Fiorina: I Can Save Taxpayers a Half Trillion Dollars

February 25th, 2010 at 3:33 pm | 12 Comments |

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“After going through chemotherapy and losing my hair, pharm ” Carly Fiorina is telling an eager San Diego crowd, “taking on Barbara Boxer doesn’t scare me one little bit.”

A former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who launched her campaign for California’s Senate seat in November, Fiorina indeed stands a decent chance of dethroning Boxer, especially after the race was officially downgraded by congressional handicapper Charlie Cook from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic” for the first time in Boxer’s career, according to an early January analysis.

And given Scott Brown’s resounding victory in Massachusetts’ special election, the prospect of another blue-state Democrat going down in 2010 suddenly appears possible.

As she made clear in her address to the San Diego County Republican Party and in the thoughts she shared with me, Fiorina’s candidacy holds great promise—and faces high hurdles.

First, on the issues, conservatives will find common ground with Fiorina, who recently emerged victorious from a tough battle with breast cancer.

“Job creation, first and foremost… is priority number one,” Fiorina told me.  The first woman to head a Fortune 20 company, Fiorina knows a few things about job creation.  While at H-P, she spearheaded an industry-wide project that encouraged Washington to “ensure a business climate that encourages entrepreneurship” while eschewing protectionism.  At a press conference launching the initiative, Fiorina candidly stated “there is no job that is America’s God-given right any more.  We have to compete for jobs as a nation.”

In a local manifestation of the jobs issue, she’s been hammering Boxer for her disregard for California’s thirsty Central Valley, where environmental restrictions on water usage have triggered a surge in unemployment—as high as 40% in some cities.  Fiorina notes that Boxer, as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has the power to invoke an emergency clause to waive portions of a federal regulation protecting wildlife in the Sacramento Delta, but she’s deliberately refused.  Fiorina’s loudest applause line: “common sense tells me that 46,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley matter a whole lot more than a two-inch fish called the Delta smelt.”

After jobs, she told me her second priority is “get[ting] federal spending under control” given that we’re “adding to our federal deficit at a rate of a trillion dollars a year.”

Fiorina is fond of illustrating her fiscal conservative bona fides by way of anecdote.  At one point at H-P, she was managing engineers who bought $2.5 billion worth of “stuff” each year.  In an effort to pinch pennies, she scrutinized the bills and found some mistakes.  She got some more people to examine the invoices, and they found even more errors.  Eventually, she assembled a team of 90 people that collectively identified some $300 million worth of mistakes.

Applying these skills to business as usual in Washington, Fiorina claims there’s half a trillion dollars worth of waste in the federal budget and wants to “put every budget and every bill up on the Internet for the taxpayers to see.”  When I pressed her campaign about how they came up with $500 billion in waste, they pointed me to studies by the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

The Heritage memo estimates that “Washington loses hundreds of billions of dollars annually on spending that most Americans would certainly consider wasteful,” including everything from corporate welfare to improper payments to Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

The Cato Handbook for Policymakers (7th Ed.) offers suggestions on how to trim $440 billion (in 2008 dollars) from the annual federal budget, including by indexing Social Security payments to the price (as opposed to the wage) index, increasing Medicare premiums, and converting Medicaid into a block grant program.  The Handbook also contains detailed, line-by-line proposed cuts from every federal agency.

Fiorina’s antipathy to government waste has philosophical roots.  “I’m a proud conservative for the same reason Reagan was a conservative:  I have faith in people,” Fiorina told the crowd.  “If given a chance, people will make better decisions and use of their money than other people far away can make of it.”

She also told me she opposed the healthcare reform package currently wending its way through Congress because it “solves none of the problems it purports to solve.”  Instead, she says, it “increases the cost of healthcare, it does nothing to improve [its] quality, and it’s going to add an incredible burden on the backs of, in particular, small businesses who are job creators.”

Temperamentally, Fiorina comes across as a tad shy and unused to the energy and crowds of the campaign trail, most likely because her first genuine political involvement came during the 2008 presidential race, where she strongly backed John McCain and spoke at the Republican National Convention.

