CNBC Transcript of 'Your Money, Your Vote' Republican Presidential Debate
HUNTSMAN: And I do agree that we have institutions, banks that are too big to fail in this country. And until we address that problem -- we can fix taxes. We can fix the regulatory environment. We can move toward energy independence. So long as we have instant banks (ph) that are too big to fail, we are setting ourselves up for long-term disaster and failure.
HARWOOD: So, Governor, you agree with Governor Romney that the bailout that Governor Snyder supports in Michigan was a mistake?
HUNTSMAN: The bailout here in the auto sector, $68 billion worth, we are going to end up footing a bill -- Governor Snyder knows that -- of probably $15 billion when all is said and done. I don't think that's a good use of taxpayer money.
Instead, there ought to be some way of taking the auto sector through some sort of reorganization, get them back on their feet. The people in this country are sick and tired of seeing taxpayer dollars go toward bailouts, and we're not going to have it anymore in this country.
CRAMER: Governor Romney, do you believe public companies have any social responsibility to create jobs, or do you believe, as Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, the most important, most influential conservative economist of the 20th century held, that corporations should exist solely to create maximum profit for their shareholders?
ROMNEY: This is a wonderful philosophical debate. But you know what? We don't have to decide between the two, because they go together.
Our Democratic friends think when a corporation is profitable, that's a bad thing. I remember asking someone, "Where do you think profits go? When you hear that a company is profitable, where do you think it goes?" And they said, "Well, to pay the executives their big bonuses."
I said, "No, actually, none of it goes to pay the executives. Profit is what is left over after they have all been paid."
What happens with profit is that you can grow the business. You can expand it. You have working capital and you hire people.
The right thing for America is to have profitable enterprises that can hire people. I want to make American businesses successful and thrive.
What we have in Washington today is a president and an administration that doesn't like business, that somehow thinks they want jobs, but they don't like businesses. Look, I want to see our businesses thrive and grow and expand and be profitable. I want to see more --
CRAMER: Governor Perry, 30 seconds to you.
Do you think that companies can both be profitable and be able to create jobs? Do you think it's a dichotomy? Do you think they can do it?
PERRY: There better be. And that's the reason the tax plan that I laid out, a 20 percent flat tax on the personal side and a 20 percent corporate tax rate, that will get people working in this country. We need to go out there and stick a big old flag in the middle of America that says "Open for business again."
CRAMER: Mr. Speaker, how about to you, can corporations do both?
GINGRICH: Sure. Look, obviously, corporations can and should do both. And what is amazing to me is the inability of much of our academic world and much of our news media and most of the people on Occupy Wall Street to have a clue about history.
GINGRICH: In this town, Henry Ford started as an Edison Electric supervisor who went home at night and built his first car in the garage. Now, was he in the 99 percent or the one percent?
Bill Gates drops out of college to found Microsoft. Is he in the one percent or the 99 percent?
Historically, this is the richest country in the history of the world because corporations succeed in creating both profits and jobs, and it's sad that the news media doesn't report accurately how the economy works.
BARTIROMO: Mr. Speaker -- I'm sorry, but what is the media reporting inaccurately about the economy?
BARTIROMO: What is the media reporting inaccurately about the economy?
GINGRICH: I love humor disguised as a question. That's terrific.
I have yet to hear a single reporter ask a single Occupy Wall Street person a single rational question about the economy that would lead them to say, for example, "Who is going to pay for the park you are occupying if there are no businesses making a profit?"
CRAMER: Senator Santorum, I want to talk about a high-quality problem our country has.
I just came back from North Dakota. We have made the largest oil discovery in a generation there. Not only is it a -- the find a big step toward creating energy independence, it stands to create as many as 300,000 jobs. But what the guys tell me up there is that they can't handle the rush without federal help.
Would you favor incentives, incentives to get workers and businesses to where the jobs are to support this boom?
SANTORUM: No, because we have done it in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has Marcellus Shale. It took a while for us to ramp up, but we're drilling 3,000 to 4,000 wells.
The price of natural gas, because of Marcellus Shale, which is the second largest natural gas find in the world, has gone from $12 to $3.65. And we let the marketplace work. So, no, we didn't have the federal government come in and bail us out.
