CNBC "Your Money Your Vote" Interview Transcript
MS. BURNETT: And now Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is out today with his tax plan for the middle class. He joins us now from the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Our chief Washington correspondent, John Harwood, is going to be trying to get in on this as well, and we've got Bob Lane, CEO of John Deere.
Governor Romney, it is a great pleasure. Thank you so much for taking time out of what I know is a very busy day for you to be with us.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, thank you very much. I'm in Littleton, New Hampshire and it's a beautiful day here.
MS. BURNETT: And it's lovely here too, though after being outside in a tractor, though, I have to tell you it's a bit hot. (Chuckles.)
MR. ROMNEY: (Laughs.)
MS. BURNETT: But let me begin, sir, by asking you, obviously, this jobs number shocked everyone today -- shocked Wall Street, which, as you now, doesn't usually get surprised by things like this. Are you concerned right now when you talk to your economic team that we really could be facing a recession in this country?
MR. ROMNEY: You know, I don't think we need to slip into a recession. I think the subprime mortgage market has been troubled. I think the president has taken action which will certainly help a number of homeowners. And I think the Fed is taking the necessary action to provide the money supply that will allow our credit markets to stay open. But obviously if the credit crunch expands beyond the subprime mortgage market into other aspects of our economy, it could slow things down. I just -- I just think that aggressive action will keep that from happening if it's taken on a timely basis.
MS. BURNETT: Is there anything at this point that you think that the Bush administration -- or, you know, what would be the Romney administration -- should do to deal with the deteriorating jobs situation?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I think you indicate exactly what the economic strategy is for the country. You point out the stabilizing features in our economy, and you expect the Fed to take the kind of action they've already begun and hopefully they will continue to take, which is providing the liquidity in the credit market that enables people to continue to purchase products.
There's really no reason for the nation to slip into a recession at this point. There are always possibilities, that people get nervous and lemming-like, take action that's not wise, but I don't think that's going to happen. I think you're going to see the right kind of correction -- corrective action taken.
MS. BURNETT: "Lemming" is one of my favorite words lately on this topic.
Governor Romney, John Harwood is with us now. John, I believe from the Milwaukee Airport we have you.
MR. HARWOOD: I'm here, Erin.
MS. BURNETT: Go ahead.
MR. ROMNEY: (Chuckles.)
MR. HARWOOD: All right.
Governor, I wanted to ask you how you expect Republican primary voters to make this choice among the top candidates. You've got Rudy Giuliani saying the other night at that debate that it's about executive experience, which you and he have. Fred Thompson's talking about becoming the real Reagan conservative in this race. He's also from the South, and four out of our five elected presidents have been from the South. Why shouldn't Republicans, if you all are close on the issues, go with the one who may be more electable for that reason?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I don't think you could assess right now who is the person who's the most electable. I think that'll be determined through the primary process. But I do believe that you have to have somebody who has experience leading and managing and guiding a large institution.
I spent my life, first of all, in the private sector; I'm not a life-long politician. Then I became involved in the Olympics and helped run those games and turned them around. And then I went to Massachusetts as a governor and helped lead a large -- a large entity there. And I think you need to have that experience in leadership and management if you're going to manage the largest enterprise in the world through some very difficult times.
And frankly, it would be helpful to have people who understand how the economy works -- how jobs are created and how jobs are lost. I think I'm the only guy -- I may be wrong here, but I think I'm the only guy on either side of the aisle running for president who has extensive life experience in the private sector. And we're going to have to have a strong economy and strong job growth in this country if we're going to remain the superpower of the world.
MR. HARWOOD: And, Governor, what's the policy difference, though, that people can look at and say he's on the right track, the others are not?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, a couple of things. We talked about immigration tonight, and there's a big difference between us there. I think Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain are wrong in saying that all those that have come here illegally, unless they have committed a crime, should be able to stay. I think that's a mistake.