But she takes heart from Brown’s insurgent campaign against an entrenched, establishment Democrat.  She told me, a week before Brown won, that Bay State voters are “obviously willing to challenge the tradition of Democratic senators and have an open mind to a different person and a different message, and I think that same thing is going on here.”  She’s confident that Californians’ concerns over lost jobs and runaway spending “translates into a willingness to listen to somebody new.”

When it comes to campaign cash, while Fiorina told me she’s “not in a position to self-finance the whole thing,” she says that she and her husband have already sunk $2.5 million to “ensure that we get this campaign off to a very strong start.”  She also noted that “in less than 60 days, we’ve raised over $1 million from a broad-based group of supporters.”  In what will surely be a steeply expensive race, she will undoubtedly need to tap even more of her personal resources.

But not everything’s rosy for this challenger.

For one thing, the specter of a bitter—and even an unsuccessful—primary battle looms over Fiorina’s campaign.  Already facing a tough challenge from the right, in the form of Orange County State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, Fiorina will now have to fend off a candidate to her left—former congressman and assemblyman Tom Campbell, who quit the governor’s race to join the Senate fracas.

DeVore’s attracting Tea Party and other conservative support (despite Fiorina’s insistence that she’s a “proud, pro-life conservative who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman,” a self description that earned raucous applause in San Diego), while Campbell retains significant name recognition in Silicon Valley, Fiorina’s own political base.  At this point, it’s unclear whether Campbell and Fiorina will split moderate votes, helping DeVore, or whether DeVore and Campbell will share the male vote, tipping the race to Fiorina (most likely, a bit of both).

Also, like gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, another prominent businesswoman running for statewide office in California, Fiorina must account for her failure to vote in several elections; so far, she’s offered a mea culpa, telling the AP “shame on me.”

Lastly, Fiorina’s large severance package from her H-P departure is likely to attract attention and may undermine her appeal to everyday Californians.  While she can plausibly paint herself as an outsider to Washington, her opponents (primary and general) will inevitably, if perhaps unfairly, tie her to corporate bonuses and Wall Street bailouts.

Still, that Fiorina has already caught the most flak among the GOP candidates from Boxer’s campaign and the DSCC strongly indicates that Democrats fear her candidacy more than anybody else’s.  The latest Rasmussen poll puts her within four points of Boxer.  And while other surveys place her behind Campbell, her now-famous (or infamous) “demon sheep” ad demonstrates she’s not afraid to take the gloves off, even during the primary.

Fiorina’s certainly not shy when it comes to criticizing Boxer, whom she labels “a failed senator” who has authored three measly pieces of legislation during her 18 years in the Senate.

When I asked her if, in her heart of hearts, she thinks she’ll knock off Boxer, she firmly replied “yes I do, or I wouldn’t be doing this.”  No self-respecting politician would answer that question differently, but her conviction came across clearly in her tone.

“Barbara Boxer has never faced a candidate like me before,” Fiorina concluded her San Diego remarks by saying.  Come November, with any luck, Boxer will encounter yet another first:  defeat.

Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and Republican activist in San Diego.  Reach him at

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • COProgressive

    “A former CEO of Hewlett-Packard ”

    That should read “A fired CEO of Hewlett-Packard” who fired 18,000 employees, failed as CEO, ran the company into the ground, was fired, and left with a “Golden Parachute” of $42 Million.

    And now she want to be a Republican Senator from California. Well, she does have that experience of monumental failure in her Curriculum vitae for her to quailfy for a Republican elected official.

    “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.” – P.J. O’Rourke

  • balconesfault

    Fiorina’s biggest credentials came from coordinating the spinoff and sale of Lucent by AT&T, and then moving to HP and breaking up that company (before merging with Compaq).

    I’ve heard that China is probably willing to pay a pretty penny for Hawaii.

  • Kanzeon

    There isn’t $500 billion in “government waste” that can be cut. Her sources tell you that. You’d know that if you bothered to read them. The sources recommend privatizing or transferring to the states hundreds of programs, and basically privatizing Medicare. These may or may not be good ideas, but they aren’t “waste.”

