DECADE OF REFORM
JUNE 10, 1996
Former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, talks about cutting Medicare by 10 times the amount currently proposed over the next decade, as part of his run for president on the Reform Party ticket. The Reform Party was founded in the early 1990s by billionaire Ross Perot.
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JIM LEHRER: Now a Newsmaker interview with Richard Lamm, the former three-term Democratic governor of Colorado. He's in the news because of his expressed interest in being the Presidential candidate of Ross Perot's Reform Party. Gov. Lamm, welcome.
RICHARD LAMM, Former Governor, Colorado: (Denver) Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: The Associated Press moved a story about you late this afternoon, Governor, and it said what you were having was a flirtation with running for President. Is that the correct word, flirtation, at this point?
GOV. LAMM: I really don't--it seems to me very important that we build up a third political force in America--whether that's a third political party remains to be seen. But I think that I would like to really help mold the clay of a third political movement in the United States that sort of faces America's real problems directly.
JIM LEHRER: Do you personally want to be President of the United States?
GOV. LAMM: Umm, I don't know how to answer that. Yes, I guess that I would be willing to do so, but it's not--I've never lusted--of all the politicians in Colorado--Gary Hart, Tim Wirth, Pat Schroeder that have tried for that, I feel very passionately about the, the world we're leaving our children. I think that neither political party has an agenda that will keep America great.
JIM LEHRER: What's their problem? What's the problem with these other two parties?
GOV. LAMM: Uh, two big things. No. 1, I think that neither of them are equal to the magnitude of the budget problems. I think that when I hear people talk about Medicare, it's certainly not the problem that I have defined. I think we have to learn to run a nation of 50 Floridas, where the average age is going to be twice what the average age has been historically. I think in terms of campaign and election reforms, I think that both political parties are controlled by a handful of special interests that I'm just tired of. I think the role of money that it plays in elections and the role that money plays in campaigning, I think there are five orphan issues that I identify to the Reform Party in California that I think are sort of going begging, and I would like to have a political force that can help bring those to the public.
JIM LEHRER: Why do you think the Reform Party of Ross Perot is the way to go?
GOV. LAMM: Well, now, look, that's pejorative in its definition.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
GOV. LAMM: I think when you think about it here, Ross Perot has given us a great gift. We have a party that is filled with very good people. I mean, this is what's impressed me. I'm impressed by their enthusiasm, their dedication. They are worried about the world that they're leaving their children.
So I look at this, and I say, hey, wait a minute, you've got a party out there at a time of maximum need in the country. You've got problems in the Republican Party, problems in the Democratic Party, and all of a sudden here on August 18th, we can come along and nominate almost anybody to run for President. I don't think it ought to be--maybe it shouldn't be Ross Perot. Maybe it shouldn't be me, but the people should really let their imaginations run wild. We have a method to give a very realistic hard choice agenda and win a plurality of the American public.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the presumption, the conventional wisdom has been this is the--and I said it in introducing you--Ross Perot's Reform Party--and in my question, I did the same, and everybody else puts it the same way. He started it; he funded it.
GOV. LAMM: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: There wouldn't be a Reform Party if it wasn't for Ross Perot. You're saying that's not true, that Ross Perot does not control the Reform Party, it isn't his party?
GOV. LAMM: I, yes, I'm saying it's not true that he does not control the Reform Party. I think what you said previously is true. I think that he does--should get very good, great credit for helping form this, seeing the idea, but he has said continuously that he's looking for a real race of four or five people. Now it may be that he runs for President, it may be, but I think he has to be taken at his word. I know he does not control the people that I've been talking about. They love him; they respect him, but they recognize that he may not be the best candidate for '96, so we have an opportunity. We have the--he's given us the clay that we can mold almost anything for '96.
JIM LEHRER: Let's say that he said, hey, I do want to run. Would you oppose him for the Reform Party nomination?
GOV. LAMM: No. It would seem to me to that extent that I would not want to oppose Ross Perot in the party that he helped form just for nostalgia's stake, but I do believe that there's a great possibility that he does--that he doesn't want to run and that other people, I mean, come on in, the water's fine. I think very strongly. You don't have to leave the Democratic Party.
You don't have to leave the Republican Party. But recognize that both parties are inadequate in their agenda for our kids. We're leaving our kids fiscal chaos. Nobody can tell the American public the real problems of the future. I would suggest we have a wonderful historic opportunity for the Reform Party to give a realistic agenda to the American public and call in their best rather than pandering to their worst.
JIM LEHRER: Governor, what is the single most important thing that the American people are not being told by President Clinton, by Sen. Dole, and all the folks on their sides, respective sides?
GOV. LAMM: I think that retiring the baby boomers is going to be one of the great challenges in America, that you cannot make fiscal sense out of the future of our children without taking on entitlements. No. 2, I think that--
JIM LEHRER: Now, entitlement--let's stop there--entitlements means do something about--
GOV. LAMM: Social Security--
JIM LEHRER: --Medicare--Medicaid, and Social Security?
GOV. LAMM: You can see just by the fact that you picked that up. I mean, it's so controversial neither political party. Jim, I figure that, that, you know, President Clinton--this is sort of where I went off the reservation--the--Medicare is every bit as, as serious a problem as the Republicans say it is, and worse. I figure that we're--to make us a stable program for our children we have to make 10 times the cuts that President Clinton did.
JIM LEHRER: How many times?
GOV. LAMM: Ten times.
JIM LEHRER: Ten times the cuts in Medicare?
GOV. LAMM: Jim, you know, we've had this explosion of medical science at the same time we're getting older. We're adding--we've added 30 years of human life expectancy this century, and we're adding three months every year. I mean, this is great news. My 88 year old father just back from Europe with his older brother. I mean, I'm happy. I'm 60 years old, but you've got to come to grips with the implications of running a nation that has an average age of about around 40.
