GOP candidates discuss key business issues: Full Responses

The following are the responses of five of the leading Republican presidential candidates to eight questions posed by New Hampshire Business Review. All candidates were given a 150-word-per-answer limit. Responses were edited down to that length if they exceeded it. Three of the other leading candidates – former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — did not participate, despite repeated requests.

Health Care

Q: What would you do to relieve the health-care insurance burden on business?

TEXAS CONGRESSMAN RON PAUL: I will give individuals greater control of their health care, and make it easier for small businesses to afford health care, by expanding individual health-care tax deductions, tax credits and access to Health Savings Accounts, thus giving individuals, small businesses, and the self-employed the same ability to purchase health care tax-free that is currently enjoyed by large corporations.

ARIZONA SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: The current system of health care is unsustainable for our citizens, businesses and government. Until we change the underlying growth of costs of health-care delivery, our products and services will become increasingly uncompetitive internationally, our system of insurance will disappear, and our government health-care programs will be threatened.
Fundamental reform will be good for our citizens, and in turn for business and financial markets. My health-care reform plan will rein in the growth of costs, make insurance move from job-to-job and give small businesses and individuals access to affordable and innovative insurance purchases so they can get the best policy at the cheapest cost.

CALIFORNIA CONGRESSMAN DUNCAN HUNTER: I believe the best way to address health-care reform is by bringing freedom back to the system.
First, consumers should have the freedom to buy health insurance across state lines. Second, consumers should make their own informed health-care choices and, therefore, we must require full disclosure of service costs.

We can achieve a more vibrant and cost-effective health-care delivery system if we return the eye of the consumer to the purchase of health care rather than continue the false market that has been negotiated between insurance companies and service providers. Third, I support the development of a direct payment system between patient and doctors. This will revitalize the family doctor and ensure that patients have a relationship with their provider that will ultimately decrease costs and provide for better outcomes. Freedom is the answer to health care, not mandates.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOV. MITT ROMNEY: We can put conservative principles to work to help businesses with the rising cost of health insurance. It is time for fundamental health-care reform that doesn’t throw money into a broken system but, rather, attacks the primary drivers of high health-care costs while leaving in place the elements of our system that work well.

My plan to reform the American health-care system will bring down the cost of health care by reforming overregulated state health insurance markets, passing comprehensive medical liability reform, and bringing a true market dynamic to health care. But my plan does more than just lower costs — it also helps every American to get access to quality health insurance, enhances the portability of coverage, and slows the rate of inflation in health-care spending. And it does all of these things without new taxes, without significant additional government spending, and without a big-government takeover of our health-care system.

COLORADO CONGRESSMAN TOM TANCREDO: I believe in market-based solutions to health-care problems. One solution is the use of Association Health Plans, or AHPs. AHPs would assist greatly in improving access to affordable health care without creating a new big government scheme. In addition, they would allow small-business owners to band together through pre-existing professional associations to purchase health insurance at reduced rates.

Foreign workers

Q: Many New Hampshire employers are dependent on foreign workers, but others say they take jobs from U.S. citizens. What do you propose to do with the immigrant visa programs specifically and immigration in general?

MCCAIN: I have always believed that our border must be secure and that the federal government has utterly failed in its responsibility to ensure that it is secure. If we have learned anything from the recent immigration debate, it is that Americans have little trust that their government will honor a pledge to do the things necessary to make the border secure. I will restore that trust by securing the border.

But we must also pursue rapid economic growth by keeping wasteful government spending in check, holding down taxes, cutting unnecessary regulatory burdens, improving education and training so that American workers can continue to compete with any workers, and undertaking any needed visa reforms to attract the labor that enhance U.S. competitiveness so that American businesses can hire and pay the best.

HUNTER: I have represented a border community for over 25 years, so I know and understand the impacts of illegal immigration on our communities. The U.S. has one of the most generous immigration and guest worker programs in the world. We welcome nearly 1 million people into our country each year – what I like to call the “front door.” We can’t make changes to our legal visa programs until we secure our border and close the “back door.”