    Consider things that ARE waste. The GAO Reports $72 billion in improper payments for 2009. That’s an ANNUAL report. You see, there a people who spend their careers tracking government waste. They report the facts, and the Cato and Heritage dress it up with simplistic outrage. There’s a companion report every year about reducing improper payments, which apparently make up 4% of all payments (before any recovery through legal means, apparently). Some people don’t tell unemployment when they get a job, or don’t report all income of every adult in the household when they apply for welfare.

    What’s she going to do, exactly, that is not in the GAO recommendations? She won’t say. She doesn’t need to, because she counts on her listeners being complete idiots.

    ( I heard there was a company somewhere, had a funny name like Haliburtun, who supposedly overcharged the military tens of billions of dollars. I heard that billions of dollars were just missing in Iraq. I’m sure that must be wrong because the party of Fiscal Responsibility and Respect for the Military would have immediately put an end to it. I just think it’s a little odd she didn’t mention that.)

    These reports also make much of the fact that the GAO found that as much as 41% of transactions on government purchase cards (basically credit cards) did not follow authorization procedures. But, if you actually look at the report online, you find a couple of things. First, the GAO didn’t attempt to quatify fraud, as opposed to, for example, not having a receipt. Second, there has been an explosion of use of government purchase cards, because they save money over older procurement methods. What, exactly, is Fiorina going to do about this? Reinstitute more expensive procedures? Make sure everyone double-checks receipts? And how much of this money will really be saved?

    I’m not an expert on government spending. I did follow the links you gave, and then clicked through the footnotes to the orginial source documents. There is doubtless government waste, and much of it has been identified. But Cato, Heritage and Fiorina don’t offer solutions.

    Solutions are hard. Bitching is easy. That really explains the seesawing of the country’s fortunes since the Reagan presidency. Republicans complain about how the Democrats actually attempt to govern. Then they get power, cut taxes without cutting spending, allow their cronies to fleece everyone through privatization schemes, and the deficit goes up, the economy tanks, until a Clinton or Obama comes along to try to pick up the pieces. Then they come back and bray about how they were the party of fiscal responsibility all along.

    By the way, what kind of law do you practice? I always wanted to be a lawyer, but couldn’t really stand all the reading or spending time reviewing evidence with a critical eye. Maybe I could do whatever it is you do.

  • GOProud

    Mr Rosen, well written. Spot on. Boxer will be boxed, folded and multilated; I wish she were Michigan Senator and BuffetCow Debbie Stabenow — “Dangerously Incompetent”. But she, too, will taste defeat in 2012.

  • mickster99

    Politicians, especially right wingers, are blowhards with nothing but the same tired soundbites that were tired when Reagan was prez. Especially the meaningless “big government” and now “socialism” and the ever popular “we could save a bazillion dollars by cutting government waste”. They don’tseem to realize they have basically been controlling government since 1980 and have little to match their mouths with realities. Except the wealthy have gotten more so culminating in the the Bush Bank Collapse of 2008. 800 billion dollar Bush Bailout then multimillion dollar bonuses for the people who’ve been the beneficiary of 30 years of rightwing tax cuts for those who don’t need it and some cases (Warren Buffet, Bill Gates (Jr. and Sr.) don’t want it. The right wing also quickly forgets the massively expensive and unfunded Medicare Plan D Drug Benefit the largest expansion of Medicare ($650,000,000,000) since it was established by the “we hate big government” right wing. The desire for power corrupts and dumbs down people who were just plain stupid to morons. And the people that follow them become mindless throngs.

  • bbern

    Your article uncritically buys exaggerations about the state of farming in the Central Valley and completely distorts the reasons behind restrictions on water supplies from the Delta. A recent well-documented article in the LA Times on Feb 22 presents state employment data showing that job losses in the Central Valley are minimal at worst and that there is little correlation over the past few years between farm income, employment, and water deliveries. While there are some areas that have been harder hit by reduced water deliveries, the picture is not at all as Fiorina represents and you blindly repeat. In addition, federal restrictions on water deliveries from the Delta are about a lot more than a two-inch fish in the Delta. One would have to be deliberately not paying attention to have missed the fact that the commercial and recreational salmon fisheries off the coasts of California and Oregon have been shut down for the past two or three years. One dominant factor in drastically reduced salmon runs is high mortalities of young salmon returning to the ocean and getting sucked up in the Delta pumps. Thousands of business and jobs in coastal communities have been lost and economic hardship in these coastal areas is every bit as real as you claim for Valley farmers. However, this doesn’t fit the narrative you appear to be pushing, that everything would be just fine if the federal government simply got out of everyone’s way. As a reporter and political analyst you should know better than to let yourself be taken in by Fiorina’s manipulation. Of course, maybe the narrative of commercial fishermen and small recreational fishing businesses going bankrupt doesn’t fit your preconceived notions. In any case, you should do your homework.

