In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Fiscal Times late Wednesday, former New York Governor George Pataki made his strongest suggestion yet that he may jump into the race for the GOP Presidential nomination.Saying that he has “not as yet heard one of the Republican candidates outline a strong, comprehensive approach” to dealing with America’s debt crisis, the 65-year-old, former three-term governor said he hopes a candidate with a serious deficit-reduction plan and the ability to defeat President Obama steps forward to fill the void. “If not, I’ll certainly feel compelled to take a look,” he said.
For the last several weeks Pataki has acted a lot like a potential candidate, raising his profile through a group he formed in April, No American Debt. He’s traveled to New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington, D.C., meeting with supporters, holding fundraisers, and sharing his anti-debt message in forums of all kinds. “We are engaging in generational theft, stealing from our children so that we can live beyond our means. That’s not the America I grew up in, and that’s not the America that I think the American people expect,” Pataki said on Wednesday. “It’s not what we should be getting from the failed political leadership in Washington. We deserve better … and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that we do have better.”
In Henniker, New Hampshire, last month, he told a town hall meeting: “Every one of you owes $46,000 to the federal government…. This year under Obama, the government will incur a $1.65 trillion deficit…. We have a $14.3 trillion debt. What do we have to show for it? Do we have brand new highways, airports? No, we have President Obama borrowing to reward special interest groups today. And it has to stop.”
If Pataki were to join the growing field of Republican contenders, he would be the fourth candidate with experience as chief executive of a state to do so. Former Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Jon Huntsman of Utah, and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota are already in. Former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska would make five. And current Texas Governor Rick Perry would make six.
The Fiscal Times (TFT): You’ve been in Iowa talking about America’s national debt this week. Do you feel the other GOP candidates are making enough noise about the debt crisis?
George Pataki (GP): I think the American people understand that this is, if not the most important issue, then one of the two most important issues facing the future of our country. If we don’t stop these massive deficits and begin taking significant measures to reduce the debt, the future of our children and of this country is going to be greatly diminished from what we experienced. I think the American people understand that.
TFT: Are there any candidates that come close to adequately addressing this issue?
GP: Not at this point. I’m still hopeful, but I think all the Republican candidates understand the importance of this issue. And I think any one of them would be better than the record of this President, who not only has incurred record debt, but then after appointing a bipartisan commission [led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson] with great fanfare, just essentially threw [its] report in the garbage…. I thought it was a very strong proposal.
TFT: Is there anything that would push you into the race?
GP: Well I’m not running now, but I think we do need someone who has both a serious deficit- reduction program that they can outline and a good chance of defeating President Obama come next fall. So hopefully a candidate will emerge from the GOP field that does that, someone I could feel strongly about and support. I’m disappointed that Mitch Daniels didn’t run because had he run, I think he would have made this an issue, and he certainly has the track record in Indiana of success to point to, but I hope someone fills that void. And if not, I’ll certainly feel compelled to take a look.
TFT: Do you have any sort of timeline or date that you’re looking at for making a decision?
GP: No, not at this time.
TFT: What was strong about the Deficit Commission’s report?
GP: It was a comprehensive $4 trillion step to reduce the deficit. It included taking on entitlements, reducing the size of the federal workforce, which is absolutely essential, and by the way, it lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 22 per cent and it lowered the marginal tax rate for small business owners and individuals from 36 per cent to 23 per cent. At the same time, it had a trillion dollars in revenue measures to reduce the deficit. We need to take multi-trillion-dollar action preferably this year and not wait until 2013, and we need to do it in a way that reduces the size and cost of the federal government while empowering the private sector and particular small businesses and entrepreneurs to grow the economy to create the jobs we need. I don’t think there’s any plan out there that I can agree with 100 per cent. But I think it was an excellent start.
TFT: What is the #1 thing we could do to create more jobs in this country?
