It’s only fitting that Newt Gingrich is talking about information technology, considering the headline-making IT errors of the administration he spent last year trying to unseat.
“I personally believe Obamacare is going to collapse. I doubt in three or four years anything resembling the current system is going to exist,” Gingrich told The Daily Caller in a wide-ranging interview. “Young people are going to look at this and ask themselves if they’re just going to pay the penalty, which is dramatically cheaper than buying insurance.”
“Sebelius should resign. It sends a bad message across government. Nothing like this could happen in the private sector without replacing the person in charge,” said the former House speaker and newly minted Crossfire host, whose 27th book, “Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate,” focuses on how bureaucratic systems impede technological progress.
The book offers us Gingrich the small-government visionary adapting to a new world that tech-savvy progressives – the Obama administration excepted – have unfortunately beat conservatives to. With surprisingly kind words for Cory Booker and other progressive politicians, Gingrich tries admirably now for a conservative seat at the modern business and political vanguard, or at least for a chance to help the vanguard run more smoothly.
“We just learned that the Internal Revenue Service spent $4 billion sending refund checks to identity thieves,” he said, referring to a Treasury report last week that found 655 IRS refunds going to a single address in Lithuania and 343 going to a flat in Shanghai. “Normally what you do in government is you have a hearing, you bring the [IRS officials] in and they explain how they were incompetent. They get beaten up. They give speeches on how bad it is to be incompetent, we all go home,” Gingrich said.
“I’m suggesting there needs to be a difference between an Oversight hearing and a foresight hearing. A foresight hearing asks, what are we trying to accomplish? The government guys would come in and tell us what happened. We would have in American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and have them explain how to stop these kinds of payments. Bring in some technical experts,” he said.
He certainly has his finger on the pulse of the chamber he used to run. New Oversight Committee hearings are underway in the House into the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.Gov, even as Oversight and House Ways and Means investigations into the election-year IRS targeting scandal remain underway. The hearings have all played out in similar fashion, with scores of new revelations from investigators causing administration officials to stonewall.
Gingrich has kind words for young politicians recently elected on promises — however doubtful — of a bipartisan approach.
“Cory Booker is an example of a new generation of Silicon Valley Democrats. His ideas owe more to the information age than to traditional big-city politics. I’m very encouraged by his early statements as a senator. He’s in the same tradition as Mark Warner, who made his money in high technology. But we’ll see how frustrated he gets. It’s very interesting to see how frustrated Warner is in the Senate. There’s very little space for creativity if you aren’t a partisan interest group,” Gingrich said.
Gavin Newsom, the uber-progressive lieutenant governor of California and former San Francisco mayor, is another unlikely recipient of the Speaker’s praise. Newsom’s book “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Re-Invent Government” impressed Gingrich to no end.
“It’s a very daring book for a liberal Democrat because it emphasizes citizen power over the bureaucracy,” he said. “One of the people I’ve really listened to is the former mayor of Indianapolis Steve Goldsmith,” the Republican Harvard professor who recently served a short-time as a deputy mayor in New York for Michael Bloomberg overseeing new efficiency reforms in the police, fire, and sanitation departments. “We’ve got to get Gavin Newsom and Steve Goldsmith together to talk about transforming cities. They would be a terrific duo.”
Gingrich can’t help but sound a bit like Bloomberg, fascinated by urbanization and its challenges. His landmark 2012 presidential debate riff on instilling work ethic in inner-city children by having them work as school janitors was no cheap political rhetoric. It speaks to Gingrich’s vision for a future in which innovations in infrastructure, technology and education rebuild America’s cities from the ground up.
But those innovations can only happen if longstanding bureaucracies are undone and local regulations are eased.
“I proposed to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce the idea that we could turn all of Detroit into a tax-free zone for a decade. That would have attracted so much entrepreneurial energy. But I was going to attach it to the concept that they have to de-regulate and de-bureaucratize to be eligible for the tax break. If all you do is lower taxation but you still allow them to stifle innovation with their bureaucracies, then you’re not doing anything.”
“One of the major problems with almost every big city is unions and the government being impractical,” Gingrich said. “You have to look at the question of how do you get them to be reasonable. A few years ago, I was with [Los Angeles] Mayor [Dick] Riordan, and we said we want to build a factory in the poorest part of Los Angeles. The company came back a year later and said we can’t get past your city’s bureaucracies. We can’t get through the paperwork. People have to understand cities in the sense of what they were originally, which were hubs of business.”
He also can’t help but sound like a talk show host, a job that requires everyone you meet to have interesting ideas and some positive attributes, even if just for eleven minutes at a time.
“Crossfire is fun,” he readily admits, but he hasn’t shifted entirely into Joe Scarborough mode. His political imprint can be found in unlikely places where he doesn’t feel the need to sign his name. By the time the public found out about the Obama administration’s rumored plans to change regulations in order to crush self-funded insurance plans, which small businesses use and which present a liability to full Obamacare implementation, Gingrich was already holding meetings behind the scenes to make sure the issue didn’t become an issue.
And while Democrats managed to demagogue the social debate in 2012 with talking points centered on women’s reproductive health, contraception and equal pay-for-equal work, Gingrich is still pursuing the kinds of social issues he was talking about during the second peak of his political career in January 2012, as he stood to Romney’s left at the presidential debates, called for a “humane” immigration policy, and threatened to not only steal the Republican nomination but also split Obama’s coalition in Florida.
His favorite social issue now is the one that carried George W. Bush to victory in 2000, and in recent years has turned townhall videomaker Chris Christie into a national political superstar: education.
“Look at [online learning provider] Udacity’s contract with Georgia Tech, where they were able to create a $7,000 master’s degree program in computer science. That is a more than 90 percent reduction in tuition,” Gingrich said, referring to a recent example of the kind of public-private partnership that he supports. “That’s great if you’re talking about your student loan. It’s also great if you can’t make it to Atlanta but you can take classes on nights or weekends. That’s transformational.”
Bringing private sector-driven education reform back into the Republican agenda could be Gingrich’s defining legacy, regardless of whether or not he chooses to run again in 2016. Out of all his varied projects, he brought his online learning program Newt University, on which he partners with Kaplan, to the Republican convention last year in Tampa.
On this issue, he’s on the forefront of a bipartisan movement addressing the crisis in our public schools with privatization and digitization. Christie’s call to expand for-profit K-12 education is one of his boldest and potentially most popular policy objectives. Former Democratic senator Bob Kerrey is now fronting the for-profit Minerva Project. Ron Paul has an online homeschool curriculum. And Cory Booker at least got some conversations going when he took in a $100 million schools grant from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Newark.
“I’ve been proposing the idea that states be able to allow an learning component to [federal] unemployment compensation. You have 168 hours a week, you can put at least a few of them into online college programs. That would be an example of online learning at a revolutionary level,” Gingrich said. “You’re no longer just maintaining people. You’re now growing your market skills and becoming permanently able to earn. It’s very important, if we’re going to be able to rebuild, to put the focus back on learning skills.”