I want to make the point about manufacturing jobs again, because if you're -- if you're talking about creating jobs that trickle down, I agree with Newt. We have folks who have innovators. But he always -- he talked about innovators that -- that created jobs for blue- collar workers. The unemployment rate among non-college-educated is well into the double digits in America. It's 4 percent or 5 percent for people who have college degrees.
The reason I put forth this manufacturing plan is not just so we can say "Made Here in America," that we can create opportunities for everyone in America, including those that don't have that college skill set, people who built this country, like my grandfather, who was a coal miner. So -- so that is a very important part that Republicans, unfortunately, are not talking about.
We need to talk about income mobility. We need to talk about people at the bottom of the -- of the income scale being able to get necessary skills and rise so they can support themselves and a family. And that's what manufacturing does, and that's why I'm laser-beam focused on it.
BARTIROMO: Let's get back to tax reform. Mr. Cain, let's talk fairness in taxation. Ever since this country started taxing income 100 years ago, our system charges those people who make more money a higher rate than those people who make less money. Governor Perry has said he doesn't believe in that approach, and your 9-9-9 plan suggests you don't, either.
Why now, when the higher income group is doing better than the rest of America, is the time to switch to the same rate for all of us?
CAIN: My proposal is the only one that solves the problem by throwing out the current tax code, which has been a mess for decades, and we need to put in something different that I proposed, 9-9-9. It satisfies five simple criteria. It is simple. The complexity costs us $430 billion a year. It is transparent. People know what it is. There are thousands of hidden sneak-a-taxes in the current tax code. That's why I want to throw it out.
It is fair. The reason it's fair is because of the definition in Webster which says everybody gets treated the same. All businesses get treated the same, not having Washington, D.C., pick winners and losers. This is why I have proposed a bold plan of 9-9-9, 9 percent business flat tax, 9 percent tax on personal income, and a 9 percent national sales tax. It treats everybody the same. And it will boost this economy.
BARTIROMO: How do you ensure that, when the government needs more revenue, that the sales tax doesn't go up and that plan doesn't turn in 19-19-19?
CAIN: Tax codes do not raise taxes. Politicians do.
And as long as (inaudible) the people will hold the politicians' feet to the fire. It's not the code that raises taxes. It's the politicians, because the code -- because the approach, 9-9-9, would be very visible, the American people are going to hold the rates at 9.
HARWOOD: Governor Romney, Mr. Cain's got a flat tax. Rick Perry's got a flat tax. Congresswoman Bachmann is talking about a flat tax. You don't have a flat tax. You're proposing to preserve the Bush-era tax rates. What is wrong with the idea that we should go to one rate? Why do you believe in a progressive tax system?
ROMNEY: Well, I would like to see our tax rates flatter. I'd like to see our code simpler. I'd like to see the special breaks that we have in the code taken out. That's one of the reasons why I take the corporate rate from 35 down to 25, is to take out some of the special deals that are there.
With regards to our tax code, what I want to do is to take our precious dollars as a nation and focus them on the people in this country that have been hurt the most, and that's the middle class. The Obama economy has really crushed middle-income Americans.
This president has failed us so badly, we have 26 million people out of work, working part-time jobs that need full-time work, or stopped looking for work altogether. Median incomes have dropped 10 percent in the last three years. At the same time, gasoline prices are up, food prices are up, health care costs are up.
And so what I want to do is help the people who've been hurt the most, and that's the middle class. So what I do is focus a substantial tax break on middle-income Americans. Ultimately, I'd love to see -- see us come up with a plan that simplifies the code and lowers rates for everybody. But right now, let's get the job done first that has to be done immediately. Let's lower the tax rates on middle-income Americans. HARWOOD: Congresswoman Bachmann, Governor Romney is accepting the premises of the Democratic argument that you have to have a fair approach to taxation that preserves different rates for different people. Why is he wrong?
BACHMANN: Well, I would say President Obama is the one that's wrong, because President Obama's plan for job creation has absolutely nothing to do with the true people who know how to create jobs. He should really be going to job-creators if he wants to know how to create jobs. Instead, he continues to go to a General Axelrod in Chicago to look for his orders to figure out how to deal with the economy. That won't work.
We know what needs to be done. We have a real problem. When you have 53 percent of Americans paying federal income taxes, but you have 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, you have a real problem.
And that's why in my tax plan, I have everyone paying something because everyone benefits by this magnificent country. So even if it means paying the price of two Happy Meals a year, like $10, everyone can afford to pay at least that.
