On the Record

8 minute read
Mark Halperin

If you were President, what would the U.S. look like at the end of 2013 in terms of jobs, unemployment and economic growth?

Well, you’d see a very dramatic change in the perspective of small businesses, entrepreneurs, middle-size businesses and perhaps even some large multinationals. They’d say, You know what? America looks like a good place to invest again, a good place to take risk, a good place to hire again … This is all about creating good jobs for middle-income Americans, and it’s a place where the President, frankly, has failed. His effort to put in place a series of liberal proposals he thought were historic kept his eye off the ball of getting the economy going again. It is the economy, and the American people aren’t stupid. They want someone who can get this economy going again.

What would the unemployment rate be like at the end of your first year?

I can’t possibly predict precisely what the unemployment rate will be at the end of one year. I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6% and perhaps a little lower.

The President says your experience at Bain Capital will be central in this election. What did you learn at Bain that would help you create jobs?

That’s a bit like saying, What have you learned in life that would help you lead? My whole life has been learning to lead, from my parents to my education to the experience I had in the private sector to helping run the Olympics, and then of course helping guide a state … I understand, for instance, how to read a balance sheet. I happen to believe that having been in the private sector for 25 years gives me a perspective on how jobs are created that someone who’s never spent a day in the private sector, like President Obama, simply doesn’t understand.

So when the President says he wants to focus a lot of the election and debate on your career at Bain Capital, do you welcome that?

Well, of course, I’d like to also focus on his record. What is it that he’s done as the President of the U.S. over the past four years? … Has the President made things better for the American people? Are they better off than they were four years ago? … Did he hold unemployment below 8%? It’s been, what, 39 months now. That hasn’t happened … Gasoline prices–are people happy with those? Home prices–are they happy with the home prices, the level of foreclosures? Do they think someone can do better? I think the American people want someone who understands the economy, who has a vision for getting America working again … I think the reason you’re seeing, across the country, people saying they’d like to try someone new is because they believe this President, while he may be a nice guy, is simply not up to the task of helping guide an economy.

Is there some new idea, some original idea, that you have that you think would lead to a lot of new jobs?

The wonderful thing about the economy is that there’s not just one element that somehow makes the whole economy turn around … It is a whole passel of elements that come together to create a strong economy, and for someone who spent their life in the economy, they understand how that works. And it’s very clear, by virtue of the President’s record, that he does not, and he is struggling. Look at him right now. He just doesn’t have a clue what to do to get this economy going. I do.

You have a plan, as you said, over a number of years, to reduce spending dramatically. Why not do it more quickly?

Because if you take a trillion dollars, for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course. What you do is you make adjustments on a basis that show, in the first year, actions that over time get you to a balanced budget.

I want to ask you about tax reform. Are you ready, or will you be ready before the election, to say that some deductions like the home mortgage for some Americans, upper-income Americans, must go?

I’m not looking to lower the tax burden paid by the highest-income Americans. That’s a fundamental principle. I’m looking, if there’s any break at all, the break will go to middle-income Americans that have been most hurt by the Obama economy. What that means is that the place where you’ll see deductions and exemptions most significantly reduced will be at the high-income level. And which of those will be specifically reduced will be something we’ll work out with Congress.

Shouldn’t Americans know where you are on that important issue of which deductions would be limited or lowered or eliminated?

I think it’s very clear what my posture is with regard to taxation. I’m perfectly pleased to have people understand the principles of my tax proposal, lowering the rates, keeping the highest-income people paying the same share they pay now, providing a break if possible to middle-income folks and limiting deductions and exemptions for high-income Americans.

Would it increase the tax burden for anybody?

Well, it’s impossible to probably have a change in the tax code that doesn’t have adjustments person by person, but in terms of groups of folks–highest income, middle income, lowest income–there will not be a change in the weighting of who pays how much tax. If there’s one place that I want to see a reduction, some relief, it will be for middle-income taxpayers.

There’s the so-called fiscal cliff coming. Major defense cuts, automatic cuts, as well as tax increases in a lot of ways that would be a real drag on the economy. Would you like to see the incumbent President and Congress deal with these issues during the lame-duck session?

Of course not.

You’d like them to defer to you?

Absolutely … My hope is to be able to come into office with people on both sides of the aisle who are cognizant of the critical nature of what America faces fiscally, what the people of America are facing employment-wise, the failure in our economy that’s hurting so many people, and that we’ll see Republicans and Democrats say, O.K., well, what kind of tax proposals will encourage economic growth? What kind of regulatory reform will encourage economic growth? … I think we can do that, but my preference would be to have the opportunity to do that after the election as opposed to have the President in a lame-duck session try and create a solution that may not be in keeping with the new Administration.

So a lot of these changes, though, the tax and spending changes, kick in Jan. 1. You wouldn’t take office until Jan. 20. Does that worry you about what that might do to the economy in terms of confidence, in terms of perception?

If I’m lucky enough to be elected, the consumers and the small-business people in this country will realize that they have a friend in the White House who is actively going to encourage economic growth, and there will be a resurgence in confidence in this country and a willingness to take risks, to invest, to add employees. I think it will be very positive news to the American economy. Will I be able to get done between Jan. 1 and Jan. 20 the things that I’d like to do? Of course not–I’m not in office. But I believe that we will be able to have a grace period which allows us to tackle these issues one by one and put in place a structure which is very much designed to get America working again.

Some people, including Speaker John Boehner, have talked about a grand bargain, where the only way to address taxes, budget cuts, entitlement reform and the debt ceiling is to do it all at the same time. Does that make sense?

I think we’ll wait and see what the process is down the road … Reform can occur in a grand bargain or can occur piece by piece, but there will be, without question, a recognition that we can do better. This President has failed the American people with policies that have not put America back to work, and I think the American people recognize not only is he responsible for a tepid recovery, he is responsible for putting America on a track which does not lead to a stronger, more robust economy long term either. And they want to take a different course. And I intend to take that different course. But I can’t tell you whether it’s going to be done in Day 10 or Day 20 or Day 50, but I can say a lot of things are going to happen on Day 1, and then over the coming weeks, working together with good Democrats and good Republicans, we’ll get the country going again.


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