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Gingrich on New ‘Contract With America,’ Jobs, Brain Research, Elites

September 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
After unveiling his "21st Century Contract with America," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke with Judy Woodruff about his policy proposals, including efforts to create jobs, ramp up research into brain science and overhauls of Medicare and Medicaid. This is the third in a series of conversations with GOP contenders.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, to campaign politics and our interview with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. It’s the third in our series of conversations with the contenders seeking to take on President Barack Obama in next year’s election. I spoke with the former House speaker a short time ago from Des Moine, Iowa.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, thank you for talking with us.

NEWT GINGRICH: Good to be with you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you unveiled your new “21st Century Contract with America” today, you said it was time to have an adult conversation with the American people. Are you saying that it’s very difficult to do that in the kinds of presidential campaigns that we have today?

NEWT GINGRICH: Yeah, it’s very difficult. It’s difficult to get past the elite media’s passion for trivia. It’s difficult to deal with presidential debates that say, in 30 seconds, what’s your position on balancing the budget? You know, I don’t — I don’t think we’re geared, outside maybe of C-SPAN, to the kind of conversations that we really need in order for the country to make decisions that are really very fundamental. We’re at a crossroads in American history that may be as decisive as anything since 1860, and we’re not really geared for that kind of conversation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about a few of the elements in this contract. One that struck me was Medicare. You would give seniors a choice of remaining in the existing system or going outside it, picking a private health insurer and then getting some government assistance. Is that because you think the current system is not sustainable?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think that the more choices we have, the more competition there is, the more you have lower prices, more innovation. That seems to be our experience in all of American life. And I think that Washington-based, red-tape-ridden monopolies, particularly systems that frankly do a terrible job of policing themselves — Medicare and Medicaid right now pay somewhere between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks because they’re so inefficient as managers of our money. I think we can do much better than that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned Medicaid and, as I understand it, what you’re proposing is to turn much or all of that over to the states, letting them pick up the tab for taking care of low-income individuals, people with disabilities. But my question is a number of states don’t have enough money to cover everybody in the low-income category. So what would happen to those people?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think if you look — the proposal, which Paul Ryan initially put out, and which I agree with, to block-grant the money back to the states, the federal government will provide money, but it will provide it with dramatically greater flexibility, a better ability to modernize the system.

And as I pointed out a minute ago, you know, The New York Times has suggested, for example, that in New York state, over 10 percent of their payments are to people who are stealing. Now, that’s, in the New York state system, over $4 billion a year in one state alone. Just making the system honest would save enough money to cover an awful lot of folks who people are worried about but for whom we don’t have the money right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another thing I know you’re interested in is additional research on the human brain. Would that entail more money to the National Institutes of Health, the NIH, to do that kind of research?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I’m not sure whether it would go to the National Institutes of Health or whether it’d go to some kind of public-private consortium. I think it ought to be run much like the Human Genome Project was, or like the Apollo mission to the Moon was.

But I would say to everybody who’s watching that brain science may sound like an odd thing for a politician to talk about. The fact is that it is one of the key areas of breakthrough in the next 20 years. In Alzheimer’s alone, we’re expected to spend between now and 2050 about $20 trillion, public and private combined. That’s one and a half times the current federal debt. So sometimes, when people are looking for ways to help save dramatic amounts of money, they ought to look to breakthroughs to improve things, not just ways to cut things.

And I think — I — when I talk to brain scientists, they believe, if we could simply slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years, we’d save somewhere between $8 trillion and $10 trillion. That’s almost the entire size of the current national debt over – between now and 2050. When you do brain science, you’re also doing autism, Parkinson’s, mental health, systems of learning. It’s an enormous opportunity area that we’re currently underfunding and, frankly, not managing very well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about jobs. What are two things you would do to create jobs? And I see you talk about providing training or requiring job training for people who qualify for extended unemployment benefit. How would that be paid for? And how much would that cost?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I think that you take the current amount of money we’re spending and you could say to all the states, you have the right to require a training program offered by businesses so it doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything.

We’re giving people money right now for 99 weeks for doing nothing. Now, in 99 weeks’ time, they could acquire the math and the science knowledge to get a job. We have, I think, 3 million jobs in this country that we currently can’t fill because we don’t have workers who are trained to do those particular kind of jobs. It’s both wrong in terms of dependency to give people 99 weeks of money for doing nothing, and it’s a terrible misinvestment. The exact same number of dollars, tied to going — signing up for a business training program, would in fact dramatically improve the workforce of the country.

