Richardson On The Record

With Maria Bartiromo

Of all the Democratic candidates for President, no one can compete with Bill Richardson for depth and breadth of public service. Now governor of New Mexico, Richardson has served as a member of Congress, Energy Secretary in the Clinton Administration, Ambassador to the U.N., and Special Envoy to North Korea, Iraq, and other hot spots. With the massive war chests of Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, wags have suggested that Richardson is running for Vice-President or Secretary of State. But the governor, who would be the first Latino in the White House, is adamant that his eye is on the Presidential prize and he will be competitive in the early primaries of 2008.

Immigration reform is of enormous concern to business, but a fix seems to be slipping away. How would you solve this conundrum?

The President is on the right track, but...I believe five things need to happen: Double the border patrol; impose sanctions on employers that knowingly hire illegal workers; help Mexico start creating more jobs on its side of the border; increase H-1B visas so that more high-skilled workers, especially in high tech, can come into the country and we can remain competitive; and [establish] a legalization program based on good behavior. That means learning English, certifying that a job exists here, paying a fine for being here illegally, and embracing American values. This is a sensible immigration plan that is not amnesty because if you look at the legislation, it's going to take nine years to get a green card. Some individuals will pay as much as $9,000 in fines, and it's going to take 12 years to even apply for citizenship. Those that say this is an amnesty are really promoting the politics of fear.

Would you extend or make permanent the lower tax rate on capital gains?

Yes. I'm a pro-growth Democrat. As President, I would use the tax code to incentivize the economy. I would give tax incentives to companies that pay over the prevailing wage, to technology startups, to companies that move into rural areas. I would try to get tax simplification, tax fairness. I would increase tax incentives for the middle class. I would expand the earned-income tax credit, which I believe helps a lot of working families. I would also have an industrial policy that would invest government funds in two areas: critical infrastructure and companies with high growth potential—renewable-energy companies, high-tech telecommunications, health.

What about the dividend tax cut? Would you extend that?

I would look at all the Bush tax cuts but not make them permanent. I believe we have to shift them to the middle class.

So how would you deal with the deficit, with Medicare, Social Security? I mean, something's got to give.

I would take the following steps. First, a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Second, a line-item veto for the President. I would also institute pay-as-you-go policies, make them part of the law, so if you're going to have a tax cut or new program, you've got to pay for it. I would also get rid of earmarks. That's about $13 billion. Also, there's a lot of corporate welfare. I would have a national commission look at corporate incentives that I believe are not needed. With Social Security...maybe you look at a universal pension—a national 401(k) with portability so when people move from job to job, they can keep their pension, which is not the case now. On Medicare, you have to look at prevention when 33% percent of Medicare is diabetes.

How about the AMT, the alternative minimum tax that each year seems to ensnare more and more middle-class Americans? How do you fix that?

We've got to get rid of that cost-of-living provision that adversely affects the middle class...but basically keep it.

Are you in favor of taxing Big Oil?

No, but it got $32 billion in subsidies in the last energy bill, which it doesn't need. I would take those huge subsidies away, but I wouldn't impose a windfall profits tax. I think the future for our country is in renewables. It's in solar wind, biofuels, fuel cells. I don't believe the future's in fossil fuels. That doesn't take oil out of the equation. But at a time when we need to become energy-independent, it got huge benefits that other technologies needed. It's a national security issue when 65% of our fossil fuel is imported oil. I would have an Apollo program to reduce that dependence.

As a former Energy Secretary, how would you characterize this country's energy policy?

We have no energy policy. The President failed to acknowledge the science to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and he's totally favored oil, nuclear, and coal to the detriment of new technologies. He's failed to work with Detroit to increase fuel efficiency. It's been a disastrous energy policy that I believe is making us more and more vulnerable.

You've established New Mexico as a clean energy state. Would the renewable energy standard work on a national level?

Absolutely. I would propose that we go to 30% renewable electricity by 2030. We're doing it in California, New Mexico, and other states. We're not waiting.

You've negotiated with North Korea. Are we on the right path?

Yes, we are. And I was just there three months ago, and the shift in policy is working. We've talked to them directly...about a long-range deal that involves them dismantling nuclear weapons in exchange for getting sanctions lifted, getting food and fuel. But negotiations are going to be difficult, and we have to have stronger verification systems so they don't cheat. There's no guarantee they won't, but what you don't want is what happened in the last five years when North Korea built up stockpiles of uranium and plutonium. They maybe have five or six nuclear weapons. I'm a great believer in direct engagement. I would talk directly to Iran, to Syria, to North Korea, to try to seek common ground. By not talking to bad-behavior regimes, we're not advancing America's interests. We've got to use diplomacy, and if there's any message [sent by] this Administration, it's that they're trigger-happy. They're military and preemption first, diplomacy second. I would do the opposite.

And Russia—friend or foe?

The reality is that Russia is not a friend or a foe. Russia is a strategic competitor. We need to deal with Russia because it's an expanding economic power and energy power. We need Russia's support in making sure Iran doesn't build nuclear weapons. And we need Russian energy supply in the international market for stable financial prices. But right now we're virtually starting a new Cold War with our proposal to build a missile system in the region. At the same time, Russia is moving toward fewer democratic freedoms. It is a very erratic relationship that is based on mistrust of the two leaders.

You've called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Wouldn't that set off a bloodbath?

There is a bloodbath now. My call is for a withdrawal by the end of the calendar year with no residual forces, accompanied by a strong diplomatic plan to bring the three groups in Iraq into a coalition government, to have division of oil revenues, and establish three separate entities, plus an all-Muslim peacekeeping force. That would include a dialogue with Iran and Syria to stabilize the region.

Senators Obama and Clinton have raised more than $50 million between them in the first quarter alone. How can you and other candidates, like Senators [Joe] Biden and [Chris] Dodd, stay in this big-money race for much longer?

I'll be most likely exceeding my first-quarter [fund-raising] total. So I will have enough to run a strong campaign in the first four states, which are the barometers for gaining momentum in the subsequent states. This race should not be decided on how much money is raised, who the wealthiest candidate is, or who the biggest rock star is.

Maria Bartiromo is the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell.

— With assistance by Maria Bartiromo

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