Eric Cantor praises the Veep’s budget talk hosting: “I’ve been very impressed with the way he conducts these meetings.”
And/but: “He does like to talk, but I think that, I guess, all of us do or we wouldn’t be here.”
Transcript: Majority Leader Cantor’s Pen & Pad
Monday, June 13, 2011
Mr. Cantor: Good afternoon. Welcome back. I am sure we have a lot on our minds to talk about.
Last week, I was at home for much of the week in my district in Virginia. I traveled throughout different parts of the district talking to people. And the one thing that I heard loud and clear is the fact that people are very worried about this economy.
Obviously, they are aware of the unemployment levels. Most people know someone who has lost their job or is holding onto one just to pay the bills that is essentially underemployed. There’s a lot of concern about food prices at the grocery store, as well as the increasing price at the pump, and how it’s taking its toll on families as they try to make their way towards the summer vacation season. All this, together with the kind of issues that we are wrestling here in terms of the debt and the fact that we are still borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend, speak to a very sick economy and the fact that people are hurting.
Now, we have put forward a plan, as you know, to do something about this. We have been consistently focused, not only on getting our fiscal house in order in Washington, but trying also to point towards growth and what can we do to help small business people and the middle class return to some sense of optimism that they are going to refocus on a better future for their job security, as well as their own economic security from their family’s standpoint.
Today, I read an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that was penned by Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, who, as you know, is heading up the President’s new Jobs Council. I read a lot of nice sounding goals and aims, but I was struck by the fact that this was written by someone that the President has appointed, separate and apart from himself, and the fact that the President has continued to be much about speeches, but very little in action.
Going back to what I heard from my constituents last week, people are hurting. They are looking for some leadership, some real time action, not just speeches, not outlining lofty goals. So if you look at what we are doing, last week, I sent out a memo outlining the course of proceedings on the House floor for the summer. We are squarely focused on trying to deliver on some of the things the President should be about now in terms of real action in real time.
We are looking at focusing on removing the obstacles that have been put in place by Washington over the last several years, the impediments to small business growth. You look at some of the things like the REINS Act, which puts Congress in the position of having to approve any regulatory move that negatively impacts the economy in a significant way.
We also are looking specifically at the kinds of regulations that EPA has put forward, and the costs associated with those regulations, that seem to me to be unprecedented in terms of the potential for harming small business job growth and ultimately landing on the middle class and their inability to really see a better future.
We are also looking to the White House to finally step up on the trade issues so that we can pass these bills. In their own claims, the White House has said that those bills can result in the creation of over a quarter of a million jobs in the next 18 months. We want to see the bills. It is time to stop delaying and bring the bills forward.
We also are expecting to see on the floor by the end of this week the patent reform bill. Something that is central to the ability for America to lead in terms of intellectual capital and intellectual property, so that we can protect that and get rid of the backlog in terms of the patent applications that exist.
I also outlined in our memo, the move that we are going to undertake to bring forward from the Energy and Commerce and Resources Committees, bills that point towards unlocking the logjam in terms of regulatory impediments for the construction of the Keystone oil pipeline, as well as removing the tangle of red tape for offshore drilling in Alaska. Again, these are things that the Administration can do, it doesn’t cost anything. It will mean jobs, it will mean more energy for this country.
Obviously, for the next several months we will be very much focused on our appropriations process and the fact that we are meeting those goals that were set in place in our budget to reduce federal spending on the discretionary side.
Lastly, I would say, as you all have written and read, we are looking at an increased schedule in meetings with the Vice President this week focusing on debt reduction, focusing on hopefully coming up with a plan to manage down the debt and deficit in this country as we approach the deadline that the Secretary of Treasury has put out there as far as the debt ceiling is concerned.
We feel very strongly that one of the reasons why we continue to see an ailing economy is that people have very little confidence, have very little certainty in terms of where we are headed. That negatively impacts their willingness to put capital to work and create jobs. Very mindful of this, we are looking to try and achieve real reforms, real reduction in spending, so that we can accomplish this and hopefully get to a better economic outlook.
With that, I will be glad to answer questions.