As president, securing our borders will be one of my very first priorities and I intend to build the border fence mandated in the Secure Fence Act in six months. After we have fully implemented border security, we can closely consider whether any changes are needed in our existing visa programs.

ROMNEY: Legal immigration is a great source of strength for America; illegal immigration is not. Legal immigration has brought vitality, energy and family values to communities throughout the country, and should be encouraged. Illegal immigration, on the other hand, presents numerous challenges for our communities.

It is finally time to take corrective action and reform the current immigration laws so we can secure our borders, implement a mandatory biometrically-enabled and tamper-proof documentation and employment verification system, and increase legal immigration into America. We must also recognize that giving amnesty to illegal immigrants in our country did not work 20 years ago and it will not work now.

TANCREDO: I don’t believe for a moment that there are jobs Americans won’t do, a more accurate statement would be that there are jobs Americans won’t do for the price being paid to foreign workers. As president, I would stop the flow of illegal immigration, prosecute employers who knowingly hire illegal labor, deport those who are here illegally, and temporarily reduce legal immigration. American jobs belong to American workers.

PAUL: I intend to increase the resources devoted to border security and end the welfare magnet that attracts illegal immigrants who wish to live off the U.S. taxpayer instead of contributing to this country. However, I will make sure that our economy and businesses continue to benefit from legal immigration.

While maintaining a hard stance on illegal immigration, I have also supported programs such as the H-1B visa program.

Sub-prime mortgages

Q: What would you do about bailing out investors and mortgage companies and helping those facing foreclosure? How do you feel about regulating such lending to prevent similar situations in the future?

HUNTER: Owning a home is part of the American dream and I support policies that make home ownership more accessible for families of all income levels. I support the administration’s recent policy adjustments that encourage lenders to work with borrowers to renegotiate terms and increase the flexibility of FHA loans so qualified borrowers can move to longer term fixed loans.

It is important to note that according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, 35 percent of homeowners own their homes outright; 95 percent of all mortgages are being paid on time and 85 percent of sub-prime mortgages are also being paid on time. I support taking steps to increase disclosure to ensure consumers have all the information they need, but additional burdensome regulations are not the answer.

People need to have the freedom to make their own choices, with an understanding of the consequences. More government intervention is not the solution.

ROMNEY: Investors who bought these as investments are going to lose their money, and that’s the way it ought to be. You take a high risk, and in some cases it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. Homeowners, however, I feel very differently about. The president is going to provide to the FHA the ability of some of these homeowners to refinance their mortgages at more stable rates, and that’s a good thing. And then you’re seeing the Federal Reserve take the action necessary to provide more liquidity in the markets so that the credit crunch and the subprime mortgage market doesn’t spread too severely throughout our economy.

Clearly, we want businesses to be able to get the debt they need to build working capital and to build capital expenditure projects and so forth. So it’s important the Federal Reserve provide that liquidity.

TANCREDO: The federal government cannot afford nor do they have the responsibility to bail out those who make bad business decisions, whether they be investors, lenders, corporations, or businessmen. I do not support regulation that would limit the ability of millions of Americans from acquiring an American dream of home ownership.

PAUL: If Sarbanes-Oxley taught us anything, it is that when Congress responds to a financial crisis with new laws and regulations, the results are disastrous for the economy. Therefore, I oppose responding to the subprime crisis with polices such as a bailout or new federal regulations. Regulations will restrict entry into the mortgage market for both consumers and businesses, thus denying some Americans access to mortgages they could otherwise have obtained.

Government bailouts will create a moral hazard where mortgage lenders and consumers will not worry about a future downfall in the housing crisis because they will assume that the government will always bail them out.

