Transcript: Majority Leader Cantor's Pen & Pad

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Monday, January 24, 2011

 Mr. Cantor. Good afternoon. Welcome back. From the beginning of this session, we have said that this will be a Congress focused on jobs and the economy. Leading up to the election in November and in the interim during the lame duck session, we said one of the most important things that we could do was to ensure that taxes didn't go up on anyone. When you look at the tax deal that did occur, and I do think that has begun to at least allay some fears in the minds of small businesses and investors that perhaps things won't get any worse, and maybe we ought to begin to focus again on how we work through some of these problems and create jobs. I say that because I also think that the tax deal itself is a great example of how the two sides can work together and I'm hoping that we could do so yet again, especially as it deals with the number one priority, which is jobs and the economy.

As you may know, I was on Meet the Press yesterday, and among many other things that I was asked about, was the question of cutting spending this Congress which we will have three major bites at that question. The three bites of the apple that I discussed were, one, the issue of the debt limit. I view the debt limit as something that deals with the fiscal mismanagement of the past, that actually went into overdrive during the last two years under President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid. It is reflective of what we don't want to happen in terms of spending again. We don't want spending to continue to spiral out of control. I also was clear in saying that Republicans are not going to accept an increase in the debt limit without some serious spending cuts and reform.

The second bite of the apple has to do with decisions that we make today as to how we spend the taxpayer dollars. Obviously that is going to take the form of the CR and the continuing resolution that expires on March 4th. For the first time ever, I'm told, the CR will come to the floor under an open process. I expect members from both parties, from the RSC to the progressives, to be able to participate and offer their ideas on how we can cut spending and right the size of government in terms of its balance with the private sector. I do think that this was something that the electorate wanted. They wanted this institution to work, and they also want to see us cut spending.

Thirdly, in terms of bites at the apple, we have the budget. The budget enables us to project out into the future what we would do as far as spending taxpayer dollars, how we rein in the size of government as we continue to protect and expand freedoms that people enjoy here in this country. The budget will also give us an opportunity, I think, to lay out our vision that will be I suspect in contrast to what we hear out of the White House and from the President beginning tomorrow night.

Now, let me talk about the State of the Union just a little bit. Yesterday, while I was being interviewed by David Gregory, I tried to point out the distinction between what we believe this Congress is about, which is cut and grow and what some of the stories that some of you had written over the weekend indicate that what the White House wants this to be, which is cut and invest. Two different approaches.

To me, investment that comes from Washington is code word for more spending. I think that is anathema not only to most families and small businesses, but anathema to what is going on at the State levels for sure and what most people think Washington should be about.

But furthermore, I'm looking to see what decision this President makes through his remarks tomorrow as to the direction that he will take in the context of where we have been over the last two years. The question is, is he going to decouple himself from what we have seen over the last two years and what he has been selling. Is he going to continue to sell that which he did, or will there be a new direction? I think that the success of this Congress will rest on that question, as will frankly the outcome of the election November ‘12. Are we going to see approaches to policymaking that is exemplified by ObamaCare or are we going to see a new direction?

So with that, I'm delighted to answer any questions.

Q: Mr. Cantor, the President is going to talk about competitiveness. And one of those investments has to do with competitiveness, research and development, education, things that apparently he says will make this country better in the long run. Can you explain sort of what the problem or issue is with that kind of I know the devil is in the details, what would you like to see in terms of education and innovation and research and development going forward? And doesn't that cost money?

Mr. Cantor: First of all, the notion that our competitiveness starts here in Washington is a bit different than I think what I would certainly believe or what most Americans would believe. Competitiveness in this country stems from our innovation and our innovation is the key to our leadership. We are the crucible in this country of innovation to the world. That's how we lead. And when we have policymakers here in Washington put forth a framework in which we are going to reward certain industries, choose outcomes, pick winners and losers, that is the way we have seen this Administration act over the last 2 years. That is certainly not a direction that has produced the results that we would like to see, and most Americans want, and a direction that I think needs to be changed. So, when he talks about the need to invest in our competitiveness, I believe much more so that we need to take away all the impediments to growth and innovation that currently exist because of what is going on here in Washington.

Q: Mr. Leader, along the same lines as Jill's question I don't mean to get too far down in the weeds, but the one thing that she left out was transportation infrastructure. We expect the President to talk about that. It has been really been quite bipartisan in the past. The Chamber is for it, has asked not to cut that because so much of moving goods and services and everything else relies on it, as you know, and time is money. Does transportation infrastructure fall under the same rubric as your answer for Jill on other parts of competitiveness?

