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Jennifer Dauble



Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with President Bill Clinton, today, Friday, September 18th at 4PM ET on CNBC's "Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo."

All references must be sourced to CNBC's "Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo."


MARIA BARTIROMO: Mr. President, good to have you on the program.

BILL CLINTON: Thank you, Maria.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Thanks so much for joining us. The fifth-- Clinton Global Initiative (PH)-- congratulations on that. Tell me about the progress the last four years, and what you're expecting from this CGI.

BILL CLINTON: Well, in-- in the first four years, we've had a total-- of more than 1400 commitments involving-- far more than that, thousands of our people, 'cause a lotta people do them together. Over a ten year period, those commitments will be worth $46 billion in (?) everything from building a clean energy future to alleviating poverty to p-- helping people go to school or college and dealing with the healthcare challenges in America and around the world.

Already, more than 200 million people in more than 150 countries have had their lives improved in some measurable way by this work. So, the idea of bringing people from all walks of life f-- all over the world together to just discuss these things and then come up with a concrete action, and saying to people, "We want you to make a commitment and to keep it"-- turned out to be a magical, simple, powerful thing that has kept us going now through five meetings. We're about to have another one. And it looks like it's gonna be a success.

MARIA BARTIROMO: That's terrific. Now this year, we're coming off the worst recession in-- in a generation. Have you seen any reluctance on the part of some of the participants? What are you expecting in terms of commitments--

BILL CLINTON: Well-- here's what I know so far. We have almost exactly the same number of people paying to come as came last year, which surprises me. And we may actually-- equal or even exceed our number last year, so that surprises me. I will be surprised if we-- have the same dollar amount, for one simple reason. The most expensive commitments are those that involve clean energy.

And I just think that the-- first, there's not that much money around. And secondly, the markets for more energy production in the areas-- in many countries is down because the growth has been down. But it looks to me like, based on what I've seen so far, that we're gonna raise a h-- a huge amount of money-- to do the things that we normally do, and that we'll be-- we'll be doing very well in energy projects in low-income countries and in all kinds of anti-poverty and healthcare and education areas.

And we've (?) gotten an unusual amount of interest in corporations now in trying to figure out how to build real markets in poor countries. The other day f-- in-- in my own foundation, (CLAP) for example, we had-- a major pharmaceutical company join with us in reducing the price of a tuberculosis drug-- Pfizer. And they'd never done it before. You know-- they cut that 60 percent. It's the only drug we know of that people who are HIV positive and have tuberculosis can take without just being paralyzingly sick.

And I talked to the new president. And he said, "Well, look, we were marketing all of our products to 15 percent of the world. And now we have to figure out how to reach 100 percent." So-- the interesting thing to me is how many business people are now thinking, "You know, this should be good business to actually help lift (?) learning s-- and lift health and lift income standards in-- countries that can either be our customers, or maybe in the future, our employees."

MARIA BARTIROMO: It's so important, but also a business opportunity


MARIA BARTIROMO: So it's-- and they're-- they're recognizing it. You have a special session on-- on Tuesday called the G20 (PH)-- ahead of the-- World Leaders-- Meeting (PH) in-- in Pittsburgh. What do you think those leaders should be prioritizing at that meeting? What are you expecting out of this session?

BILL CLINTON: Well, first of all, let's talk about the G20. So-- I'm sure all of your viewers know, but the first-- group of countries that went beyond the G8, the emerging markets of the future and mostly big countries with sizable economies-- began to meet in my second term in the aftermath of the 1998 financial crisis, which was mostly in Asia but also gripped Brazil.

And it was obvious that those countries were being really affected by the decisions of the Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the big economies themselves-- the European Union, the United States, Japan. They wanted to be a part of that-- China, India, Brazil, all the other members of the G20.

And now-- in the aftermath of this latest financial crisis, the G20 was seen as an essential instrument of global recovery, because we knew it wouldn't be enough for the U.K. or France or Japan or America to come back alone. And China knew that in order for its growth to continue it had to have customers for its products. It's interesting, China had $2 trillion, no financial problems, but they had 35 million unemployed factory workers because the Europeans and the Americans couldn't buy their products anymore.

