Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee participated in GOP presidential candidate debates four years ago. Now he can sit and watch others. Here are some edited excerpts of my interview of him.
Should Republican candidates be anti-government? Republicans are not anti-government. Republicans believe in government, believe that it should be limited, and, to the extent that it can be, local. They do not believe that it should be centralized. It should be decentralized and moved out to the closest place of the people being governed.
When should the federal government be involved in a domestic policy problem? Only when there is no practical way for it to be solved at the individual, the family, the community, or the church level. Only when it escapes all the strata below should it ever end up at the federal level. Seeing where individual responsibility stops and when the government picks up is more of an art than a science. People want to make very simplistic sort of slogan approaches to policy, and when you really get into issues it's a little more complicated than that.
Ok, as an example of a complication, how do you reason through the question of whether the federal government should tell people what they should eat? Government should not tell you what to eat and what not to eat, or whether to put salt on your food or whether you can put sugar on top of your cereal. But the government is already involved in what you eat by the way it subsidizes certain products and doesn't subsidize others. If the government is subsidizing high fructose corn syrup and making it a very cheap commodity, the manufacturers are going to put more of that in your food than they are fresh fruits and vegetables.
Are school lunches already an example of federal reach? If you go to a school cafeteria, the government is already involved in saying what you should eat by saying what's going to be on the menu. The ingredients are FDA-certified, subsidized commodities sent at either low or no cost to that school. So the government has in essence decided a lot of those things that those kids were going to eat. What if the government decided that a lot of what they sent was going to be healthy? If a kid is going to eat a meal at school, and we've already decided that he is, shouldn't that meal be a little healthier than something that is filled with sodium and sugar?
Turning from food to money: Grover Norquist has for years pushed candidates to sign his no new taxes pledge. Would you want all GOP presidential candidates to sign a no new bailouts pledge? I would love that. And I would love for all the potential candidates to have to pledge whether they supported the previous bailouts, and they would have to go on record, because a lot of them who would say it is a bad idea now would have to explain why they thought it was such a great idea back in 2008. And let's be very clear: Republicans who sponsored and put forward that 2008 bailout teed it up so that Obama and the Democrats could do one in 2009. We had the stimulus bill and all the bailouts because it was hard for the Republicans to say, oh no, we don't believe in bailouts on principle. They'd already violated their principles.
What should GOP presidential candidates say about any future bailout proposals? We are not going to take money from people who are responsible, people who've worked very hard, who've saved, and been thoughtful and good stewards of their money and their businesses. We're not going to take their money and give it to people who've recklessly mismanaged their businesses, who've changed the dynamics of investing from investing in the real value of goods and services to speculation.
What should candidates suggest as a way to encourage stewardship rather than speculation on Wall Street? Make sure that the government does not aid and abet irresponsible behavior. Tell speculators, "You're not going to get any taxpayer money, and you're not going to get tax breaks for what you lose."
Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, received her Ph.D. at Columbia and then taught constitutional law both at Columbia and at Vassar. She has twice been a leader in the fight against nationalized healthcare, first in 1993 in opposition to Hillarycare, and in the past two years versus Obamacare.
What is this huge prop you've brought along? The Obama healthcare law. It is 2,700 pages long. A 20-page document in plain English would have been sufficient. The entire federal government was established in 18 pages.
Have you read it all? Yes. I've put these blue tabs in.
Why should voters care? First, Obamacare shreds your constitutional rights. It requires you to join up. It broadens the powers of the IRS to penalize you. The Constitution cannot require you to buy anything. Second, section 13.11 of this law changes how doctors may treat privately insured patients: Doctors will be forced to choose between keeping the patient well and the government happy. Third, the law makes it difficult for companies to hire long term because of the strictures on companies larger than 50 employees.
If the healthcare bill were only 20 pages long, what would you put in it? First, tort reform, which would not cap damage awards but would establish medical courts. Second, for those patients with preexisting conditions who cannot otherwise get insurance, it would help the states by making block grants to them to establish high-risk pools. Third, it would free the public to buy health insurance across state lines. Overexpensive states would quickly change their laws.
Does the Obamacare legislation do anything right? It has provisions for those high-risk pools that I mentioned. The fallacy is that you need 2,700 pages of Constitution-violating rights just to get those good things.
As we wait for the Supreme Court to rule on Obamacare and for voters to rule on President Obama, what should we realize about our current insurance system? Most Americans are overinsured. You pay a big premium at the beginning of the month or quarter, and then you hope you get sick, so you can get your money's worth. Adding routine doctor's visits to insurance raises costs by some 33 percent; if you were to just pay visit by visit, and save insurance for those catastrophic cases, health costs would be lower overall. Premiums would be lower. There would be more freedom. Doctors wouldn't have to spend as much on paperwork. Save the insurance for the big items.