Estimated read time: 20-21 minutes
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In this Sunday Edition, a conversation with Utah candidates for the U.S. Senate. KSL's Bruce Lindsay sits down with Democrat Sam Granato and Republican Mike Lee. The candidates discuss their positions on critical issues.
Lee and Granato were given the opportunity to make an opening statement:
Lee: My name is Mike Lee and I am running for the United States Senate because I have come to believe that our federal government is too big and too expensive. It requires many of us to work three or four or even five months out of every year just to pay our federal tax bills. And at the end of that time period we are told by the federal government that this still isn't enough because we've accumulated a national debt that within about a year's time will reach a staggering sum of $15 trillion. This sum, when divided among 350 million Americans, works out to about $50,000 a head. That's a lot of money. It's too much money because our federal government is trying to do too many things. We need to restore those founding era principles that made clear that our federal government was supposed to focus on national defense, immigration, regulating interstate commerce, and foreign trade. It's not supposed to be all things to all people. I want to restore this mindset to Washington, D.C. And I invite you to vote for me.
Granato: I am Sam Granato. I'm a Utah mainstream businessman. I want to bring my ideals and the things I have learned in the trenches back to Washington. I am, as I say, a mainstream Utah businessman. I am not an extreme Washington attorney. I don't want to abolish social security. I don't want to gut the Constitution. And I want to protect the Constitution as it is.
The following is a transcript of the question and answer portion of Sunday Edition.
Lindsay: Well, Mr. Granato you have repeatedly accused Mr. Lee of taking extreme positions that you say are out of touch with those of mainstream Utah. Given opinion polls this month that show the spread in this race is something like 53 to 31, how do you justify that claim?
Granato: I justify it by, I believe he is extreme. I believe that Utah is more moderate than we are given credit for. I believe that on Nov. 2 I will come out victorious in this race.
Lindsay: Are you extreme Mr. Lee?
Lee No, that label is a playbook right out of the Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi strategy. What's extreme in this country, as all Americans understand, is a $15-trillion debt that escalates at a rate of almost $1.5 trillion a year. A federal government that tries to tell us where to go to the doctor and how to pay for it and exactly what kind of health insurance policy we have to buy under penalty of federal law. Americans and Utahns in particular understand that these things are extreme and we need to fight against them.
Lindsay: I heard you this past week on the Doug Wright Show on KSL NewsRadio articulate a position that Doug Wright called out -- he thought was extreme. You indicated that you wouldn't seek, you wouldn't accept any earmarks for federal funding for any Utah projects. If that money doesn't go to Utah it goes somewhere else. Why would that be in the best interest of the state and the people of Utah?
Lee: We need aggressive earmark reform in this country and that's why I call for a one-year categorical moratorium on all earmarks spending.
Lindsay: But in the meantime, are you saying that you will not take, seek, accept any earmarks for Utah?
Lee: Yes I am, until such time we can get our House in order and until such time as we can enact permanent reform rules in the Senate so as to make sure that every one of them gets fully aired and debated and discussed. This will actually inure to Utah's benefit because then the federal dollars will then be allocated on the basis of fair formulas and policies established by Congress.
Lindsay: But if you don't get that reform in a year, then do you rescind your commitment to not take any earmarks for Utah or what happens then?
Lee: If we don't get that reform then our problems will expand far greater. This is what gave us Obamacare, this is what gave us the Obama stimulus package, this is what gave us TARP. Trillions of dollars of new federal spending have been brought about as a result of what has now become part of our vernacular, things like the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase, added into the Obama health care plan just in order to procure votes. This is wrong, this is the kind of log rolling we shouldn't have.
Lindsay: You name different priorities, Mr. Granato. You say your priority is to jump-start the economy and get people back to work. Mr. Lee said it's to reduce the size and cost of government. We've heard that, why is yours the right priority?
Granato: Well, we need to jump-start it. We need to get more optimism back in. Let's go back to earmarks for a minute, Bruce. I will absolutely take federal funding. We send our tax dollars to Washington we need to get some in return. If we are not getting the dollars back we become a donor state. We create jobs, we have highways, universities -- we need this funding. What wouldn't you take to help, Mike?
Lindsay: What wouldn't you take?
Lee: Well, I wouldn't take money based on how it's allocated. In other words, it's not a matter of not taking federal funds at all, it's a matter of not procuring or accepting earmarks that channel the money specifically to an identified state, community, municipality, corporation or so forth.
Lindsay: So if it were to UTA, you wouldn't take it?
