OTR Interviews

Romney: Pres. Obama is responsible for high energy prices

Mitt Romney on the state of his campaign, Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin and more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Right now, Governor Mitt Romney. and tomorrow is a big day for him here in Wisconsin. We spoke with Governor Romney a short time ago.


VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, nice to see you, especially in my home state.


VAN SUSTEREN: It's the first time, actually, I've done an interview among oil drums.

ROMNEY: Yes. This is a Moore Oil Company, which is a distributor of oil products. So happy to be here. And hopefully, we can get the price of this stuff down a bit.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that's a good place to start, then, because one of the questions you got asked was about oil during your town hall. And the president's super PAC is running an ad against you, saying that you pledged to protect the billions in profits of oil companies.

So I'm curious. In light of the fact that gas prices are so high, how do you explain or how -- how does the government justify tax breaks when the big oil companies have billions and billions of dollars in profits? I mean, that's -- that's taken from us.

ROMNEY: Well, I think it's kind of amusing and actually troubling for the President of the United States to be looking for someone to blame. There are a lot of qualities that you look for in a president. Blaming of the people is not one of them.

He's the President of the United States. He's the one responsible for energy policies in our country today. And by virtue of his policies, we've seen something which he predicted during his campaign. He said with his energy policies, energy prices would skyrocket.

And frankly, what he has done is made it harder and harder for the small operators, the drillers to get more oil, more gas, more coal, to develop these American sources of energy. He's responsible in part for what we're seeing happen around the world, which is people convinced that prices of oil are going to go up.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it's not necessarily the -- I'm not talking about the sort of the middle guy, I'm talking about the big guys, the really big oil companies. I was looking at ... today -- the profit, something like $20 billion or $30 billion of profit. And that's a lot of profit because they get tax breaks.

And I'm wondering because every time they get a tax break, that means the rest of us somehow pay for it indirectly. And the president doesn't want them to get those big tax breaks. Do you support those -- do you support those tax breaks?

ROMNEY: I'm not sure precisely what big tax breaks we're talking about, but I do know that the right course for American production generally, not only of oil but of all things -- agriculture, machinery -- everything we make in this country is subject to the highest tax in the world. Corporate taxes in America are the highest in the world.

And then there are various breaks and deductions and exemptions that certain industries have been able to win through lobbying over the years. What I'd like to do is to get the tax rate down so we're competitive with places like Europe, for Pete's sake -- get tax rates down and eliminate a lot of the deductions and the breaks and the special deals that a lot of definitely industries get.

And I'll look at them one by one. There are just reams of them. Let's simplify the tax code for our employers of all kinds, particularly for small employers, and get our tax rate competitive with other nation nations so we'll keep jobs here, rather than having them go elsewhere.

VAN SUSTEREN: A lot of discussion about jobs in this campaign. And I'm not going to ask you a specific question about jobs. I think I know where you stand on jobs. But you know, if you create jobs, someone, order to get the job, has to be able to at least fill out an application, be able to read and write.

The state of our education in this country is so atrocious. There are a lot of people who can't even fill out an application. And there's been very little discussion in this campaign so far on education. Is there anything you'd do about education to help those people?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, as a governor, I had responsibility for education in my state. And I followed some other terrific governors, and frankly, some legislators, as well, that cared about getting our schools to be more competitive globally and to do the job they're supposed to be doing.

And we were able to drive our state to be number one of all 50 states in the nation. And we did that by having more school choice, more accountability in schools. With tested our kids every year to see who was succeeding and failing in the classroom and the particular school.

If a school was failing consistently, the state was able to take over the school. And also eliminate provisions that were in the union contract, if they were deemed to be interfering with the education of a child.

We implemented English immersion in our schools so our kids were not taught bilingual or foreign languages first, they were taught English. So we were able to do things that made our schools more effective, and I think you're going to have to find across this country a recognition that teachers' unions have to take a back seat to the interests of our kids, and the parents and the localities.

I want schools to have the power to make these decisions at a local level, but I think the federal government can play a role in standing up to the federal teachers unions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you agree that the education system has hit the skids, in general? Obviously, not the private schools and not -- and some of the public schools in some of the wealthier areas of the country, but a lot of our -- a lot of our schools have hit the skids, and as a result, the kids have hit the skids.

