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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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Much more ahead on the Republican battle for the White House. Up next, my interview with the presidential candidate and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. I'll ask him about the growing controversy over the future of Social Security here in the United States and what he plans to do about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jon Huntsman had his work cut out for him during the CNN Tea Party debate this week. He is trying to make end roads with voters before the first presidential contest five months from now.

I spoke with the former U.S. ambassador to China and followed up on many of the heated topics we addressed during the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about Social Security first. If you were president, how you would make sure that our children and grandchildren would continue to get Social Security?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'd begin with a conversation like I had with the large group of seniors today and that is not to scare them with language that tends to turn off voters, but rather put forward ideas.

Like the idea that we can look at the underlying assumptions for inflation and peg it more to the consumer price index, like the idea question take Social Security now that we're living three decades longer than somebody in 1900.

And maybe take it out to the 85th percentile of the average age of life. And third, Wolf, I have to tell you, there are a whole lot of people in this country beyond a certain income category who probably don't need Social Security.

They would be the first ones to stand up and probably applaud if a politician was courageous enough to say let's get the numbers right. Let's maybe draw a line in the sand where people really don't need it. They can afford to do otherwise.

And let's begin fixing the numbers to secure it for future generations. The fixes are there. We just don't have the political leadership to move us forward.

BLITZER: Well, those are courageous positions you're taking because on the cost of living, for example, in effect that means less money for retirees, right?

HUNTSMAN: That's correct.

BLITZER: And on the issue of means testing, people pay into Social Security all their lives. If you earn a certain income, you wouldn't necessarily get Social Security. Where would that cut-off point be?

HUNTSMAN: Well, we would have to work out those details. But let me just say, I would be willing to have that conversation with the American people. You can find the cut-off and it would be in the spirit, Wolf, of shared sacrifice.

Everyone has to recognize that given entitlements where they are today, given the fact that this economy is sucking wind and we've hit the wall, we have no choice. People have to stand up and they have to hear the president say that it's going to require a little bit of shared sacrifice.

We haven't started that conversation, but I believe part of it will be exactly what I've outlined in broad strokes here.

BLITZER: So from 65 to 67. What age do you think would be a good age not necessarily for the current retirees, but for 10 years down the road, 70? Is that what you want to raise the age to?

HUNTSMAN: Well, let's just say that we're living longer with each passing year and the benefits of science and health is all a very good thing. Let's face it to the 85th percentile of the average length of life. And use that as kind of a moving scale. I think that would be a good place to start this conversation.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another sensitive issue that came up during the debate we all had Monday night in Tampa. The HPV vaccine, the vaccine that in Texas the governor by executive order Rick Perry mandated that 11 and 12-year-old girls get this vaccine.

It's a sexually -- to deal with a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer. Michelle Bachmann as you well know was very critical of him on this. Who is right, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann?

HUNTMAN: Well, let me just say that whoever comes down against mandates, I think is on the side of where the American public are. Parents and guardians can make choices. Mandates do not have a role predominantly in these kinds of issues whether it's health care reform or whether it's what we are discussing here.

I think American people -- the American people are very skeptical of mandates in society. They want freedom. They want the freedom. They want the freedom to choose these things. And I think Rick came out courageously and basically said that he had erred and basically took back that earlier decision he made.

BLITZER: One final question on this. Michelle Bachmann, one of your rivals, she says that she spoke to someone, a woman who told her that her daughter became mentally retarded after getting that HPV vaccine. A lot of scientists, almost everyone saying that was totally irresponsible. No evidence for that. What do you make of that?

HUNTSMAN: Well, if you're going to say something, just check your sources. Get your information right. If you're going to run for president of the United States, people are pretty much going to want to rely on your facts. They're going to want to rely it is on what you're presenting. And you're darn well better make sure that it's consistent with reality.

BLITZER: Is she qualified to be president of the United States?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think she meets the constitutional requirements, of course.

BLITZER: The constitution is one thing. But in terms of her experience, her expertise, her knowledge, is she ready to become commander in chief?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I would never go beyond what the constitution requires. Leave that up to the people to decide. They always typically make the best choices.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, good luck.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor Huntsman.

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