MCCAIN: I believe unethical mortgage brokers who used predatory and fraudulent tactics must be prosecuted. We must raise the licensing standards for mortgage brokers. When brokers work for other lenders, we should make the lenders liable too.

Part of this problem stems from the fact that rating agencies did not do their job. In the future they must meet the need for objective information. I also believe we must ensure that in the future, every borrower must be able to understand the loans they are signing. I believe the Federal Reserve is well-positioned to keep housing-related problems from spilling over to credit markets in general or the economy as a whole. However, I support efforts to re-negotiate loans for sub-prime borrowers to avoid default, expand the FHA’s ability to help, and support the development of innovative mortgage loans.

Tax code

Q: What changes would you make that would directly affect business?

ROMNEY: I will make the Bush tax cuts permanent. I will cut marginal tax rates across the board. The cuts will save money for small businesses that are organized as S corporations.

I believe that our corporate tax rate must be competitive with the rest of the world and support reducing corporate tax rates.

The U.S. has the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world … that is out of alignment with other major economies. I will abolish the death tax once and for all. The death tax unfairly impacts families, farmers, ranchers and small businesses.

For taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income of under $200,000 the new tax rate on interest, capital gains and dividends will be absolutely 0 percent. As families are able to save and invest tax-free, we’re going to encourage and accelerate the creation of new businesses and help grow businesses that already exist.

TANCREDO: I support a complete change in the tax code from one that is based on productivity to one that is based on consumption.

PAUL: My ultimate goal is to repeal the income tax. Until that goal can be reached, I will support any and all measures that lower taxes. In particular, permanent repeal of the estate tax will be a high priority for my administration. I also favor ending income tax withholding, which forces every business in America to waste valuable resources complying with withholding requirements.

MCCAIN: Our tax code is so complicated it extracts one thousand dollars for every American family, a total of over $140 billion in extra costs every year. It’s offensive that six out of every 10 taxpayers have to pay someone else just to figure out how to pay the government.

I want America’s businesspeople creating jobs, not wasting their time, energy and capital navigating our incomprehensible tax laws. We can have a single, fair and simpler system built on a few, lower tax rates and straightforward credits for work, health, education and those with a family. We can make our personal and business tax systems work cohesively so that we can shed our status as one of the least attractive tax jurisdictions on earth.

HUNTER: The backbone of our national economic success is our manufacturing base. Unfortunately, over the last decade, our domestic manufacturing base has been relocating to foreign shores, most notably China. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, as many as 13,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in New Hampshire alone since 2001.

I believe this decline in U.S. manufacturing will have severe ramifications, including the loss of high-quality jobs and an inability to arm and defend ourselves in the future. Therefore, I support removing all federal income taxes on domestic manufacturing goods which will help level the playing field for domestically manufactured goods here at home and improve the competitiveness of U.S.-made goods in the global marketplace. This will increase tax receipts both locally and at the federal level as more people are employed in higher-yield jobs.


Q: What specific changes in federal policy- such as minimum wage or union recognition – would you favor or oppose?

TANCREDO: I don’t believe in the minimum wage and cannot unilaterally change it as president. The government does not have any right to determine what is appropriate for employers to pay their employees. Concerning unions, people should be free to choose whether or not they want to participate in a union.

PAUL: I oppose federal regulation of small businesses. I have always voted against raising the minimum wage, and I oppose union-boss power grabs such as the “card check” bill. As president, I would stop federal agencies like OSHA from imposing costly regulations on small businesses and trampling on the due process rights of business owners. I support repealing federal laws that force workers to join or pay dues to a union.

MCCAIN: Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has repeatedly made the point that the difference between the United States and other, less successful, nations is the flexibility of our economy. In many cases, unions are at odds with that needed flexibility.

Now, one might argue that they have virtues that balance the rigidity they impose on our businesses and industries. In practice, union leadership often forgets that their mission is to improve the lives of the rank and file. Instead, such union leadership is transformed into another special interest sinecure.

