HUMAN EVENTS Editor Jed Babbin talked with Speaker Gingrich about his new book, “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” being released today by H.E. sister company, Regnery Publishing.
JB: Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for taking the time. Let’s go right to the heart of the matter. A few months ago, you started up your petition on your “American Solutions” website that asks Congress to immediately lower gasoline prices and other fuel prices by authorizing the exploration of proven energy resources and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. You’ve got almost a million and a half people who’ve signed this petition. That seems to have ignited a bit of a movement in this country. How strong and how widespread is it?
NG: I think there’s a very deep belief that you have to have more energy and that the answer is to get away from this policy of less energy at higher costs. I think in that sense you see even liberal Democrats have felt that they needed to pretend they were for more energy because they couldn’t go back home and campaign in a situation where there was no support for what they were doing, and I think that in that sense that’s pure public pressure. That’s not anyone in Washington getting smarter, that’s just folks going back home and having so many people tell them that they had better change their position, and they decided that maybe they had to. I think that, that tells you how big the pressure is.
JB: It seems that you also ignited some of the Republicans in the House to take advantage of the five-week recess. It seems like Ms. Pelosi and some of the other folks in the House are ducking from the whole issue as best they can.
NG: Well, I think there’s no question that what you’ve had recently is a real effort by Speaker Pelosi, on behalf of left-wing Democrats to, to dance around the and try to bring up a fundamentally dishonest bill with a claim that it’s for more energy while it actually limits the amount of energy you could look for. The only places that the Democrats allow drilling offshore is where there is no oil, so that they block every place that we think has oil. It’s almost a bizarre bill. It’s a deliberate “Let’s deceive the taxpayers” type of legislation.
JB: It’s clearly something that’s not going to have any effect on stimulating oil development and production. I think that one of your former colleagues over in the House, in debate the other day, said something to the effect that there’s more of a stimulus for bicycle riding than there is for nuclear power.
NG: I think that’s right. And that’s because, ultimately, the left is addicted to this series of fantasies that just won’t work. And yet they believe them so deeply that they can’t go to their fundraising cocktail parties if they do things that you and I think would make sense.
JB: You have a chapter right in the front of the book that talks about why this is an artificial crisis. It seems to me that this is effectively a Congressionally-generated embargo on American energy. Is that a fair statement?
NG: Yes. And what you have is that the United States has more energy than anybody in the world. We have more energy than Russia…you just go down the list. And yet, Congress, in particular liberal Democrats, have cut off the ability to use this energy. They’ve cut off nuclear power, they’ve cut off the ability to use shale oil in Colorado. We have three times as much oil in the Rocky Mountains as the Saudis have. Think about that: here we are, with an energy crisis, the high price of gasoline, people worried, $700 billion a year going overseas. And we have three times as much oil in the Rocky Mountains as there is in Saudi Arabia. But the Congress has blocked its being developed.
JB: Let’s seize on one of the points you just made. You’ve got $700 billion going overseas. The price of foreign oil, is that effectively a foreign tax on the American economy?
NG: Well, it certainly drains the American economy. If you send $700 billion a year overseas, you suddenly discover that big new high-rises and big new hotels are going up in Dubai. They’re not going up in St. Louis, Cincinatti, or in Detroit. And the reason is, that’s not where the money went. The money that might have developed America is now developing the Middle East.
JB: We now have a fairly good-sized economic crisis in the United States. We have the government taking over AIG, we’ve got the bailout of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers just went out of business. Talk to me, please, about two points. Number one, could the American dollar be stronger, and if so, how, if we were producing much more of the oil here? And number two, what about the market pressure of all of this? Can’t you relieve a lot of the pressure on the entire economy by doing what you propose?
NG: First of all, you can dramatically improve the country if you have more coal production in the U.S., more nuclear power in the U.S., more solar and wind power, more oil and gas, more biofuels, and if you have greater development towards a hydrogen car and the kind of systems we want to have in the future. All of those things would keep money here at home, all of those things would keep jobs here at home. My choice is to see producers here in America have more income, and therefore be able to create more jobs and to make more investments and to build more factories here than to see the money go to Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia, or you know, Iran or Russia. I vastly prefer the money to be here, and I think it will be a significant part of what would happen on the economy. I think that our economy needs real change in the right direction.
JB: Well it seems to me — and I’m a dumb old engineer, I’m not an economist, so I need to defer to you on this — but just from my own perspective, it just seems to me that the weakness of the dollar has to be substantially due to what you say, and a lot of other people are saying too: the flow of funds overseas. If that money were reinvested in America, that has to boost the dollar, doesn’t it?
NG: Absolutely, and it has to strengthen America in every way. I think part of our problem with the current finance crisis in Washington and New York is that we have been borrowing the money we need to be investing, in order to buy the things we’re not producing. I think what we need to do is get the fundamentals of the economy right and let Wall Street follow along. I’m much more worried about jobs in Atlanta, or jobs in Richmond, than I am about Wall Street. And I think that we need to get the real economy working, which requires regulatory reform and litigation reform; it requires lower taxes on businesses and lower taxes on capital. And it requires us to have an energy strategy which requires us to be the most productive, most successful country in the world. Those are the kind of changes, that’s the scale of change we need.