GP: First of all, we should repeal Obamacare. It imposes enormous costs and uncertainty particularly on small businesses. They don’t know what the consequences will be. My little business [Pataki and a partner have an energy-environmental consulting firm] is already feeling a significant increase in health insurance cost, and we can anticipate nothing but more regulations and more cost, so I think that should be repealed. Second, the President should stop promising–as the one thing he promises–to raise income taxes on small businesses next year. We should be looking to reduce the tax burden on those who create the jobs in this country so they can better deal with their costs and hire that additional employee instead of imposing additional costs. We should allow repatriation of the trillion-dollar plus in corporate profits sitting overseas that can’t be reinvested in the U.S. to create the jobs we need. I think if we lowered the prohibitively high corporate tax rate, particularly on manufacturing, we would incentivise companies to invest it in jobs and opportunity here. By the way, that’s another one of the provisions of the Bowles-Simpson reforms–taxing multinational corporations as virtually every major economic power does, as opposed to our insistence on taxing corporations higher than anybody else in the world. But there’s so much more you can do. Let me just touch on one more.
TFT: Yes, sure.
GP: A fair NLRB [National labour Relations Board] and not one that penalizes Boeing for looking to build a factory in the U.S. because it happens to be in a different state from where they are already operating.…That’s not right and that’s another very strong chilling message to job creation in this country. There are dozens of things that can be done–(laughs) you got me going here.
TFT: Did you create No American Debt because you felt that we needed more of a dialogue about the deficit?
GP: We need not just more of a dialogue; we have to hold those in high office accountable for getting serious about this. The President… created a bipartisan [deficit] commission, then ignored its recommendations. When Paul Ryan put out his $6 trillion-plus program, [the president] just demonized it after saying that would be the worst thing you could do. The Senate has done nothing–they haven’t even attempted to pass a budget in two years, let alone get serious about the deficit. Republican candidates seeking to defeat President Obama should be in a position where they can outline the strong and detailed measures where they will reduce the deficit and at the same time, incentivise the private sector to grow the jobs we need in this country.
TFT: Would you vote to raise the debt ceiling by August 2?
GP: I think that just raising the debt ceiling without beginning the process of reducing these unsustainable deficits would be a mistake.
TFT: Are you going to continue working to overturn Obama’s health program–Obamacare as you call it?
GP: We worked very hard with a group last year–we got 1.2 million signatures calling for the repeal and the replacement of Obamacare, and when that was ignored by the Pelosi-Reid forces, we got involved directly in 88 house races, against Democratic members of the House who had supported Obamacare, and we ended up helping to defeat 44 of them.
TFT: Do you support the budget plan that Rep. Paul Ryan put forward, including his Medicare overhaul?
GP: I think Paul Ryan deserves enormous credit for having the courage to come forth with a more than $6 trillion comprehensive program, and I think he had some excellent proposals in his program. And I think you have to look at his Medicare program in the context of Obamacare…. I think there are reforms that can be made to Medicare. I don’t happen to believe that the Ryan plan standing by itself is the right approach. I think there are better steps that can be taken.
TFT: What about Social Security–where do you stand on the issue of raising the retirement age?
GP: The Bowles-Simpson recommendation that for those virtually not yet born — that their retirement age be raised — I think that is something that could get broad bipartisan support today.
TFT: And what about indexing the benefits to income?
GP: All the specifics have to be part of a comprehensive program, but I think you do have to look at reducing the cost of Medicaid, reducing the cost of Medicare, reducing the cost of Social Security. Looking at it as the Bowles-Simpson report recommended, closing some of the 153 overseas bases–including 15 in West Germany–so there are steps that can be taken and that should be taken, that could gain very broad bipartisan and support from the people if we had a President who was actually trying to seriously deal with the deficit instead of ignoring his own commission’s recommendations and simply waiting to raise taxes after he’s reelected.
TFT: Do you agree with Republicans who say that tax increases are off the table?
GP: Yes. The economists will tell you we’re out of a recession. The middle-class American families will tell you we’ll not. And I happen to agree more with the middle-class families. That when you’re not creating jobs, when your home is worth less, when food costs more, when your gas costs more, and you’re worried whether or not you’re going to have a job, let alone get a raise–that’s the wrong time to raise taxes, particularly on those who we hope will be hiring and expanding the number of jobs we have in this country.
TFT: Where can we expect to see you next, Governor? I know you’ve been travelling quite a bit–Iowa, D.C.–where next?
GP: I expect to be very aggressively talking about all of these issues. I was in Washington with Congressman Ryan last week, I was in Iowa earlier this week, I was in New Hampshire last week, tomorrow I’ll be doing some TV, and we’ll see where it takes me.
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