So, I think that there's a general awareness that we have to go beyond the G8 to have more players in a global economy if we're gonna have balanced growth and mutual benefits. And I just wanna hear these people talk in advance of the G20 about what the long-term future is and whether there's anything both the businesspeople who are here and the non-governmental actors who are here can do to strengthen broad-based economic growth in those countries.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Before I ask you what you're expecting out of the Global Health Panels (PH) in-- in sessions at CGI, what are your thoughts on the current debate? You and your wife, Secretary Clinton, have spent so much time trying to make a change in healthcare. Do you think that a public plan will actually accomplish what you think needs to be accomplished?

BILL CLINTON: Well, what I-- I think-- l-- let me back up and say-- first, I think that the President was right to take up healthcare reform. I think it's not just about extending coverage to people who have coverage. It's about ensuring that the people who already have coverage will be able to keep it at a price they can afford.

It's about ensuring that people who practice medicine and deliver healthcare will be able to do that in the future without having to spend more and more and more of their time shuffling paper and navigating the finance system. And I believe a bill will pass which will make it better, because there is not anywhere near the potential for a filibuster in killing it now, that there was when I tried it.

Because we have all the same problems now we had then, except they're worse. Because-- the American people want it to happen. And because, frankly, I think the-- the-- some of the Republicans are a little more open to working with the President and (?) that they don't have the-- the same capacity they did in '94 to shut it down. All they needed were 41 of the 45 Republican Senators to kill anything. And I couldn't get five of them.

So, I-- I think we'll get a bill. Now, I think that-- I think that-- that the President did the right thing that (?)-- now, on the public option, let's just talk about what the real issue here is. The real issue is, if the people who don't have insurance now are the people who might lose it in the future-- a small business can no longer afford to provide for its employees, for example, even with the new subsidies-- if they go into the marketplace in a given state and they can't afford a policy, will the plan fail if there-- they don't have an option like a public option? That's-- again, that's what the f-- federal employees' health insurance is in a way. It's a public option but it's provided by private companies.

Medicare is the clearest example. Medicaid-- that-- that's-- the-- military system-- all of these things have m-- a greater or lesser degree of public involvement. The real argument for the public option is to guarantee, not that you displace the insurance companies, but that there will be an affordable option. Now, Senator Snowe from Maine says that we should create it and keep it in reserve, and it should only be available in states where there is no effective competition, where there are no affordable policies.

That's what the government wound up doing with the senior citizens drug program. I don't know if you remember this, but they-- they said that the government can't go in and bargain for lower prices-- buying the drugs in bulk-- unless the prices are clearly way out of line with what should otherwise be available.

So what happened in that framework with the backup, is all this (SIC) companies came in and competed with each other and the program actually has cost less than we thought it would in the beginning. So, maybe what they'll wind up with is a public option that can be brought into play if there's no competition. The main thing is, you don't wanna get a market that is so dominated by one or two companies that they can charge whatever they want, and de facto, you won't get the-- the coverage you wanted (?).

And keep in mind, those of us who have coverage should want everybody else covered. Because when people aren't covered, what happens is, they do get healthcare when they need it. But it's too late. It's too expensive. They get it in the emergency room when they're-- got some advanced condition or some horrible accident. Then all of those costs get passed on to the rest of us. So, my sh-- short answer is, that's why I like the public option. But maybe what will happen is-- since some people don't want more government involvement than is necessary in the healthcare system-- maybe it'll be brought in as a reserve if there's no other competition.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Are you surprised at how divided the country has become about this? I mean, President Carter said part of the upset over the healthcare reform is-- and he said-- overwhelming-- he said an overwhelming part of the criticism of President Obama's plan has to do with racism. Do you agree with that?

BILL CLINTON: No, I agree with the President on that. I think the-- (COUGHS) I think that he has to win the argument on the healthcare. It may be that some of his more extreme critics also are racially prejudiced. But they're the same-- those people were opposed to what I tried to do when I tried to do it.