Q: Mr. Leader, Speaker Boehner has said that Congress should be discussing spending cuts of trillions, not billions, and said that when it comes to a vote on raising the debt ceiling, spending cuts should exceed the amount of increase in the debt limit. Do you agree with that? And is that position nonnegotiable?
Mr. Cantor: I do. And I agree with that. I think the American people would also agree with the fact that if we are going to raise the debt ceiling over $2 trillion, certainly we could find some savings to match that amount.
Q: Senator Kyl has said that when he is thinking about the savings in those negotiations they can be many years out, as many as 18 years out. Do you agree with that? Do you think that those savings have to come within, you know, a year, 2 years, 3 years? Is 18 —
Mr. Cantor: I think we are largely focused on the budget window, which is a 10 year window in which we are looking at the savings. But for sure if we can get agreement on some of the issues of reform, you are going to see much larger savings in the out years as well. All that I think certainly ensures the benefit of the taxpayers of this country, if we can begin to manage down the debt long term. And that certainly is a goal as well.
Q: Mr. Leader, can you give us a preview of what to expect at the Biden talks tomorrow? And also who do you want to see I guess prevail or come out from the GOP debate tonight?
Mr. Cantor: As far as the talks, we have had some really significant and substantive discussions in these talks. And I think the success of these talks thus far is due to the Vice President and the way that he has conducted the meetings. He has allowed for proposals to be brought forward that not everybody agrees to. That is why I consistently say, everything is on the table as far as I am concerned except for raising taxes. Last week, we saw the Secretary of the Treasury and others put forward their proposals to raise taxes. I was very straightforward in my opposition to those proposals, as I have been at every meeting. Again, the Vice President has been very consistent with being there to say everyone should have the right to make their proposals. I am hopeful that this week we begin to focus on where the greater issues of commonality are so that we can begin to really focus on the results that we want, again, to produce the savings.
I am not very focused on tonight’s debate. I certainly will be watching, and look to see what happens.
Q: Are there any further avenues for Republicans to go in the Anthony Weiner matter? Could you see filing an ethics complaint? You called on him to resign. He hasn’t done that. Is there anything else that the Republicans can do?
Mr. Cantor: I really feel like I have said everything that I am going to say. I will say it again. I called on him to resign. I called on him to resign early, because I think that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, the way that his leaders now have called on him to resign. I am hoping that they will begin to move, if he does not resign, towards things like perhaps stripping of his committees and others. I don’t think that we have time for this. We obviously have a lot of other issues to be concerned with.
Q: You just were very clear about taking taxes off the table. Where do you stand on the question of tax expenditures? I mean there are some things in the tax code like the ethanol subsidy which basically functions as a direct payment. It is only done through taxes. Is there anything on the tax expenditure side that you are willing to consider?
Mr. Cantor: I personally am against the ethanol subsidy and have been so consistently. Chairman Dave Camp is undergoing a real effort at comprehensive tax reform. A lot of those discussions are being had in the Ways and Means Committee and I look forward to more activity on that this summer.
Q: Larry Summers has an op-ed today. He says as a part of any deal by the Biden group he wanted to the payroll tax holiday extended, and actually for the employers side of that to be added into that. He wants to see it enlarged from 2 percent to 3 percent. Is anything like that appropriate in your mind?
Mr. Cantor: Again, we are trying to look towards a plan that will manage down the debt and deficit, and at the same time help signal a return to economic growth. I haven’t really looked at Mr. Summers’ article. I know those kind of ideas are circulating. Thus far, we have been very focused on trying to see where we can reduce federal spending right now, which seems to be sort of the direct quid pro quo as far as how we are going to even muster the votes to bring a debt limit increase to the floor. It has to be about real spending reductions now. It has got to be real reforms that lead to much greater savings later.
Q: Mr. Leader, you have said historically these talks have gone very well, you were complimentary to the Vice President here. We understand you are going to be getting deeper into the Medicare and health issues here soon. Do you think that that is the reason these talks have gone well, because that is the elephant in the room? That is the tough thing to get past, and these talks might not be going so well once you get to the nitty gritty?