  • sinz54

    Mickster99: The right wing also quickly forgets the massively expensive and unfunded Medicare Plan D Drug Benefit the largest expansion of Medicare ($650,000,000,000) since it was established by the “we hate big government” right wing.

    The GOP base didn’t like Medicare Part D one bit–and they still don’t. They regard it as one of Bush’s biggest mistakes.

    But they held their noses and held their fire, because they supported Bush on foreign policy (the War on Terror) and social issues (abortion).

    The GOP base didn’t turn on Bush for real until he tried to push immigration reform through Congress.

  • balconesfault

    The GOP base didn’t like Medicare Part D one bit–and they still don’t. They regard it as one of Bush’s biggest mistakes.

    But what is funny is that they never held the Republicans in Congress who voted to stop debate on Daschle’s budget point of order on the measure. Medicare Part D was projected by the CBO to increase direct spending by $395 billion, with no offsetting cuts or tax increases, and the Republicans were able to push it through because the deficit increase was assumed in the budget resolution.

    In other words, Presidents Bush and Obama aside, you have Tea Partiers running around the country screaming about Democrats who passed the Stimulus Bill … who rarely held any Republican congressmen accountable for all the spending they had approved under Bush. Tom Delay, closely aligned with the Tea Party movement, was the ramrod who twisted arms while Dennis Hastert kept the House vote open late into the night.

    Basically, the Republicans are embracing anti-incumbency right now because they’re in the minority … just as they now consider reconciliation to be a thuggish tactic, after the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, and the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, were all passed through reconciliation.

  • GOProud

    BlankHead proves he never played sports with this observation: “In other words, Presidents Bush and Obama aside, you have Tea Partiers running around the country screaming about Democrats who passed the Stimulus Bill …”

    Anyone who played sports knows that you can’t change the scoreboard once the game is over. The Tea Party movement wasn’t even around when Delay and others were playing fast and loose with the public purse. They exist now; they can act now –and still you fault them for holding current legislators accountable… or, more on point, try to dismiss and marginalize their efforts because they didn’t do so before they even thought of organizing?

    WTF is that BlankHead?

    As for your Harry gReid talking point nonsense –all three of those measures were for budget issues. That’s why the Reconciliation Rule was crafted. Budgets, BlankHead.

    But the reason for the rule hasn’t stopped the democrats from trying to use the rule for other purposes –like in 1993, when the Senate dems tried to use it pass Clinton’s 1993 health care plan but the Senate’s living dinosaur, Robert Byrd, told him “No”.

    To their discredit, GOP leaders tried to use the Rule to open up drilling in ANWR; but they failed on a bipartisan basis.

    Try a little less spinning and a little more facts –it’ll help ease your growing frustration that your spaceship is indeed heading into deep space and we may never see its occupants again.

  • balconesfault

    Anyone who played sports knows that you can’t change the scoreboard once the game is over. The Tea Party movement wasn’t even around when Delay and others were playing fast and loose with the public purse.


  • LFC

    In a local manifestation of the jobs issue, she’s been hammering Boxer for her disregard for California’s thirsty Central Valley, where environmental restrictions on water usage have triggered a surge in unemployment—as high as 40% in some cities.

    This shows that Carly is a short-term thinker, not a long-term planner. If the Central Valley has too much need for not enough water, the answer isn’t to take as much water as possible. It’s to stop building, force a change in agricultural practices (like drip irrigation instead of spray irrigation), and learn to conserve. (In case you didn’t notice, “conserve” is supposed to be the base of “conservatism”.) They might even consider bringing in ocean water via pipeline and putting in desalination plants to take advantage of it.

    Her “let’s take the water needed by others and fail to plan for the future” viewpoint makes it pretty clear why Carly was an abject failure at H-P.

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