ROMNEY: Yes, I think it's a mixed picture, and various cities and states in the country have done better than others. Florida, for instance, under Governor Jeb Bush was able to put in a series of school choice measures, measures to test the quality of education for the children. And that had a big impact and drove their schools to be far better than they had been prior to these policies being put in place.

In my state, getting driven to be number one came as a result of the school choice and testing and higher rewards for the students that were doing particularly well on their tests in terms of getting scholarships for school after -- for college afterwards. We know what works in education.

The funny thing is, there's not a mystery about how to improve schools. We know that what drives the success of the student and the school is the quality of teaching.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened to our school system?

ROMNEY: Well, we basically gave our school systems over to the teachers' unions. The teachers' unions are by far the largest contributor to political campaigns. They give almost exclusively to Democrats. Democrats, as a result, feel beholden to do what the teachers' unions wants -- want.

They get -- they can in some cases elect a mayor who then sits across from them at the bargaining table and agrees to various provisions that, frankly, protect the teachers -- nothing wrong with that -- but don't put kids and the interests of the kids first.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, when I talk to teachers, I mean, the thing is, they all really want to teach. I mean, the system, for whatever reason, seems really broken. Every teacher that I meet, whether union or nonunion, really wants to teach. And we've got to do something about making our young kids competitive so they can even fill out applications. But it really has gotten almost to, I think, in some ways, almost catastrophic in some areas.

ROMNEY: Oh, in some, there's no question about it. Look at California! It's just -- I mean, it used to have some of the best schools in the country, now ranked almost at the very bottom.

And what we've got to do, in my view, is make it more attractive for young people to go into teaching. We don't have the right starting salaries. I'd like to see higher starting salaries for teachers. And some of the benefits and tenure that we pile on at the end, and retiree benefits, these things are designed to care for the big players in the union movement but not take care of those that are coming into teaching.

We need to hire from the very best and brightest from our colleges and universities. And we need them to have the expertise in the subjects they're going to be teaching that makes it a subject of interest for the kids they're going to be teaching.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, the unemployment rate is high. And there's a lot of discussion, as I noted, about jobs. But one of the things that doesn't really get discussed right now is poverty. And poverty -- there's a moral issue with poverty, but also, poverty is very expensive, whether it's the food stamps -- and food stamps have gone up about 14 million since President Obama has become president. It went up during President Bush's presidency, as well. It keeps growing and growing and growing.

But it really does send a message to Americans that we're really not winning the -- a war on poverty. It is getting worse. That costs all of us.

ROMNEY: Well, there's no question but that this president has failed when it comes to caring for the American people. As a result of the president's policies, in part, we're seeing a higher record of poverty, record level of poverty. Thirty percent of single moms are living in poverty in this country. Record number of people, 47 million people, on food stamps, 2.3 million homes foreclosed upon.

The president's policies have failed. His economic policy has been a bust. And the right course for the American people is to have an economy that's growing and putting people back to work.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there are those in the unemployment rate who are looking for a job, in 8.1 or 2 percent, whatever we are right now -- they're looking for work. But there's also a huge segment of our population's in despair, that is not counted because they're not looking for work.

ROMNEY: Yes. Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And a lot of them, you know, fundamentally do -- I mean, maybe some people are critical and say that, you know, they don't want work or whatever. But I actually believe that a lot of them do want to work and they do want to succeed and that they have sort of for whatever reason -- they haven't made the cut. They've been left behind.

And I'm just thinking that, you know, in order for all of to us do well in the economy, you know, we don't need this expensive poverty that we're paying for. And I'm curious, aside from the moral issue, what could you do to help lift those people up and get them involved?

ROMNEY: Well, again, this is not a mystery. You give people equal opportunity, great schools, terrific education. Some people have the skills to participate in the modern economy.

Number two, if they need help getting into the labor force, you give them job training and skills that allow them to be hired. And then, of course, you have to have an economy that wants to hire people, that's looking to hire people.

We have an economy right now that's not creating the jobs that Americans need and want. And part of that is because this administration made America a less attractive place to start a business, to grow a business. Businesses today feel they're under attack because of this administration. And you're not going to create jobs if entrepreneurs decide not to start new businesses.

