Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Mr. Cantor: Good afternoon. We are just back from the district work period, and it was very clear to me during the time spent last week that the focus on jobs and the economy is the right one. It reflects the priorities of people at home who are still very worried about the state of their economic well being and this country's. The concerns that I heard center around the uncertainty from the regulatory end, their concerns center on the health care law and where that is headed and how much that will cost. There are concerns over the fiscal situation surrounding the deficit and the debt. All this adds up to a level of uncertainty that is impeding job growth in this country.
Now, if we step back for a minute and remember when we started these meetings weekly, I said that this Congress is going to be about jobs and the economy. Our oversight function will go forward committee wide, focusing like a laser on job creation. I also think that we need to be focused on reducing unemployment, we need to be making sure we are as competitive as possible in this country and that our businesses can operate in an environment that allows them to be most competitive.
And thirdly, that we want to create an environment that fosters long term economic growth. That is what then led to the announcement that we are going to be a cut and grow Congress. We are quickly implementing that. And we'll talk in just a minute about the CR. But the need for the cut, in the cut and grow agenda, stems from the kinds of things that I heard during last week's district work period. That is we must cut government spending to bring down the deficit and the debt because if you look at the current levels of debt, added what’s required to fund future deficits, you're going to have a crowding out of private capital. If you do, businesses will not grow, and you will overall retard that economic growth. You will bring on inflation, erode the value of the dollar and create an economic environment where you are going to reduce consumer spending power and ultimately the standard of living in America. That is the process that we are headed towards if we don't stop it. That is why cutting spending in Washington is directly related to economic growth. And that is why the emphasis here is very related to our focus on jobs and the economy.
Now, I said we are going to proceed next week on the floor for discussion on the continuing resolution bill. The continuing resolution bill that will be brought to the floor will fulfill our commitment that we are going to reduce the fiscal year's levels of discretionary non-security spending back down to '08 levels. There has been a lot of discussion in many of the pieces that I have seen written about the number and the question about what that number is and does it live up to the commitment. And it absolutely lives up to the commitment because as I have said many times before, this commitment in the Pledge to America was about reducing spending levels in a fiscal year to the equivalent of fiscal year '08 and that's what we will do. Over a full year, we will be well over $100 billion in savings.
Let me be clear, we have said all along that this is going to come to the floor under an open process. The open process is going to allow members such as the Blue Dogs – who I have read recently are also considering that they may join us in actually cutting spending – it will allow them to propose their spending cuts, as well as perhaps some in the progressive caucus on the other side, so that perhaps we could find some common ground, realizing the necessity for us to cut spending coming out of Washington so we can grow this economy.
There has been a lot of talk on our side that members want to cut even further, and most of us welcome that talk and will be supporting yet even further cuts. But from the get go, we said we would deliver on our commitment to reduce spending to '08 levels. Also in our Pledge to America, we committed that we were going to bring a bill to the floor each week to cut spending. Obviously, next week we will have the CR which will reduce spending in a significant way. Each week we have been here, we have also had a bill come to the floor under the YouCut program to cut spending.
We said we were going to change the culture in Washington and I don't think any of us can really remember a time in which we were really bickering about the levels of spending cuts. We were always faced with an environment where we were growing spending. So in that way I do think we have begun to make some progress on our commitment to change the culture in Washington. So with that, I would be delighted to take any questions.
Q: Mr. Leader, having said all that about focusing on the economy and jobs, yet you are still focused on social issues, like abortion, hearings and things like that, nothing on the floor really in terms of job creation. Do any of your majority leader colleagues have any concern about backlash from the electorate about focusing more on social issues as opposed to putting something on the floor that actually puts people back to work?
Mr. Cantor: First of all, I don't think Washington puts people back to work and we have said that all along. Just because Washington says it so, it is not necessarily going to happen. Businesses, small businesses, working people are telling us that we need an environment that will allow for the entrepreneurial spirit of America to come back, that culture of opportunity. So if you're alluding to the fact that we are going to have some hearings on H.R. 3, this is consistent with our commitment that we are going to move to take away all government funding for abortion. This is consistent with where most Americans are. This is also consistent with reducing spending in Washington and there will be a hearing on that this week.
But if you look at what is going on on the floor this week, we are going to have a two day debate and discussion on a resolution having to do with economic growth and the impediments to it that have been put there by some of the regulations in the activity of this Administration. We are asking our committees to report back about what is in the pipeline to inventory the kinds of regulations that are there that are actually retarding job growth.
Q: If you could, will you address H.R. 3, particularly the section that calls for a tax increase on employer benefits to cover abortion and at the very least that is not a tax increase, isn't it sort of incompatible with the partisan idea that people should be able to keep the insurance they have if they like it?
Mr. Cantor: Obviously we want to live up to our commitment to make sure that there is no government funding of abortion. The provision that you speak to does have some connect with a government's support and funding of abortion.
Q: What is your message to the President tomorrow and what will be on the agenda?
Mr. Cantor: First of all, I'm very appreciative of the invite and look forward to the discussion. Hopefully this speaks to his willingness to focus on the issues that the American people are telling us to focus on, which are jobs and the economy. I notice the President walked across the street to the Chamber of Commerce yesterday and delivered his speech to the Chamber, and I would certainly be interested to ask him about his remarks. I think what I heard was a sense that somehow business in America needs to respond and act in a way that is somehow grateful for Washington's acts and this sort of quid pro quo that if Washington acts to whatever it is the President is proposing, whether it is reducing the corporate rates or whether it is passing trade bills, that somehow business owes it to the country to do X, Y, Z. I think that misses the mark.
