Jon Huntsman Part 4: The Fiscal Cliff and the US Election

08/31/2012 8:30 am EST

Focus: POLITICS concludes its interview with former ambassador, governor, and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman with a discussion of the fiscal cliff, the lack of leadership in Washington, and the viability of a third party in America, as well as his own chances of running for president again.

[Note: This interview was conducted just before Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney selected Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.] The US is now approaching what everyone’s calling a fiscal cliff—when big spending cuts kick in just as payroll tax cuts and the Bush tax cuts expire. Do you think Congress and the president—whoever he is—will find a solution in time?

Jon Huntsman: We have to find a solution to meet our spending obligations, and I think both sides on Capitol Hill are going to be smart enough in the short term to at least come up with a patchwork in addressing our spending needs that will carry us well into next year. I don’t think either side wants any major problem or fingers pointed at a government shutdown. So, there will likely be a pathway worked out that takes us probably into the first or second quarter of next year.

The only long-term solution that I think is viable is tax reform, and if we were to take the Simpson-Bowles approach to tax reform, for example, it puts a limit on spending, it deals rationally with tax policy, it looks at cutting spending in every category, including defense. You can’t have an intellectually honest conversation about spending cuts without including the Department of Defense as well. And it was done most importantly on a bipartisan basis, which means it was scrubbed by both sides. Simpson-Bowles takes $4 trillion out of spending over the next ten years. So, that would include revenue increases?

Jon Huntsman: That would include revenue increases that are part of Simpson-Bowles, and that again has been the hang-up on the Republican side. But let’s face it, you need a deal at the end of the day.

It’s OK during a campaign to stand proud behind your principles 100% of the time, but at the end of the day you’ve got to make the country function, and you’re going to have to cut some sort of budget deal that both sides can rally around. That was the spirit with which Simpson-Bowles was rolled out, and it’s still there. I’m surprised we haven’t had our leaders embrace it. Last August, at a debate in Iowa, you were one of eight Republican presidential candidates who raised their hands when asked if they would reject a budget deal in which there was $1 in revenue increases for every $10 in spending cuts. Do you think part of the problem is that both parties have litmus tests or loyalty oaths, and unless you sign on the dotted line you won’t get re-elected or you’ll face a primary challenge? How do we break that cycle?

Jon Huntsman: You break the cycles by getting realistic about the nature of the problem as the campaign winds to an end. As you get closer to the end point, I think it’s increasingly important to focus on the needs of the people of this country—put politics aside, and find solutions as opposed to political talking points.

That’s what elections are all about, when the two finalists—our incumbent president and the Republican challenger—are going to be able to put forward concrete, visionary proposals that have some chance of success in Congress.

NEXT: The Leadership Void and Prospects for a Third Party

PAGE 2 But have we seen those kinds of visionary proposals, either from the president or Gov. Romney?

Jon Huntsman: No. We have no leadership today, and that’s part of the problem. When there’s a leadership void, you have an ideas void—there’s no talk about tax reform, there’s no talk about dealing with spending cuts that would be fair and balanced in the sense that you deal with Medicare, Social Security, an you also have to look at the Department of Defense.

We need to tackle what I think is the biggest challenge of all, and that’s long-term competitiveness. When you start talking about long-term competitiveness, it doesn’t take long to realize that to be a competitive 21st Century nation, you’ve got to have an education policy that works, you’ve got to have infrastructure that helps products, people, and services get around, and you’ve got to focus less on the debacles in the Middle East and more and more on the Asia-Pacific region, because that will be where for the rest of the 21st Century two-thirds of our trade flows. Would you consider running for president again, as a Republican or as a third-party candidate?

Jon Huntsman: Well, let me just say you have to be pretty crazy to do it the first time, and probably downright nuts to do it a second time. We’re still getting the first experience out of our system, and we’ll have to see.

It’s an exhausting process, but it’s also exhilarating to draw energy from the people, as Bill Clinton used to talk about. Do you think a third party is viable in the US at all?

Jon Huntsman: I believe it’s inevitable—not this election cycle, maybe not the next election cycle, but duopolies don’t last forever. You have a convergence of technology which has never before been harnessed properly for politics. Someone’s got to crack the code on that and figure out how to use the Internet for organizing, for fundraising, for dissemination of one’s message. And I think you’re going to see continued frustration on the part of the American people.

The fastest growing party in America today is the unaffiliated party. And increasingly as I go to college campuses, I find that young people—who are our nation’s future—are unaffiliated. That would suggest that a third party or some alternative will be inevitable. Would you be part of that?

Jon Huntsman: I can’t say today. I’ve been a Republican my entire career, even if they don’t accept me sometimes. I’m an old-fashioned Republican who believes in what Abraham Lincoln espoused, and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan...[who comprised] a very diverse set of ideologies. But you never know what the future holds.

Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of our four-part interview with Gov. Huntsman.

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