, to deal with this issue, we’re gonna have to create incentives for entrepreneurs and enterprises around the world to look for ways to provide energy in new ways.
Now there are, of course, there’s the reality that if there are new sources of energy or lower-emitting sources of energy than we’re used to today, that there are gonna be some winners who are part of that, and there are gonna be some losers who are part of the technologies that become less effective. And I’m not willing to sit by, if there were major sectors that are losers, and watch people or communities suffer because of that change.
That’s what happened, by the way, in the auto industry, in the steel industry, when automation hit it in such a big way, when NAFTA hit it, when international trade hit it. We stood back and said, “Well, overall, we’ll be better off.” And overall, our country is pretty well off because of international trade, but some pockets got very disproportionately impacted, and we say, “Well, the market is gonna care for that.” Well, the market may care for it, but how about the families in those areas that were hit so hard? They’re not taken care of.
And so we may have communities in our state that are disproportionately affected by the changes of technology-related into energy. And that’s particularly true in coal country. In Carbon County, in Price, Utah, other places, you know, they’re looking at, well, the next 10 years may be fine, but 10, 20, 30 years down the road, what happens? We got to find a way to make sure that we don’t do in those communities what was done in the communities of the so-called Rust Belt that were so badly affected.
One of the ideas that may have some merit to consider, at least, is one that I’m looking at, because there’s a lot of talk about it, and that’s this carbon dividend, carbon tax, carbon dividend. I don’t know whether you’ve heard about that. You probably have. But some of the oil companies have signed on to it and a bunch of other companies.
And the idea is this. Charge the oil companies and the power companies and anybody who uses a lot of or admits a lot of carbon, charge them a tax of roughly $50 a ton for the carbon they’re emitting, and then take 90% of the proceeds and give it back to the consumers, because consumer prices would be affected by the fact that they’re paying more in tax themselves. So give it back to the consumers. And almost all consumers would be better off, by the way, have a little extra money by virtue of doing that.
And you ask me, “What do you do with the 10%?” Well, the 10% I would use to help the communities that are affected by the change in technology, the rural areas, the coal country that’s gonna be so significantly affected over the coming couple of decades, help those communities and those people get back on their feet. The interest that I have in that is not so much how much reduction it would be in CO2 in the U.S., because as I’ve indicated, I’m more concerned about what we’re doing around the world, the interest that might be associated with this kind of policy would be the incentive it would create for carbon reduction and innovation and the breakthroughs that might come as a result of that, and also the fact that we can help some of the communities that are struggling.
Well, in addition to what was said in the debates…Let me check. Okay. I’m in good shape here. I was a little worried that I was, you know, it was 2:00 in the afternoon. There were some things that were not said. And I was troubled by what wasn’t said. There was virtually no discussion at all in, how many hours, let’s see, 6, 10, 10 hours a debate. There was no discussion almost at all about the debt and the deficit. I don’t think there were any questions about the debt the deficit. I may have dozed off at some point and not been accurate, but I think that’s been the case. Neither party seems to be focused on talking about the debt and the deficit.
I don’t know entirely why that is other than it’s not an immediate problem that’s burning in politicians’ minds in most of the country. The president campaigned that he was gonna balance the budget, and yet we’re out of balance by $1 trillion a year right now. By the way, just to put that in perspective, we take in $3 trillion about in the Federal Government, $3 trillion in taxes and other revenues, and we’re spending $4 trillion.
It’s highly stimulative on the economy. Oh, yeah, it makes the economy grow to borrow and spend. I mean, just like it would in your home, if you took, you know, a third more, if you spent a third more than you take in every year, put it on your credit card, and never pay it off. I mean, it’s highly stimulative. You could live a little better lifestyle. But at some point, it catches up with you.
I once met with John Whitehead, who used to be the head of the Federal Reserve in New York City, the Fed board there, and was also a head of Goldman Sachs. He said, “I’m afraid someday we’re gonna have a failed auction. We’re not gonna be able to sell our debt to the world.” And I don’t think that’s gonna happen for a long, long, long time, in part because our currency is the reserve currency of the world. Transactions around the world basically have to happen in the dollar. Countries have to have dollars to stand behind their own currency. I think people will keep loaning us money as long as we’re willing to ask for it. That’ll come to an end at some point, but probably not in the next few years.