And so, I think they also are against him on healthcare. So, I-- I think the-- this is a battle that has to be fought on healthcare. He got a majority of the vote in November. He's had approval ratings that went well above a majority. Most Americans are way over being divided racially. They think our diversity is a big asset for us in the 21st Century. And they wanna be free to disagree.

So, I-- I-- I th-- and I think President Obama and the White House said it just right-- that we-- there's no question that some of the extreme critics that he's had, some of the crazy things that have been said about him were said by people who are also racially prejudiced. But the core of this battle is over what kinda healthcare system we should have. And President Obama recognizes that. That's the battle we oughta fight.

MARIA BARTIROMO: That's-- that's right. It's not about race.

BILL CLINTON: That's correct. He's gotta win the-- you gotta win the healthcare argument. And-- (LAUGHTER) I thought his speech was very good. And I think we're gonna win it.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Global Health at CGI-- let's talk about that. You-- you-- you make-- some really important points, kicking off the sessions with the fact that more than 70 million children will not see the inside of a primary classroom-- Global Health on Education. Two hundred twenty-six million won't continue on to secondary school. Add to that so many global health issues-- the world faces. What kind of progress can be made? What can corporate America do in particular?

BILL CLINTON: Well, first, let's focus on-- on the education issue, on how inexpensive it would be to put a lotta these young kids in school. When I was in my last year, we allocated $300 million of your money, tax money, to give to poor countries to feed children that were poor, if the kids would come to school to get the meal.

That program's still in place. That $300 million increased school enrollment by six million, 50 bucks a kid. That's how much just the inducement of a good meal every day got people to school. Now, I don't wanna oversimplify this. You also have to have school facilities. You have to have a teacher. You need some learning materials. But the point is, it doesn't cost a lot of money in a lotta these poor countries.

Secondly, if you think about them as future customers, future employees, every year of schooling in a country with a per capita income that's under $2 a day adds ten percent to earnings every year for life. Just one year. So you get massive benefits. I'll gust (SIC) give you an example-- that I'd (?)-- I visited one of the college education programs in Haiti which I have supported, which has been a CGI participant.

And they give scholarships to young Haitians who will go to school there if they graduate first in their school classes anywhere in rural Haiti. Almost all those kids-- well, first of all, all of them now who have graduated have stayed in Haiti. They haven't left-- unless they left to go to school more. Nobody's chosen to make a living outside Haiti. They all go to work immediately for salaries four to ten times the national average.

So, this is a big economic issue. And what should be done, in my opinion is, that when businesses should either sponsor their own schools for either enrollment or efficient building or learning materials, supporting the teachers, or they should work through a local non-governmental group to do that, if there is a big program in areas where they're otherwise active. Because all they're doing is making more customers for the future. And they're creating political and social stability in the country by getting kids off the streets or outta the workforce and into school.

MARIA BARTIROMO: And as far as global health, what are the most important issues that corporations need to focus on?

BILL CLINTON: I think-- first, the basic things-- clean water. A billion people have no access to clean water. Then let's look at what (?)-- 25 percent of the deaths every year-- and far more in poor countries-- are from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and infections related to dirty water. So making sure that there's elemental-- healthcare clinics and basically train paramedical workers who can diagnose and get medicine to these people, that's really important.

I-- I find-- you know, we sell this AIDS medicine all over the world. We're now doing the same thing thanks to the Gates Foundation partnership with discount tuberculosis medicine. I mean, malaria medicine. I just mentioned our partnership with Pfizer on tuberculosis. Not many of these people are gonna die because they can't get medicine 'cause it's too expensive.

They're gonna die now because there are no healthcare networks out there to find them, to test them, to deliver the medicine, to check on them, see if they're taking it. So, this is an enormous opportunity for corporations and for our country, I might add. I'll never forget, we announced this malaria program in Tanzania on a Sunday afternoon a couple years ago in an area that was 98 percent Muslim.

And keep in mind, k-- Tanzania's one of the places our embassy was blown up by al-Qaeda operatives in 1998, right? So, I know these people didn't agree with President Bush's Iraq policy. But in a village of 2,000, 12,000 people showed up for the announcement. And what those people knew about America was that-- and most of 'em didn't know me-- I mean-- you know, I hadn't (?) been in office in awhile. They just knew that the Americans were comin' and they wanted 'em to live. They wanted their children not to die of malaria.

