Christiane Amanpour goes one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a “This Week” Sunday morning exclusive.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for joining us.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good to be here.
AMANPOUR: Let’s talk about jobs, obviously. You talk about trying to find common ground, but at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much. Even the infrastructure can’t get through Congress. Where can you see common ground?
BOEHNER: Well, we’ve already seen some common ground. We passed the three free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, part of our plan, part of the president’s plan. As a matter of fact, it’s all part of our plan for American job creators. And we’ve passed 22 bills, all with bipartisan support, that would help reduce barriers to job growth. They all remain in the United States Senate. So you — you’re going to see the House move, I think, before the end of the year, on an infrastructure bill.
AMANPOUR: Now, you obviously disagree with the idea of paying for this with extra taxes. Some 75 percent of Americans agree with a increase in tax on millionaires as a way to pay for these jobs provisions. Do you not feel that by opposing it, you’re basically out of step with the American people on this issue?
BOEHNER: Well, over half of the people who would be taxed under this plan are, in fact, small businesspeople. And, as a result, you’re going to basically increase taxes on the very people that were hoping will reinvest in our economy and create jobs. That’s the real crux of the problem. And, secondly, I would point out this: we have a spending problem. We’ve done all this stimulus spending in the last couple of years and, clearly, it has not worked.
AMANPOUR: You said that there is room for more revenues. What do you mean by that?
BOEHNER: I believe that if we restructure our tax code, where on the corporate side and the personal side, the target would be a top rate of 25 percent, it would make our economy more competitive with the rest of the world. It would put Americans back to work. We’d have a broader base on the tax rules. And out of that, there would be real economic growth and more revenues for the federal government.
AMANPOUR: Do you agree at all that there should be any kind of tax increases?
BOEHNER: I believe that we can create revenue out of fixing our tax code and bring that revenue to the table, as long as our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are serious about cutting spending. And I have tried all year, with every fiber of my being, to try to get members on both sides of the aisle, try to get the president to get serious about dealing with our debt problem. Nobody more upset that we couldn’t come to an agreement, the president and I, than I was.
AMANPOUR: A year now into the new Congress, what is your biggest regret then?
BOEHNER: I really thought the president and I could come to an agreement. And I thought that, for the good of the country, he and I could have solved this problem. We could have passed a significant bill to reduce our long-term obligations. Listen, we’ve made promises to ourselves that our kids and grandkids cannot afford. And we have to deal with it.
So we — we have the — the deficit committee, the so-called super committee. They’re hard at work. And I’ve got to tell you, these members, all 12 of them, Democrats and Republicans from both the House and the Senate, they have worked diligently. They have put in incredible numbers of hours. They’re not there yet. But I’m going to do everything I can to continue to encourage them and to help them reach a successful outcome.
AMANPOUR: Well I was going to ask you, because there was so much hope put into their efforts and yet they do seem to be stuck at an impasse. We know that they’re meant to be trying to come up with $1.2 trillion in debt
BOEHNER: I wouldn’t…
BOEHNER: — I wouldn’t describe it as an impasse.
AMANPOUR: Do you think it will work?
BOEHNER: This is hard.
AMANPOUR: I know.
BOEHNER: If it was easy, the president and I could have solved it. If it was easy, Congresses over the last two decades would have solved it. It’s hard. But…
AMANPOUR: Do you think it will work?
BOEHNER: — but it has to work. And I am committed to ensuring that it works.
AMANPOUR: Because as we all know, if it doesn’t, there are automatic, rather Draconian cuts. Would you be able to live with those, including half of those cuts might come from the Defense Department?
BOEHNER: I think it is important for our government to solve our deficit and our debt problem. And — and we need to take a big step in the right direction. So I’m going to do everything that I can to ensure that the super committee is successful.
AMANPOUR: You talked about the $800 billion or so that you were trying to make an agreement with President Obama in terms of revenues. It didn’t work. You said that that was one of your biggest regrets. Is that a — could that happen again? Could you get back to that point?
BOEHNER: Well, I think it’s hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
AMANPOUR: How much revenue, when we were talking about room for revenue, how much revenue do you think…
AMANPOUR: — you could — you could get?
BOEHNER: Well, that’s the $64 million question. Nobody knows.
AMANPOUR: You talk about fairness, and of course a lot of the conversation in this country over the last year or so has been about spending cuts, getting the deficit under control. But it’s sort of shifting, as you know now, to the whole big disparity in income, the income gap, the income inequality that people are talking about. Latest reports say that something like one in 15 Americans live in extreme poverty, which is defined as something like $11,000 per year for a family of four. Are you concerned that these budget cuts are going to hurt the people who can least afford it?
BOEHNER: No one here in this Congress, Democrat or Republican, wants to do anything about putting holes in the safety net for Americans. There are Americans who are poor. And I think it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to ensure that they have food in their stomachs and they have a roof over their head.
You know, John Kennedy said some 50 years ago, a rising tide lifts all boats. We have to get our economy moving again. And until we get our economy moving again and we start producing more jobs, we’re going to have all kinds of uncertainty, concern and, frankly, fear about the future.
AMANPOUR: You talk about a rising tide lifting all boats. And, of course, that is the American way. That’s what all of us look to America for. And yet, not just income inequality has expanded, but also the idea of social mobility is kind of slowing down. It’s even slower than in some other parts of the world. And clearly, the Republicans are being portrayed as the party that doesn’t really care and are really, quote, unquote, the servants of the rich.
