You can listen to the interview online here:
JAMESON: On the phone with me, I believe in Washington, is Senator Richard Burr. Senator, how are you this morning?
BURR: Jerri, doing great, and I am in Washington.
JAMESON: I thought you might be. There’s a lot going on, isn’t there?
BURR: Oh, another productive week. I think the United States Senate has had one vote, and we’re going to be embattled in legislation all week, and probably next week, which does no more than codify what existing law says.
JAMESON: Now let me guess, you’ve got to be talking about the STOCK Act.
BURR: I am.
JAMESON: You know, I’ve asked some listeners for questions, and then I am mixing them in with some I have on my own, but that actually is something that somebody said, “Is it really necessary to pass law to make lawmakers follow laws that are already on the books?
BURR: It’s ludicrous. That’s why Dr. Tom Coburn and I were the two brave souls that walked up and said we shouldn’t be doing this. We should be focused on jobs, the economy. We should be taking up real legislation. It’s like me saying to you, “Jerri, before you come to work this morning and you’re going to drive your car, I’m going to pass a law that says you have to have a driver’s license.”
BURR: I mean, it’s insane.
JAMESON: They just need to enforce laws that are already on the books.
BURR: The laws that are currently on the books apply to all members of Congress and all staff, not limited staff.
JAMESON: Right, it prohibits government workers period from engaging in these financial transactions.
BURR: So we’re going to have political theater this week as to whether it applies to the executive branch, whether it doesn’t. The fact is SEC law applies to every person who trades in America.
JAMESON: You know, you pointed out that you were one of two who voted against it. Of course now that’s being turned around that you two were the partisan ones. But I agree with you that it’s kind of
ludicrous that we have a law on the books that does apply, as you said, to everybody who trades, and they have to codify it even more. I want to get to unemployment, though, if we may. North Carolina’s unemployment in December went up in 93 of 100 counties. American Airlines, the third largest airline, announcing they are going to be laying off 13,000 employees in the next couple weeks. Simple question, not so simple answer. What needs to be done to get Americans back to work?
BURR: Very simply, Jerri, we need our policies to reflect the willingness of people with capital to invest in job creation. Right now businesses are frozen because they don’t know what tax rate is going to be applied to them in the future. They don’t know what regulatory architecture they’re going to have to live under. Therefore, they can’t figure out whether it’s worth investing based upon what the return might be. As long as we’ve got capital in that situation, then you will freeze private capital, and the only place, the only place, to create jobs will be in the public sector. What we don’t need are more public sector jobs. We actually need the reduction of the federal workforce. We need to replace those and increase them with new jobs, new employment, in the private sector.
JAMESON: Some are saying we need to obviously offer incentives for people of insource rather than outsource, with outsourcing of course being kind of the trend.
BURR: Well, but Jerri, I think what we need to ask is what’s the reason for outsourcing? The reason for outsourcing is that it’s cheaper to do business in other areas. Every economist in the world and every review of the United States system today says that if we would do comprehensive, corporate tax reform in the United States, get the corporate rate down to 25%, we wouldn’t have to have a debate about dividends or capital gains at a different rate. We would be so competitive in the rest of the world that we would actually see insourcing, not by U.S. companies but by foreign companies coming here, and we would stop the outsourcing of U.S. companies.
JAMESON: That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
BURR: Well, I think it’s an easy fix. But let’s face it, this is an election year, and the President would rather use corporations as the boogeyman for the election than he would as the secret to turning our economy around and creating jobs.
JAMESON: Well, speaking of the economy, obviously foreclosures, homeowners are struggling, the President this week expanding on his plan to allow homeowners, even those who owe more than their home is worth, to be able to refinance their homes, to take advantage of the low interest rates. His plan calls for it to be paid for with an assessment on big banks. I want to separate the plan and the funding of it, because I know Congress has not gone for bank assessments before. But do you think giving homeowners more access to refinancing at the lower rates would be good for the housing market?