But the more immediate challenge is we do pay the interest on that debt every year. So last year, we paid about $300 billion in interest on the Federal debt, $300 billion. Just to put that in context, you remember that in January, the President shut down the government because he couldn’t get the money necessary for the wall. He wanted, I think, it was about $5.7 billion, $5.7 billion. We spent $300 billion on interest. And that number is going up.
The Congressional Budget Office says that over the coming decade, the number in interest is gonna get larger than what we spend in our military. And can you imagine a setting in the world where we attempt to be the leader of the world, but we’re sending billions of dollars to China and Russia and other countries. Well, they’re using that money, our interest, to build a military that would confront us. So that’s a concern. And the fact that it wasn’t raised or discussed by the people on that stage is a real concern.
The other topic which was touched on but very briefly was national security. And maybe it’s just because I’m on the Foreign Relations Committee. No, that’s not it. This has been a concern of mine all along. I think it should be our single most important concern and national priority, which is national security. And you know some of this.
Russia has expanded and modernized their nuclear arsenal. We have not since the 1950s and 1960s. It’s blown through our nuclear limitation treaties. It’s endeavoring, by the way, to put in place, you may have read about this, a doomsday device that could remotely find itself off our shore and explode and basically vaporize major parts of our country. And it’s working to defeat our missile defense system.
China is preparing to supplant us as the leader of the world, economically, militarily, geopolitically. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with their aim. That’s what we would do if we were in their position. We just don’t want that to happen, because freedom is in the balance. And they’re a much larger population base than we are. They have about 1.4 billion people. We have about 330 million people. How does a smaller country compete with a bigger country long term?
Because as they continue to grow and have a rising standard of living, their economy will be larger and larger, ultimately larger than ours, their military could be larger than ours. How do you compete with that? You compete with that by linking arms with your allies economically and militarily, but we’re doing the opposite.
The other thing you’d do, if you wanna compete with that, is to make sure that your balance sheet, your financial foundation is strong. We’re doing the opposite, all right? We’re borrowing and sending them interest. And of course you’d wanna modernize your military and bring it up to speed, make sure it’s the most powerful it could possibly be. My Democrat colleagues in Congress seem intent on doing anything to stop our growth and military spending. So there’s some big differences with regards to national security and the priority, I think, it should receive as well as our discussion of our balance sheet and our debt.
By the way, there were some stunning lines in the debate. I’ll end with this. Senator Warren said “Multinational corporations, they have no loyalty to America. They have no patriotism.” Senator Sanders said this, “If anybody here thinks that corporate America gives one damn about the average American worker, you’re mistaken.” That’s quite an indictment. For quite a few years, I was honored to serve on the board of Marriott International. It’s one of those companies, a big multinational company. Every day there are some 700,000 people, 700,000 people who wear a Marriott brand badge as they go to work. I know Bill Marriott. He cares very deeply about each of those individuals. And he cares very deeply about his love for the United States of America.
He also knows that unless he provides the very best product at the very lowest cost, well, the jobs of those 700,000 people are in jeopardy. That’s the nature of competition and free enterprise. And, I mean, even the Chinese and the Russians have figured that out. So I’ll stop.
I’ll just note, I’ve been pretty tough on the Democrats, going through their debate. That doesn’t mean by the way that I’m 100% sold on everything my current party’s establishment is doing. I guess I should consider myself a renegade Republican, because I still believe the deficits and debt matter a lot. I don’t like tariffs being placed on our friends and allies. I think the likes of Putin and Kim Jong-un deserves censure rather than flattery. And I think demonstrating personal character is one of the most important responsibilities of the leader of the land or those that are called to service in any part of it.
When it comes to our policies, for the most part, however, I am very much in line with Republican conservative philosophy and believe that our democratic friends are taking us in a very different direction, which would be most unfortunate to our future. I think this is a pivotal moment in history.