BOEHNER: Well, I think that…
AMANPOUR: Does that need to change?
BOEHNER: I think that’s very unfair. Listen, I come from a family of 12. My dad owned a bar. I’ve got brothers and sisters on every rung of the economic ladder.
What our job here in Congress is to do — and the reason I came here 21 years ago — was to make sure that the American dream that was available to us is available for our kids and our grandkids. That — most people don’t believe that’s the case today. And, frankly, I’ve got concerns that it may not be the case. We can’t have government debt that’s snuffing out the future for our kids and grandkids. We can’t have a government that’s taking in 30, 40 cents out of every dollar from our kids and grandkids to pay for government. That’s — you can’t have both. And I do believe that my — my job and my vision is to make sure the American dream is alive and well for everyone in America.
AMANPOUR: You look at Occupy Wall Street. I think you’ve said that you understand their frustrations. People such as, let’s say, Eric Cantor, called them a mob not so long ago. Do you agree with that? Are they a mob?
BOEHNER: Listen, I understand people’s frustrations. I understand their concerns. And, frankly, I understand that we have differences in America. We are not going to engage in class warfare. The president is out there doing it every day. I, frankly, think it’s unfortunate.
AMANPOUR: You say…
BOEHNER: Because — because our job is to help all Americans, not — not to pit one set of Americans against another.
AMANPOUR: And do you think that’s what’s happening?
BOEHNER: The president’s clearly trying to do it. And it’s wrong.
AMANPOUR: You say class warfare. I asked Bill Gates last week about this whole notion. And he said, look, class warfare is when you’ve got people in the streets manning the barricades, you know, fighting each other. And that’s not what’s happening. It’s not so much a redistribution of income that the president is talking about, but much more a shared and much fairer sense of sacrifice. And there doesn’t seem to be the sense amongst people here that the sacrifice is being shared, because they point to taxes and tax cuts and who it benefits and who it doesn’t.
BOEHNER: Come on. The top 1 percent pay 38 percent of the income taxes in America. How much more do you want them to pay? I’ll tell you, well, let’s take all the money that the rich have, all of it. It won’t even put a dent in our current budget deficit, much less our debt.
AMANPOUR: Congress obviously is not very popular with the people. So no matter what you say about the president, Congress’s approval ratings are way lower. How do you live with that, 9 percent approval?
BOEHNER: Well, listen, Congress has never been popular…
AMANPOUR: No, but this is historic levels now.
BOEHNER: The Congress has never been popular with the…
AMANPOUR: But this is the worst…
BOEHNER: — with the American people. They look at the battles that go on here on Capitol Hill and they don’t like to see it. And I understand that. It would surprise people that 90 percent of the time, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle get along. But, you know, that’s not news for those of you in the news business. It’s only when…
AMANPOUR: But we see…
BOEHNER: — it’s only…
AMANPOUR: — but we still…
BOEHNER: — only…
AMANPOUR: — see paralysis…
BOEHNER: — only when…
AMANPOUR: — in terms of…
BOEHNER: — it’s only when we’re…
AMANPOUR: — legislation.
BOEHNER: — we’re disagreeing. Listen, the founders gave us a — a committee of 535 people. Frankly, it was designed not to work. My job is to make it work. And it is working. Is it slow? Yes. Is it frustrating? Yes. But what I take comfort in every day is that I know members on both sides of the aisle are trying to do the right thing for the American people every single day.
AMANPOUR: Can I quickly turn to 2012, which is in everybody’s mind? Is Mitt Romney the man who would put up the stiffest competition to President Obama’s reelection?
BOEHNER: There are a lot of good candidates that are out there running. My focus is on the Congress of the United States and trying to get our economy going again and producing jobs. Here, this is my focus. (holding up pamphlet)
AMANPOUR: I’ve seen that.
BOEHNER: Right here.
AMANPOUR: Three times.
BOEHNER: Our plan for American job creators. This — that’s my focus. I’m sure Republican voters around the country will choose a good candidate. And our — whatever candidate they choose, I’m going to support.
AMANPOUR: And Herman Cain, who has zoomed to the top with his 9-9-9 and now he’s having some trouble with allegations against him. Do you think that he is handling this well? How would you advise him to handle the latest allegations against him?
BOEHNER: I think he and his opponents will have a nice — a nice debate about this…
AMANPOUR: In other words, you’re not going anywhere.
BOEHNER: I’m not going there. My focus is right here.
AMANPOUR: If your focus is right here, how would you describe, today, your relationship with President Obama, because essentially that’s what’s going to make stuff happen?
BOEHNER: Well, the president and I have a pretty good relationship. You know, I — it’s been a little frosty here the last — the last few weeks. But we’ve got a pretty good relationship.
BOEHNER: And — yes. And I’ve told the president, you know, I — I’m the most straight up, transparent person in this town, that I would never mislead him. My word is my bond. Democrats and Republicans here in Washington understand that. And so we’ve got a — we’ve got a pretty good relationship.
That doesn’t mean that we always agree. But the American people expect, even though we have very different ideas, the American people want us to look for common ground and then act on it. So far, we’ve been able to do that. We’ve taken some steps in the right direction here over the last couple of months. We’ve got a lot more steps to take together.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Speaker, thank you very much, indeed.
BOEHNER: Thank you.