BURR: Jerri, I call it loan modification, and we ought to have been doing loan modification on any mortgages that the federal government, that the American taxpayer, was obligated for. That’s all the Freddie & Fannie inventory, that’s all the FHA inventory. But I don’t think it’s appropriate for the federal government to go into the private marketplace and tell private risk-takers, “Okay, we’re going to charge you a fee and you’re going to modify these loans.” Smart financial institutions have already re-worked the loans that they think people have the capabilities of paying off. The ones they haven’t re-worked are the ones where the individual probably never should have gotten the loan to begin with or the property was over-valued from the start. It will, in their estimation over the life of the loan, never see revaluation. That’s what the President’s attacking. I think his own Administration has admitted out of the modifications that have already been made, almost 50% have gone back into foreclosure. So this is not a panacea. But I think what we need to try to do is re-structure the re-payments to where people have got 30 years versus 10 or 12 or 14. None of us know when prices will re-inflate, but we all can agree to this. The debt problem that we’re in in this country, as a country, as states, as localities, and as individuals, is going to take decades for us to work out from under.
JAMESON: Well, you mention Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and I know there’s legislation under consideration that would stop the executives from getting their bonuses, the bonuses worth millions. The measure would take the unpaid bonus money and go to paying the outstanding debt still from the 2008 taxpayer bailout. Where do you stand on that?
BURR: Listen, I don’t think that any corporate executive ought to be rewarded for bad performance. In Freddie & Fannie’s case, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Those that run it now argue that if they don’t
offer bonuses they don’t get talented people. We’ve got a lot of talented people unemployed today that would love to be at Freddie & Fannie helping to turn it around, and a lot of them, if not all of them, come right out of the financial services industry. So to suggest that they can’t attract the talent with the salary that’s already on the job without the bonus is just ludicrous.
JAMESON: We’ve got just a couple more minutes, but there are two stories that are in the news today that I really do want to touch on. One is the Arab League resolution calling on Syrian President Bashar al-
Assad to leave power. Of course, the United States pushing for that, Russia opposing that. Where do you see this going? Is there concern of possible intervention by NATO and therefore the U.S.?
BURR: It may be talked about in international circles, but I don’t think there’s concern within Syria or the Bashar al-Assad government. They’ve got a firm handle on things. They are running Syria just like his dad did when they had a genocide of 30,000 people. Not 300 but 30,000 in one swoop. I think that until we apply the correct amount of international pressure, until we really get aggressive on sanctions, until we cut them off from the rest of the world, than we’re going to see the Bashar al-Assad government try to hang on through the use of their military.
JAMESON: Lastly on my end, and then whatever you want to speak about of course we’ll open to you, but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that U.S. and its NATO partners will be ending their combat role in Afghanistan next year, switching from combat to training and advising of the Afghan forces. So, a little earlier than originally planned or announced. Is this a good strategy to be setting that kind of deadline? I know there’s pros and cons to it, but or pulling it in sooner?
BURR: Jerri, yesterday I would have told you no, today I still tell you no. I’m not sure what lead to the Secretary’s announcement late in the afternoon. There was certainly no warning on Capitol Hill that I’m
aware of. I think that all of the military plans have been developed based upon a date in 2014, and I was supportive of that. But I think to accelerate that by a year may fit in the Secretary’s need for the budget constraints of the Department of Defense. If we’ve got men and women that we’ve asked to go into a combat theater, I don’t want to run the war in that theater based upon what the budget says we can do. I want to do it based upon whether we intend to win and if so, what we need to do to win.
JAMESON: Alright, Senator Burr. Thank you so much. Anything else that you would like to touch on maybe for your constituents or listeners that we may not know is going on there in Washington?
BURR: Well, Jerri, there’s not a whole lot going on there right now. We have seen Presidential politics start in an earlier period than ever in the 18 years that I have been involved in service. I think it will continue to dominate the direction of the legislative debate up here. I believe that means very little gets done this year, and that’s sad based on the financial condition of the United States.
JAMESON: With that, Senator Burr, we thank you for your time. We look forward to speaking with you regularly.