Mr. Cantor: We have already had discussions, as far as the mandatory items are concerned, both health care and non-health care. So again, I think the spirit with which the Vice President has been conducting these talks, I have said before, I know that he is desirous, as am I, of keeping politics and ideology out of the discussion, and see where we can come to agreement. Again, I have said I will not support any increase in taxes because the House won’t support them. And I don’t think personally that is the right way to go when we are trying to rely on job creators to create jobs. Again, I think that these talks have been very substantive. I am looking forward to increasing the momentum towards some kind of resolution.
Q: On the tax issue, are you ruling out eliminating subsidies for ethanol or oil and tax oil and gas industries? Are you ruling that out as part of this deal? Does that have to be dealt with separately in comprehensive tax reform?
Mr. Cantor: Again, if you look at where the Simpson-Bowles Commission came down on a lot of these issues on tax simplification, they advocated doing that in the context of lowering rates. I have said before, as has the Speaker, as has the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, we believe you ought to lower the corporate and individual tax rates to make us more competitive globally, as well as to provide incentives for small businesses to go out there and create jobs again. That is the starting point, I believe, that we should have in terms of any discussion over taxes.
Q: On the payroll tax idea, is this something you would support? And Republicans in the past have said, you know, a common criticism of yours is the lack of certainty going forward. And so if we had a temporary extension of the payroll tax for another year or two, would this add to uncertainty?
Mr. Cantor: Again, I am not going to comment on the specifics. I have not read Mr. Summers’ piece. Where we’re focused right now is to make sure that we do our part to get the fiscal house in order. And it’s the uncertainty provided by the fact that the markets now are looking at what will happen surrounding the debt ceiling. The facts are, Republicans in the House are not going to support increasing the debt limit unless there’s real reforms in terms of spending reduction now and reforms to the entitlement programs, period.
Q: You said a few minutes ago you hope this week to focus on greater areas of commonality, yet you keep ruling out Medicare taxes
Mr. Cantor: I didn’t rule out anything other than raising taxes.
Q: So what are those issues of greater commonality?
Mr. Cantor: Again, in our budget we called for $719 billion in savings in non health care mandatory programs. Obviously, when you get into the health care piece, that’s the disproportionate driver of our debt. You’ve got plenty of areas in which I believe we can come together and demonstrate trillions of dollars in savings, as the Speaker has called for.
Q: Mr. Leader, will you or anyone in the Republican Conference call to waive the rules and deny Mr. Weiner the leave of absence he is requesting?
Mr. Cantor: Listen, Members, they have a right to do whatever. But, again, I think I’ve said enough on this. I know y’all feel you have written enough on this. But, I called on him to resign. I think he should resign. I think his Leaders should do everything they can to bring him to that point if he’s not already.
Q: Mr. Leader, the defense approps bill, I guess, is going to be in markup, I think, this week, or coming to the floor soon, within the next week or two, I imagine. When the defense authorization bill went through, as you know, Chairman McKeon and Democrats created this $1 billion fund that Members used as offsets for a lot of their projects. You know that many of these have been criticized by members of your own conference as earmarks. As the appropriations process goes through, a lot of these projects were specific to certain districts, certain companies. A lot of people think the competition clauses in that fund don’t really hold up under scrutiny. Are these earmarks? If these survive the appropriations process, will they be earmarks, or are they not earmarks?
Mr. Cantor: Again, I’m not sure what you’re referring to specifically, and I hesitate to comment in a blanket way. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Q: Mr. Leader, back on the debt talks, you talked about the Republicans have brought this $715 billion to the table. People say that getting to $1 trillion in cuts might be doable; getting to $2 trillion is really much more difficult. Do you envision maybe multiple debt ceiling votes, a short term to get you through
Mr. Cantor. It’s my desire to have one debt ceiling vote. Again, the Speaker, it is up to him as to where he comes down on that question. I would like to see just one debt ceiling vote. I think we can accomplish trillions of dollars in spending reductions, and then put the necessary reforms in place where you’re actually going to achieve a lot more than that outside the budget window.
