My chat with Jon Huntsman about his economic plan

September 1, 2011

I spoke with Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman on Tuesday evening, just as he was putting the finishing touches on his economic plan, which he announced Wednesday. (Here are all the details.) Some excerpts from our conversation:

On what’s wrong with the U.S. economy …

We have a jobs crisis on our hands in this country, and first and foremost we need to rebuild our core. And the core that I’m talking about is our economy. This world always needs an engine of growth to pull the global economy along, and China has been an engine of growth. And the next two or three years could prove problematic in terms of China maintaining its status as an engine of growth.

So all the more we’ve got to get back on our feet and get our act together. What we’re doing is based on common sense; it’s based on experience; it’s based on real-world solutions. There is no lack of solutions, just a lack of serious leadership. I draw my inspiration from basically three things. One of them is the Ryan plan. The second  is the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission report. And the third is energy independence from the Pickens Plan.

On Rep. Paul Ryan’s debt reduction plan …

I embrace the Ryan plan. The content there is basically going to drive me forward in terms of debt and spending and how we get this country to 19 percent of GDP in spending as opposed to 23 percent. That is the model I would work from. It might not be the final position, but it is the going-in position for me. I like what it advocates for Medicaid. I like what it talks about in terms of Medicare.

On tax reform …

In order to infuse predictability and certainty into the marketplace – which it doesn’t have today and therefore it has no confidence and therefore you don’t have business employing and you don’t have business releasing capital expenditures into the marketplace — you have to get certainty in terms of tax reform. We’re going to lower rates [23 percent, 14 percent, 8 percent and a zero capital gains rate] with three brackets and an income tax return that would resemble a post card. This is reminiscent of what I did as governor where I actually created something close to a flat tax where we worked to eliminate all the deductions and loopholes.

So I am premising both individual and corporate tax reform [with a top rate lowered to 24 percent] on clearing the cobwebs out. You pay for it by eliminating corporate welfare, by phasing out subsidies and loopholes and deductions. My goal would be to phase out everything on the corporate side and the individual side. I know that is controversial. I know there is a political risk there. But that is the only way you can raise the revenue to buy down the rates. There ‘s no other way to pay for it. When I was governor it took us two years, we brought both parties together and we got it done. So I am coming at this exercise as probably the only person in the race who’s actually been through this effort before.

On regulatory reform  …

We are going to call for rolling back existing regulations, specifically Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. We are going to call for dramatically reigning in the EPA. We are going to curb the excesses of independent agencies like the [National Labor Relations Board], which is standing in the way of legitimate job creation in South Carolina with the Boeing plant.

On housing:

If you want an example of a housing market that is on the move, why is it that Vancouver the hottest housing market in the world today? Because they have a clear and defined and user-friendly legal immigration policy. They’ve got people coming in and investing in their marketplace, bringing up values. We need to fix our H-1B visa program, as well.

On China and free trade:

We’ve got to use the tools that we’ve got under the [World Trade Organization] and use them aggressively. But more importantly, we’ve got to get our house in order here. We have less leverage at the negotiating table today with China and less clout because our own economy is broken. If you want to get the attention of the Chinese – and I can tell you having done this for 30 years both in business and in government – you’ve got to have some leverage and some economic strength behind you. We have to restore our economic core and that would do more for our leverage than any WTO case.

We’ve also got, and I did this as ambassador, to engage the emerging private sector in China to begin to push issues like intellectual property protection because it is in their interest as innovators and entrepreneurs and creators to make sure China steps up and and does more. I lived in Taiwan in the 1980s.  Taiwan was an egregious violator on the enforcement side of intellectual property rights, as bad as China has been in recent years. But the minute their entrepreneurial class started to develop their own intellectual property, they turned on a dime and lobbied their own government. That same creative class is emerging very, very quickly in China.

On dealing with climate change …

China and India are not willing to play on the same playing field. And we should not be unilaterally disarming, in a sense, especially at at a time when we need to get this economy back on its feet. The last thing we should be doing is anything that would hinder job growth and economic expansion. I am not going to have any discussion about it until such time as we get China and India tuned into the issue. They’re not now, and I don’t thing they will be for some time.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

“We need to fix our H-1B visa program, as well.”

