Romney Discusses Debt Ceiling, TRUST Act & Priorities for 118th Congress

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined KUTV for a wide-ranging interview on the debt ceiling, his TRUST Act, and his priorities for the 118th Congress.

Excerpts of his interview can be found below, and full video can be found here.

On the Debt Ceiling:


Do you believe that the President is going to need to negotiate where we’re going to have the possibility of having some conditions met to maybe change how much money we’re spending? Or does the debt ceiling just need to be raised? And then we move on to how much we spend?

There’s an expression that’s been used around Washington for a long time, and that is never take a hostage you’re not prepared to shoot. And the reality is we shouldn’t take the debt ceiling as a hostage because we’re certainly not willing to shoot it. It would be unacceptable for us to say we’re going to stop all payments, not just interest on the debt, but Social Security payments, Medicare, Medicaid payments, veterans’ benefits—we’re going to stop all of that. That is simply unacceptable. Nevertheless, raising the debt ceiling has, in the past, been used as an opportunity for us to find ways to reduce spending, and that’s something we badly need to do. So, I’m hopeful that the House that’s taking the lead in this regard will be able to work with the White House, and the White House needs to negotiate to say, okay, we need to work together to restrain spending and see if we can’t get closer to a balanced budget.

How do we make a change where we’re not having to make the same decision about raising the debt ceiling and spending more and more money that we don’t have? Are there realistic ways moving forward that both sides can come to the table?

The focus should really be on the appropriations process—the budget setting process that goes on every year. The reason we’re having to raise the debt ceiling is because of what was passed over the past years in the budget. So, as we look at the coming year budget, we need to have a process which allows us to look at each aspect of federal spending one by one, have amendment votes for either reducing or expanding spending at a particular area. We haven’t done that in the past. It’s been more than ten years since we’ve actually had a normal appropriations process that allows us to have those kinds of votes. The new leaders of appropriations have said we’re going to do that this year. We’re actually going to have a timely vote instead of bundling everything into one bill at the final moment before the end of the year. We’re actually going to get it done through 12 separate votes along the way. I hope they’re right. But that’s a process which many of us are working to accomplish to make sure that we can finally pull back our annual spending as well as some of the they call it non-discretionary spending, mandatory or entitlement spending. We have to find a way to balance all of our spending with our revenues.

On the TRUST Act:

We have a lot of things that are maybe not going to be solvent, whether it’s 10 or 15 years down the road, whether it’s Social Security or other spending packages. How do you believe that we can change how we’re spending money there and actually move forward in a way where we’re not having these concerns year after year?

I think one of the surprises that a lot of people have when they look at federal spending is that one-third of federal spending we actually vote on. That’s the so-called budget, one-third. And that was the $1.7 trillion budget, the omnibus that was voted on last December. And everybody gets focused on that. But don’t forget two-thirds we don’t vote on. That’s the non-discretionary, the mandatory, the entitlement. And that’s an area where the deficit has been large and has been adding to our debt. And so my TRUST Act is designed to create rescue committees to save Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Highway Trust Fund from becoming bankrupt, which they’re scheduled to do over the next few years. So we need to make sure that we save those programs, we balance the spending there. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to finally rein in the deficit and reduce the amount of debt our country has.

Do you have support from Democrats right now on this? Is this something that you believe you’ll be able to move forward with and get some agreement on?

The good news is that we had a, if you will, a practice vote on this some months ago and about 71 senators voted in favor of the TRUST Act. They’ll get weak knees as time goes on, they’ll face a lot of resistance. But we have a number of Democrats that are sponsoring this bill, both in the House and in the Senate, along with, of course, a number of Republicans. So there’s real recognition that we have to finally address the imbalance that exists in our entitlement programs and to make sure they stay solvent. You realize in 10 years if we make no changes at all, Social Security benefits would automatically be cut by 25%. Unacceptable. That’s not going to happen. There’s no reason to fear that—it’ll never happen. But that’s what would happen if we don’t take action. I think it’s important for us to take that action, and that’s an effort which I and Senator Manchin of West Virginia are leading.

Is this something that could be part of the process in this year’s discussions about budgeting and how we move forward? Or is this something that probably won’t be even realistic to talk about or deal with until next year?

