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US “could learn a lot” from Switzerland

Wally Herger thinks Obama could win - but it would be a "total disaster". Keystone

Relations between the United States and Switzerland are strong despite revelations about Swiss banks helping US clients hide their assets, says a US politician.

Wally Herger has been a Republican Party member of Congress since 1987, representing a rural district in northern California. The grandson of Swiss emigrants from canton Uri, he co-chairs the Friends of Switzerland Caucus in the House of Representatives.

In a year-end interview with he says the huge US deficit grew under both Republic and Democratic administrations, but the important thing now is to fix it – which will be the major issue of next year’s presidential election.

The US could learn from Switzerland about how to balance the budget, he says. How would you characterise relations between the US and Switzerland?

Wally Herger: They are very important. I’m so proud to have genealogy that goes back to Switzerland. It’s always been a leader in democracy. Right now, Switzerland has one of the few strong economies. You balance your budget, we could learn a lot from how you manage things.

Historically, Switzerland has always been a very good friend of the United States, as well. The US, for its part, is the largest foreign investor in Switzerland and the second largest purchaser of Swiss exports. So, we have a very good, strong relationship. You also sit on the Ways and Means Committee which writes tax legislation. How disruptive has the Swiss banks and tax evasion scandal been to that relationship?

W.H.: Obviously, people in the United States feel that everybody should pay their taxes, that nobody should break the law because it puts a greater stress on those who do pay.

But we’ve been making tremendous progress on working through this and still being able to honour the centuries-long practices of the Swiss in banking to both meet the Swiss needs and our needs.  I think we’ve shown that, as friends, we can sit down, talk and work out solutions, and that reflects the great depth of the very positive relationship between our two nations. The US is saddled with a 15-plus-trillion dollar (SFr14 trillion) debt. Isn’t that huge burden a shared responsibility between President Bush and President Obama, between Republicans and Democrats.

W.H.: Oh, absolutely! And we have to look at it that way. I mean, we are all together in this and I think it’s important that we all look at it together. Now, at this point, we see very important differences in how we’re dealing with it but certainly, these big deficits grew both under Republican and Democratic administrations. So, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Now I think we need to move beyond that and move to how are we going to fix it and can we fix it, and we can. Will the debt and the economy be the main themes in the campaign leading up to the presidential and congressional elections of November 2012?

W.H.: Absolutely, that’ll be the big issue. We are in the longest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The public has to live within their means, why can’t the federal government do the same? Our surveys show that’s on the minds of the American people, and certainly for the party I belong to, the Republican party, that’s our big goal. The Tea Party was instrumental in helping the Republicans regain control of the House in 2010, but polls show that popular support for it has eroded. Will the Tea Party play a major role in these elections?

W.H.: Any group that’s very concerned and active and involved in selecting and electing their representatives is going to be important. The concerns of the Tea Party group are still the same: having a responsible government and getting a handle on our spending. So, I think they will be among other groups that will play a major role. They won’t be the deciding factor but they will be one of a number of groups that will be taking part in deciding who will be elected. Which Republican candidate are you supporting for the presidency?

W.H.: I actually like all of the Republican candidates but I have come out for Mitt Romney. I feel his experience in building businesses, turning businesses around that were doing poorly, taking the Salt Lake City Olympics that were very much in debt and making them a success – I think that’s the kind of person we can use at this time. You are a Mormon like Romney. Polls show that many American voters, including many Republicans, view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a cult and say that they will not vote for Romney because he’s a Mormon. Can he overcome that hurdle?

W.H.: I think he can. I remember when John F. Kennedy ran and there was a concern then that he was a Roman Catholic. There was a concern that maybe Catholics could not be trusted but he did win. So, I think ultimately the American public will be fair and judge candidates on whether they think they can be a good president or not. Barack Obama has inherited a very difficult set of problems and his approval rating is now as low as Jimmy Carter’s at the same point in his first and only term. Can President Obama win re-election?  

W.H.: Oh absolutely, anytime you’re the incumbent, you have to be the favourite. I think it would be a complete disaster if he’d be re-elected. His first three years in office have been a total disaster to our economy. He came out saying that he was going to keep unemployment from reaching eight per cent; we’ve been at nine per cent almost the entire time he’s been president; the debt has increased by three or four trillion dollars since he’s been in office, and just his policies in general.

But very definitely, he still has a lot of support and there’s a lot of strength in being the incumbent, any incumbent.

Walter (“Wally”) Herger has been a Republican Party member of the House of Representatives for California since 1987.

He is also a farmer and small businessmen.

He was born in 1945 in Sutter County, California named after Swiss emigrant John Sutter, and grew up on his parents’ ranch.

His paternal grandparents were both Swiss, as was his maternal grandmother.

He co-chairs the Friends of Switzerland Caucus in the House with Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

He is a member of the Ways and Means Committee; he chairs its subcommittee on Health and sits on its subcommittee on Trade. He also served for 8 years on the Budget Committee.

He has endorsed Republican candidate Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon, for the 2012 presidential election.

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