The country needs a 2012 presidential candidate whose No. 1 aim is to tame the raging federal debt. That candidate well could be Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who’s proved he can manage at the state level.
All prospective GOP candidates will propose deep spending cuts, but Daniels rightly elevates the cause of debt control to an epic battle for the nation’s future.
At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, he declared that, as during the 1860s, the 1940s and the Cold War, “the American project is menaced by a survival-level threat.
“We face an enemy, lethal to liberty, and even more implacable than those America has defeated before. We cannot deter it. ... We cannot negotiate with it, any more than with an iceberg or a Great White.”
He labeled it “the new Red Menace” and called for a new national unity around battling it. “It is our generational assignment. It is the mission of our era.”
Daniels told me months ago that there was a “2 percent chance” that he might run for president, but he is acting like that percentage has risen considerably — as witness his appearing at the CPAC cattle show.
It might be a long shot for a mild-mannered, 5-foot-7-inch Hoosier with a droll wit to win the nomination or the presidency, but Daniels has both the message and the record to improve the odds.
He’s also got the résumé — Congressional aide, think tank president, millionaire CEO, White House budget director, popular two-term governor and Harley-Davidson rider.
In recently published lists of the states and their deficits, Indiana appears in the best shape of any in the nation.
Daniels inherited a $200 million deficit when first elected in 2000, but he has produced seven straight balanced budgets, mainly through efficiencies, not tax increases.
The state built up a $1.3 billion surplus by 2008, which helped see it through the Great Recession. Now, he has a program whereby, when the state reaches balance, it stops collecting taxes.
At the same time, the Indiana governor is not a mere spending-slasher. He calls himself “a bit of a Whig,” meaning he thinks the government has jobs to do, including building infrastructure and educating children.
He just believes in government doing what it does well. He controversially sold the Indiana Toll Road to private investors for $1.8 billion to reinvest in other roads.
“We can build in half the time and two-thirds the cost when we use our own money and are free of the federal rule book,” he told CPAC.
Indiana has 18,000 fewer state employees than it did in 2000 and has the fewest per capita in the country.
Property taxes are now the lowest in the nation. The state is one of just nine with a AAA bond rating.
Daniels applies metrics to practically every state function, including the time it takes to clear a building permit and wait times at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (down from 40 minutes to eight.)
So, Daniels can deliver. And what he proposes is “a way back to greatness” for the country by dealing “decisively” with the “arithmetic of disaster” currently facing it.
He would write new “compacts” for future Social Security and Medicare recipients based on means-testing benefits and vouchers for buying private health insurance.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.