JB: We now have the “Drill Nothing, Do Nothing” Congress about to go out, and at the end of this month, of course, the offshore drilling ban expires. There’s a lot of rumors going about whether or not they’re going to try to put the whole drilling ban back in, or part of it, in some massive, continuing revolution. If they do, and if it passes, would you recommend that the President veto it if it has the offshore ban in the bill?
NG: First of all, I don’t know what they’re going to be doing because I think the mess is so great right now, and people are floundering so badly on this whole finance problem, that it’s kind of hard to imagine what the world is going to be like two weeks from now — because they’re doing things that make no sense to me, and they’re running around bailing out companies that shouldn’t be bailed out. And the result is that they’re hemorrhaging your money in ways that I think aren’t sustainable. So who knows what it’s going to be like two weeks from now? But I think the President should refuse to accept a continuation of the ban. I think the President, frankly, should be making a much bigger issue out of energy. I think the President should be emphasizing that $700 billion a year going overseas, inevitably, is a drain on the American economy and that we should take steps necessary for this country to get its act together again.
JB: You made a really wonderful point with the Contract with America back in 1994. A couple of days ago, I wrote a column that recommended that the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans make it a national issue: this drilling ban, the “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less,” is something that if they nationalized it, that could actually prevent this year from becoming a disaster for the Republican party. Is there a national appeal? You proved it by your petition. How should the Republican Party be capitalizing on this?
NG: Well, I think the House Republicans did something pretty exciting this summer, when they pushed very, very hard, and they produced a real action on the House floor for five weeks while the Democrats had left town. And I think that if you saw the numbers move, as I did, by last week, the Republicans were actually ahead in the generic ballot according to Gallup among those most likely to vote. That had not happened in, I think, three years. I think the House Republicans can take a lot of credit that they had done something that was actually working. And they had done it in a way that was very creative and that got people’s attention. I think they should continue to pound away at this. I don’t see how the Congress can go home, with the financial mess, with the total failure to do anything on energy — and I don’t see how the Democrats can just go home and explain, as you put it, the “Drill Nothing, Do Nothing” Congress, that is producing nothing, that they want to get re-elected. I think that creates a tremendous opportunity for the Republicans to create a real national choice.
JB: In terms of that national choice, if they did capitalize on it, and they made it a national issue, it seems to me that, and you refer to the Gallup poll with the Republicans up 5 for the first time in Lord knows how many years, they could actually gain some seats. There are a lot of vulnerable Democrats out there, and especially so-called Blue Dog Democrats, who got elected on National Security and a strong America, and they haven’t done a doggone thing about it. What is the Democrats’ vulnerability amongst the Reagan Democrats, the people we need to get out there and reach?
NG: I think that there are a whole lot of people beyond the traditional Reagan Democrats. I think there’s a whole new generation of young people out there who find this all very disturbing and want to see lower prices. I think there’s a whole new generation of independent women in the suburbs who realize that their job, their family, the whole process requires that they have less expensive energy and that they have a chance to buy gas at an affordable price. So I think there are a lot more possibilities than people think to be able to move this. I think that you could be able to put together a new majority coalition, in a way that is very effective.
JB: And if they did what would be the effect of this new majority coalition that could be capitalized on by Mr. McCain, Governor Palin? That sounds to me like a winner if it really even replaces the current Republican platform. It’s simple; it’s simple enough for anybody but a liberal to understand.
NG: I think you’re right. They should be able to campaign on more energy at lower prices, and our book “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” actually covers all the different major sources of energy. We also have a new movie coming out “We Have the Power.” It will be premiered at the Solutions Day on Saturday, September 27th. It’s going to be from — it’s going to be available on the Internet, at SolutionsDay2008.com. You can get to it by going to AmericanSolutions.com. It’s also going to be available on Dish satellite television, on DirecTV. So there’s a lot of different opportunities, I think, for us to reach out to the American people across the board and have a strategy that says “We want more energy at lower costs.” I mean, which of these things don’t you want? And it’s clear that the left-wing Democrats want less energy at higher costs, and they don’t care how much it hurts the American people.
JB: They actually seem to think that higher gasoline prices are good for us. Ms. Pelosi seems to care more about saving the planet than she cares about saving American jobs.
NG: Well, that fits, sort of, the Obama tradition of being a “citizen of the world.” She sees her role to be not what she is doing as Speaker in the American House of Representatives, but rather in the sort of great left-wing tradition, she represents some — as she said over the weekend, she was busy saving the planet, how could they expect her to give in to the Republicans? But the fact is, the country would like her to actually worry about the lives of Americans.
JB: In the last chapter of your book you talk about what people can do, a citizen’s action plan. What should the average voter be doing right now, between now and the election?
NG: I think the average voter should be pushing their member of Congress, their Senators, and their local state legislators on where they stand on these kind of big issues. Are they for real change, as I wrote in my book back at the beginning of the year, or is it just politics as usual? I think every citizen has an opportunity, right now and in the next seven weeks, to really make a by getting people running for office to state a firm position. I think they also should be, in the immediate future, be calling members of the House and their Senators and saying, you know, “Don’t come home without passing a bill.”