And what it does is create a mentality in the United States that says that freedom is free. But freedom isn't free. We all benefit. We all need to sacrifice. Everybody has to be a part of this tax code.
BARTIROMO: Congressman Ron Paul...
BARTIROMO: ... you have said you want to close down agencies. Tell us about your tax plan as well as closing agencies -- federal agencies. Where do those jobs go?
PAUL: Well, eventually they go into the private sector. Then don't all leave immediately when the plan goes into effect. But what my plan does is it addresses taxes in a little different way.
We are talking about the tax code. But that's the consequence, that's the symptom. The disease is spending. Every time you spend, spending is a tax. We tax the people, we borrow, and then we print the money and the prices go up, and that is a tax.
So you have to address the subject of spending. That is the tax. That is the reason I go after the spending. I propose in the first year cut $1 trillion out of the budget in five departments.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) PAUL: Now the other thing is that you must do if you want to get the economy going and going again is you have to get rid of price- fixing. And the most significant price-fixing that goes on, that gave us the bubble, destroyed the economy, and is preventing this from coming out, is the price-fixing of the Federal Reserve, manipulating interest rates way below market rates.
You have to have the market determine interest rates if you want a healthy, viable economy.
BARTIROMO: So you think the economy would be stronger if interest rates were higher right now?
PAUL: You would have more incentive. You would take care of the elderly. They get cheated. They get nothing for their CDs. Why cheat them and give the banks loans at zero percent? And then they loan it back to the government at 3 percent. They are ripping us off at the expense of those on fixed incomes and retirees.
BARTIROMO: Even though higher interest rates would make it much more expensive to borrow, mortgages.
PAUL: But you want is the market to determine this. Whoever thought that one person, the Federal Reserve Board chairman, knows what the money supply should be? Just in the past six months, M1 has gone up at the rate of 30 percent. That spells inflation. That spells lower standard of living and higher prices and watch out. They are coming.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BARTIROMO: We are just getting started tonight. When we return, how will the candidates breathe new life into the lifeless housing market?
HARWOOD: Plus, the view of the economy from the corner office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): I think we are in serious trouble. Business people are struggling.
(UNKNOWN): The problems in the economy didn't arrive in 20 minutes and they won't be resolved in 20 minutes.
(UNKNOWN): The most important economic issue of concern to me is lack of leadership in government, and the lack of any focus on building confidence both with consumers and the business community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARWOOD: So how are the candidates going to turn things around? CNBC's "Republican Presidential Debate" will be right back. Stay with us.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BARTIROMO: Welcome back to be CNBC's Republican Presidential Debate.
With us for this portion of the program, CNBC's senior economic reporter, Steve Liesman.
LIESMAN: Great to be here, Maria. Thank you. BARTIROMO: Most economists agree that there can be no economic recovery without a recovery in housing. American families have lost some $7 trillion in home value in the last five years. Right now, four million people are behind on their mortgage or in foreclosure, 25 percent of homeowners owe more to the banks than their house is actually worth.
Governor Romney has said that the government should let the foreclosure process play out so that the housing market can recover and the free markets can work.
Speaker Gingrich, is Governor Romney right?
GINGRICH: We, he's certainly right in the sense that you want to get through to the real value of the houses as fast as you can, because they're not going to rise in value as long as you stay trapped, as Japan has done now for 20 years. But I think there are two specific steps you have got to understand in terms of housing.
To pick up on something Congresswoman Bachmann said, if the Republican House next week would repeal Dodd/Frank, and allow us to put pressure on the Senate to repeal Dodd/Frank, you would see the housing market start to improve overnight. Dodd/Frank kills small banks, it kills small business. The federal regulators are anti- housing loan, and it has maximized the pain level.
You could also change some of the rules so it would be easier to do a short sale where the house is worth less than mortgage than it is to do a foreclosure. Today, the banks are actually profiting more by foreclosing than encouraging short sales.
But in the long run, you want the housing market to come back? The economy has to come back.
When you are at four percent unemployment, you suddenly have a dramatic increase in demand for housing. When you're at nine percent- plus unemployment, it's hard to get the housing market to come back.
BARTIROMO: Governor Romney, respond in 30 seconds. Not one of your 59 points in your economic plan mentions or addresses housing. Can you tell us why?
