NBC's Gregory: Are Americans Really 'Better Off' with 'Freedom'?

While grilling former Pennsylvania Senator and presidential hopeful Rick Santorum on NBC's Sunday Meet the Press, host David Gregory was skeptical of the idea that Americans should be able to choose their own health care plan: "They're better off with the freedom that they've got in the vagaries of the private insurance market?"

Gregory was responding to Santorum's criticism of ObamaCare: "[Obama] doesn't believe Americans can actually make decisions for themselves, that he has to tell you how much money you're going to, you're going to spend on health care." After doubting the value of freedom in choosing medical insurance, Gregory pressed: "But you'd repeal the President's healthcare plan totally? Even covering pre-existing conditions, which most Republicans agree with?"

Later in the interview, Gregory dismissed Republican calls to cut corporate tax rates to jumpstart the economy: "You've got so many American corporations sitting on a ton of cash right now....Do they really need additional tax breaks?...you're sitting on so much capital, why do you need additional relief from the government?"

Gregory also argued that tax cuts in general never really worked: "If everything worked the way you and other conservatives would like it to, you could cut taxes, you could do some of the things that you'd like to do for the economy. Why then even during boom times for the economy have you not seen much improvement, particularly for the middle class wage earners?"

Here is a full transcript of the June 12 interview:

10:52AM ET

DAVID GREGORY: We are back, continuing our 'Meet the Candidates' series with Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

RICK SANTORUM: Thank you, David.

GREGORY: Good to have you here. You announced just this week, in your home state of Pennsylvania, that you're running, and this was a portion of what you said in your announcement.

SANTORUM: Americans are not looking for someone that they can believe in. They're looking for a president who believes in them.

GREGORY: As we know, elections are about choices. And I wonder exactly what you mean, talking about President Obama there. Do you believe that he does not believe in America? Does not believe in the American way?

SANTORUM: I think if you look at his policies, his policies are all oriented towards centralizing more power in Washington, D.C., taking freedom away from the American public, not believing that Americans - for example, let's just look at ObamaCare. He doesn't believe Americans can actually make decisions for themselves, that he has to tell you how much money you're going to, you're going to spend on health care; you're going to - what plans that you're going to be qualified for. And I'm not talking about people who are poor, people who are seniors. I'm talking about working Americans. He's going to tell working Americans who are out there providing for themselves, paying for their health insurance, their employers are doing it. He's saying-

GREGORY: And they're better off with the freedom that they've got in the vagaries of the private insurance market?

SANTORUM: Do we need to make some changes in the health insurance markets? Absolutely. But we need-

GREGORY: But you'd repeal the President's healthcare plan totally?

SANTORUM: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

GREGORY: Even covering pre-existing conditions, which most Republicans agree with?

SANTORUM: My feeling is that we need a bottom-up system, not a top-down system. We need to believe in free people, we need to believe in markets. What's happening under, under President Obama, you're seeing, you're seeing it in his ObamaCare, what he's done with Medicare. He put in this independent payment advisory board, 15-member board, that's going to go into place on - right before the implementation of ObamaCare in 2014, that's going to put, put price controls and controls on - top-down controls on Medicare. We've never had that before. We've never had a independent board created by the government to put price controls on Medicare. You hear the Democrats saying we're going to push grandma off a cliff because of what Paul Ryan suggested on Medicare. Grandma's already headed down because Barack Obama's put a, put a price control plan in place and it's top-down. What Ryan and I support is giving seniors the choice to participate in economic decisions...

GREGORY: Alright.

SANTORUM: ...and make those decisions about the access to care...

GREGORY: I want to-

SANTORUM: ...and quality of care by themselves.

GREGORY: I want to talk a little bit more about Medicare in just a minute, but I want to ask a little bit more about your announcement and your, and your place in the field. The last time you were up for re-election, you were handily defeated by 17 points in your run for the Senate. I wonder how you think you've changed professionally and personally since that defeat, now that you're standing for president.

SANTORUM: Well, a couple of things. First off, one of the things I learned from that race is that losing isn't the worst thing that can happen to you. That standing up - not standing up for what you believe in and fighting for those things is the worst thing, and I think if I go back and look at my race, did I make mistakes? Sure. But one of the things I think I was - where I ended up on the short end of the stick is I was out there talking about Social Security reform in 2005 and 2006. When George Bush said, 'Charge,' after the 2004 election, 'We've got to take on Social Security.' Jim DeMint and I ran to the floor of the United States Senate, and I did town meetings all over Pennsylvania. I turned around and there wasn't anybody behind me. I mean-

GREGORY: Is that a problem now, by the way? I mean, look at what Paul Ryan's trying to do on Medicare.


GREGORY: Do you worry about that?

SANTORUM: I do worry, I do worry that-

GREGORY: You support his plan.


GREGORY: You want to go further.

SANTORUM: I do worry-

GREGORY: You say that even if you're over 55, it should change now.

SANTORUM: Well, I do because we've had - we have a plan in place right now called Medicare Prescription Drugs, which is identical to the Ryan plan, the seniors like and by the way came in 41 percent under budget. So we know-

GREGORY: Premiums have gone up under that program.

