Larry Kudlow Interviews Dick Cheney
By The Kudlow Report
LARRY KUDLOW, host: Mr. Vice President, welcome back to THE KUDLOW REPORT.
Former Vice President DICK CHENEY: Well, it's good to see you again, Larry.
KUDLOW: Thank you, sir. Let me begin. I want to talk about the economy
and business and perhaps we'll get to the foreign policy troubles in
the back end. Despite a torrent of conservative criticism over
President Obama's economic policies, there are, nonetheless,
unmistakable signs of economic recovery. In fact, in the news this
morning, we had home sales rising. We've had leading indicators
rising, we've had better credit spreads. The stock market is up about
35 percent from its lows in early March. Let me ask you, sir, is there
an economic recovery out there in your view?
Mr. CHENEY: Well, Larry, I'm reluctant to tell an economist what's
going on in the economy.
KUDLOW: It never stopped you in the past.
Mr. CHENEY: Well, that's true. It never stopped me before. No, I've
always been impressed with the tremendous resilience of the American
economy. I think over the years, over the decades, it's demonstrated
this tremendous ability to take severe body blows, if you will, and
bounce back. And I think what we're seeing here at some point the
recession's going to end, at some point we're going to enter into
recovery, and I think I see, as you do, some signs out there that are
positive. I follow the stock market, home sales and unemployment
numbers and so forth, and they all seem to indicate that we're--if we
aren't at the bottom, we're getting close.
KUDLOW: All right. Will President Obama, therefore, get credit? Again,
with the barrage of criticism coming from conservatives and so forth,
if there is an economic recovery, isn't he going to get a lot of
credit for it? Isn't that going to be a very powerful political plus
for him? Regardless of causality, nonetheless, that's the way this
game works, does it not?
Mr. CHENEY: Well, I think that's the way it's worked in the past, to
some extent, but I--the thing I'm concerned about and the thing that I
think ultimately is the most important set of issues or concerns, if
you will, in terms of how this economy's being managed is what the
long-term consequences are of the policies that have been put in place
by the Obama administration. And we have short-term swings in the
economy. I have, you know, if the economy turns up now, we come out of
the recession, that's fine, it's all to the good. I hope that happens
and, if he had something to do with it, he deserves some of the
political credit for it. The problem--the big problem I have, though,
is that I think the recession we've been through is being used by the
administration in ways that fundamentally change the relationship
between government and the private sector. That's what worries me
KUDLOW: You know, this business of unprecedented interference in the
private sector, as you've just described, I mean, we can walk through
the issues. Basically, the government's going to own General Motors.
Some people call it Government Motors, that's a big story on the front
pages today. They're going to take 70 percent of the new General
Motors. The government already owns AIG. The government owns Fannie
Mae. The government owns Freddie Mac. There's a lot of discussion
about the government interfering, intervening in the tax-free
municipal bond market to help states run money. Mr. Obama himself told
C-SPAN over the weekend, in an interview, that the US was out of money
because of the unprecedented spending and borrowing. Now, is that what
you're referring to? And I want to be direct here, some conservatives
say Mr. Obama is a socialist or a socialist-light, and he's running
socialist type policies. Do you agree with that criticism?
Mr. CHENEY: Well, I agree with the criticism without using the labels.
I don't want to get into trying to label President Obama. He's our
president. At this point, he's the only one we've got. He won the
election, and he obviously is entitled to pursue those policies that
he wants to pursue. My concern is that we entered this period with a
big, big problem, with the whole area of entitlements, Social
Security, Medicare, the expectation that we were going to run out of
money not too far down the road in terms of keeping those basic
commitments. Nobody even talks about that anymore. And what we've been
seeing, though, and what's been advocated by the president and what
looks to be in store if he's successful is that we're seeing a vast
expansion, not only the power of the federal government over the
private sector, but also in terms of spending. Massive, massive
amounts of new spending and presumably new taxes to pay for it that I
think will do fundamental, long-term damage to the country. And I do
think it's a more liberal agenda, if you will, than any in recent
KUDLOW: But, in truth, isn't it fair to say that many of these
policies, central planning policies, command and control interference
policies, whether it's socialism-light or European market social kinds
of policies, they really began under the Bush-Cheney administration,
did they not? I mean, after all, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are under
government ownership 80 percent. That began under your administration.
The first General Motors loan began under your administration. And, of
course, the great TARP program to allegedly prop up the banking
system, which has turned out to be partly bank ownership, we don't
know the last story on that. No one knows when TARP is going to ended.
All these things really began under your administration. At what point
President Bush, I believe, said we have to--we have to stop--we have
to suspend free market capitalism in order to save free market
capitalism. What's your take on that? How much blame of this shift to
the left do you think the Bush-Cheney administration bears?
Mr. CHENEY: Well, I would--I would bust it up into two segments,
Larry. I think there's no question but what the tail end of the Bush
administration, Bush-Cheney administration, that we took steps
specifically geared to try and free up the financial sector. There was
the view reporting from economists, from the Fed, from Treasury and so
forth that the credit system of the country had, in effect, frozen up
or was close to it, and when you get into that kind of situation, the
government is the only area of last resort with respect to trying to
deal with those issues. You can't fall back on the private sector and
say, `You take care of the nation's banking system.' That's a
fundamental function of the government, the Federal Reserve, the
Treasury and the FDIC, etc. All of those agencies have a major role to
KUDLOW: But if I may...