This is not rocket science. This is the-- the economic and social and political benefits of saving these children is breathtaking. And-- so, that's what I would like to see the business community focus on. They can-- we now need the kind of basic organizational-- structures that are second nature to business out there in the healthcare networks of the world.

MARIA BARTIROMO: You went to North Korea and was (SIC) able to rescue those two female journalists. I think the country was just in awe that you did that. Can you tell us about the trip-- about seeing Kim Jong-Il? What was it like?

BILL CLINTON: Well, let me say first of all, I was honored t-- to do it. And-- it was a wonderful experience. And those young women are very impressive. I was-- I was even-- I felt even better about doing it after I met them and saw what good people they were. And they-- and I met their families. And, you know, it-- it was an amazing thing.

I had a very good talk-- with Kim Jong-Il. But I have not talked about it for a simple reason. Then (?) the minute I got back and I debriefed the Secretary of State-- the National Security Advisor and the President and offloaded all that, everything important that happens from now going in involves a decision that either the-- someone in the Obama Administration has to make and execute or what the North Koreans do.

And the reason I haven't said more is, I don't want anything I say could inadvertently complicate the potential for progress. And Americans should be encouraged. I mean, look what's happened since those young women got back. We've had-- the Korean released and the prospect of new harmony and new cooperation between the t-- two Koreas and the announcement that North Korea will accept our special envoy-- Ambassador Bosworth (PH), who's a very good man, to come there and have a meeting.

And so, that's all I can tell ya. They-- I-- these countries have gotta decide where they're going with this relationship and these larger issues. And I don't want anything I say to inadvertently have an impact on that. So, I've-- I told the White House I wouldn't talk about it. And I'm not goin' to.

MARIA BARTIROMO: I understand. The economic crisis-- there has been a lot of talk about what transpired throughout this crisis. What do you think as you look back during the years of real economic euphoria under your Presidency-- when, you know, we-- we were looking at these euphoric days, the stock market surplus? Could things have been done differently? Should we not have had these theme-- as a country-- government-- the media-- that everybody should own a home? What do you think? Perhaps the steps could have been different.

BILL CLINTON: Well, I think at some point-- we all wanted to maximize home ownership. We got above two-thirds ownership for the first time when I was President. And I think that one of the reasons that we wanted to do it so badly, apart from the-- the dignity, the sense of achievement it gives a family to have their own home, is that so many Americans had all their savings in their home.

That is, you know, that otherwise the-- the savings rate of Americans was quite low even when we had a lotta prosperity. And then in the last decade, it actually got-- to zero or negative levels. Now, interestingly enough, even in this tough times, it's three to five percent. It's coming back.

So, I wanted some savings out of it. And I thought we could-- go to two-thirds. I didn't know if we could go to 70 percent. I didn't have to make that decision, because when I left it was about 67 percent. The-- we began to worry in 2000 about-- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and whether the-- the secondary mortgage institutions, whether they were taking on too much risk. But the way they really got in trouble was 2004 to 2007-- you know, with all those securitized and subprime mortgages and all of that.

I think that really is what caused the problems. The-- the thing that happened right after I left office, the little slow down we had when the tech market bubble burst, I think that's-- was just normal. You know, the markets go up and down. There was a lot of exuberance. And I remember when the-- whether the technology bubble burst, the demand for information technology services grew-- it's unbelievable-- from 1999-- 1997 to '99--

MARIA BARTIROMO: We (?) remember.

BILL CLINTON: --at 500 percent a year. Well, a lotta people made investments in that market based on that projection. Nothing can grow like that forever. But when it burst, it fell to a growth-- information technology services-- of 50 percent a year. Most businesses (NOISE) would kill for 50--

BILL CLINTON:--percent growth. In other words, it showed that while there mighta been exuberance in the investment sector, it was sort of on the top of still a very big long-term trend. What happened here with-- less oversight from the SEC and with the mistakes that were made-- both in the private sector at-- places like Bear Stearns and others-- was the-- the system crashed.