Please define what “fix” means. I hope you mean open spaces to needed fields (true R&D / science) by shutting down the pipelines opened for the past decade to the Infosyses, Tatas, Cognizants, etc. who have been using it to flood the IT market with cheap labor and offshoring. Raise the fees further and use them to police the abuse of the program and improve domestic education.

I fear from context that my hopes are to be dashed.

Posted by John80224 | Report as abusive

So Huntsman says he “embrace the Ryan plan”???

Bye, bye, Jon, we hardly knew ye!

The GOP lost TWO House seats already in special congressional elections over the Paul Ryan Medicare Plan and is on their way to losing a THIRD House seat in Nevada over the Ryan Plan.

Donald Trump was so correct when he said the Republicans have a “death wish” with this Ryan Plan.

Posted by VitoDanelli | Report as abusive

What does he do with the EITC?

Posted by TheFree_Lance | Report as abusive

It will be a great day when someone like Huntsman is less concerned with flooding the American labor pool with cheap, foreign workers through the H-1B program and more concerned WITH AMERICAN WORKERS.

Posted by PHenry13 | Report as abusive

By all means, rein in the EPA–we all need a little more asthma, cancer and COPD in our lives, not to mention the lives of our children. The main thing is that corporations continue to be allowed to dump their waste and toxins into our environment–it’s all about profit, after all.

Posted by cautious123 | Report as abusive

“We are going to call for rolling back existing regulations, specifically Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. We are going to call for dramatically reigning in the EPA. We are going to curb the excesses of independent agencies like the [National Labor Relations Board], which is standing in the way of legitimate job creation in South Carolina with the Boeing plant.”

You mean get rid of the regulations we put in place to prevent another financial melt down?

You mean get rid of the health care reform that is reducing our deficit and protecting people from being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions?

You mean get rid of the agency that is working to keep our air and water clean so our people can live in a world of relative health and well being?

I don’t understand that Republican agenda. If absolute power in the government is so terrible, why do they support absolute power for the corporations? Those entities are as powerful, if not more-so, and they have already proven that they don’t care whether the average American lives or dies as long as they get paid.

Posted by TrueIronPatriot | Report as abusive

If this report were released closer to April 1st, I would consider it a quaint seasonal joke. Being posted now, it would seem Mr. Huntsman seeks to accelerate the decline of America.

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive

Huntsman embraces the “Ryan Plan” for Medicaid and he likes what it talks about for Medicare. Ryan’s plan essentially guts Medicaid and eliminates Medicare and provides an $8K voucher. This is not a plan Mr. Huntsman. This is a Republican death sentence for the elderly and the poor. Go back to the drawing boards Mr. Huntsman, Ryan plan, Simpson-Bowles plan, Pickens plan get an original thought in your head.

Posted by seattlesh | Report as abusive

SanPa, the Republicans all seem to be embracing a “Plan to Destroy the Middle Class, Eliminate the Elderly, the Sick and the Poor” and here that had us all fearing foreign terrorists.

Posted by seattlesh | Report as abusive

Yet another shill commentary in favor of yet another Republican ready to attack the elderly, the middle class and the poor in America.

Attack Medicare, attack Social Security, attack Obamacare, attack the EPA, attack the NRB, attack Dodd-Frank, attack Sarbanes-Oxley, extend more tax advantages to corporate interests & the wealthy and attack every other protection or safety net for the average American against worker/consumer exploitation, pollution, corruption and greed.

Sounds like a winning vision for America.

Republicans nearly destroyed America under Bush, and if given the chance they will finish the job after the 2012 elections.

Posted by NobleKin | Report as abusive

I look forward to hearing more. Seems like he has many solid ideas to lead the country forward.

Posted by Indep2012 | Report as abusive

“We are going to call for dramatically reigning in the EPA” – because the economy won’t recover unless corporations can generate toxic sludge, dump heavy metals into public water supplies, clearcut ancient forests, hasten the extinction of unreplaceable species like the honeybee, generate unlimited CO2 emissions, contaminate private wells with hydraulic fracturing, and blow the top off of every mountain in Appalachia.

