By John Toole
Mitt Romney is out of the business world these days, but business is very much on his mind.
Romney wants to help business. In helping business, he thinks the United States will grow jobs and find its way out of the current economic mess.
"I understand how business works and am intent on making this the most attractive place for enterprise, small and large," Romney said. "I want America to be the most pro-business, pro-investment, pro-jobs nation in the world."
Romney, 64, is the former governor of Massachusetts, a man who once led the Olympic games in the U.S. He met with The Eagle-Tribune editorial board for more than an hour last week to talk about his run for president.
Romney admits he is a different candidate than the one who lost to John McCain four years ago in the 2008 race for the Republican nomination.
"You learn from losses," Romney said.
He learned not only from his loss to McCain, but also his loss in a Senate race to Ted Kennedy, he said.
"I'm one of those hard learners," Romney said. "I've got to lose once or twice to figure out what to do right."
What he's learned is that, unlike business, a lot of what happens in politics is out of your control. He's learned, too, to deliver a clear message. Romney said a candidate has to say what he believes, express his convictions, describe his experience.
"If the American people want that group of qualities, then you get elected," Romney said. "If they don't, you don't."
The political lessons have enabled him to, in his words, be a little more calm. He knows he has a great life, a great wife, children and grandchildren who love him. There's always business, too.
"I'm focused on telling people what I believe, honestly and directly," Romney said. "If they like it, wonderful."
Besides, Romney thinks the time is right for him.
"Today the issue America cares about most is the economy," Romney said. "It's a time which is more geared to someone for whom the economy is their wheelhouse, like me."
Romney said he is worried about the country's future.
"I'm really concerned for my grandkids," Romney said. "Kids in their early teens and younger. What will America be like for them? Will there be jobs there?"
There are tough challenges ahead, he said, but the American people not only are up to the challenges, they will welcome the sacrifices to meet them. That means working together, working longer and harder, taking risks, he said.
"As a people, we like being called to do something great," Romney said. "Politicians have been getting elected by promising free stuff. We like that, too, but not as much as we like being called to greatness and sacrifice and service."
Romney said he believes the people are looking for a leader to restore America to greatness.
They are optimistic and patriotic, he said.
They also are disappointed
"I think they are badly disappointed with this president," Romney said. "He's been a disappointment. Both internationally he's failed and domestically."
Unemployment is extremely high and in one term President Obama has stacked up as much debt as all other presidents combined, Romney said.
"It's a presidency that is now casting about to blame somebody," Romney said.
He has no use for a second stimulus from Obama.
"It's too late for a stimulus," he said. "We need a fundamental restructuring of America's economy to make sure we're a competitive economy that attracts employers, investment, entrepreneurs and jobs."
Romney would build economic recovery around seven categories, what he describes as "the seven habits of highly effective economies."
He would lower taxes on business.
"I'd bring our corporate employer tax rates down at least to the level of competing nations," Romney said.
He would loosen regulation to encourage free enterprise, rather than burden it.
"Streamline, update, modernize regulation and get regulators to see business as their friend and their ally," Romney said.
CEOs have told Romney that paying taxes and complying with regulatory policies, as well as energy expenses, cost them nearly 18 percent more here than doing business in foreign countries.
"You can't sustain that kind of difference," Romney said. "Slowly but surely, that kills us."
Romney wants more foreign trade, agreements with other nations to open more markets. He wants to crack down on competitor nations that unfairly undercut America.
"China is cheating," Romney said. "You have to say, 'stop.'"
He would develop energy resources within the borders to reduce the amount of money the nation is spending on foreign providers.
Romney also said the country needs to follow the rule of law. He faults Obama for packing the National Labor Relations Board with what he calls "labor stooges."
He said he would invest in human capital.
"Our schools are failing," Romney said.
He would work to restore confidence in the nation's economy.
"That means you have to ultimately show the world we are prepared to balance our budget," Romney said.
He would tackle the deficit by getting the economy going, to boost revenue, and rein in spending.
"Obamacare has to be repealed," Romney said of the health system reforms passed by Congress under Obama. "It's a trillion dollars in spending we can't afford."
Romney would bring discretionary federal spending back to 2008 levels, give block grants to the states to manage Medicaid and reduce federal employment at least 10 percent.
"I would do it through attrition," he said.
He also would tie federal pay to earnings in the private sector, saying it's unacceptable to pay government workers more than the taxpayers who pay their wages.
Romney wants no changes in Social Security for current retirees or those nearing retirement. He would reform Social Security by raising the retirement age slowly over a long period and lower benefits for higher income recipients.
Romney said he will outline a Medicare reform plan later, but thinks Congressman Paul Ryan's idea of a premium support program is "a good start" and that managed care would make sense.
Health care needs to be more consumer driven, Romney said. Consumers making choices will mean lower cost and higher quality, he said. He likes health savings accounts.
Romney is unapologetic for the Massachusetts health insurance system that Democrats, and some Republican foes, have described as "Romneycare."
"I'm proud of it," Romney said. "It works well in Massachusetts in some respects."
Romney concedes were he governor today, there would be changes. He also doesn't want to bind other states to the Massachusetts' model, preferring they come up with their own answers.
"Was it a step forward?" he said. "Yes."
Romney wants a strong national defense.
"I always want us to have a military so strong no one even thinks about trying to test it," Romney said.
On foreign policy, he believes Obama has left Israel in a precarious position and backed away from the George W. Bush policy of encouraging representative government in allied nations.
"He pulled back from the freedom agenda," Romney said. "I don't know what his agenda was. We've lost a great deal of influence."
Romney also believes Obama should have been tougher on Iran's development of nuclear weapons, through crippling sanctions and robust communication to Iran regarding the perils of such a path, including a military response.
Iranians should be warned what would happen if materials for making nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorists and are used.
"The response from America will not just be to the people who used it," Romney said. "It will also be to the people who supplied it. You don't want to be in the circle of suspects."