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Republicans In Congress Need Strong Ideas, Ohio Governor Says


Now, in his state of the union speech this week, President Obama said the nation was emerging from crisis at home and abroad. And the crisis is certainly easing in Ohio, where Republican John Kasich is the governor.

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH: It's somewhat of a rebirth. Our unemployment has been dropping. We are embracing manufacturing, particularly advanced manufacturing. But our great challenge is to work aggressively to bring the new industries into Ohio. We just received about a $1-billion investment in cloud computing.

GREENE: OK, so the Republican governor here and the Democratic president both see better times. They disagree on why the economy has improved. Kasich doesn't give the president much credit. And they are both thinking of what to do next. Kasich is receiving a lot of attention. He's the governor of a swing state. He's just won an overwhelming reelection. He's not ruling out a run for president. And when he spoke with our colleague Steve Inskeep, he was traveling to six states to promote a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: How do you think the new Republican Congress has done in its opening weeks at setting a national agenda?

KASICH: I think it's too early. To me, if you're going to be an effective politician of any party, you have to drive things with ideas. So in our state, we have privatized our economic development. We have expanded Medicaid so that we can help people who live in the shadows, who are mentally ill or drug-addicted or the working poor to get on their feet. We are trying to bring job training and real businesses into the welfare office so that people can get trained, get a job and not be dependent, you know, for a generation. We are reforming our K-12 education systems dramatically. We've got a lot of programs to involve people in their communities so they can begin to solve some of the basic problems that we see in our lives today.

And that's one of the big issues. Can Americans understand that patriotism means that you don't take a pass on dealing with problems where you live? Don't wait for the government, or don't wait for somebody else. So we are very much an idea- oriented administration. And I think ideas are what generate excitement. Are they risky? Do they aggravate some people? Sure. But, you know, if you're not doing that, you're not doing your job. So for the Republicans in Congress, they need to have a very strong agenda of ideas because that's what people want.

INSKEEP: Well, help me advance the debate then on economic opportunity, if you will, because the president this week laid out a number of ideas that he wants to support - greater access to child care, free community college, tax breaks for the middle class - that he argues would help people bring themselves up in the world. And I'm aware that a lot of Republicans, including some possible presidential contenders, are trying to focus in new ways on the idea of economic opportunity. But I don't have a clear sense of what strong Republican solutions to the problem of economic inequality...

KASICH: Yeah, sure.

INSKEEP: ...Or however you want to describe it would be. What's...

KASICH: Well, I...

INSKEEP: What's something that you would put out there?

KASICH: Well, I can't - I mean, we're doing it in Ohio. I couldn't - I'm not in Congress anymore. But for us, we have done a number of things to make sure that people are lifted. I created the first earned income tax credit program in the state of Ohio when I cut taxes for those on the top. I also provided tax breaks and tax incentives for people who are not making a lot of money to give them an incentive to move ahead.

We believe in lifelong education, so that if you get a job and you're in a position of where you don't have the training or the skills to move up, we're going to give those to you. We're going to have lifelong learning, and we're providing for that in some of our community colleges. And these are all things that are designed so that everybody feels they can be a part of this and everybody can get ahead.

INSKEEP: What would you say to people in the conservative movement who have said over the years that things like the earned income tax credit for people who are poor or job training or various other things that you listed are things to be against because it's free stuff? They're takers if they're getting...


INSKEEP: ...If people are getting that kind of thing.

KASICH: Well, I would just ask them to read the very end of Matthew 25. As I recall - and I don't have the scripture in front of me - you know, why didn't you feed me when I was hungry? Why didn't you clothe me when I was naked? Did you help feed the hungry? Did you help clothe the poor?

I mean, one thing we should realize in the conservative movement is the faith community has always played a large role. If you study the Old Book or the New Book - it was brilliant they put the two of them together - it all talks about the need to lift people. And to me, that's conservatism. But it's a sin to continue to help people who need to learn how to help themselves. So we see this in a couple directions - job training - critical element. I've told the people in Washington what I'd like to do is I would like to be able to train people who are currently employed rather than to see them get unemployed so then we train them. I believe that training people in the jobs they have, our ability to raise wages for them - I mean, these are the things that will work. And I don't pay much attention to narrow ideologues.

INSKEEP: Governor, one other thing - as you traveled the other day, someone asked you about running for president and you said if the field is lacking, you might have to give some thought in that direction. Of course, you now have a field that includes, potentially, names like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie of New Jersey, quite a few others. Is the field lacking?

KASICH: Well, I think it's too early to assess how they're all going to do. My only point was, you know - and I get asked this question all the time - I'm keeping my options open.

INSKEEP: What would be the case for a governor of Ohio to run for president?

KASICH: I'm not making a case as to why I'm going to run for president. I can only tell you - if you - I'm not answering your question.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Thanks very much.

KASICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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