America’s engaged in a race to the bottom, and it looks like this guy is in first place.

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

Well, I was thinking of JH as something different but I guess I was wrong. What do you expect from a billionaire? Instead of us going down to the Chinese level, how about forcing the Chinese up to our level in terms of environmental protection, social welfare, child labor, political openess (we’re getting worse, they’re getting better), etc. Tairaffs would get their attention and if they pull the plug on our T-Bills, they shoot themselves in both feet. We need jobs but we don’t need to poison ourselves, throw our social saftey net under the bus, or give big tax breaks to Wall St. Capital Gains and Dividends at 0%? The rich are the only ones that can take advantage of this. The dividends thrown off by the stock of Walmart to the Walton family is $2.35 BILLION annually. Untaxed? You gotta be kidding me. “Winners write history, losers live it”. The rich always rewrite stuff to their advantage once they get to the top. Time to pull the plug on Ryan and his ilk.

Posted by DougRich | Report as abusive

Virtually all the replies are the opinion of “the other side” and at some point in time, this country has to face the fact that acting is something that is required and not optional. Doing nothing is not an option.

Throwing rocks at a plan is not going to get anything accomplished either. That seems to be an unfortunate practice. Let’s be open to review any plan and offer alternatives vs. just blasting it like many politicians do.

Posted by freqtrvlrdrc | Report as abusive

Since we all can’t seem to agree on anything, perhaps we should hire one of the out-of-work dictators? I hear Gaddafi is available.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Yawn! Another round of GOP small thinking. $$$$$…zzzzzz….snore…. The GOP has the cart in front of the horse, they should take a lesson in fiat currency, they’d realize they are worshiping a false god.

Posted by JulsMan | Report as abusive

Jon is telling lies. He claims that for the past 2.5 years Obama has been sitting on three trade agreements (S. Korea, Columbia and Panama). Obama has been trying to get Congress off their a$$ and approve these. The Party of “stall” (Republicans) has failed to respond.

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

John apparently doesn’t follow the news or hasn’t verified with the IRS what the “Actual” corporate tax rate is in this country. What John doesn’t realize, when he spouts nonsense like “America has the 2nd highest corporate tax rate in the world”, is that those other countries tax laws don’t contain all the exemptions that ours do. Corporate “ACTUAL” tax rate in thsi country isn’t anywhere near 35%. My guess is that corporations all over America will stampede him if he tries to eliminate all deductions and lowers their tax rate to 25%. Because most aren’t paying anywhere near that much now. Try selling that to GE Jon. I dare you!

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

Jon also seems to be a little confused about Capital gains. Or is he just being obtuse? He says that Capital Gains are double taxation because they have already paid taxes on the money they invested? err..they paid taxes on the original principle (money invested). Capital Gains is the profit you made on that money. So where exactly did those profits get previously taxed?

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

Now if Jon is willing to view the returns on my 401k investment as “Capital Gains” and make those tax free, I might be willing to go along with this. Or is it just the billionaires that this little gift applies to?

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

What is so “Bold” about the same old Republican orthodoxy? It won’t work. We are in a liquidity trap, and the only thing that will work is to take advantage of fire-sale interest rates and invest in infrastructure, which needs to be fixed anyway. Put people back to work, screw the 50-foot inflatable gorilla we call “The Deficit.” Get people back to work, and revenue will flow in. That’s how you pay down the deficit.

Posted by Fishrl | Report as abusive

My my, all these lefty trolls blasting what appears, at first glance, to be a reasonable attempt by Mr. Huntsman to define an economic agenda. Quite a few interesting ideas in there.

Evidently because Mr. Huntsman didn’t start sucking up to President Obama, Lefty Nation felt justified in scurrilous attacks on him. What a bunch of losers, especially in November 2012.