Lee: If it is specifically to UTA that's one thing but that of course is not how transportation dollars are allocated. They are allocated on a formulaic approach, based on the population of the state and other factors including, number of federally-subsidized highway miles driven. And so Utah's going to get the same number of federal highway dollars either way, with or without earmark spending.
Granato: If we're not raising our hand and putting our voice in, we're not getting those dollars, they go to California or Florida or Illinois. We need to be working for the betterment of our state and for the taxpayers here.
Lindsay: What can you do as a junior senator from Utah to jump-start the economy and get people back to work? What's the plan?
Granato: My plan is to work on legislation, especially for small business, cut taxes. We need tax breaks for small business. Government doesn't create jobs, small business creates jobs. Over 50 percent of the jobs in this country are created by small business. I can also raise my hand, go into rural Utah, bring more optimism and bring greener technologies, and also work with the industries we have -- the coal, the gas, the oil industries. We need more jobs and I can go help do that.
Lindsay: Both of you have said that small business needs greater access to capital to help move the country forward economically. You both represent yourselves as being champions of small business. To each of you, why are you the man to represent small business?
Granato: Well, I am the champion of small business. I've run a small business all of my life. I'm in a family business, I'm in the trenches every day. First, I know how to tighten my belt. I know what a small business needs. And it doesn't need what we haven't been getting. We need people who will champion the cause, that will bring optimism, and the tax breaks for small business and middle class America.
Lindsay: What do you bring to small business, Mr. Lee?
Lee: We need to reduce the corporate income tax. The corporate income tax right now stands at 35 percent. It's the second highest in the world. We also have punitive and confiscatory taxes at the upper brackets of individual income tax system and within the capital gains system. These things punish and deter rather than encourage and promote investment. And it's investment that creates jobs. Without investment we will not be able to create more jobs. Government can't create jobs because it can't create wealth, but what it can do is create a level playing field where people are given the promise that if you invest and work hard you can keep the fruits of your labors.
Lindsay: Do you agree Mr. Granato, government can't create jobs?
Granato: Government doesn't create jobs. Government can give the opportunities. Government can help banks to help loan out more money. We have money in banks that needs to be lent out. First of all, we had problems because we did away with regulation. Now we have too much regulation. We need to loosen the strings. We need those that need the money, and are able to get it and repay it, to get it in a timely fashion.
Lindsay: You raise the issue of tax policy. The current Congress has nibbled around the edges, talking about extending Bush-era income tax cuts on marginal rates. It hasn't gotten around to voting on it. Will that be a sufficient way of addressing the issues of revenue and economic stimulus?
Granato: I believe it will. First of all, Bush tax cuts, I would vote to extend those for Middle America. But for the upper two percent, I would cut those off when they're supposed to end. That would put $700 billion dollars back into the budget over the next 10 years.
Lindsay: Would you do the same?
Lee: Extending the Bush tax cuts in their entirety is absolutely necessary, it's not sufficient. What we need is to move in the direction of a single-rate tax system. One in which every American would know what percentage they pay because everyone pays the same.
Lindsay: So you would overhaul the entire structure of the tax system?
Lee: The entire structure, exactly. What we have right now is a system in which everyone pays in but the cost to many people is disguised by the fact that they don't pay them, they don't acknowledge them as taxes at the time, they pay for them indirectly through increased prices of goods and services.
Lindsay: Would you take on the tax system in that way, Mr. Granato?
Granato: No, I wouldn't, but I would take on the people who aren't paying taxes. Over 48 percent of Americans don't pay income tax. We need to go after these people, we need to go after corporations with the loopholes that aren't paying at all and we need to refine it and fix it so that everyone is paying their fair share.
Lindsay: One of the proposals for limiting government growth and restoring fiscal responsibility is to have a constitutional amendment to require Congress to pass a balanced budget every year. What would your position be on that, Mr. Granato?
Granato: Well, a balanced budget, California has a balanced budget.
Lindsay: Not really.
Granato: Well, not really, they have that as one of their laws. A balanced budget is more of a gimmick. My first priority would be to reform the entitlement programs that we have, Social Security and Medicare. We're not, unless we can get these reformed, we're never going to have a balanced budget.
Lindsay: That's the third rail of politics, let's talk about that. How would you reform Social Security and Medicare?
Granato: Well, I would start with Social Security. Sen. Bennett had a great proposal on the table that was scored a 100-percent fix by the Social Security Administration. It was tied to the cost of inflation. And it would put Social Security into perpetuity for our children and grandchildren. That is the first piece of legislation I'd bring forward.