Q: How big a deal are Republicans looking for in this debt ceiling debate? Is it the $2 trillion mark that would get through the end of next year, or is it $4 trillion that goes beyond that?
Mr. Cantor: Listen, I don’t think there’s any limit on the upside as to how big the savings are going to be. We’re trying to accomplish as much as possible. I think the Speaker has said he wants to see more than what the debt limit increase will be itself, and I think we can accomplish that if parties are willing to make the tough decisions. Again, either we are going to get the fiscal house in order, or we are not.
Q: Mr. Leader, what are the chances? You know, the rating companies are getting nervous. They’re saying, you know, you’ve, got to get a deal on the debt limit sooner rather than later. What are the chances of later this month or in July getting this thing settled instead of waiting until August?
Mr. Cantor: The Vice President has increased the schedule of the meetings. We’re here. I came up last week when the House was out of session. I think everyone around the table is very serious and wants to try and do what we can to meet the deadline. But again, my test, as I believe the standard of Republican Members in the House is, are the spending cuts real? Are they something that indicates we’re taking the tough steps now and not saying we’ll do so later? And are we actually putting in place real reforms that bend the curve in the long run?
Q: And no taxes?
Mr. Cantor: I’ve said consistently my position on that, yes.
Q: Just to clarify then, do you want the totality of this deal to last and get you through the next election, or would it be acceptable it seems like it’s going to come right down to a month after, a month before. How are you guys targeting that date?
Mr. Cantor: It really comes down to what kind of cuts are real. Where are the reforms? That’s going to dictate what the vote’s going to look like and what the amount is going to look like in terms of the debt limit increase. That’s why, I think the Speaker has said, and I will continue to back him in this, that we have to see more than the $2-2.4 trillion of amount that matches the debt ceiling increase in terms of cuts.
Q: Mr. Leader, Democrats have said they’re open to talking about some things on Medicare like, say, drug price negotiation, but they don’t seem to be wanting to talk about reducing benefit levels. Do you think you can get to the amount of savings you’re looking for without at some point having to reduce Medicare benefit levels from their current level?
Mr. Cantor: As you know, the health care entitlement area is extremely complex in terms of payment systems, reimbursement systems, delivery incentives, disincentives, and the rest. There is plenty of room for savings and accomplishment of efficiency in these programs. So anyone saying that they can’t see anywhere that you can make these government programs more efficient, I just disagree with. And I see the numbers in these discussions. There’s room for us to agree on trillions of dollars of savings.
Q: Mr. Leader, I wanted you to ask about the no taxes pledge that you and others have taken. Do you think that has played a valuable role in sort of focusing your caucus? And, you know, the Democrats would say they think that is an obstacle to a deal on the debt limit. Do you think it has been an obstacle, or has it been beneficial to expediting a deal?
Mr. Cantor: I just come from the perspective where most people are in this country. Again, you’ve heard me say, and others before, this place does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. Add that to the fact that small businesses look at tax increases and the likelihood of those as being a disincentive for them to put capital to work. We should be about providing incentives to lowering the price of risk for an entrepreneur to go ahead and commit money to create jobs. That’s just the bottom line. So I don’t know whether it’s good, bad, indifferent; it just is what it is.
Q: Mr. Leader, could you say a little bit more about the role you see the Vice President playing in these talks? He is known for talking a lot. I am wondering does he filibuster at these meetings, or does he moderate? And I’m wondering if you see something about him that you didn’t know before you started spending all this time with him.
Mr. Cantor: I’ve been very impressed with the way he conducts these meetings. He does like to talk, but I think that, I guess, all of us do or we wouldn’t be here. I do really think he has conducted these meetings in a way that’s kept the ball rolling. And we are, I believe, beginning to see the essence of convergence on savings begin to happen. Now, a lot of this will be up to where the Speaker and the President end up. I look at the role that I play in these discussions, working with the Vice President, to sort of define the playing field and to push as far as we can to come together to maximize savings and increase the amount of reform.
Q: So you think at some point the Speaker and the President and Senator Reid perhaps will have to get together and strike the final deal?
