Johnson: Get government out

Last modified: 1/13/2011 12:00:00 AM
Get government out of the free market, says former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. Get government out of education and out of health care. Don't raise taxes, and stop wasting money prosecuting people for using marijuana.

Johnson, a Republican who served as governor from 1995 to 2003, now may be setting his sights on the White House. He met with the Monitor's editorial board last week during his sixth trip to New Hampshire as honorary chairman of the Our America Initiative, an advocacy group he started that is dedicated to "civil liberties, free enterprise, limited government, and traditional American values." While he could not talk about his potential candidacy because of his organization's tax status, Johnson was open about his libertarian-leaning political philosophy - with a heavy emphasis on cutting spending and limiting the scope of government.

"I'm trying to put a voice to what I think is the national outrage over being bankrupt, and I'll be the first to say both parties share in that status," Johnson said.

To start with, Johnson would cut the federal budget by 43 percent - which is the amount the country is borrowing out of every dollar it spends. "Start out with the big four - Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and defense," Johnson said.

On Medicare and Medicaid, Johnson supports giving block grants to the states and allowing each state to create its own method for taking care of the poor and elderly. Rather than having federal mandates, Johnson argued that the states should be left alone to become "50 laboratories of innovation," where best practices would ultimately emerge.

"If we had been left to be able to innovate when it came to Medicaid," he said, speaking of his time as governor, "I think we'd have been able to do a much better job with the money we received."

Overall, Johnson said the health care industry should become more of a free market. "Health insurance to me is just crazy," he said. "We ought to have true free markets for health care, where I can pay as you go, where I can shop for what it is that I'm paying for."

Johnson envisions a society where individuals would only buy health insurance for catastrophic coverage. Government would lift regulations and open the market for entrepreneurs to deliver health care services - for example, through clinics specializing in a specific type of surgery. People could then shop around for the care and price they want and pay for the service themselves.

On Social Security, Johnson would raise the retirement age to 70 or 72, reduce benefits slightly, raise the threshold of income that is subject to Social Security taxes, and perhaps add means testing.

On defense, Johnson said he would have opposed the war in Iraq from the start. He supported the war in Afghanistan, in order to root out Osama bin Laden. But after 10 years, he said, "we should get out of Afghanistan and Iraq tomorrow."

Johnson said the U.S. should not continue to nation-build around the world. "We can't continue to be the world's sheriff given the fact that we're bankrupt," he said.

He would keep necessary military alliances - for example with Israel - but would reconsider keeping troops in Europe, Japan and South Korea.

Johnson's philosophy of limited government also extends to his views on education, taxes and immigration.

As with health care, Johnson would return the power of establishing educational institutions and standards to the states. He said having a federal Department of Education is inefficient - the mandates it places on states end up costing more than the amount of aid states are given.

If government provides fewer services and benefits, it will also need less revenue, and Johnson believes lower taxes boost the economy. For example, he would eliminate the corporate income tax to encourage companies to start up and grow in the U.S., rather than overseas.

"When you tax something less, you get more of it. When you tax something more, you get less," Johnson said.

Johnson also believes that by relaxing restrictions on immigration and drugs, government could start to solve the problems of illegal immigration and border violence. Rather than building a border fence and deploying the National Guard, which he said has a high cost and little benefit, Johnson would make it easier for immigrants for work in the United States. While he would not support a quick path to citizenship, Johnson said he would make it easier to get a work visa and would favor a grace period for illegal immigrants already in the country to get work visas.

After that, anyone working illegally should be arrested and deported, with no future chance of legal entry, he said. "Immigration needs to be about work, not welfare," Johnson said.

In addition, Johnson said border violence would lessen - and corrections cost would drop - if the U.S. legalized marijuana. For harder drugs, he would support "harm reduction" strategies, looking for ways to reduce death, disease, crime and corruption. But Johnson said he would favor legalizing marijuana for adults so states could control, regulate and tax it.

(Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)




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