My home state is a right-to-work state, and it has proven beneficial for Arizona. I have fought for years for the protection of the fundamental right to work and of common-sense labor standards, by seeking a national right to work policy, opposing closed-shop mandatory union hiring, and fighting laws that require employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

HUNTER: Labor unions have made significant contributions in the areas of worker and consumer safety as well as fair compensation for American workers. Their contributions should not be overlooked. However, with the exception of public safety employees, who by the nature of their job cannot strike, I do not believe that membership in a union should be compulsory.

While unions still have a role in today’s workplace, underhanded tactics that take away a person’s right of free association cannot be tolerated. Entering a union should be a choice, not a mandate. Further, dues paid by a union member should not be used in political contributions without the knowledge and permission of that specific union member. Mandated dues should focus on providing core union services, not on political campaigns that are often divisive.

ROMNEY: I believe that hard-working Americans have the right to choose whether to join a union and should not be required to pay union dues if they do not join. No American should feel compelled or be required to join a union as a prerequisite of employment.

Furthermore, the resources of the federal government should not be used to solicit or collect dues for politicized organizations. Therefore, as president, I will work to overturn existing federal policy that permits automatic paycheck deduction for federal employees’ union dues. I also support protecting workers’ right to have the protection of a secret ballot when voting on the decision to unionize.


Q: What policies would you implement that would directly affect business?

PAUL: I would work to reinstate the polluter-pays principle, where people are held liable at common law for any damage done to the property of another. I will oppose any and all new environmental regulations that will burden American businesses, cost jobs and lower our standard of living. I oppose the Kyoto agreement.

MCCAIN: I support a market-based system of “cap and trade” that will set responsible, common-sense greenhouse gas reduction goals, and provide economic incentives for entrepreneurs, innovators, and the business community at large to achieve them.

More specifically, under a cap and trade approach industrial emitters would be allocated emission allowances under the cap that they can buy and sell. That means by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions a utility or plant can sell its credits on the market and make money. Market-based mechanisms maximize flexibility and efficiency. I believe that the profit motive will attract the transformational power of venture capital and unleash the power of the market to move alternative fuels and advanced technologies off of the drawing boards and into the economy. When it comes to effecting lasting change and legitimate reform, incentives and entrepreneurship win over taxes and bureaucracy every time.

HUNTER: Protecting and improving our environment is one of our greatest challenges. To be successful we must strike a balance between the needs of the environment and those of our communities and families. I support implementing pro-business policies that focus on incentives rather than government mandates. Releasing the power and ingenuity of the American business community to innovate and implement new, clean sources of energy will lead to large economic and environmental advances across the economic spectrum. But it must be accomplished through a regime of incentives, like tax credits, rather than imposing an additional layer of burdensome government mandates and regulations, which often add expensive reporting requirements and little actual positive environmental impact.

Already, there are U.S. companies that, without punitive government intervention, are taking steps to create more environmentally sound operations. We must avoid stifling these advances and instead encourage this innovation and investment economy-wide.

ROMNEY: We must be responsible stewards of the environment to ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit the same quality of life that we enjoy today. Our approach to being good stewards of the environment should combine new technology and implementation of common sense policies. Ideas such as this will ensure that we protect our land, air, and water, while not inhibiting economic growth.

TANCREDO: I support immediate and rapid development of nuclear energy for the purpose of significantly reducing our reliance on petroleum products.

Small business

Q: What would your administration do about existing loan and incentive programs, such as the Small Business Administration? What, if any, new programs are needed?

MCCAIN: I will fight to keep Washington off the back of small business. Innovation is fueled by a small government, low taxes, sufficient access to risk capital, skilled workers, incentives for entrepreneurs to reap rewards in exchange for their risks, a light and intelligent regulatory framework, and open access to markets. I’ll hold the existing agencies and programs of the federal government accountable for the money they spend, and make every aspect of government performance transparent. Government programs will be judged for the success they’ve had in meeting a need that people can’t be expected to meet for themselves.