Interestingly, Senator Manchin has been speaking with the Speaker of the House, Leader McCarthy, and has talked to him about this TRUST Act and perhaps including it in the debt ceiling package. And I believe it’s possible that it will be seized upon by the members of the House—Republicans and Democrats—to say, hey, let’s put this in the package and begin a process of making sure that we save Social Security. But we’re also going to have to look at the annual budget. So there’s a lot that’s going to be on the agenda. But I think the TRUST Act should be thoroughly considered as part of the package.

I think a lot of people see what you do in Washington and on the Senate side believe that you have a little of that middle ground where you can talk to other Democrats and talk to Republicans and find the way forward that both sides can agree on. Do you believe that you can be that kind of negotiator on budget issues?

The funny thing about Washington is that when people are running in campaigns, they pretend like their side is going to get everything they want. And the reality is our country is divided almost 50-50. And in order for something to become law, not just to become a campaign theme, but to become law, it requires Republicans and Democrats to find enough agreement to actually pass it. And so I am one of those that over the last several years, I’ve been able to work with a number of Democrats to find some common ground. And that’s something, one, to protect religious liberty. That’s something we were able to do together. Number two, to get funding for infrastructure projects in our state, as well as broadband projects in our state. These are things I’ve been able to do with working with some of my colleagues across the aisle. We don’t agree on everything. We actually disagree on most things, Republicans and Democrats. But there are a number of us that have found enough areas of agreement that we’ve gotten things passed. And I went to Washington, not just to fight and lose. I went to Washington to fight and win. And we’ve been able to win a number of times. And I plan on keeping that record going.

On Priorities for 118th Congress:

I want to talk a little bit about your congressional priorities as we go into this new year. What are your goals are right now? What are you focused on and what are your constituents back home saying?

The high priorities for me are number one with regards to our spending to make sure that we can find a way to save Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, save our military, and get to a balanced budget that we don’t just keep on adding trillions of dollars to the national debt that represent the greatest threat to our economy and to our nation. And so my TRUST Act is one way of approaching that. But there are other things we’re working on as well to try and rein in spending, so that that’s number one.

Number two relates to immigration, and that’s not just something that affects the country. It really affects our state in a major way.I hear across the state from our businesses, from our ranchers and farmers, we need more workers and we need to be able to bring people in legally and follow the legal process. And that means stopping illegal immigration, but making sure we bring in the people we need in agriculture and dairy areas and hospitality that our employers need so that we can grow our economy and create more good jobs for the rest of the people in our state. So that’s the second area of real interest for me.

And I’ll mention one more, and that is we’re a military state as well with Hill Air Force Base, with the Dugway Proving Grounds. It’s important for us to have the support needed to keep our military the strongest in the world such that no one would think of threatening us. And that means getting the funding that we need both for Hill and for Dugway and for other projects—our National Guard in Utah.

And I’ll mention just one more if you give me the occasion here, and that’s our infrastructure needs. Look, we’re the fastest growing state in America, and we’re bounded with lakes on one side—with Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake—and mountains on the other, and much of our population, about 80%, lives along that corridor. And we’re going to need to have transportation support for East-West transportation, as well as our rail system. It’s just a reality that that’s going to be part of my job and I’m working very hard to be successful there.

One of the things I know I’ve seen you talking about is the Great Salt Lake a lot and trying to make some changes in Congress that would help Utah. A lot of people are looking and saying, okay, what can Congress do to fill up our like, what can it do?

The first thing Congress could do is to say to the State, all right, you guys, you have got to study your lake and figure out what it takes to keep it. And we’re going to support that with legislation we got passed this last year, which is having the Army Corps of Engineers and others work together to actually guide part of this process going forward so that the federal government is up to date on what’s happening to the Great Salt Lake. Once we know that, and once we have prescriptions as to what things we need to do, we’re willing to stand behind what the state legislature comes up with and the Governor comes up with to say, here are the things we need, whether it’s reservoirs, whether it’s buying water rights, whether it’s conservation efforts. We’re going to take some real action here. We’re going to have to if we’re going to save the Great Salt Lake and keep our community healthy. So that’s part of the job to ensure that we in Washington are coordinating with the state leaders and providing the funding in many cases, as well as the studying, that’s necessary to make sure we’re spending our money in the right place.