Mr. CHENEY: If it's not working, then the federal government has to
deal with it.
KUDLOW: But did you anticipate the degree of government control over
the banks? No question throwing a safety net from Federal Reserve
liquidity was appropriate. I don't think any economist left or right
disagrees with that. On the other hand, what we've seen now is that
this Congress has moved in to declare, for example, compensation and
pay limits, repurchase agreements, dividend policies, merger and
acquisition policies. You yourself know these things because you were
a CEO of a big company once upon a time. Did you anticipate how
Congress would move in to take control of the banks when you made
these initial loans?
Mr. CHENEY: No, I don't believe we did. I don't recall any debate
within the administration. There may have been some over at Treasury
or someplace that focused on the extent of which government would try
to control these institutions once they provided financing for them.
You know, I've got experiences going back to the wage price controls
in the Nixon administration where, in effect, we had what I think was
a terrible mistake, in that case a Republican administration, where
moved in and tried to control the wages, prices and profits of every
enterprise in America. It was a huge mistake. We finally got out of
it, but it took a long time to do it, and it does a lot of damage. One
of the things we see now, you mentioned it, is the fact that
government, in some cases Congress, in some cases the Obama
administration, telling General Motors they've got to fire Rick
Wagoner, making decisions that traditionally and historically have
been made by the private sector.
KUDLOW: And running roughshod in the bankruptcy proceeding with
Chrysler, running roughshod over the bond holders...
Mr. CHENEY: Mm-hmm.
KUDLOW: ...thereby abrogating contract rights. I mean, did you think,
for example, when you made the first loan to GM and Chrysler, at the
end of the administration, of your administration, did you think at
that time the government would wind up owning 70 percent of General
Motors? Some people now calling it Government Motors.
Mr. CHENEY: Well, some of us at the time wanted GM to go bankrupt, go
to Chapter 11.
KUDLOW: Were you in that camp?
Mr. CHENEY: I was. The decision was made that, in the final analysis,
since our administration was almost over and a brand-new team was
about to take over that the president wanted, in effect, not to take a
step that wasn't necessarily going to be followed by his successor,
but rather to set up a situation which the new guys could address that
issue and make a decision about what the long-term policy was going to
be. And we came up with a short-term package, in effect, that got us
through the--through the inauguration.
KUDLOW: What would you do differently now? Again, you, in some sense,
I think a clear sense, that the Bush-Cheney administration laid the
groundwork for this big government intervention. Mr. Obama is taking
it further probably, perhaps, than you all might have, although one
will never know. But what would you be doing differently right now?
Mr. CHENEY: Well, I think the budgets he submitted are way out of
whack. I think what it does not only to the short-term deficit but
long-term debt situation is very objectionable. I think the notion
that we're going to get up to a point where the debt equity ratio for
the country's going to be what, over 50 percent, 60 percent? I've seen
even 80 percent at the end of a 10-year period of time.
KUDLOW: Some people are worried the United States is going to lose its
AAA credit rating.
Mr. CHENEY: Well, that's got to be of concern. The last time that we
had debt to equity ratios, or debt to GDP ratios was 1950...
Mr. CHENEY: ...at the end of World War II after we'd fought a major
war and obviously had major governmental obligations as a result of
that. So I don't hear anybody in the administration expressing concern
over that massive growth in the national debt and what's that going to
mean long-term in terms of our currency, in terms of inflation.
KUDLOW: Is it going to lead to a general sales tax? Big story in The
Washington Post this morning about talk of a national sales tax or a
VAT, a value added tax, which will ultimately be brought in play--it's
a European-style tax--to finance all the spending and borrowing. Do
you think there's a VAT tax in America's future?
Mr. CHENEY: I would hope not. We're at a point now where to look at
the levels of spending that are being contemplated, six hundred and
some billion dollars, for example, in unfunded planning with respect
to their medical reforms, somebody's got to pay for that in some
fashion. It'll be paid for either by printing more money or raising
taxes. He's already talking about a set of policies that I think
grossly undermine the notion that the way you grow the economy is to
stimulate the private sector, to minimize government's role in the
private sector, to cut taxes as much as possible, to minimize the
regulatory burden that the government imposes on the private sector.
All of those principles that I think a lot of us believe in are now
pretty much being ignored in favor of a much larger government, a much
greater involvement in the society--you say ownership of General
Motors, etc.--so that we're seeing some very, very fundamental changes
with the important political as well as economic consequences.
KUDLOW: Speaking of political, I guess you're trying to outline a
message for the Republican Party here to limit government and limit
taxation and so forth. You kind of took a shot at General Colin Powell
the other day, said you didn't know he was still a member of the
Republican Party. He responded to you by saying that you were
mistaken. He is a member of the Republican Party, and he regards
himself a, quote, "Jack Kemp Republican," end quote. Could you react
to what Mr. Powell is saying?
