JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight an interview with Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul.
It's the first in our series of conversations with the contenders seeking to take on Barack Obama in next year's election.
Judy Woodruff sat down with the congressman from Texas on Capitol Hill earlier today.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Ron Paul, thank you for talking with us.
REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: Good to be with you today.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You're running against a long list of Republicans seeking the presidential - the Republican presidential nomination, many of them very conservative - one in particular, Michele Bachmann, appealing to the tea party. Why are you more qualified than any of them?
REP. RON PAUL: I see them as defending the status quo much more so than I do because, you know, if you look at my foreign policy, nobody's coming close, although they're getting more sympathetic. I want to bring all the troops home. When it comes to personal liberties and what's going on at our airports, I don't like the Patriot Act, and they tend to support the Patriot Act. When it comes to monetary policy, they try to avoid it , yet money is one-half of all our transactions. We're in a mess; so I concentrate a whole lot on the Federal Reserve and monetary policy. And of course, the spending is big issue with me, but it's been that way for a long time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of spending, Washington is in the grips right now of this huge divide - split over what to do about the debt limit, what to do about the deficit. You have said you've never voted to raise the debt limit, which pits you against not only the president and the Democrats, but the Republican leadership, both houses of Congress, most of the business community. Are they wrong when they say this would lead to an economic calamity? Are they just not telling the truth?
REP. RON PAUL: I think they're misled. I think they believe what they're saying, but I think they don't understand economic policy because they're afraid of a default, and they've been frightened. But this is the way so often government works. They try to frighten the people, such as frighten people about being attacked by nuclear weapons that don't exist so we go to war needlessly. But the bailout - frighten the people so you bail out everybody, and forget about the people who are losing their houses. So, yes, there's a lot of that.
But my point is, is it's serious; the debt is too big. You can't solve the problem of debt by raising the debt limit, and that's what they were trying to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you've been - you've had this position for years and years. But the decades you've served in the Congress, you haven't been able to win folks over to your point of view. What makes you think you can win a majority over if you were president?
REP. RON PAUL: I think there's a big shift because I can compare what's happening now to four years ago, and it's dramatically different. But, even last year we noticed a big difference, say, on the monetary issue.
So maybe I don't have as much influence in direct legislation here, but the people - I believe I am closer to the people, because the people are scared and are sick and tired of it and they want smaller government.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on this question of spending and cutting, you've said you would bring the government's budget into balance the first year in office you were president. We're talking, what, over a trillion-dollar deficit. What would you cut?
REP. RON PAUL: OK. I would start with military operations overseas. They hurt us and they hurt our national defense. And we can save hundreds of billions of dollars when you add up all the militarism and all the foreign aid and all the mischief we create, why do we have troops in Korea and Japan - all these things. So you could save a lot. That wouldn't be enough.
Then you'd have to start cutting spending on the programs that aren't essential like the Department of Education. We spend a lot of money; it doesn't improve education. The Department of Energy - we don't need Department of Energy. All those subsidies in Department of Agriculture - we don't need that. We don't need the intervention of the Department of Commerce. You can go on and on.
But you don't have to go and cut health care or medical - or Social Security in order to start getting our house in order.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you have talked about dramatically scaling down or reforming Medicare and Social Security. And so what would those programs look like if you could wave a magic wand and make it the way you'd like it?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, I haven't talked a whole lot about that. Most of the time, I talk about is, if we'd have acted responsibly, we wouldn't be facing this crisis.
I would like to offer young people going into the workforce the chance to opt out, opt out of Social Security. But that won't work unless you do these cuts I'm talking about, the militarism as well as all these departments that make no sense at all. You could do that, but politically, it's difficult because the other day, when we were voting on this resolution for the budget - the debt increase, I said, there's two groups: One group wants to - won't cut a nickel out of the military and the other won't cut a nickel out of entitlement system. And that's why we're at this point.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You've also spoken of big changes in Medicare, structural changes. How would you change Medicare?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, once again, I haven't emphasized that at all. But I would want people to opt out of the system. I would want people to have medical-savings accounts. Young people should be able to opt out and build up a medical savings account and take care of their own programs.
But that won't work unless you're willing to cut spending. And I think the most popular place to cut is all this spending overseas and the corporate welfare in this country, because most of the money that we spend here that's supposed to poor really helps the large corporations, say, the housing bubble. Who got help?
