On July 28, Vermont governor and contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination Howard Dean took time out from a campaign stop in Pittsburgh to talk by phone with BusinessWeek's William C. Symonds. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow. Note, this is an extended, online-only version of Dean's comments that appear in the August 11, 2003 issue of BusinessWeek.
Q: George Bush argues that the U.S. is primed for a strong economic recovery. How do you see it?
A: I think that is complete nonsense. My favorite economist on Wall Street is Stephen Roach. He believes that the combination of these enormous deficits, incredibly low and potentially negative savings rates, and the enormous trade imbalance that we have is likely to result in significant economic calamity. So while there may be some short-term improvement, I think this President has put the entire economic future of America in enormous jeopardy with his supply-side nonsense.
Q: What would you do to get the economy moving again?
A: First, we need to do what Clinton did in 1993: We need to make a genuine effort to start to balance the budget to restore investor confidence. The second thing I would do is to support the small-business community. They create more jobs than large businesses do, and they don't move their jobs offshore. And if American taxpayers are going to invest in businesses with tax breaks, we ought to invest in businesses that stay here.
Q: Are you calling for the repeal of all the Bush tax cuts or just those passed this year?
A: All the cuts, though there are some tax cuts that we would look at as [part of] an economic-stimulus package. But right now the President's tax cuts are so irresponsible and so foolish that I would repeal all of them. The kinds of things I like in tax policy are things like rapid depreciation, with fixed time periods of eligibility. But the [tax cuts are] such a mess that it's better to start all over again.
Q: The last Presidential candidate who advocated a tax increase was Walter Mondale, and he went down to crushing defeat.
A: This is a very different situation now. We can give people a choice: Do you prefer the President's tax cuts, or would you like health insurance that can never be taken away...or to fully fund special education and see your property taxes go down...or start to balance the budget [so we'll have] investment in jobs in this country again? Since most people didn't see much in the way of tax cuts...I think most people are going to choose jobs, education, and health care before they will choose the President's tax cuts.
Q: Would you cut spending?
A: You wouldn't have to cut expenditures, but you would have to limit their growth. The most important thing we did in Vermont was to limit expenditures.... That's how ultimately you control budget deficits.
Q: Would you cut the military budget?
A: I don't think you can cut the defense budget. First of all, we're in a time where we need a strong defense, and second, there are too many shortcomings in intelligence and a lot of salary and benefit issues [for military personnel].
Q: Does the federal government have a role in helping the states address their enormous budget deficits?
A: Yes, but let's figure out why those deficits are present. New York and New Jersey, for example, had huge, irresponsible tax cuts which they paid for in part by bonding and borrowing. I'm not going to bail out politicians who promised their voters things that weren't true.
Q: What approach would you take toward business regulation?
A: It's a mixed bag. We do need environmental enforcement that is not happening now. But my attitude is that 80% of the business community wants to do right thing environmentally. That's what we found in Vermont. And for the 20% of industries that are not helpful, there is a heavy hammer.
Q: How do you assess Bush's environmental record?
A: He is the most awful and irresponsible President in terms of protecting the environment in the history of the United States. Even to the extent of using Orwellian language like "clean skies," which means putting more pollution in the air, and "healthy forests," which means logging old-growth forests.
This is a President who not only doesn't care about the environment [but] he jeopardizes national security by refusing to deal with renewable-energy issues. We are addicted to foreign oil, and he refuses to confront the Saudis about their role in promoting terrorism. This is a President who doesn't have a clue.
Q: How big a role would private insurance play in your plan to provide health insurance for all Americans?
A: A big role. I'm not proposing reform, I'm simply proposing adding everyone into the existing system. Because to propose reform is to invite the death of the plan, as we saw in 1993. This is a plan to get everyone in the system and then reform it afterwards. It will help the business community substantially, because business will no longer pay for uncompensated care generated by other people.
Q: You've said you expect corporations to provide health insurance to their workers. What do you do to corporations that don't provide coverage?
A: They would lose certain tax exemptions, particularly around pension benefits and the deductibility of executive compensation. In my view, taxpayer subsidies are a benefit, and they are given to corporations who contribute to the social good. If corporations aren't interested in contributing to the social good, then why should they get the same tax advantages as their competitors?
Q: In foreign policy, you opposed the war in Iraq. Are their places where you would intervene?
A: I supported President Bush's intervention in Afghanistan as a matter of national defense. I supported Clinton's intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, because genocide was being stopped, and the European Union and the U.N. were shirking their responsibility to stop it. And I support sending a limited contingent as part of an international force to Liberia, because we have a long-standing responsibility to Liberia, just as the French do to Togo and the British do in Ghana.
Q: Can you be a viable candidate for President without having served in the military?
A: George Bush didn't have [such a great] background. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan didn't [serve]. Jimmy Carter was the only recent President who served on active duty. [Ed. note: George H.W. Bush served in World War II.]
Q: Are you worried about critics who call you the next George McGovern?
A: I don't worry about it, because people will eventually find out what really went on [when I was governor] in Vermont. I'll govern the same way I did in Vermont. I'm a fiscal conservative and a social progressive.