Mr. CHENEY: Well, we're happy to have General Powell in the Republican
Party. I was asked a question about a dispute he was having, I think,
with Rush Limbaugh, and I expressed the consent, the notion I had that
he had already left since he endorsed Barack Obama for president. But
I meant no offense to my former colleague. I wasn't seeking to
rearrange his political identity.
KUDLOW: So you welcome him back into the party.
Mr. CHENEY: We're in the mode where we welcome everybody to the party.
What I don't want to do, in the course of trying to expand the overall
size of the Republican Party and expand our base, is to talk away from
basic fundamental principles. I think it's very important that we
remind people out around the country what it is that we stand for,
that we do believe in a strong national defense, in low taxes and
limited government; and giving up on those principles, in order to try
to appeal to people who are otherwise going to vote Democratic, seems
to me is a--would be a fundamental defeat for those of us who are
essentially conservative, who've been long-time supporters of the
KUDLOW: Let me just in the remaining moments go back to another
headline, unfortunately, and that is North Korea's launching all these
nuclear missile tests. Last evening they launched some more. I do know
intelligence agencies may or may not have expected this barrage. What
is your comment on this? And how in the world are we going to deal
with North Korea, which has become a long-term and vexing problem?
Mr. CHENEY: It is one of the biggest problems out there today. It's a
difficult one that we dealt with, obviously, and the Obama
administration's now facing a major test. They've set off another
nuclear device. They have been proliferators in the past, both of
nuclear technology and missile technology. They did, of course, build
a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert designed to produce plutonium
for the purposes of having Syrian nuclear weapons and that got shut
down when the Israelis bombed it. The fact is the North Koreans are
one of the worst operators in the world today, and you've got to find
some way to change the course they're on or they're going to be a
major threat. One of the things that I think is a wrong thing to do
is, at this particular time, to cut our program for missile defense in
the Defense Department. That's more important than ever when you've
got a rogue nation out there, like North Korea, that operates in
accordance of a whole different set of standards than normal people
do, with the possibility that they can ultimately deploy a weapon that
could hit the United States.
KUDLOW: Why do you reckon that Secretary of Defense Gates, himself a
Republican, served under numerous Republican administrations, is going
along with this?
Mr. CHENEY: I don't know. I haven't talked to Bob about it. Bob stayed
on because he was asked to stay on. I thought it was a good thing that
he did continue in office, but, obviously, somebody made the decision
and he's supporting it to reduce the amount of money that we devote to
missile defense. We've gotten a long way on missile defense. We know
how to do it. We know how to take down incoming warheads, but we need
to do a lot more work in order to be--to deploy a system that'll
defend the United States against those kinds of limited strikes that
might be possible by a nuclear armed North Korea or Iran.
KUDLOW: Isn't the absolute key at the end of the day China? And
couldn't the US, working together with China, essentially defund,
definance what's left of North Korea's economy and stop the power flow
into North Korea, just cut off their power all together? Beyond that
seems like it's more empty talk to me. UN conferences and resolutions
seem to have virtually no meaning. Isn't this China the key here?
Mr. CHENEY: I think it is. I think you're absolutely right, Larry. The
Chinese have got a long international border with North Korea. They
have more commerce with North Korea than anybody else. They clearly
are in a position, if anybody is, to try to put the screws to the
North Korean economy to get them to change their behavior. So far,
they've been willing to enter into the six party talks, but that's
about the end of it. There have been no real sanctions, no penalties
imposed on North Korea for their past behavior. And every time they go
through one of these cycles, then they go out and demand--the North
Koreans demand more concessions in order to get--go back to the table
again to resume the talks. But, through this process, we've had
numerous missile tests, we've had now two tests of nuclear weapons in
'06 and then again now. We've had them building the reactor in Syria
for the Syrians. These are probably today the worst proliferators in
the world of nuclear weapons technology to rogue regimes or to
KUDLOW: Is there's one--final question--is there one piece of advice
you would give President Obama right now to deal with this North
Mr. CHENEY: Well, going forward, I'd say insist upon the North Koreans
keeping their commitments, and when you say you're going to impose
sanctions, impose sanctions, make them stick. And again you've got to
work with the Chinese if you're going to try to do this peacefully. I
think you also need to emphasize the fact, and I think it is a fact,
that--and this is an argument to be made with the Chinese as well as
others in the region--that if the North Koreans are successful in
deploying a significant nuclear capability, that others in the region
who have the capability, the technical capability, are going to want
to do the same. The Japanese are going to have to reconsider their no
nukes policy. Taiwan could be in that camp, certainly South Korea. All
of these states living in an area where you've got a North Korean
government that has nuclear weapons and is as irresponsible as it has
been for decades are going to have to reconsider what they require for
their own security. China needs to understand that the whole region is
likely to become less stable.
Mr. CHENEY: And I can't believe that it's in their interest to have
any of those developments occur that ought to give the Chinese the
incentive to work with us to get the North Koreans to stop.
KUDLOW: We're going to have to leave it there. Mr. Vice President, I
can't thank you enough for this interview and I wish you all the best.
Mr. CHENEY: Well, it's good to see you again, Larry.
KUDLOW: Thank you, sir.