By O.Kay Henderson
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich met early this morning with 21 members of "The Conservative Breakfast Club" -- a group of Des Moines-area men who meet on Tuesdays at The Des Moines Golf and Country Club. The group met this Friday, at the bar in The Wakonda Club (which, like the DMGCC is a private club). The meeting with Gingrich was arranged yesterday.
Gingrich stood just in front of the Wakonda Club's wooden bar, as the 21 men in the audience sat at round tables covered with white table cloths. He began by saying it was "fascinating to watch the process in D.C." over the debt ceiling, and Gingrich declared: "Everyone seems paralyzed."
Gingrich brought up President Obama's assertion that he didn't know if Social Security checks would go out in August if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Gingrich called that "fundamentally dishonest" and "fairly pathetic politics." Gingrich later said Obama was either guilty of "radicalism run amok or pure incompetence."
Gingrich suggested House Republicans pass a one-month extension, to get through the month of August. Gingrich also suggested forcing agency chiefs to lay off 10 percent of their staff; some up with some system to lay off "the least important" staff in government; or close some federal agencies altogether.
He next spent a good deal of time discussing his book, Stop Paying the Crooks, and its focus on federal health care system. Gingrich then said Obama was practicing "class warfare" by calling for higher taxes on wealthy Americans.
At this point Gingrich offered a stark pivot, telling the group: "Washington's number one job should be the economy, not the deficit." He outlined what he described as a "practical, workmanlike approach" to economic growth, including a variety of tax cuts (100 percent "expensing" for businesses, for example, that would allow a business to deduct all its capital investments in a single year rather than adhering to a multi-year depreciation schedule). "House Republicans ought to be aggressively passing legislation," like that, according to Gingrich.
Gingrich next spent some time on the history of mid-1990s negotiations between Republican congressional leaders and Democratic President Bill Clinton. Gingrich described it as "brass knuckles" bargaining that yielded capitulation from Clinton on a variety of budget-cutting moves he would never have backed before. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested Gingrich and Company made a tactical error back then that allowed Clinton to win reelection, and the GOP leaders of today intend to do what's necessary avoid that outcome. I asked Gingrich about that. This is his reply:
"We just disagree," Gingrich replied to the McConnell criticism. "First of all, I think that as Robert Reich points out this morning, you have to look at the way the economy was accelerating and you have to ask yourself the question, Clinton walks in and says at the State of the Union, "The era of big government is over.' He signs welfare reform. We are negotiating the things that move us to a balanced budget. I mean, he had decided we were strategically right and for him to survive, he had to co-opt us. Now, if you say to me so Barack Obama gets to a balanced budget with no new taxes and has the economy growing and has the unemployment rate dropped to 6 percent, would he probably get re-elected? Sure, but, I mean, it wouldn't be Barack Obama. So, I don't think you can take the two examples. The reelection of the House party for the first time since 1928 was a truly historic achievement and I also would say that you've got to have a nominee that can debate head-to-head and carry our side of the story. I mean, if we nominate somebody that's not able to debate with Obama, we'll lose the election."
Gingrich told The Conservative Breakfast Group this "melt-down" over the debt ceiling comes at a time when "people want the country fixed, not the politicians."
When Gingrich opened it up to questions, someone asked how he was different from Mitt Romney. "It's not about Mitt or Michele or Rick Perry if he gets in," Gingrich replied, adding that his "principle opponent is Barack Obama." Gingrich did say none of his competitors for the GOP presidential nomination had "balanced the federal budget before."
Another man asked Gingrich about his "personal time off" and the uproar when Gingrich returned from his extended vacation overseas (most of the Gingrich campaign staff resigned). "I'm going to take more time off," Gingrich vowed, saying Ronald Reagan had vacationed about one out of the eight years of his presidency. "These guys have no perspective," Gingrich said of his rivals for the 2012 nomination, saying he had benefitted from visiting Greece and seeing America from afar. " This is very hard to get across to the political news media. You need time to think."
Gingrich was also asked if he supported term limits. Gingrich made a passionate argument against term limits, citing California as an example of how the full-time "professional class" of government bureaucrats and lobbyists are able to control things when there are term limits, but Gingrich concluded by saying 12 years seems o.k. to him as a term limit and he's supported that in the past.
The 21 people in the crowd didn't interrupt Gingrich at any point with applause, but they did applaud when Gingrich stood up to speak and after he concluded his remarks with his "I want you to be with me, not for me" closing argument. The men did laugh at one point, however, when Gingrich quipped that he does most of his speeches without a teleprompter.