Daniels Says Republicans Need Specifics on Deficit (Transcript)

Republican Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that his party’s presidential candidates must get specific on how they would reduce the federal budget deficit, suggesting that has to include tax increases.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

AL HUNT: We begin the show with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who joins us from Indianapolis.

Governor, you have consistently dismissed the notion of a brokered convention, saying you’ll get a nominee. But recently, Senator Jim DeMint, one of the most influential conservatives in the party, said you’re the one person who could emerge as a compromise candidate, but, quote, “I don’t think his wife will let it happen,” end quote.

Your reaction to both of those assertions?

MITCH DANIELS: I really appreciate the kind words from Senator DeMint. I really do. But, no, I continue to think that we’ll have a nominee by that time and be about the business of, I hope, putting a really positive and specific program before the country and for the fall.

HUNT: Governor, you said you’ll get a nominee by then. “Then,” of course, is Tampa. It’s now in Illinois. It goes back and forth. Mitt Romney clearly has the advantage so far. But when do you think you’ll get a nominee, within the next month, we’ll go all the way to the June primaries, or all the way to the convention?

DANIELS: Al, I really don’t know and not the best person to ask. I’m not studying all these charts and calendars. I will tell you this. I’m sort of rooting for it not to happen before early May, because we would love to have a real competitive primary in Indiana. On the Republican side, it’d be the first time since 1976. We had a great one on the Democratic side in ’08. That was the first one in about 40 years. And I would love to see that happen again.

HUNT: And who would be favored - who would be favored on the Republican side in Indiana today?

DANIELS: That’s a good question. I would just wild guess that Governor Romney would, but that each of the current candidates would arrive with some chance to be competitive.

HUNT: When you look at the two candidates who seem to be the leading candidates, Governor Romney and Senator Santorum, what do you see as the chief differences?

DANIELS: I think there’s some difference of emphasis. And, you know, Governor Romney, when he can, likes to talk about what I think are the biggest issues, the economic issues facing the country. And as a matter of emphasis, sometimes I guess Senator Santorum devotes more of his time to other questions.

But I think they’re more similar in views and outlook than they let on or the dynamics of their running against each other allows them to show. I don’t think that the differences are nearly so wide as is sometimes perceived.

HUNT: Well, let’s talk about the issue that is central to what Mitch Daniels has been talking about for many, many years, namely the deficit. And you are a genuine deficit hawk. You actually want a reunion tour, you said, for Bowles-Simpson. And you have skewered Barack Obama for what you think is his fiscal recklessness on debt. You’ve really established that record very, very - in a very committed way.

But your leading candidates, according to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, are also fiscally reckless. They say Mitt Romney’s proposals would increase the federal deficit by $250 billion through 2021, Santorum by trillions. Isn’t it time for Republicans, Republican presidential candidates, as well as the president, to propose some sacrifices, even some pain, as well as the fun of tax cuts?

DANIELS: It is time for candidates to, I believe, propose specific remedies or steps to address this very, I think, survival-level issue that we’re facing, Al. The president, I’m sorry to say, has gone completely AWOL on this issue. I guess we’re not going to hear anything from him. He had his chance when Bowles-Simpson came out, and he didn’t take it. He had his chance with -

HUNT: He walked away from it. He did. But have you told your candidates you’d like to see them step up to that and - and be specific?

DANIELS: I believe I have, and I’ll continue trying. When I - when I was asked to speak for our party after the State of the Union, I tried to address these questions very frontally. I wrote a book about it, about this general subject for that matter.

No, I mean, there’s plenty of time - I will say that I believe our candidates have spoken more forthrightly, certainly, than the president, but not nearly to the extent that the moment requires.

I mean, this really ought to be a subject that engages us all. It threatens the essence of the American promise, upward mobility. It’s a very serious threat to young people and low- income people in this country.

And it’s a great opportunity for our party, I think, to speak more openly and inclusively and also to have the confidence in the American people that they can handle the facts. And they pretty much sense we’re in a serious fix, and I think they’re waiting for somebody to say so and say, look, here are some things we can do.

Let me just say, Al, I don’t think we have to talk about pain and sacrifice, particularly. The pain and sacrifice is going to come through inaction, not the, I think, reasonably moderate steps would could start taking now.

HUNT: But don’t they have to be taken both with the big entitlements and with - with higher revenues?

DANIELS: Yes, exactly. But the - there are - we can have all kinds of differences, honest differences, about the best way forward, but there must be two constants. There is no way to preserve the American dream and save us from an unaffordable future that does not include modernizing the entitlements, not people in them today, but starting a few years out, and that does not include, really, an economy that grows and produces greater revenues.

And so I constantly point out that everyone, starting with the most affluent, must participate in this. There are smart and dumb ways to do that. My strong encouragement is for closing tax loopholes and stop sending benefits that really should be concentrated and preserved for the most vulnerable among us.

HUNT: Your mentor in this business is Senator Richard Lugar, who suffered a blow of sorts this week when - when they ruled that he couldn’t vote in Indiana. He can run, but couldn’t vote. The party’s right-wing says look for an upset in that May primary. What are the odds now that Dick Lugar will come back to Washington for a seventh term?

DANIELS: I think he will. And I think he should. The law is very settled out here. He’s fully legit as a candidate and as a voter. Yesterday, a party-line vote - a little partisan mischief, maybe -

HUNT: But you think he’ll win.

DANIELS: - by local Democrats. I do believe he’ll win. And, you know, he’s still a great asset to this state and to the country. And his opponent’s a worthy guy, a friend and ally of mine, but I’ve broken heretofore a firm policy, Al, made this - one exception I’ve made by saying that the senator who’s meant so much to me - and, frankly, to me personally for a long time - is who I’m for in this primary.

HUNT: OK, Mitch Daniels, good luck to your Indiana Hoosiers in March Madness. And as always, it’s great to have you on.

DANIELS: Al, thanks a lot.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

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