Mr. Cantor: Transportation, education, defense. As I have said before, everything is on the table. We have to learn how to prioritize and do more with less in all areas of government. It just is what it is. So, we know in the terms of transportation, we have to figure out ways, how to leverage dollars, how to come up with innovative ways to address the nation's ailing transportation infrastructure. We've got a transportation trust fund that is about to go broke. We know that. How do we deal with it? And so we have a changing dynamic across the board with the imperative for us to cut spending and those are the kinds of things that this Congress will be about, but we can't start the Congress assuming that we are just going to have to make sure that some things are too sacred and can't be analyzed and looked at in order to try and yield a better return, if you will, for the taxpayers.

Q: Are we spending too much at this point? Is the Federal Government spending too much on education and research and development and transportation?

Mr. Cantor: Surely the Federal Government is spending way more than it has to spend and that is really the message from the election in November, people said enough, you can't sustain this pattern. The global investment community is saying you can't sustain this pattern. The investors that we rely upon in this country to finance our deficits are telling us – get your fiscal house in order. You cannot continue to be the leader of the world economically if you don't. So the answer to your question is across the board we spend too much in Washington, sure.

Q: Mr. Leader, how would you propose to improve the country's transportation infrastructure without new spending?

Mr. Cantor: Well, again, the spending piece has to be viewed in the context of all the nation's priorities. I don't think anybody would tell you that our nation's transportation infrastructure is in a state of existence that we would accept. We've got the aviation industry that anybody trying to fly in and out of the tri-state airports up there in New York know, when that area gets clogged up, the whole nation practically is delayed. Something needs to be done in that arena trying to bring us into the new digital age here in terms of those issues. But you look at the bridges in disrepair, the highways, certainly, for sure, we've got to be able to address those. There are things that are occurring at the state levels, some innovative ways to approach the need for financing. But at the end of the day, we've got to look to see where the tax revenues are being spent, what they are being spent on, are the priorities what the American people expect. But this is the kind of analysis that has got to be undertaken and it is going to take work. It is not some easy answer, just spend more. Again, this is what the American people are tired of, this response. We just need to spend because there is no other answer. That is not good enough because the money is not there. We don't have the money.

Q: Mr. Leader, one tool some people talked about fast track rescission. Republicans in '06 passed a version of that. President Obama in past budgets proposed expedited rescission. It didn't go anywhere. If he proposes expedited rescission this year, either in the State of the Union or the budget, is that something you guys may consider?

Mr. Cantor: I don't know if I know enough to respond to that as what happened in '06 and what may be asked. And I will get back to you on that.

Q: Mr. Leader, you said consistently in the past few weeks that everything will be on the table. And you say when we get to this debt limit but we want to make sure that we are not having a commitment to spending. How are you going to take a bite of the apple, if you will, when it comes to the entitlements? Is that going to part of that run up to the debt limit in dealing with the entitlement issues that are off budget?

Mr. Cantor: I think what you are going to see, again if we are looking off into the future, how we address the entitlement question is a part of the future sustainability of this country economically. So, yes, I do think as I said and have continued to say, we are going to have to engage in a discussion about these entitlements. And it is not just Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. It is this new entitlement that we are now facing in the health care law, an entitlement obviously all of you have written about in many ways and written a lot about lately. But this is a question that will have to get to the bottom of and come to some agreement on. We don't believe that it is a sustainable entitlement. We don't believe that it is an entitlement that will provide the kind of health care that Americans are expecting and something that will be very damaging on both fronts.

Q: Could you support increases in spending in some areas like those if the overall budget line goes down or does everything, agency by agency, department by department have to go down?

Mr. Cantor: In response to that, I would just point your attention to the resolution that we will be debating on the floor tomorrow. And this is the request of the budget Chairman to insert into the record spending limits because we don't operate under any right now since there is no budget. And we have said and will say that these are spending limits in the non security discretionary piece of the budget that will be targeted to achieve '08 levels or less. And what that means is it won't necessarily be a straight up flat decrease across the board that some programs may be eliminated, some cut more than others, absolutely.

Q: Mr. Leader, you refer to the CR as an open process. Is that part of the rescission package that you will be bringing along with it and so it will be on the floor, you will have what the appropriators have given you in terms of meeting those cuts that Ryan had and then the RSC or whoever can offer their version? How long is that going to take and when do you think you will get there to that point?

Mr. Cantor: RSC, progressives, they will all have the opportunity to present their view of how we should cut spending, yes.

Q: At what point will you do that? When will that be on the floor?

Mr. Cantor: We've not announced exactly when that will take place. Stay tuned. But I will say again this is going to be an open process. We have committed in the Pledge to America to have an open process. The Speaker has said again and accentuated the fact that last Congress there were no open rules at all. And we are going to work to try to reverse that trend and this is a first example and I would say I'm told the first ever continuing resolution that will come to the floor with an open process.