Posted by Elektrobahn | Report as abusive

So, Mr. Huntsman wants us to roll back progress and go forward with the Ryan Plan? I don’t think so…

Posted by FtBendTx | Report as abusive

Elektrobahn…reasonable? Apparently I missed the part about controlling spending or addressing the single largest expense we have..Defense. Do you really believe it’s necessary to spend more on Defense than the rest of the world combined? When you’re borrowing $1.5 trillion a year? Jon embraces Ryan’s plan..which in a nutshell is to gut medicare to offset the costs of continuing the Bush era Tax cuts. I have to admit that repelling Sarbanes-Oxley is a good idea. But by and large this package is akin to the famous “I want to save the world..” speech at the Miss America pageant. And for the record, I’m not from the left. I’m an Independent who’s just right of center. I was hoping Jon would come forward an be more of a moderate. Perry, Romney and Bachmann will cancel each other out well before we get to November 2012. But this package shows that he has less of a clue than Obama about what needs to be done. Or how he’ll get Congress to go along with some of his ideas. 2012 isn’t going to be as kind to the Republicans as you apparently think it will.

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

GE spends more on lobbying than they pay their CEO. Let’s see Jon try selling his corporate tax ideas to those guys. That would be like to the American Cancer Society lobbying against tobacco in North Carolina.

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

How is going backwards going forwards? It so reminds me of the 1984 “double speak” that Republicans seem to have ingrained in their heads these days. They’re always talking freedom but yet if you’re a woman they want to be able to treat you like chattel because they want to legislate how your womb is used.

Roll back health care? Great, just what we need when medical visits and medicine are already beyond the reach of a third of our citizens. Roll back EPA so we can have fouled air rasing respiratory illnesses, dirty the water with toxins and industrial waste for more carcinogen based cancer epidemics like Love Canal. Wow, what a brainstorm! Roll back consumer financial protections so banks can charger usury rates that were once the domain of back street gangsters and hoodlums.

Let more peasants into the country. Sure, Republican farmers like that idea, it reminds them of the lordships of medieval times that they’re so fond of and clearly want to bring back.

Posted by Marstrans | Report as abusive

Republicans cut taxes for the rich and disembowel the social programs. Whoo hoo so what’s new? Ah yes … it is all Obama’s fault and the Republican’s will fix it … How you say? See above!

The figures say otherwise if you look at the debt chart: cles/2011/07/31/the_debt_crisis/ 11/08/05/economic-meltdown-villain-georg e-w-bush-s-staggering-debt-numbers.html? obref=obinsite

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

The twenty percenters are having a feeding frenzy on this one. Let’s see increase taxes on the rich; increase taxes on the corporations; call everyone who disagrees a racist; put Al Gore in charge of the EPA; extort banks on their lending practices through the DOJ; pack the NRLB with union lawyers…that should be a good start on firing up this economy.

Posted by brianinslc | Report as abusive

Like many in the MSM, you are doing your dead level best to promote another RINO for the coming election. If you haven’t noticed, this guy gets at most 1% of the vote in virtually every poll conducted across the political spectrum. Sadly for you insiders pushing this guy as a viable candidate for the Repuclican nomination, the voters have caught on to your gig. NO matter how reasonable and sound he may come across in interviews such as this, he’s simply doing what all RINO’s do in the primary; try to sound like a conservative. There will NOT be another RINO on the ticket this go-around, thank goodness! Quit wasting your time and energy with them.

Posted by ronlsb | Report as abusive

Watch for the foreign trade numbers coming out this next week. That’ll tell a grim story.

Also,the be quiet secret is federal VAT—value added tax.
In some countries it is as much as 20%. US is probably the only developed country that doesn’t have it.

Oh, and this push by multi-national corps trying to bring their profits home without paying US tax. The US public is “oh, so mean” to them, making them store their cash off-US shores. It isn’t THEIR fault we drove them off!
Let’s kiss and make up AGAIN! Change the code and
lay the trip on VAT….please, for our sake.

Posted by limapie | Report as abusive

James P., did you take economics or political science classes for any of your core requirements to attain a degree in Journalism? Nothing in Jon Huntsmen’s platforms are either brilliant or bold. They well may be middle of the road for American politcs as Jon himself states. However as a package his platform is rehashed Reagonomics but lacks vision as well as common sense.