Lindsay: How would you address that huge entitlement, Social Security and Medicare, represent about 40 percent of the budget?
Lee: The first thing we need to do with Social Security is guarantee those Americans who are already retired, current retired beneficiaries of Social Security that their benefits won't be touched, they won't be eliminated, they won't be reduced. But for those Americans who are not yet retired, that maybe retiring in 10 or more years, we need to start telling them now that we are going to start having to raise the retirement age gradually by one year every two years, until we get the retirement age up to a level that more closely reflects life expectancy in America.
Lindsay: Such as?
Lee: Such as mid-70s perhaps. It was in the early 60s, life expectancy, when the program was created, that was also roughly the retirement age when it was created. Americans are living longer and we want that to be the case, but the fact is we can't afford a system where we have fewer and fewer workers for every retiree. Can't afford the system, when at the same time that's happening people are living larger and larger percentages of their lives on this program.
Lindsay: So you [Mike Lee] would adjust age eligibility, and you're [Mr. Granato] talking about adjusting benefits based on inflation.
Granato: Well you need to adjust and reform it. But Mike, I've heard you say you want to abolish Social Security, it's unconstitutional.
Lee: I've described it as potentially something we should look at, we should privatize, somebody should be given the opportunity to pay into a privatized defined-contribution system.
Lee: Because it's their money. When we give it over to the federal government it remains available for Congress to raid. Congress promised it wouldn't do this to us when the program was created, but it has and it's done so for decades. This is their money, they earn it, they pay into the system, they have a right to that property and it ought to be theirs.
Lindsay: Would you privatize Social Security or a portion of it?
Granato: I would not. I would leave it as it is with the federal government, but I would reform it. You don't raise the retirement age to a blue-collar worker. You know if you are sitting behind a desk and you want to work until 75 that might work. We see what it's doing in France right now. They have gone from 60 to 62.
Lindsay: They're trying very hard.
Granato: They're trying very hard and it doesn't work. You don't take an entitlement away. You reform it, you fix it. And you protect it for future generations.
Lindsay: So you would keep it at 65 or 66 for some of us now?
Granato: It works the way it is.
Lindsay: We've talked about potential constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. On the subject of constitutional amendments, it's the 14th Amendment that grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States. Should that be tinkered with Mr. Lee?
Lee: We can do that by statute and I think we should do that by statute and that's why I support H.R. 1868 which would clarify the meaning of that language in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, by saying that persons born after the effective date of that statute would not be considered born subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and therefore entitled to automatic birthright citizenship unless at the time of their birth they had one parent who was a citizen, a lawful permanent resident or an alien involved in active full-time duty in military service to the United States government.
Lindsay: So we raise the issue here of illegal immigration, would you [Mr. Granato] change the definition of the 14th Amendment?
Granato: I would not change the 14th Amendment or any of the Constitution. I love the Constitution the way it is. In my opening statement I said I want to go to Washington to protect the Constitution. Most recently I heard one of our general authorities speak on the Constitution and those that would use it as a political weapon. And I heard him say, the Constitution is fine just the way it is.
Lindsay: Estimates of the numbers of illegal immigrants in the country cluster around 12 million. You oppose granting amnesty, Mr. Lee, so would you round up 12 million people and deport them, is that the solution?
Lee: Rounding up 12 million people is not a practical solution. It wouldn't work. But what we can do is stop the flow at the border. We can also start enforcing more aggressively existing immigration laws that have been on the books for decades that make it an offense against the federal government to knowingly hire an illegal alien. If we started enforcing that more aggressively those jobs would dry up and those people would start to come home. Now what we want is to continue to be a nation of immigrants. I descend from immigrants, most of us in this country do. We want to continue to be a nation of immigrants. But to be welcoming and hospitable to immigrants we need them to come through the front door. So what we want them to do is go home when those jobs dry up, reapply for a visa and have them come in under proper legal circumstances.
Lindsay: But if you don't deport such individuals do you create a pathway for them to become legal?
Lee: No, not if you consistently enforce those laws that are designed to prevent them from being given jobs.
Lindsay: Do you [Mr. Granato] support any kind of pathway for illegal immigrants to become?
Granato: I very much do. You don't rip families apart, especially in Utah, we know family value, we don't send one or two members home. Last week, Mike I heard you say, you would send them home, they would stand in line for a year, then they could come back in. That doesn't work. We find a way to help reform the immigration. The federal government has ignored it for decades.