JIM LEHRER: But coming to grips politically, is that possible, to cut Medicare 10 times?
GOV. LAMM: Jim, Jim, we are the heirs of--you know, we've had people that died on Guadlacanal, that went into the--out of the Enchon Reservoir. Every generation has had to sacrifice. My mother and father fought a war and a Depression and left me with a small federal debt. We are the heirs of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and the fact that we can't--this is our challenge. This is the challenge of our generation, is to come to grips with Social Security. It is the--the New Deal is unsustainable when the baby boomers start to retired. Medicare is unsustainable. There is no happy solution. Somebody's got to come to grips with it.
JIM LEHRER: And if you ran for President, would you go to--you mentioned Florida a minute ago--where there are many retired people, would you go and tell them this, eyeball to eyeball?
GOV. LAMM: Yeah, you bet I would. I saw Pete Peterson do that, and most of the elderly--
JIM LEHRER: Head of the--one of the co-chairs of the Concord Coalition.
GOV. LAMM: Pete Peterson who says, you know, that making sense out of the future of the fiscal future of America without taking on entitlements is like cleaning the garage without removing the Winnebago. You simply have to take on entitlements and some other sacred cows. I think you have to take on all the sacred cows in the budget, and I think there's a plurality for that. Let, let the Democrats live in the after glow of the New Deal and let the Republicans fight over whether rape or incest ought to be grounds for abortion and let us come right up the middle saying we are going to--we want 10 years--a decade of reform and renewal. I think there's a big agenda there to leave this country in good shape for our children.
JIM LEHRER: Who get hurt--who gets hurt under that agenda?
GOV. LAMM: Interesting question.
JIM LEHRER: In that 10 years.
GOV. LAMM: No. I think that the fact is, Jim, that we are spending enough money. You know, 600,000 millionaires get a Social Security check every month. I think there's enough waste and inefficiency. Will people have to sacrifice? Yes. Do we need--
JIM LEHRER: Will everybody have to sacrifice?
GOV. LAMM: I think the key to this is an equality of sacrifice, except that I do believe those of us that make more money ought to pay at a higher rate than others. In other words, I definitely feel if you're going to have a flat tax, you should have two rates. The people that have more money, it seems to me, should put their shoulder to the wheel more. But I do think there should be some sort of equality of sacrifice. I have an offend everybody a little bit program, where I think everybody is going to have to take a little bit of cut.
JIM LEHRER: Now, are you seriously consider--do you believe that you could win if you got the nomination to the Reform Party? You said that there is the big middle. Do you think this is politically viable, this is not just a point to be made, correct?
GOV. LAMM: It's--yes, I really believe that in this country there's enough people, after all, that aren't going to wait until a Pearl Harbor. I mean, you know, the Social--
JIM LEHRER: A Pearl Harbor?
GOV. LAMM: A fiscal Pearl Harbor. The argument is that democracy can't move outside of crisis. I would like to challenge that thesis. When the Medicare trustees tell us that five years from now, which is when I turn 65, that it's--that Medicare is going to be bankrupt, we have people that are counting on retirement systems. We've got to let the people know enough in advance and we have--we have an obligation to get these programs sustainable. I've got a big conference coming up with--I run a public policy center at the University of Denver--with the National Taxpayers Union on June 21st, we're going to put a national trust plan to replace Social Security. I'm going at this very--you can--Social Security is obsolete, and we've simply got to amend it if we're going to save it.
JIM LEHRER: Back to your, your personal plans. When and how do you make the decision to go for it?
GOV. LAMM: Umm, I think that what I have to do is try to see whether or not there's a feasible way to fund a campaign. I'm a little short of Ross Perot's money, and I think--
JIM LEHRER: And he couldn't help you, right? He couldn't say, hey, Lamm, you're my guy, here's a billion dollars, go run for President?
GOV. LAMM: And I don't think that--I don't think the public would want to see that anyway.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
GOV. LAMM: As you know the Federal Election Commission has got an application before it now where $30 million based on what Ross Perot spent last time, if there would be $30 million, I think I or somebody else, there are better people out there could absolutely articulate this new agenda for the 21st century.
JIM LEHRER: So the process would be you--you would declare your candidacy and then on August the 18th at the convention of the Reform Party, which I understand is going to be done some by mail and electronically as well as by in person, you would just submit yourself and these folks would go up or down on you and anybody else, including Ross Perot, if he ran?
GOV. LAMM: That's right, Jim, but I got to tell you that I think both Ross Perot and I would really say about myself also, there are other people out there that I think are much better known, that have been spokesmen for intergenerational equity--Alan Simpson, Bob Kerrey--there's--Congress has got a number of courageous people, and I would hope that we could attract some of those people. You don't have to leave the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Come on in and form a coalition for a while.
JIM LEHRER: How could you run for the Reform Party and not, and not leave your party if you were a Democrat or Republican?
GOV. LAMM: Because you can't become a member of the Reform Party in Colorado. There is no Reform Party in Colorado. I can, I can participate by staying a Democrat. I couldn't become a member of the Reform Party if I wanted to, but I am encouraging people to sign petitions so that they can get on the ballot here in Colorado. We've got to be on the ballot in all 50 states.
JIM LEHRER: This is a serious matter to you, is it not, Governor?
GOV. LAMM: Umm, Jim, I inherited the world's largest and most wealthy nation, most--and I'm leaving to my children fiscal chaos. We've got to understand that. There are no happy scenarios without some degree of sacrifice, and I believe the American public ultimately bottom line are tired of being pandered to. Look at this. We're going to reduce the gas tax until next January. This is just outrageous!
JIM LEHRER: All right. Governor Lamm, thank you very much.