SANTORUM: But - of course, premiums are going to go up. Premiums go up on - in the private sector, too, if you don't control costs. We need a more comprehensive plan where seniors and individuals are involved in controlling costs. And you have government now controlling well over 50 percent of medical care, and they're not doing a very good job controlling costs.

GREGORY: On Social Security, would you raise the retirement age?

SANTORUM: I proposed that back in 1994. I think that's an option that has to be on the table. I think the one thing that we should do is to deal with the cost of living increase. The cost - I asked a senior everywhere I go, Iowa, New Hampshire, I say, "Should we - what should the cost of living increase be tied to?" And the answer is always, 'Well, it should be tied to the prices that we pay for goods and services.' Well, it's not. The cost of living increase in Social Security is tied to wage inflation. Why is this, why, why, what does that have to do with cost of living for seniors?


SANTORUM: It doesn't. And so what we need to do is change it from a wage inflation index to a price inflation index. If we do that, you solve anywhere from half to three-quarters of the short in Social Security over time. So that's one thing we can do. We can do it now. We'll have minimal, minimal effect on anybody at or near retirement, but long-term it creates sustainability for young people who are sitting out there who don't believe Social Security is going to be there for them.

GREGORY: What space do you occupy in this race? Who are you? Are you the true conservative? Are you the truth teller? What are you?

SANTORUM: Yeah, I'm someone who's been out there for 16 years, having the courage to lead on a variety of conservative issues when they weren't popular. I was leading on entitlement reform. I was the guy that wrote the contract with America Welfare reform bill when Welfare reform was seen as throwing, you know, throwing grandma out on the street. And I was out there leading that charge and was able to be successful in the United States Senate in getting 70 votes to end a federal entitlement. Something that we have to do in this city right here is to do something about entitlements. You have someone in the race who's actually taking it on and been successful. I've lead on national security issues, particularly in the Middle East. I have two major pieces of legislation where I actually fought President Bush. He eventually signed both, but he opposed both when I first proposed them, one on Iran and one on Syria. And I've also been a leader on moral cultural issues. So you, you take any issue area, I've had the courage to go out on controversial issues and take leadership roles, and I've been successful.

GREGORY: Let me ask you about being a Christian conservative in the race. Do you think that Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, will have a problem in this race in the primary as Mormons?

SANTORUM: I hope not. I hope that people look at the, at the qualities of candidates and look at what they believe in and look at what they're for, look at their records and make a decision.

GREGORY: Are they true conservatives in your eyes?

SANTORUM: I think they've held positions in the past that have not been conservative and I think they have to account for those.

GREGORY: And do you think that ultimately that impacts their ability to beat President Obama?

SANTORUM: Look, I think what people are concerned about and what they saw in Congresses in the past and presidents in the past who are Republicans, is that they say one thing when they - they're really conservative when they run in Republican primaries, and then when they govern, they don't govern as conservatively as they've talked. I think one of the things you can look at with me is I represented Pennsylvania, a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans.

Yes, I lost my last race, but my first three races I ran against - I was faced up against Democratic incumbents in two House districts and a Senate race, and then in my fourth - and I won all three - in my fourth race, President Bush lost the state of Pennsylvania by four points, I won it by five. I was the only conservative running in 2000 who won a state that Bush lost. So I think if you look at the record of when there were competitive years to run in, 2006 was probably the worst year for Republicans in Pennsylvania in recent history. If you look at those competitive years, I've been successful because I've been principled. People don't always agree with me, but they know where I stand and they know I'm going to stand up for my convictions.

GREGORY: Let me ask you about the debt and taxes. You have said, you just said it recently, you've got to tell the American people the truth about what government can and cannot afford.


GREGORY: But back in 2002 in a, in a parallel situation to what we face now, you were on this program, and this is what you said about deficits.

SANTORUM: I think we're going to be in for deficits for the, for the, for the next few years to come. We're in a recession or just coming out of a recession, and secondly, we're going to be fighting a war, a major war on terrorism, and potentially a war in Iraq. The last thing we need to do when we are concerned about the national security of this country is to be concerned about deficits.

GREGORY: We're coming out of a recession, we're fighting two wars, it's 2011. Deficits didn't matter then, but now they're everything to Republicans now.

SANTORUM: Well, let's, let's look at - I think scale matters, David. I mean, we were - we - prior to 2001, we were in a surplus. We were talking about deficit I think at that point of $100 billion to $200 billion, not $1.5 trillion. Not something that is, that is grinding our economy down.

Also, as you know, you mentioned 2002. That was right after the attacks of 2011 [2001] and we were pretty much, you know, worried about the security of our country immediately as to whether we were going to be attacked again and, and trying to defeat the, the forces that had just attacked us. So, of course, when you're responding to an attack like that, you worry about stopping the enemy so they don't hit you again. And that's, that's - the context is important in that, in that statement.

GREGORY: So deficits mattered even to you then?

SANTORUM: Well, of course they did. I mean, I'm, I'm someone who's, again, you know, fought to end entitlements, fought to, to cut spending. For years I was someone who introduced more original spending bills to cut the deficit than anybody else. I believe that we need to, we need to get our fiscal house in order. I have been a strong fiscal conservative throughout, and I'll continue to be.