So, w-- if we'd had a different SEC, might it have made a difference? P-- perhaps. If we-- had moved on-- the risk exposure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would it have made a difference? Perhaps. But the main thing is, we were-- we had private institutions that were too heavily leveraged that were basically generating growth and income for themselves out of turnover transactions that had no benefit for the underlying economy.

And that's what we have to avoid now. I think the most important thing is to talk about-- we're gonna avoid now. Warren Buffett and-- and-- John Bogel (PH) and Pete Peterson (PH), a number of other distinguished American businesspeople, have recently issued a report for the-- Aspen Institute-- on the short-termism of American (UNINTEL). You know, how much-- that we all wanna turn a profit every quarter and we think we always have to be turning over things.

And basically, they argue we should be thinking about investment as what it does to productivity and business services and long-term employment and long-term growth. And they give a lot of-- recommendations. I would recommend that every person watching this program and the people in the-- Obama Administration look at their report and ask themselves, "How can we go forward with an economy that is focused on providing employment and growth in a way that benefits all Americans?" If that happens, the finance sector will do fine.

MARIA BARTIROMO: So should-- the deficit be a bigger priority then?

BILL CLINTON: I think, yes. But the deficit will be a big priority. But it is very important that we not do what is now and (?) almost universally conceded, that President Roosevelt made a mistake when he started to bring the deficit down in 1937 before the economy had fully recovered. So what happened was, he couldn't really bring the deficit down because there was not enough revenues coming in. There was too much of a slow down. And he contracted it again.

I think when it is apparent that we are-- that the recovery's in full harness, at that point-- the government will have to address the deficit. Because at that point, the rest of the world will not want to buy our public debt. They'll know that we can do it. And they will expect us to stand up and do our fair share.

It's clear what we oughta do at-- we just need to-- among other things, go back to the simple premise that whenever we start something new, whether it's a tax cut or a program, it has to be fully paid for by rigorous accounting rules. Those so-called pay-go (PH) rules were abandoned in these last eight years, so that the tax cuts and the Medicare drug program, the principal expenditures apart from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, didn't have to be paid for.

If those pay-go rules had been in effect, the deficit over the next ten years, the debt, would be five or six trillion dollars lower. Just giving up on discipline, I think it was a mistake. And I think that as soon as we know we got a economy in harness again, even though it will require some difficult choices, I think they'll have to be reinstituted.

MARIA BARTIROMO: I wanted to ask you about investing in girls. But let me just check, because I'm getting the--

BILL CLINTON: Yeah, go ahead.



MARIA BARTIROMO: Investing in girls is a big part of the program.


MARIA BARTIROMO: Why is it so important? What do you want people to know about the importance of investing in girls?

BILL CLINTON: Well, I suppose, first, I should pay due homage to-- to Hillary, who has made this a big issue in the-- as her-- as Secretary of State, the role of women and girls in the economy and the long-term stability of societies. Because she's been educating me about this for more than 20 years now.

But I-- I think it's very important to realize that most of the children who are out of school are girls. I think it's important to realize that in every society with all the different religious and moral standards that different societies have, the one universal thing that always lowers the birthrate is putting more girls in school and giving your-- you know, more young women access to the labor market.

That the political empowerment of women almost universally leads to less human trafficking. We also have a lot of emphasis on human trafficking this year. There's still too many children sold, not only into sex slavery but into other kinds of bondage. So, if you look at the astonishing success of Rwanda-- genocide in '94. By '98, the-- per capita income of the country is still under a dollar a day, about $268. Ten years later, it's over $1,000 a year.

So it's virtually quadrupled. It also is the only country in the world where a (?) majority of their parliament are women, where-- half the governors are, a lotta the mayors are-- and where there is a-- a deliberate decision because of the horrible experience of the genocide to have an equal share of the country's decision-making in the hands of women and to make sure that all the girls are in school.

So, I just think it's-- every man-- who's a father of a daughter will have no problem figurin' this out. But people, without regard to gender identification, should be for this 'cause it's what works to lift poor countries to new heights.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Mr. President, thank you so much.

BILL CLINTON: Thank you.

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