If my apartment building is on fire should I do nothing because other tennants are unwilling to assist. Yet this is the same logic(ill-logic) he is applying to the issue of global warming. Probably not be because he believes it, rather he has been advised the idea is marketable. Upon reading his platform it appears to me that most of his ideas fail the logic test but pass the popularity test. I would not call this a construct for consensus regardless of the views expressed.

Regarding the matter of spending and revenues, I see no mention of defense. When calculating interest payments along with principle, the monetary cost of our wars and military presence around the world is our achillies heel. There is also no mention of earned income tax credits for families earning wages below the poverty level. How is it the wealthiest nation in the world has many of it’s people earning wages for full time work and are poverty stricken? I wonder how Jon feels about that?

Joseph Stigletz won a Nobel Peace Prize for his book on market economics. The underlying premisis is that markets don’t always correct because consumers often do not know what is in their best interst. Clearly the current economic depression that the U.S. and much of the industrilized world is suffering is not from overregulation but a “laizze faire” approach by Washington regarding economic regulatory policy. Yet Huntsmen would have us dergulate even further. Perhaps a tradtional marketing approach to running an election campaign or for that matter a government is not exactly what our nation needs right now?

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

Coyotle, you completely refute your presumption of superior intellectual attainment by your total misrepresentation of Stigletz. First, he did not win a Nobel Peace Prize, he won (shared, actually) a Nobel prize in economics. Second, he did not say that consumers “often do not know what is in their best interest.” (Which is your, and the typical, liberal point of view.) What he argued is that markets are not efficient because information is not uniformly available. That’s a very different proposition entirely from what you assert. And it certainly has nothing to do with your unsupported assertion that the current economic “depression” (which is inaccurate on its face) is due to “laizze [sic] faire” regulatory policy.

Posted by OldBull | Report as abusive

Old Bull, did you read his book?

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

Old Bill, even when consumers have good information available they do not always do what is in their best interest. Mr. Stigletz has stated this publicly. Herd mentality, self esteem issues, poor or unavailable information, social conditioning and more can be accredited to the phenomenon. Paul Krugman won a Pulitzer for his work that demonstrated this as well.

Only charlatans and thieves wish to see an unregulated economy. You know that whole W.C. Fields outlook ” It’s immoral to not take all of a suckers money”. If that is liberal(you use it like it’s a bad word?) than I am guilty as charged.

If one takes a good look at the economic distress of the 1870s to the turn of the century, one will find many parallels to our current world economic condition. Though no one would have said it at the time, economic historians refer to this period as the “Long Depression”. Those years were marked by banking failures, bond defaults on an over expanded U.S. rail infrastructure that fleeced investors from around the world. The beginning of the twentieth century fared no better with bank collapses and recessions/depressions literally every decade leading up to WWII.

Well regulated economies do not grow as quickly. Loosely regulated economies do. However there is a price for rapid growth and that is the boom bust cycle. We are not well regulated at all by our own standards if you look at our regulatory regimes in the 1950s and 60s. Yet it has now been 3 years and no significant improvement in job growth. In fact job growth the five years prior to the economic downturn was in large part due to the federal government contracting for products and service to the private sector. This increase in contracts was largely due to defense and security services in response to 911 and the middle east wars.

If the United States were to begin job growth today at the fastest rate it has ever experienced job growth (post war), it would take almost twelve years of sustaining that kind of growth to replace the jobs that have been lost since 2007. If you don’t see this as depression than what is it, a ten year recession in the making?

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

Thanks, Jimmy P. This guy is the smartest candidate with very sensible policy views. It is too bad brains are not appreciated in this country when it comes to electing politicians.

Posted by DennisAOK | Report as abusive


The country is hardly operating from laissez-faire economics. Federal interfence in the housing market, creatijng Fannie, Freddie, and the Community reinvestment Act, along with exceessively loose monetary policy and decades of defitict spending, brought us to our currnet sorry state. The last thing in the world this country needs right now is more regulation.

Posted by DennisAOK | Report as abusive