See, the rich got bailed out. They got bailed out both by the Congress and the Federal Reserve. And they were making all the profits. So it was - it's corporatism that is so bad, whether it's medicine or even in education or the military-industrial complex. It's corporatism. That is the welfare that is huge compared to the welfare of food stamps.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But without some government regulation, which I know you are against, what's to keep corporations from running - doing whatever they want?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, because I talk about a lot less regulation - I don't like the regulatory agencies, but that doesn't mean the free market doesn't have regulation. The regulations in the free market are much stricter because if a company gets into trouble and goes bankrupt, the law - the economic law, which should be enforced by government, that company goes bankrupt. So instead of bailing them out, these companies should have gone bankrupt.
But you have sound money and free markets; you can't counterfeit money, like the Federal Reserve does.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just to be clear, what would the Federal Reserve look like under a Ron Paul presidency?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, there's two different things. My goal would be, there's no need for the Federal Reserve. Under a presidency you don't get rid of the Federal Reserve overnight. In my - even in my book, "End the Fed," I don't say we should close the door and walk away. I ask for competition.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's go to some of the international issues you touched on very quickly. You want to bring troops home. What should the U.S. footprint be internationally? What is the U.S. role in the world?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, it should be a footprint of trade and friendship, as we were advised and as the Constitution permits. The footprint shouldn't be a military footprint. It shouldn't be -
JUDY WOODRUFF: So bring -
REP. RON PAUL: The footprint we're leaving now - our drone missiles dropping bombs and killing innocent civilians, launched from the United States with computers. That's not the kind of footprint I want.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Afghanistan. How quickly would you bring the troops home?
REP. RON PAUL: As quick as the ships could get there. It's insane on what we're doing. And I'll tell you one thing about this business about the military: We just had a quarterly report, and they listed all the money that all the candidates got from the military. I got twice as much as all the other candidates put together on the Republican side, and even more than Obama got, which tells me that these troops want to come home as well because they know exactly what I'm talking about.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Two other quick things internationally. You said you opposed the U.S. raid into Pakistan that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. You also are - would do away with, in essence, the CIA. Why do - why did you oppose the raid, and what would you put in the place of the CIA?
REP. RON PAUL: Well the question to me was, could it have been done differently? I was just saying it could be done differently. I mean, all this does was raise questions. And I predicted that this would lead to a lot of resentment. And just think of the chaos in Pakistan and the mess that we have; we both bomb them, and we give them money, and then the people hate their own government because their own government's a puppet of ours.
My frustration with bin Laden was, it took so long.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And the CIA, you would -
REP. RON PAUL: I would - I don't think the CIA should be a military arm of the government dropping bombs secretly. You can't even - you can't even separate the two. You don't even know who is controlling the bombing of this country now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Couple of questions about your campaign. You have a son who was elected to the United States Senate, a Rand Paul from the state of Kentucky. This is your third try for president. There was some talk that he was looking at running for president. How did you discuss that between the two of you, that it was going to be you and not him who was running?
REP. RON PAUL: We never talked about it. It never came up.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Never had a discussion?
REP. RON PAUL: It just never came up.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Congressman, you look healthy. You certainly keep up a vigorous schedule. You would be 77 years old if you were elected president upon taking office, which is quite a bit older than the oldest president upon taking office, Ronald Reagan. Is age at all a factor for you in this campaign?
REP. RON PAUL: I think it is. I think age is very important, and sometimes I meet people when they're 45, and they're very old. And I think it's the age of the ideas a person's presenting, and is that person able to present these ideas? Freedom is a young idea. It's only been tested for a couple hundred years. And we had a taste of it, and we're throwing it away.
But what I see others are doing, the others, especially - and many of the other candidates, they have old ideas. It's totalitarian, it's the control of government, governments policing the world, militarism, telling people how to run their lives, running the economy, telling people what they can put in their mouths and whether or not they can even drink raw milk. It's just - it's just absolutely out of control.
But the idea that individuals are free, that they have a natural right to their life and the liberty, they ought to be able to keep the fruits of their labor, that is a young idea. So I would say, people ought to go with a young idea and somebody that can express them. And interestingly enough, it's the young people that fully endorse my campaign.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We are watching that. Spoken very passionately. Congressman Ron Paul, we thank you for talking with us.
REP. RON PAUL: Thank you.