Q: Mr. Leader, there are some members who are talking about the 2006 baseline as opposed to a 2008 baseline, what is your thoughts about that?

Mr. Cantor: My thoughts are, one, the first thing is we've got to do what we said we were going to do and we said we were going to reduce spending to '08 levels. But I too am interested in finding out how we can cut spending, not increase it, which is again why we will instruct through this resolution, the Budget Chairman, Paul Ryan, to look at it as a cap, that is 2008, but we've said 2008 levels or less.

Q: Do you support some sort of mechanism to allow state governments to restructure their debt with bankruptcy or

Mr. Cantor: No, I do not. I don't think that is necessary because state governments have at their disposal the requisite tools to address their fiscal ills. State law is paramount. They have the ability to enter into new negotiations if there are any collective bargaining agreements in place. They have the ability obviously to adjust levels of spending as well as revenues at the state level. And I also would underscore this. Not only do I think that the states don't need that and have the tools available, there will not be a federal bailout of the states. And it is those two points that I would respond to that question on because I think some who have mentioned this Chapter 9 equivalent for states is somehow going to stave off some kind of federal bailout. We don't need that to stave off federal bailout. There will be no bailout of the states. The states can deal with this and have the ability to do so on their own.

I point to my own state of Virginia, I point to New Jersey. These are states that have taken the lead. My governor, Bob McDonnell, as well as the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, working with their legislatures have slashed spending, have taken steps to shore up their retirement plans and are taking the actions necessary to give confidence to the bondholders. That is why at least in our case, our bond rating is at the top and we are one of the few states that are because the necessary actions have been taken.

Q: Mr. Leader, following back on the 2006 spending level question, do you think that it is politically and pragmatically possible to get spending down to the 2006 level in the CR for this fiscal year?

Mr. Cantor: We are going to deliver in the House the reduction of spending to '08 levels or less. We committed prior to the election that we would reduce discretionary spending to '08 levels. If the will of the House is such, if there are 218 votes to deliver on '06 levels, then so be it. But again, we intend for there to be an open process, and the body is going to work its will.

Q: Mr. Leader, you said that the countries that are underwriting American debt are saying that the United States has to get its fiscal house in order. You just met with maybe the number one person who is doing that, the Chinese President, Hu Jintao. How explicit was he in your meeting with him about the need to get the fiscal house in order? And did he express any misgivings about possibly continuing to underwrite the American debt?

Mr. Cantor: The meeting that I was in and the response from questions and comments made to him and those by him did not indicate to me there was any willingness on the part of his country to stop buying U.S. paper. I would just say to that too, obviously there is a partnership that exists between the two countries. We are the biggest customer of consumer goods in the world. We are the biggest economy by far, and he, as well as others, benefit from our growth and our fiscal health.

Q: Mr. Leader, a question about the pending FTA. Has the leadership met with the White House yet on the timing of whether it is going to be a first or going to be a second? And what it is your position on this moving Korea first and tying it to a vote on Columbia as well?

Mr. Cantor: I have not been in any meetings directly on that. I would say my position is: it is high time that we get those free trade agreements done and send the signal to businesses and our country and elsewhere that the U.S. is open for business. We expect there to be a robust environment created for exports in this country.

Q: Mr. Cantor, in addition to Chairman Ryan, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is also giving a response to tomorrow night's State of the Union. I was wondering if you think her message was being billed as for the Tea Party, which will get televised coverage similar to Mr. Ryan’s, will muddy the Republican response to the President?

Mr. Cantor: Paul Ryan is giving the official Republican response. Michelle Bachmann, just as the other 534 members of the House and Senate, are going to have opinions as to the State of the Union. Again, this is a process that happens every year and I look forward to all comments but it is Paul Ryan that is giving the official Republican

Q: But the other 433 members aren't having a network TV pool carry their response live.

Mr. Cantor: Maybe I should ask why is that the case?

Q: Leader McConnell said yesterday that he expects the Senate is going to vote on health care repeal. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are. How likely do you see that as happening given that only three Democrats

Mr. Cantor: I have a full time job trying to figure out the working of this body, much less trying to predict over there. But I can say, as I did last week, I really challenge the assumption in this building that somehow the Senate is a place where legislation goes into a cul-de-sac and nothing happens. Obviously the health care bill deals with an issue of the most personal nature for all Americans. It is a bill and the repeal of that bill is a vote that I think the American people deserve and I'm heartened by Leader McConnell's statements and look forward to the ability to see that vote come to the floor.