There have been a lot of them lately, too many. I mean, China aims to become the global hegemon. Russia is retooling their nuclear capacity. Iran and North Korea are looking to build missiles that will not only reach our allies, but maybe even reach us. Radical Jihadists are regrouping as they do time and time again. The planet is getting warmer. And even here, family formation is on the wane, and the number of child births is all so in retreat. So I’m happy to be in the middle of the fight. I appreciate the chance to have friends here at Sutherland Institute, who share concerns about policy.
By the way, I’m probably right on some portion of what I said today in terms of my own views. I’m probably wrong in other parts of it. I appreciate the chance to learn from one another, from Sutherland and others. And I’m gonna keep fighting for what I believe is best for Utah and for the nation. And with that, we’ll turn to your questions. Thank you so much.
Rick B. Larsen (Sutherland Institute president):
So we’ll just take about 10 minutes to fill a couple of questions.
You’ve addressed some of this, but it’s a question that comes up so often, I’m gonna ask it again.
With Washington as divided as it is with an election year coming up, how do you, and I’m gonna add, can you get any significant reforms passed on issues like healthcare, immigration, education, or the environment? And where is the hope?
I think prior to the 2020 election, it will be very difficult to get any legislation passed on politically divisive issues, immigration being one of them. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t do it after 2020. I think the opportunity will be there, the deficit and so forth. These things are very difficult in an election year, in part because the Democrats are gonna say, they got people running for president, they’re gonna say, “Well, we can’t go out and do a deal with the Republicans on healthcare if it’s not Medicare for All, because that’s what our people are running on.” So they’re not gonna do that.
And by the way, you know this, but I think we tend not to internalize it as we should. And that is our constitutional system of government is designed to keep stuff from happening too quickly, not to make things happen real quickly. So for instance, to get anything from a bill to a law in Washington requires both parties to agree. We have a Democrat House and a Republican Senate, a Republican president. And even in the Senate, you have to get 60 votes. We don’t have 60 votes as Republicans. We have to get Democrats to vote for it.
So on healthcare, for instance, I don’t know of a policy that’s gonna get passed before the 2020 elections are over where Republicans and Democrats will agree other than on the ones I described. And I think we’re gonna see…And the ones I described, for instance, are bringing down the cost of prescription drugs. And I proposed several pieces of legislation there. I think they’re gonna be part of the final bill. And surprise billing. Those are areas where we can agree. But on the insurance portion, that 10% portion that are uninsured, I think we’re gonna have to wait until after the election.
On immigration, there’s a real effort right now to see if we can get the Republicans to agree amongst ourselves what we should do. And Jared Kushner is leading that effort with Mike Lee, by the way, and others to say, “Okay, let’s all get together with at least our point of view, and then we can take that and negotiate with the other side of the aisle.” And I think that might happen after the election, maybe before. But getting things done in Washington requires people who are willing to find common ground. And if it’s a highly partisan issue, it requires someone who’s willing to discipline their own party in the interest of the country.
Thank you. Thank you. So with all you just described, and this is an important question, how can we communicate principles of conservatism, those agreed two principles, to the younger generation, to an upcoming generation?
That’s one of the reasons that I decided to get back into public life, which is I’d like young people to realize that there are different streams of thought in the conservative world. And they may not agree with one stream, but they might agree with another stream. And for instance, when I speak to young people, they’re inclined to agree with my views that global warming is happening. When I speak with older audiences, they’re not inclined to agree with that. Like, okay, well, let’s express those views, and in some respects I’ll be able to make inroads with some of the younger people coming along.
So I just think it’s import for all of us to recognize we don’t just have a single point of view in the conservative world that we all have to subscribe to. No, we can have different points of view. That’s sort of the nature of our democratic processes is to express those points of view. And, you know, my slice of the Republican Party these days is about that big, all right? I understand that, but I still speak about my views and hope I’ll convince more people, for instance, that the budget deficit is a problem and that the China is an issue we got to address and prepare for, not because it’s an immediate threat to us, but the long term keeping freedom, free enterprise, and personal freedom is essential.
Thank you. So Sutherland shares this question. I’m gonna read this almost as is with a couple of spins on it. This question is, I feel that our Federal deficit should be our top priority, because if we don’t deal with it, it will limit our ability to have a debate on budget priorities. I’m thinking of the data that projects in the very near future. All revenues will be consumed by entitlements. Now what are you making decisions around? Why does Congress not share the urgency of this situation?