In addition, I would repeal the Dodd-Frank bill and I would repeal Sarbanes-Oxley. Those both are killing jobs. I would dramatically spend American energy. We have a great capacity to produce all the energy we need in the United States. That would create billions of dollars of additional federal revenue with no tax increase and would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs — one estimate is, as many as a 1,200,000 new jobs in the energy field alone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, on your website, when you write about the contract — I was reading it today — you say you see this as a fight between, on the one hand, the American people, and on the other hand, you talk about hostile elites who have contempt for the American people. Who are you talking about in these elites?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, people can go to and see the entire background material for this. That’s my website, just my first name.

Look, when you have bureaucrats at EPA who issue rules about dust on dirt roads, you can talk to any person in Iowa of either party and they’ll tell you, this is — this is a level of arrogance and a level of being out of touch with reality that is amazing. When you have a federal judge in San Antonio who rules that not only can students not have a prayer at their graduation, if they use the word God, they use the word benediction, they ask the audience to stand, he will lock up their superintendent. That was on June 1st. That person’s clearly an elitist who is hostile to American civilization and hostile to the core values of American society. You can go down the list. It’s pretty clear-cut.

There’s a core historic tradition of America which I wrote about in “A Nation Like No Other,” which I think most Americans agree with, that we’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There’s clearly an American elite in the academy, in news media, in the bureaucracy, in courts who disagree with that and who would do everything they could to, frankly, eliminate that from public life.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Newt Gingrich, when people ask you why or how would you be better than the other Republican candidates for president, what do you say?

NEWT GINGRICH: I say, first of all, we’re in real trouble as a country. You need a candidate who has big enough solutions. I think the 21st contract — 21st Century Contract with America meets that. But second, you need somebody who knows what they’re doing. I’m the only candidate running who has, for four years in a row, helped balance the federal budget and pay off $405 billion in debt. I’m the only candidate running who’s helped pass a national entitlement reform: welfare. Two out of three people went to work or went to school. I’m the only candidate running who’s had over 20 years of experience in national security matters.

So if you go down there and say to yourself: We need somebody who can debate Barack Obama, I think people think I could probably do that. We need somebody with pretty big solutions. The 21st Century Contract with America meets that. And it would be nice to have somebody who actually knows what they’re doing and could actually get it done in Washington. And I think of the candidates running, I’m the only one with a track record of actually achieving things at a national level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, right now you are running behind in the polls. You are not raising as much money as the front runners are. One of your former aides described you as living from debate to debate. What is your path to the nomination?

NEWT GINGRICH: My path is, first of all, to have big solutions; second, to be in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina; third, to have people look and make an adult choice. I mean, this isn’t about the best 30-second commercial. It’s not even — if it’s about raising money, Barack Obama’s going to get re-elected. He’s going to raise more money than any Republican. But if it’s about being articulate, being able to explain what America needs to do, being able to explain why our values work and Obama’s values fail, offering people the choice between the best food-stamp president in American history, that’s Barack Obama, and a paycheck president, that’s what I’d like to be.

I suspect that you will find by January that we are very, very competitive and that we’re right in the middle of the race. And I think, frankly, we’ve been doing better and better. We’ve been gaining momentum. And the polls indicate that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, a lot of buzz, talk this week about whether New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie will get in. He says he is seriously thinking about it. If he does, does that change any of what you just said?

NEWT GINGRICH: No. I’m — I have a very clear, direct communication with the American people. I’m offering a very clear set of solutions I’ve thought about for a long time. And I have a track record of a national achievement, actually getting solutions done. If Chris Christie wants to come and run, that would be great. He’s a smart guy; he’s a good governor. Love to have him in the debates. If he doesn’t want to run, I’d love to have his support. But nothing in my campaign is predicated on Gov. Palin or anybody else.

Anybody who wants to can come and run, it’s a free country. What matters is, who can understand what we need to do historically in this terrible time of unemployment, deficits, judges who are alien to the American tradition? What do we do to get America back on the right track, and then how would you actually get it done if you were given permission by the American people to do it? I think in that particular job description, I’m going to be just fine by January, no matter who is running.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Newt Gingrich, we thank you for talking with us today. We appreciate it.

And you can watch our earlier interviews with Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman on our website. And we will talk with other GOP contenders in the coming months.