GREGORY: Why is it - if everything worked the way you and other conservatives would like it to, you could cut taxes, you could do some of the things that you'd like to do for the economy. Why then even during boom times for the economy have you not seen much improvement, particularly for the middle class wage earners?

SANTORUM: Yeah, I think one of the things that I - that, that's been a missing ingredient - and I come from Pennsylvania, and I always say, you know - I come from Pennsylvania, we still make things there. And it's - manufacturing economy is, is really important. And I think what we've had is, we've not had a policy that's focused on trying to create those kinds of jobs. Because I grew up in a, in a steel town, Butler, Pennsylvania, and, you know, I used to go in - take the bus in to school and we'd go by the, go by the mills. And if you could smell the smoke you thought, ah, people were working. That was a good thing. Well, we don't want to smell the smoke anymore, but we want those people working. And we don't have policies, whether they're policies from tax - from a tax perspective to encourage manufacturing here, from a innovation, from research and development and patents and things like that, improvements that we need to make there.

We have to also do, do some things on the regulatory side. What, what this president has done to regulate and drive manufacturing out - the NLRB and what they've done in South Carolina to basically say to any company that, that is in a state that's not a right to work state, if you want to expand anywhere in the U.S. outside that state, you might as well go overseas. Those are the kinds of policies that hurt our manufacturing base. I'm going to be putting forth a plan in the next few weeks that's going to focus on manufacturing. Why? Because that is where the great middle of America works and can - has this huge multiplier effect that takes the money from those who innovate and brings it down to those who work in those factories.

GREGORY: Well, quickly, on taxes. You've got so many American corporations sitting on a ton of cash right now.


GREGORY: Do they really need additional tax breaks?

SANTORUM: Well, the - well, one tax break they need is they have about a trillion dollars sitting overseas right now that they don't bring back because they have to pay the, the top corporate rate on it. We need to, we need to slash that, that rate down so that that trillion dollars come back. We did it in 2004.

GREGORY: But the question is, again, you're sitting on so much capital, why do you need additional relief from the government? Can you understand why a lot of people are asking that?

SANTORUM: Well, what - yeah. Well, what you have to do is you have to look at your return on investment. I mean, and, and the government is - makes it very, very expensive because of the, the regulations and because of the taxation to have a reasonable rate of return. You're going to risk capital, you want to make sure that you have a, a, a reasonable chance to make a profit on it. And, and so they're sitting on it. You're right, they are sitting on it because they don't believe, under this climate, that they can be successful and profitable.

GREGORY: I've just got a minute left. I want to pin you down on a couple of quick issues, if I can. One is education. This is something that you wrote in your book, 'It Takes the Family' back...


GREGORY: ...in 2005 about public education vs. homeschooling. I want to put it up on the screen, it caught my eye. 'It's amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools. In a home school, by contrast, children interact in a rich and complex way with adults and children of other ages all the time.' You want to be President of the United States, public education's one of the foundational parts of our country, and yet you say the weird socialization is kids being in school with kids their same age?


GREGORY: How is that weird socialization?

SANTORUM: Where else is that - where, where else in, in America, outside of school, do kids go to a place where they sit with people basically the same age, same socioeconomic group, and interact for, for a defined period of time? That's not what life is like. Life is very different than that. You're dealing with a whole bunch of different people. And I think, you know, the one-room schoolhouse was the example of how you had interaction, you have sensitivity. I can see it in my, in my own family, I see it in other children who deal with children of different ages, respect for elders. This - what I'm saying is that the - that we need to transform public education to reflect more of what the dynamism is in the private sector. And, and that includes a whole, a whole way of infusing parents into the system, a dynamism of having not people stuck in classrooms. They - the sort of the old factory model of how we educate people...

GREGORY: So you'd fundamentally overhaul public education and how, how it's done, how they congregate in schools?

SANTORUM: Well, first off, first, first off, I would say that it's not the federal government's job to overhaul public education.


SANTORUM: What I would do is talk about how we need to make some transformation, but it should be left to the states and localities to do that.

GREGORY: One more question on abortion, an issue you care deeply about. I, I want to be clear on this. Do you believe that there should be any legal exceptions for rape or incest when it comes to abortion?

SANTORUM: I believe that life begins at conception, and that that life should be cut - should be guaranteed under the Constitution. That is a person, in my opinion.

GREGORY: So even in a case of rape or incest, that would be taking a life?

SANTORUM: That would be taking a life, and, and I believe that, that any doctor who performs an abortion - that - I would advocate that any doctor that performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so. I don't - I've never supported criminalization of abortion for mothers, but I do for people who perform them. I believe that life is sacred. It's one of those things in the Declaration of Independence. We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, and the first is life. And I believe that that life should be protected at the moment it is a human life. And at conception it is biologically human, and it's alive. It's a human life, it should be a person under the Constitution.

GREGORY: Alright, we are going to leave it there. Senator Santorum, thank you very much for sharing your views.

SANTORUM: Thank you, David.

- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.