HUNTER: Small businesses [make] up over 90 percent of private firms, employing approximately 50 percent of private sector employees and create 60-80 percent of net new jobs. Unfortunately, small businesses, particularly those with fewer than 20 employees, spend a significant amount of their resources seeking to comply with complicated federal regulations. My administration will reevaluate these regulations and identify those that restrict and stifle small business growth rather than creating an environment in which it can thrive. I will incorporate policies that remove unnecessary bureaucracy and duplicity and emphasize a streamlined approach for new firms with innovative technologies and techniques to do business with the federal government.

America’s small businesses have also been hurt by trade deals that promised to place them on a more equitable economic playing field with their foreign competitors. These promises haven’t been realized and I am committed to removing America from these unfair trade deals.

ROMNEY: As governor, I had a record of helping protect small businesses. Small businesses are not just part of our economy – they are the engine of economic growth and innovation. During Massachusetts fiscal crisis, I held the line on taxes because any increases would hurt small businesses. I also fought to give small businesses a voice in state government by creating a small business advocate to oversee all administration policies and ensure that regulatory processes are not curbing growth. As president, I will continue to fight for small businesses.

TANCREDO: The most important initiative that the federal government should take with small businesses is to deregulate them and reduce taxes.

PAUL: I do not believe that allowing federal bureaucrats to pick winners and losers via small business loan programs is the best way to advance small business. Instead, my small business agenda centers around cutting taxes and regulations that hamstring America’s small businesses. However, my priority is getting rid of federal programs that benefit large corporations. The government should cut programs that benefit the “big guys” before going after the Small Business Administration.

Corporate governance

Q: Is the Securities and Exchange Commission going too far, or does it need to be more stringent, in its oversight and enforcement of securities laws? What should be done to insure market integrity?

HUNTER: Insuring market integrity is critical to the efficient function of our capital markets. Investors must have the necessary and accurate information to make informed investment decisions. Without this level of certainty, the system suffers. However, as Congress and the SEC have taken steps to impose regulations to ensure that investors receive accurate information about firms whose securities are traded on public markets, the consequences have been heavy compliance costs.

These burdens of compliance have caused concern that companies are choosing to avoid the U.S. public stock markets and instead listing themselves on private and foreign markets to avoid U.S. securities regulations. Ensuring the viability of our public stock markets is critical for our economy. Therefore, I support efforts to reform Sarbanes-Oxley in a manner that protects market integrity but removes some of the regulatory burden that has caused firms to abandon U.S. stock markets.

ROMNEY: It’s high time that we provide regulatory relief for American businesses. As president, I will work to modify or eliminate cumbersome regulations and bureaucracies that hinder economic growth, capital formation, and job creation, such as Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley.

TANCREDO: I would encourage that the Congress revisit Sarbanes-Oxley.

PAUL: Yes. As one of three House members — and the ONLY member of the Financial Services Committee — to oppose Sarbanes-Oxley, I have long been concerned that the Securities and Exchange Commission is over-regulating. This is a, if not the, major reason why more small companies are fleeing American capital markets and going private.

The best way to ensure market integrity is to give investors the responsibility for ensuring for themselves the soundness of their investments, instead of giving them a false sense of security that the SEC has guaranteed their investment. After all, the market downgraded Enron’s stock before the SEC stepped in. I will also pursue a policy of sound money that will help end the Federal Reserve-created asset bubbles that have so plagued the U.S. economy in recent years.

MCCAIN: I will reform Sarbanes-Oxley. The bill was an over-reaction to genuine problems in corporate accounting and governance. The SEC has been pursuing administrative fixes to make Sarbanes-Oxley less burdensome (particularly the Section 404 compliance costs), especially for small businesses and foreign firms. If these fixes prove insufficient, I will seek a more comprehensive approach.