ROMNEY: Yes, because it's not a housing plan. It's a jobs plan. And the right way to get --
ROMNEY: The best thing you can do for housing is to get the economy going, get people working again, seeing incomes, instead of going down, incomes coming up so people can afford to buy homes. The things the Speaker just indicated are excellent ideas as well. You have to let the market work and get people in the homes again, and the best way for that to happen is to allow this economy to reboot.
What we know won't work is what this president has done, which is to try and hold off the foreclosure process, the normal market process, to put money into a stimulus that failed, and to put in place a whole series of policies from Obamacare to Dodd/Frank that it made it hard for this economy to get going. You want to get America's economy going? We know how to do it. Just do almost the exact opposite of what President Obama has done.
LIESMAN: Governor Romney, we have created 2.7 million jobs since February, 2010. Over that period of time, the housing market has continued to decline. We are at 2003 price levels now.
LIESMAN: If we keep going the way we are going, in four or five years, we'll be at 1999 price levels. The $7 trillion figure that Maria mentioned could almost double.
Are you willing to let that happen in America?
ROMNEY: And exactly what would you do instead? Would you decide to have...
LIESMAN: I'm asking you.
ROMNEY: ... well, to have the federal government go out and buy all the homes in America? That's not going to happen in this country. Markets work. When you have government play its heavy hand, markets blow up and people get hurt.
And the reason we have the housing crises we have is that the federal government played too heavy a role in our markets. The federal government came in with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and Barney Frank and Chris Dodd told banks they had to give loans to people who couldn't afford to pay them back.
And so -- and so our friends -- our friends in Washington today, they say, oh, if we've got a problem in housing, let's let government play a bigger role. That's the wrong way to go. Let markets work. Help people get back to work. Let them buy homes. You'll see home prices come back up if we allow this market to work.
LIESMAN: But, Governor -- Governor Perry, every quarter I get to report the GDP figures, and it's a negative number for housing, and we've lost some 2 million construction jobs. Housing creates jobs, as well, doesn't it?
PERRY: Not a negative number in Texas. And one of the reasons is because we have put policies into place that follow my plan to get America back working again.
LIESMAN: OK, so translate that plan to America.
PERRY: When -- when you look at what I've laid out, whether it -- the energy side and getting the energy industry going -- and Rick Santorum is absolutely correct on that, is let's get our energy industry freed up, federal lands, federal waters, pull back all of those regulations. Everybody on this stage understands it's the regulatory world that is killing America.
The tax side of it, yeah. Have a flat tax. Have a corporate flat tax in there, as well. But the real issue facing America are regulations. It doesn't make any difference whether it's the EPA or whether it's the federal banking -- the Dodd-Frank or Obamacare. That's what's killing America.
And the next president of the United States has to have the courage to go forward, pull back every regulation, since 2008, audit them for one thing: Is it creating jobs, or is it killing jobs? And if that regulation is killing jobs, do away with it.
HARWOOD: Congresswoman Bachmann, in one of the last debates, you were asked what you would do about foreclosures, and you told moms to hang on. But your advice, as your colleagues have mentioned, was let the economy recover. So you agree with Governor Romney that the way to fix the housing market is to let the foreclosure process proceed more rapidly?
BACHMANN: Well, what I agree with is that we have got to stop what we're doing now. When we had the financial meltdown, 50 percent of the homes are being financed by Fannie and Freddie. Today it's 90 percent of the homes. In other words, the government is the backer of the homes.
Well, let's take a look, an analysis of what a great, brilliant job Freddie and Fannie are doing. They just applied this week for another $7 billion bailout because they're failing. The other one applied for a $6 billion bailout because they're failing.
But what did they do? They just gave bonuses of almost $13 million to 10 top executives. This is the epicenter of capital -- crony capitalism. That's what's wrong with Washington, D.C.
For these geniuses to give 10 of their top executives bonuses at $12 million and then have the guts to come to the American people and say, "Give us another $13 billion to bail us out just for the quarter," that's lunacy. We need to put them back into bankruptcy and get them out of business. They're destroying the housing market.
HARWOOD: Since -- since you mentioned Fannie and Freddie, Speaker Gingrich, 30 seconds to you, your firm was paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac in 2006. What did you do for that money?
GINGRICH: Were you asking me?
GINGRICH: I offer them advice on precisely what they didn't do.
Look -- look, this is not -- this is not...
HARWOOD: Were you not trying to help Freddie Mac fend off the effort by the Bush administration...