Mr. Cantor: Yeah. Sure.
Q: Do you have a target date you want the bill written by for raising the debt ceiling?
Mr. Cantor: Again, it is about getting it right. It is about making sure that you get the necessary amount of spending cuts and reforms, because if in the end your goal is to deliver a result, you can’t deliver the result that the Secretary of the Treasury and the President are looking for without the necessary reforms in spending cuts, period.
Q: Do you have a date in your head?
Mr. Cantor: Date or no date, that is what it is.
Q: Mr. Cantor, so how is the Vice President receiving the cuts in comparison with the debt ceiling?
Mr. Cantor: I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think what he would say is there’s no deal until there’s a deal, and that nothing is off the table other than what I believe is off the table from our side, which, again, are those tax hikes. But I think the Vice President would say we need to operate in the spirit of moving forward to see how far we can get as far as spending cuts.
Q: So you think he is open to that?
Mr. Cantor: To what?
Q: To the debt ceiling the cuts being as much as the debt ceiling.
Mr. Cantor: I think the Vice President already said that we are in sight of well over a trillion dollars in spending cuts, yeah.
Q: What about Senator Reid? You haven’t talked about the Democrats in any of these talks or in a resolution of
Mr. Cantor: Well Senator Reid’s not in the meetings.
Q: I know. But what about the Democratic Senators? What’s your take on them at this point? Are they missing in action?
Mr. Cantor: Senator Baucus and I sit next to each other in the meetings. Senator Inouye is there. There’s a lot of back and forth and activity as far as the Senate and where they can be or not be. So, no, they are not missing in action. You are talking to me, asking me what I’m thinking.
Q: Mr. Leader, when you are considering the total amount of cuts you guys or deficit savings you guys are going to reach, does that have to be within the standard 10 year budget window, or could you say, you know, 15 years if some things are particularly back loaded?
Mr. Cantor: We are looking for here and now, okay? That’s why I say primary focus is on the 10 year window. Certainly, if we can get the right reforms in place, you are going to see much larger positive results and savings outside the 10 years, but we are looking at the 10 year window first.
Q: Are you under role past August 2? Do you see that as not really the drop-dead date?
Mr. Cantor: Again, I am just saying we’re trying to get it right.
Q: Do you expect that you are going to need Democratic votes when this debt ceiling vote does happen? And if so, how many do you expect?
Mr. Cantor: You can ask the Democratic Whip that.
Q: There were a lot of members of your conference who were concerned about the final deal on the CR to keep the government open who then sort of thought, well, this didn’t go far enough. Even if you and Speaker Boehner and everybody else is able to cut a deal with the President, isn’t there an inherent risk of selling that to your conference with folks who came up here to cut government and not raise the debt?
Mr. Cantor: We are trying to be as open as possible with our Members as to what is transpiring in these discussions. I have attended several of Whip Kevin McCarthy’s Member listening sessions to meet with Members with him to talk about what they view as an acceptable level of cuts, or where they would like to see cuts, what kind of process changes, what kind of enforcement mechanisms they want. So I’m hopeful that there is a level of confidence that we are building that we can reach a point at which our Members feel comfortable that the cuts are real, the reforms are real, and that we can achieve a result.
Q: We hear “making significant progress.” We know that the schedule is ramping up, there are more meetings. But I think there is a general fear of is it going to take the markets to react before people really get together and say we need to cut a deal? Like going right up to the minute on the CR. I mean, is there any conversation of that like, guys, we can’t let it get to that point?
Mr. Cantor: Sure. I think that the urgency of the matter is we don’t want the markets to make this decision for us, because that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid in saying you got to reduce spending, you have to implement reform. Because if you don’t, if you just check the box and raise the debt ceiling, I believe the markets take care of it for you. Interest rates will skyrocket, and there will be no way for us to see any return to growth anytime soon. We will have to raise taxes and the rest. No one wants that. We’re not going to go along with that kind of outcome. That’s why I think that we are proceeding in a very deliberate fashion, very focused this week, again, on much more frequent meetings, and hopefully fruitful discussions.