Condoleezza Rice: America must get fiscal, economic house in order

William DeShazer/Staff
Condoleezza Rice addresses attendees during the Global Financial Leadership Conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples on Monday Nov. 12, 2012.

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William DeShazer/Staff Condoleezza Rice addresses attendees during the Global Financial Leadership Conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples on Monday Nov. 12, 2012.

— American leaders do not have the luxury of waiting to solve economic problems like the exploding national debt, underfunded entitlements and a broken immigration system, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday.

"I hope now that the election is over, we can get moving," Rice said during the fifth annual Global Financial Leadership Conference in Naples. "America cannot lead if its own fiscal and economic house is not in order."

Rice gave the keynote address for the conference, which runs through Wednesday at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, beachfront resort.

Rice, who supported fellow Republican Mitt Romney in last week's election, said Barack Obama is her president and she hopes both sides can work together to solve problems. Democrats and Republicans need to have serious talks about what to do about the looming "fiscal cliff," said Rice, who is now a faculty member at Stanford University.

"I think if we don't address entitlements, we will be on another fiscal cliff before too long," she said. "I do not believe the defense budget is off the table. As far as revenue is concerned, I believe in tax reform rather than raising marginal rates. ... And people know the tax code is too complicated."

Rice has one piece of advice for the county's leaders: Today's headlines and history's judgement are not the same.

"When you are trying to reconstruct a world blown up by shocks, you have to concentrate on history's judgment," she said. "If I had one wish and one prayer for President Obama, it would be that he would remember that."

Rice, who was the 66th secretary of state and President George W. Bush's assistant to the president of national security affairs from 2001 to 2005, also described immigration as an economic issue. The great thing about the United States is that someone can come here from any other country and become an American, she said.

"This country has mobilized human potential," she said.

She did say Republicans "have made a terrible mistake in alienating the Latino population."

"When it comes to immigration, we are not mean-spirited people," Rice said. "We do not want to break up families."

Those comments resonated with Jerry Webman, a senior investment officer with Oppenheimer Funds.

"There are a lot of critical issues, but I am happy she put an emphasis on education and immigration," he said.

CME Group President Terry Duffy asked Rice where she saw opportunities economically. Rice said countries need to adopt a robust trade policy for more global growth.

"I think there are great opportunities in frontier markets like Indonesia ... and Africa. I think Africa has an undervalued story. It is a continent worth looking at," she said. "They are growing the middle class, their corruption indexes are going down. ... We need to invigorate our trade agenda."

As for who would be the next secretary of state, Rice said she didn't know. Hillary Clinton has said she will not serve another four years.

"The most important asset the secretary of state has is the relationship with the president," she said. "It needs to be someone the president has confidence in, who will not have to phone home on the road. When I was secretary of state, I knew when I was getting out of (Bush's) comfort zone. The secretary of state is known to speak for the president of the United States. When the headlines read, 'White House questions what Secretary X did,' that Secretary of State X is dead."

As for her own political future, Rice said she is not contemplating a run for the White House in 2016.

"I don't really love politics. I love policy and I love foreign policy," she said. "I like being back at Stanford and opening worlds for my students like my professors opened worlds for me. ... I have a very full plate. I am working on improving my golf game and I am really enjoying football season."

Rice was also expected to be part of a conversation with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that was moderated by Ted Koppel Monday night.

The Global Financial Leadership Conference continues Tuesday with a panel discussion on the impact of the election on global markets with Karl Rove, who was the deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and James Carville, a political strategist and adviser to President Barack Obama.

Tuesday's closing keynote address is expected to be given by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

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