Lindsay: Why, why has it ignored it for decades? There was a proposal by George Bush and Ted Kennedy that was supposed to be a comprehensive way to address this, why doesn't it move forward in Washington?
Granato: Because they've turned their heads. I believe everyone in Washington, I'm not a career politician, I'm a businessman. I'm going to do the best I can for as long as I can be there one term, two terms. But I am not going to worry about the next election, I'm going to fix the problems we have, one is Social Security, two is immigration, three is health care.
Lindsay: One term, two terms. I believe, Mr. Lee, you've proposed term limits that anyone in the Congress or the Senate should serve a maximum of 12 years, that would be two terms in the Senate. Is that your proposal?
Lee: Yes, yes. And I think we need to amend the Constitution to make that a mandatory requirement across the board applicable to every senator and every congressman.
Lindsay: Do you take the pledge to serve only two terms if elected?
Lee: No I don't, because that would only exacerbate the problem. The reason we need a constitutional term limits amendment is because of the seniority problem that comes about when members of Congress are able to come home after many decades of service and say, ‘Look I know you can vote for someone else if you want to, but don't you dare do it because if you do it you are going to lose money and power and influence.' That attaches a high price tag to our most fundamental of rights, our right to vote. And we shouldn't be doing that's why we need constitutional term limits. But if you have people who independently self term limit that only prolongs the problem. It gives an undue advantage to states of those senators or representatives who chose not to term limit.
Linsday: Do you support term limits [Mr. Granato]?
Granato: I support going for six years. If I enjoy my first six years, and if I do it right and the people enjoy me, I'd go back for another six. At that point I'm 72 years old, Bruce, and I think it's time perhaps to go on a service project for my church.
Lindsay: Alright. The current Senate passed the Affordable Health Care, the health care reform, would you have voted for it, Mr. Granato?
Granato: I would have voted for it. We very much need health care reform. We got some good things out of that bill, we lost pre-existing conditions, we also have our children can now get on the insurance. But there are a lot of problems with it, health care costs were not addressed properly. And I would work day and night to work on that, to reform it and bring it into line where it should be.
Lindsay: Would you have voted for the health care act?
Lee: I would not have voted for it. The federal government has no business telling the American people that they must purchase any product. Here they've told us that we must purchase a very specific type of product, not just health insurance in general, but the very type of health insurance policy that Congress in its infinite wisdom might deem fit for the American people. And they don't have authority to do that. I would have voted against it.
Lindsay: And would you champion the effort to repeal it?
Lee: I would champion the effort to repeal it and in the event that the repeal legislation were vetoed and we couldn't override the veto, I would champion an effort to defund the implementation.
Lindsay: The Department of Education is the smallest cabinet-level department, something like $58 billion. What role should the federal government have in education, Mr. Granato?
Granato: Well, the federal government is very vital to education, unlike my opponent who wants to abolish the Department of Education, I'm pleased that I got the UEA endorsement. But it needs to not be centralized all in Washington on how every state operates. We need to look at Utah, we need to look at California or Florida -- every area is different. It can't be a cookie cutter anymore. We have to think outside of the box, we have to protect our children in each state and do it in the right way.
Each candidate offered a summary statement:
Lee: Even though we live in a time of great crisis, economically and otherwise in America, this is a time of great opportunity. I agree with Ronald Reagan, ‘It's morning in America again.' And I say that with confidence because of the fact that across Utah and throughout America people are remembering that our federal government was always supposed to be one with limited powers. People all over the state are reading the Constitution on their own for the first time and they are realizing that it's not supposed to be all things to all people. They recognize that as we pare down the size, scope and cost of the federal government we will prosper, we will create jobs, we will develop a better America for tomorrow. And I invite each of you to join me in this cause and vote for me, Mike Lee, on Nov. 2.
Granato: I am going to ask you to vote for me, Sam Granato, on Nov. 2. I want to bring common sense back to the seat of the people. I want to bring the skills that I have learned in the trenches, the skills that I have learned in public service, and bring the ideals that we need, and the right amount of attention to every corner of Utah, every inch of Utah. Rural Utah especially needs help -- it needs some guidance and needs some optimism. I'm the right guy at the right time. Nov. 2, I ask for your help.
Next week, Sunday Edition concludes its election series, "Conversations with the Candidates" with candidates for the 2nd Congressional District, Jim Matheson and Morgan Philpot.