But there are other places of difference. One is my tax plan. I believe that middle-income Americans -- and that's $200,000 and less per household -- should be able to save their money tax-free. I think we should encourage the development of a savings mentality in this country among our citizens that allows people to be able to buy homes with a good downpayment that they saved money for, pay for college. These kinds of incentives for savings is something -- are something which I think distinguish us.
MR. HARWOOD: One background question, Governor. Why is it that you opposed, in 1996, the flat tax? A lot of conservatives think, ultimately, that's the right way go -- hard to get there, but that's the right choice.
Why were you against it?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, there was one aspect that I thought would be very troublesome and unlikely to be accepted at the federal level by both parties, and that was that the very, very wealthy -- the people who sit back and clip coupons, who have very substantial investments -- would pay no taxes at all. People like Bill Gates and Steve Forbes, for that matter, under his plan, would pay no taxes. And I just don't think that's acceptable to the American people either politically or any other way for that matter, and I thought that would have been a very difficult position for our party to adopt.
MS. BURNETT: Governor Romney, we are here today with a special show actually because we have the CEO of John Deere with us -- Bob Lane, obviously one of the great American export success stories in dealing with the American heartland. And he has a question for you as well.
So go ahead, Bob.
MR. LANE: Hello, Governor. Nice to talk to you.
MR. ROMNEY: Thanks. Good to chat with you.
MR. LANE: Thank you. I think Iowa's fairly important to you these days, and you probably know that John Deere has major investments -- we've been investing heavily in Waterloo and Dubuque and Davenport, and I have operations throughout the state.
And with all these jobs that are building product to ship around the world in Iowa, I think you know the importance of the global trading system, where the U.S. can benefit, the worldwide countries with whom we work can benefit. It's kind of a win-win deal.
But there's a lot of assault on the trading system today. What, if you are elected president, would you do to help the Americans embrace the importance of, really, free trade that would allow us to keep creating these jobs in Iowa, for example?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, first of all, congratulations on your success as corporate leader and as a company. And I do see your factories across Iowa as I go and I see a lot of green tractors everywhere I go.
MR. LANE: Thank you.
MR. ROMNEY: And by the way, I've got a John Deere compact tractor at my home as well, so --
MR. LANE: Well, thank you.
MR. ROMNEY: -- your products are -- (chuckles) -- your products are well-received.
There's no question but that trade enhances the incomes of the American people. It's been calculated that approximately $9,000 of additional income is earned by American families by virtue of the fact that we have trade around the world. So we don't want to stop trade; we want to continue the growth of trade.
At the same time we want to make sure that countries like China abide by the kind of rules that are fair and equitable across the world. We don't want them to have their currency pegged on a basis that's not competitive with what would happen in a -- on a free- floating basis. And likewise, we want to make sure they protect their intellectual property rights and that they have safety standards that assure their products can be brought into this market without us worrying about our health and well-being.
So those things are going to have to be done, and the American people, I think, recognize that as long as those elements are put in place, trade is a great source of vitality for us. And we're not going to retreat to putting barriers up. Putting barriers up would do to us what it did to the Soviet Union, and that is cause economic, you know, weakness.
MS. BURNETT: All right. Well, Governor --
MR. HARWOOD: Governor, could I ask you one more question on trade? Do you have any difference with the way President Bush has conducted policy? Or would you continue the same as the Bush administration has done, which follows some of the principles you just mentioned?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, there's no question that Hank Paulson, the secretary of the Treasury, is working very hard to get the Chinese to move on the trade issues, the specific trade issues I just described. We're going to have to be successful doing that.
I also think that the Bush administration, in the efforts they've carried out with Colombia and Panama and Peru to establish trade relations, are taking exactly the right course. And I can't believe that Democrats in Congress are afraid of trading with Colombia, Panama and Peru. We need to extend our relations of trade, not cut them off. It makes us more successful, and it also brings those nations closer to the kind of free market and democratic principles that enhance the world's stability.
MS. BURNETT: Governor Romney, we all appreciate your being with us today. Thank you so much.
MR. ROMNEY: Thanks, Erin, John, Bob. Good to be with you.