And you understand how politics works. I hate to say it, but there are a few politicians that are mostly concerned about getting reelected, all right? And, you know what, it’s very popular to spend more money. People come into your office virtually every day asking for help on a project or on a piece of legislation that cost more money. And if you can get the more money, they’re happy, and they go home, and they’re gonna support you. Going out and saying, “We’re gonna cut something,” that is not popular.
And the Federal spending, do you know how Federal spending is divided? If this is a pie here, two-thirds of Federal spending isn’t even voted on by Congress. Two-thirds is automatic. Two-thirds is Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other entitlement programs and interests, two-thirds. Only one-third is part of the Federal spending, one-third. And of that, half is military, and half as everything else.
And so if you wanna deal with the spending, you have to deal with the two-thirds as well as the one-thirds. And the two-thirds, we’re talking about programs for seniors and for the poor, good luck dealing with those programs. And the only way we’re gonna solve the budget issue that I’ve described, in my opinion, is not to change those programs for current seniors or people nearing retirement, but to tell people who are younger what the program is gonna be when they get there. We have to reshape the program. Maybe a later retirement age, maybe a lower benefits for wealthy people.
So these are the kinds of things we’re gonna have to do. I would note that I’m in discussions with a Democrat senator right now to see if we can come together on a process that would help us deal with entitlement reform. And whether or not he’ll sign up for that, I don’t know, but it’s something that I’m working on.
I’m gonna keep you on time, so this may be the last question. And I apologize. I’m reading these in the order they were given, so I don’t mean to prioritize one question over another. But this one strikes me, because I actually opened with this. How can you make the case the conservative principles are compassionate principles? We’ve long taken the beating. Arthur Brooks writes on this. Well, we haven’t said it right. But in reality, they are compassionate. Make the case.
You know, I believe that one of the defining differences between conservatism and the alternative is that we tend to look longer term. We tend to see what’s the impact of something we’re doing down the road as opposed to just short term. We consider incentives. We consider long term unintended consequences. And now maybe I’m being too congratulatory of conservatives, but my own view is that we tend to look longer terms.
So, for instance, we look at a program to help the poor and say, “Is that gonna be counterproductive down the road?” And I don’t think our Democrat colleagues are so inclined. And they’ll look and say, “Well, here’s a program to help the poor. We’ll give them this and this and this.” And then we say, “Well, but is that gonna actually help, or will that hurt long term?”
I mean, I remember I was campaigning against Ted Kennedy in 1994, and I went to a corner of Greater Boston. There was an awful…all sorts of boarded-up buildings and junk on the road. It’s just an awful area. And I got out of my car. And a guy came up to me and said, “What are you doing here? This is Kennedy country.” And I looked around and I said, “It looks like Kennedy country.” All right.
My message was Kennedy had a big heart. He wanted to help everybody. But the policies he’d put in place had created a culture of dependence on government that locked more people into poverty. He hadn’t helped them. And so I think, for me, conservatism is about mindfully focused on what actually will solve the problem long-term, not just immediately. And so when people says, “Hey, we’ll give some money to some group,” say, “Is that gonna help her hurt long-term?” And so we refashioned as a nation our welfare programs. I think that helped. There’s a lot more to be done.
I mean, when I was serving as governor, I proposed, for instance, that we insist that single moms, to get welfare, should be going to school or should be working. And the legislature said, “Well, you know, that’s gonna cost a lot more money, because we’re gonna pay for a lot of childcare.” I said, “I’m willing to spend more money. You don’t understand. It comes from the heart. I wanna help people get out of poverty. This is not meant to be punitive. It’s meant to help them. So it will cost us more money. I’m willing to spend more money to help people get out of poverty.”
I’m happy to go policy by policy and point out that the perspective of conservatives is based on keeping America strong, providing for a bright and prosperous future for all of our people, not just now but long-term. And in that fight, I hope we’ll be able to join forces in the coming years. Thanks so much. Good to be with you.
Sutherland Institute is pleased to present content from our Congressional Series and other events. Perspectives expressed by guests and participants may not reflect those of Sutherland. The Institute does seek to provide a civil forum to express those views.
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