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Should the United States fund the service program AmeriCorps? President Obama would increase its budget. Rep. Paul Ryan would eliminate federal funding for the program.

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Right Turn
Posted at 11:08 AM ET, 02/10/2012

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rick Santorum

What a difference some election wins makes. When I last interviewed Rick Santorum, in October, he had no security, not pack of journalists following him and no money. At CPAC today a giant crowd amassed to hear him talk about faith and politics. In his suite, before his speech, he sat down with me to talk about his campaign and his chief rival.

Is he concerned that Mitt Romney’s barrage, most recently about earmarks, will knock Santorum off message? He laughs. “I’ll talk about it. Earmarks are an infinitesimal part of the budget.” He pointed out that in conjunction with the Salt Lake City Olympic games that Romney came to D.C. to seek

$300 million in federal earmarks for the games. Santorum added, “You don’t see him go after me for increasing any appropriations account. I stood on the floor of the Senate with a spend-o-meter.” He says, “We have a great plan to cut $5 trillion. . . . and get to a balanced budget.”

As for entitlement plans, Santorum says he embraced the Medicare reform plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) but thinks we need to go “faster.” What that means is looking at current retirees. He says, “One of the things we can do is there are about 60,000 people on Social Security — we’re using 2010 [numbers] — who make over a million dollars. Why should we pay them full benefits and [cost of living] increases?” He also says he’d go after early retirement. When he asks voters if they plan on retiring at age 62, “no hands go up.” He tells me, “We are borrowing money from China to pay people to retire at age 62.” He says, “Next year we could raise that to 62 years and one month.” He says he doubts that the change would make any significant difference to people. “Then we start gradually raising that . . . to 63 and then 64.” He adds that a great many people who retire early continue to work.

He also refuses to pander to the base’s demand for individual retirement accounts. He says that would “not be responsible. And I was the advocate of individual accounts. I went to Kansas City with President Clinton and held up a check. But we had a huge surplus and a surplus in the Social Security trust account. We’re not in that situation now.”

On Iran, he thinks President Obama is angling to get back to the bargaining table. He says, “[The president] has a fundamental misunderstanding about the enemy. He thinks they are like him.” Santorum surmises that Obama reasons that Iranian leaders look at sanctions and in a desire to retain power they’d come to bargain. “It’s very realpolitik. It’s what the State Department thinks.” Santorum believes that the Iranian leaders are motivated by ideology and aren’t going to give up their nuclear ambitions to stay in power.

I also asked him about his comments about women in combat. In an interview with ABC’s Jon Karl just before he sat down with me, he explained that he was talking about men’s emotions being raised by putting women in combat. He reiterates that his concern is the protective instinct of males toward female comrades. He acknowledges that women are presently in combat positions in the Air Force and Navy. “But I don’t think you see the same problems [that servicemen] would find on the front line.” He says, “It’s not a matter of putting women in dangerous roles.” He tell me, for example, that women are fully capable of “flying small planes.”

As for his views on women in the workplace, he laughs at the suggestion by some that he wants women to stay home and just raise the kids. “It’s pretty funny. My mom was a working woman.” He tells me she was a ground-breaker as a woman graduate from Yale. “She made more money than my dad. Both my parents worked. And this was in the ’60s.” As for his book “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good,” he points out that his words on “radical feminists” were co-authored by his wife. He says his wife was ”treated like a second-class citizen” when she left the workplace. He adds, “The point of the book is let’s value everyone’s choices.”

Santorum is plainly sincere and passionate about his beliefs. There’s certainly a lot that is commendable about refusing to censor his views for fear of disappointing the base (on individual accounts), scaring old people or provoking the ire of women voters. We’ll see if the voters reward or punish him for that candor.

By  |  11:08 AM ET, 02/10/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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