Q: On that score, once you pass with your majority people assume you will pass this deficit reduction bill, this budget cutting bill. Again, it could face the same fate in the Senate as people think health care reform will. Do you have any hope that this will get through the Senate? Could there be any slippage there? Do you sense any slippage? There has been movement as you say by Senator McConnell. Is something happening here that we perhaps haven't noticed?

Mr. Cantor: If there is one message that came out of the election, it is cut spending and getting this economy back on track. We intend to continue to be about that. As we have said before, it is a cut and grow Congress. So certainly we are all hopeful that Leader Reid will follow suit. I'm hopeful that the President tomorrow night comes here and says, look, let us at least agree that jobs and the economy are the number one issue and as I said before, perhaps the President can indicate that he is willing to decouple himself from the last two years and the form and direction of his agenda and show us that there will be a new way.

Q: Mr. Leader, you mentioned the three bites of the apple for reducing spending. Do you plan to put two of those bites together and pass a CR together with a debt ceiling increase?

Mr. Cantor: We don't really know when the debt limit will become imperative in terms of the increase. Obviously that has a lot to do with the way the economy performs over the next several months and when that exact date is. But we intend to live up to our commitment. Again, this is about yesterday's mess on the debt limit. Right now we have before us coming up very quickly the CR question. That will give us an opportunity to demonstrate we are going to live up to our commitments to cut. And in the budget as well, we will be able to reflect sort of long term where we expect to go. And I'm hopeful that Leader Reid, who has indicated he is not willing to talk about entitlements -- in fact, he said something the other day I was reminded that he doesn't think there is any fiscal problems with Social Security. That is an irresponsible statement. So hopefully he can come around on that and work with us because when we get to that debt limit vote, Republicans are not going to support it without serious spending cuts and reforms.

Q: And those are long term and not short term spending cuts?

Mr. Cantor: Reforms are mechanisms in place to ensure that spending doesn't get out of control again, the way it has in the past.

Q: When you speak of reform, Mr. Leader, over in the Senate, Senators Hatch and Cornyn are working together on a balanced budget amendment, as is Senator is that going to be a part of the reforms the House leadership will pursue, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution?

Mr. Cantor: We are going to have an open process here. This is the commitment of the new majority. And there are some that support the introduction of a balanced budget amendment and its incorporation. Holistically, there are some who say you need some type of guard against the imperative to raise taxes if you're going to have a balanced budget amendment. Because in my view, you can have a balanced budget if you're communist China too. But we are a country of limited government. I'm not one that is agnostic about the size of government. So I can see the point with those who say, hey, we don't want to open up just the gates of raising taxes. So again these are things that will be under full discussion and debate and that is the purpose of our intent, to have a very open process in this institution over the next two years.

Q: Mr. Leader, in the spirit of bipartisanship, we hear you are sitting next to Mr. Hoyer. Number one, is that true?

Mr. Cantor: I'm more than happy to sit next to Mr. Hoyer. I wasn't informed of such, but if I am, thank you for informing me.

Q: So you don't know. But if you're to sit next to Mr. Hoyer or whoever, do you think you're going to follow this up with drinks or dinner or anything that would lead to actually showing bipartisanship instead of just this sort of symbolic thing we are seeing happen at the State of the Union?

Mr. Cantor: To tell you the truth, Steny Hoyer reached out to me. We are having lunch this week, I believe it is this week, tomorrow. We had lunch and actually met on several occasions last Congress. I would say that is in stark it is to now the Minority Leader. I would love to have the opportunity for her to engage in some type of working relationship so we can actually deliver results. But thus far it seems she is continuing to drive an ideological agenda just the same as she did over the last four years.

Q: Are you hopeful that this seating thing which is clearly just cosmetic, are you hopeful that this means anything? You said you'd like it to, but sitting together is a long way

Mr. Cantor: Maybe the sitting thing is a first step, right. But there are a lot of things that we can do to try and foster a more productive Congress. The Speaker has said we want to see committees work. We have committed to an open process on the floor. And as lawmakers that approach their job in a serious way about which policy is best for them and their constituents, I think that the most respectful thing that we can do right now is insist on an open process and put meaning to that and that may foster some actual two way discussion here, again a two way discussion that has been non existent in this building over the last four years.

Q: Do you see potential avenues for work with Mr. Hoyer, anything specific that you plan to broach

Mr. Cantor: Steny has always said that he believes in prudent fiscal management, which I take to mean we need to cut spending, and I look forward to working with him on that. There are a host of issues I have actually worked with him on the past and would relish the opportunity to do so in a productive manner. Again, bearing in mind what we believe is the mandate from the electorate which was a repudiation of the last two years of an Obama agenda that hopefully we will see tomorrow night has now taken a new turn.

Thank you all very much.


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