GINGRICH: No. No, I do -- I have never...
HARWOOD: ... and the -- to curb Freddie Mac.
GINGRICH: I have -- I assume I get a second question. I have never done any lobbying. Every contract was written during the period when I was out of the office, specifically said I would do no lobbying, and I offered advice.
And my advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, "We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do," as I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.
GINGRICH: It turned out, unfortunately, I was right and the people who were doing exactly what Congresswoman Bachmann talked about were wrong. And I think it's a good case for breaking up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and getting much smaller institutions back into the private sector to be competitive and to be responsible for their behavior.
LIESMAN: Mr. Cain, government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as Congresswoman Bachmann said, now underwrite or guarantee 90 percent of the home financing in this country. What would you do with these -- with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Would you shut them down even though it could mean higher interest rates for America? Does it make it even harder than it is right now for Americans to get home loans?
CAIN: You don't start there. You start with fixing the real problem, which is growing this economy, which is why I have put a bold solution on the table, 9-9-9.
Secondly, then you get the regulators off of the backs of the banks like someone mentioned. Get the regulators out of the way, such that the small banks and the medium-sized banks aren't being forced out of the business.
They would then be in a better position, and they might develop a desire in order to help homeowners reset their mortgages if they were able to see, number three, some certainty. Uncertainty is what's killing this economy. And until we throw out the tax code, and put in something bold, get government out of the way by reducing the regulatory environment, we are going to still have our housing problem.
LIESMAN: I'm sorry, Mr. Cain, but you would come into office and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be there. The question was, what would you do with them?
CAIN: OK. After I did those three things that I outlined, then deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
You don't start solving a problem right in the middle of it. So we've got to do that first.
I would also turn those GSEs into private entities. The government does not need to be in that business. I would find a way to unwind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, such that the marketplace can determine the future of the housing market.
HARWOOD: Governor Huntsman, I want to go back to the issue that you raised before about too big to fail. If anything, that problem has gotten worse since the financial crisis than before. The 10 biggest bank holding companies in this country now hold nearly 90 percent of all the assets in the banking system, up from 75 percent in 2006.
So, what would you do? Would you break up the banks to remove the risk, or diminish the risk for American taxpayers?
HUNTSMAN: Let me just say, on the housing discussion here, lost in all of this debate is the fact that there are people tuning in tonight who are upside down in terms of the financing of their homes. They are feeling real pain. People who probably heard today that they lost a job.
These issues are very real. They are complicated. For us to say that there is an easy solution to housing, that's just not right, and that's not fair. The economy does have to recover in order for the housing market to pick up its slack and for us to get on to housing starts, which ought to be 15 percent of our nation's GDP, and today it's two percent.
With respect to the banks that are too big to fail, you know today we've got, as I mentioned earlier, six institutions that are equal to 60, 65 percent of our GDP, $9.4 trillion. They have an implied guarantee by the taxpayers that they will be protected. That's not fair, that's not right for the taxpayers.
HARWOOD: So you break them up?
HUNTSMAN: I say we need to right-size them. I say, in the 1990s, you had Goldman Sachs, for example. That was $200 billion in size. By 2008, it had grown to $1.1 trillion in size. Was that good for the people of this country, or --
HARWOOD: Well, how would you accomplish that? How would you right-size that?
HUNTSMAN: I think we ought to set up some sort of fund. I think we ought to charge some sort of fee from the banks that mitigates the risk that otherwise the taxpayers are carrying. There has got to be something that takes the risk from the taxpayers off the table so that these institutions don't go forward with this implied assumption that we're going to bail them out at the end of the day. That's not right, and it's not fair for the taxpayers of this country.
BARTIROMO: Let's stay on regulation for a moment. You have all said that you will repeal President Obama's health care legislation.
Down the line, 30 seconds, if you repeal Obamacare, what's the answer?
HUNTSMAN: I would say -- and I would meet with the 50 governors of this country, and I would say, I did health care reform in my state, it took us three years to get it done. We delivered an insurance connector that was not a costly mandate.
You can sit down with the 50 governors and you can address cost containment. This is a $3 trillion industry, half of which any expert will tell you is totally nonsense and superfluous spending.
How do you get costs out of the system? How do you empower patients to better understand what they are getting when they go into the doctor's office?
Number two, we need to do a better job in harmonizing medical records so that we can pull up on a consistent basis the most efficacious course of treatment for patients.