Under this president, the number of startups per year has dropped by 100,000! The little businesses that normally employ people, particularly at the entry level, just aren't starting up. Larger businesses are moving operations outside this country because they feel in America, by virtue of our taxation, the highest in the world now, the regulatory environment, our lack of energy policies to take advantage of our energy resources -- all of these features are causing businesses to go elsewhere. They're killing jobs!

I always smile at my liberal friends. They love a strong economy. They just don't like businesses. But the economy is nothing but the addition of all the businesses in the country together. And you have to love enterprise, small, large, middle-size, encourage it, develop it.

Government sees itself as the opponent of business. It's got to be the ally of enterprises of all kinds. And what we have right now is a growing government-centered society. Government cannot create the jobs that the American people need. To get out of poverty, to have rising standards of living for middle income Americans, that's what has to happen. It's a new attitude that has to come to Washington.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess, though, some of that sounds almost like a trickle-down, you know, that -- you know, if the economy gets going, that all of a sudden, those who are at the lowest of the rung economically, that they will somehow do better.

And you know, I haven't heard anything since Jack Kemp days, the sort of like the enterprise zones where it's actually much more active, rather than sort of just hoping to rev up the economy so we'll get the jobs, but actually, you know, go in, dig into these areas and have enterprise zones get them revved up.

ROMNEY: Well, you know, there are lots of ways to say how can we manipulate the market? And how can -- you've seen President Obama saying, I'm going to give $500 million to Solyndra and that'll get things going.

I'm much more inclined to say let's make America the best place for small business. Let's make it easy to start a business. Let's make it easier to get a loan for a small business. Let's make it easier to hire people, give people greater visibility on what the cost of a hire will be.

You do that and people will be able to get great jobs. And we can encourage in certain sectors of the economy, places for job growth. I was pleased in my state to pick an area where a military plant had been removed, and we said, Let's -- let's do our very best to get some jobs to move into those areas.

You can have policy state by state which are trying to focus on creating economic empowerment zones. But the right thing for the nation overall is to be competitive on taxes, to have regulations that encourage enterprise, as opposed to crush it, to have energy policies that take advantage of our natural resources in this country and keep energy prices down or competitive, to have trade policies that open up new markets for our goods, and also crack down on cheaters, including China if they're going to steal our intellectual property, the patents, designs, know-how, hack into our computers.

We've got to make America attractive for small business. Those 100,000 new jobs -- 100,000 new employers per year -- they make a difference in putting people at every rung in the economic ladder back to work.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's the difference between running a business and running a state, if you were a governor? I mean, like, you know, what are the -- I mean, you know, you get to say a little bit more when you run a business than you get to do when you (INAUDIBLE) I'm curious where the -- you know, what's the more difficult part about governing?

ROMNEY: Well, actually, the more difficult job is working in business because business is not forgiving. If you spend more than you take in year after year, you're going to be out of business. If you make serious strategic errors, you're going to be gone.

Government, why, it just borrows more money and taxes more people, blames the opposition party. Look, the people in business are doing the harder job. People in government, you have to learn to work with other folks. People always think, Oh, if you're the head of a company, you don't need to work with others. You can just make all the decisions on your own.

Not so. You got shareholders. You got bankers. You got competitors. You got customers. You have to listen to others. And my experience is if you're in business, you're a fiscal conservative. You know you got to balance your books.

We need more people from the real economy to go into government and to use their skill at learning how to live within an economic framework, to hold down spending and not to borrow more than you're taking in.

VAN SUSTEREN: One last question. President Obama today, talking about the health care, said that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, it's a good example. He's talking about judicial activism.

Your thoughts of calling -- of his remark about -- and much broader -- I showed you the longer quote, but calling the Supreme Court an unelected group looking at the health care law?

ROMNEY: Isn't this wonderful to finally have a liberal talking about judicial activism? I think we can come together on this. We've been concerned about judicial activism for years and years and years.

What the president's complaining about, however, is that the Supreme Court might actually apply the Constitution to the bill that he passed! And the whole purpose of the Supreme Court is to make sure that Congress does not pass laws that are in violation of the Constitution.

And so judicial activism is not following the Constitution. Judicial activism is departing from the Constitution, which is what they've too often done on issue after issue.

I applaud the fact that the Supreme Court looks to be taking the responsibility of following the Constitution seriously. And if the president complains about a Supreme Court that follows the Constitution, he's coming from a very different world than the world that the founders, and frankly, that the judicial history has described for America.