I mean, Washington doesn't just wave a magic wand and necessarily business creates jobs. That's not how it works. That is the whole point here. We’ve created an environment that so many small businesses and others are looking to Washington to see what is next versus having the economic environment where you allow for entrepreneurial risk based investment. That's what we are trying to promote. So I'm looking forward to a conversation about jobs and the economy and perhaps we can even talk about some spending cuts, because I know that there have been many on the other side of the capital and elsewhere on the other side of the aisle who have come out in outrage about the kind of spending cuts that we are proposing, but the President says he is for spending cuts. So I'm hopeful we can find some common ground.
Q: Back on the spending cuts again. How does this few hundred billion dollars in spending cuts how will you make up the difference between you say 32 or 76 to get to 100 , if that fulfills your pledge?
Mr. Cantor: It fulfills the pledge because we said in a year's time we were going to cut spending by $100 billion. As you know, we are five twelfths of the way through the fiscal year by the time the expiration occurs. We will be proposing this again in the next fiscal year, and if you look at it in an annualized basis, I assure you it will be over a $100 billion.
Q: What are the conversations like you're hearing from freshmen who start to say, okay, this is how bad things are, these are the types of things we have to cut and this is how deep some of the cuts have to be? When I look at some of the press releases from some of the freshmen, one which said, well, we this past week cut 2.7 trillion from the budget, which isn't the case. Do you think that they thoroughly understand that the heavy lifting is still ahead and that there is going to be items in their districts and projects important to their regions they represent that are really going to get hit?
Mr. Cantor: I think the freshman class has come here with an eye on trying to trim the fat and reduce the size of government by cutting spending, there is no doubt. With that singular purpose, I think they are approaching this with certainly some determined nature to try and get the job done. We are going to be listening to our appropriators as they go about talking about the cuts that we are proposing in the base bill, and inviting all members to offer up their amendments and they will be heard and they will be voted on the House floor. That is an extraordinary thing. We haven't had an open process surrounding an appropriations item or CR for sure in a very long time around here.
Q: President Obama wants several billion dollars in new funding for high speed rail and some more. Is that something that you think you could support in any regard?
Mr. Cantor: Dave, I think that this was covered last time, perhaps in this room or maybe at a stakeout. I have already said that we have got to reassess priorities given the dire nature of our fiscal state. We want to start growing the economy again. And I have said now that I am not in favor of additional monies that we don't have to be spent on those projects and would certainly look for ways to leverage the private sector to get it involved as far as that kind of activity is concerned.
Q: On Egypt, a member of the Congress, Mr. McCotter, last week said it was a mistake for the Obama administration to allow the situation to deteriorate, where President Mubarak could possibly be removed from office. Do you agree with him on that?
Mr. Cantor: Let me just say this about the situation in Egypt. Obviously there is a huge complexity involved here. I think the primary goal should be to stop the spread of radical Islam. That is where our focus should be. Obviously we in America know a democracy unlike anywhere else in the world, certainly a democracy that stands for human rights, progress and equal opportunity and that is ultimately what we would like to see all people able to enjoy.
Q: Do you support the Administration so far?
Mr. Cantor: I don't think it is helpful for this President, who is having a tough enough time as it is, to have 535 members of Congress to opine on his conduct of foreign policy. All I can tell you is my priority is to make sure we stop the spread of radical Islam.
Q: Back to the abortion bills this week, how soon do you anticipate those will come to the floor?
Mr. Cantor: We've not yet set the calendar for those bills. They are obviously very important in terms of the priorities we set out initially in our pledge to America. These are bills which have to do with the expenditure of government funds, taxpayer dollars for abortion, something that most Americans feel we should do without.
Q: On the CR, do you expect to have unlimited numbers of amendments or is it going to be a modified open rule?
Mr. Cantor: Those are not mutually exclusive. We expect to allow for members who have amendments to be heard on those amendments.
Q: Leader Cantor, when that bill comes to the floor, will there be any funding for the health care reform law in it?
Mr. Cantor: Will there be any funding for the health care law in it? If you're referring to perhaps the discussion about Mr. Rehberg's insistence about making sure we do away with any funding for ObamaCare, I expect to see one way or the other the product coming out of the House to speak to that and to preclude any funding to be used for that.
Q: Why not go deeper in those cuts? You yourself said there is a lot of bickering going on about how deep the cuts should be. Are you guys holding to the '08 while the freshmen are going for the '06 levels?
Mr. Cantor: No. As I have said before, we have said always that we were going to live up to the commitment. But we have also said this is going to be an open process. So again the question that Chad over here about do you think freshmen are engaged and understand, sure they do and they are going to be proffering their amendments and I'm going to be supportive of a lot of the amendments.
Q: But not all?
Mr. Cantor: Well, again, I haven't seen the amendments. They haven't written the amendments. But this is a process that the House hasn't seen in quite some time. I think it does and will reflect the will of the American people if we let the process work. Think about what we are talking about. Think about your question. This is changing the culture of Washington, because no longer is it spending with reckless abandon, we are actually talking about reducing spending.
Q: The Senate voted last week on an amendment to repeal 1099s in health reform. Do you guys plan to take that up and how?
Mr. Cantor: The 1099 bill will be working its way through regular order in the House and I suspect we will have that on the calendar in relatively short time.
Q: I have a question about the Patriot Act extension that is going to be voted on today. What changes will you try to make to the Patriot Act this year given that the extension will probably pass? How will that differ from what Senator Leahy has proposed in the Senate?
Mr. Cantor: I'm not familiar with the particulars of Senator Leahy's move right now, so I can't respond to that. I will say that the extension that you will see today is going to be extending the 3 provisions that expired and that will do so through, I think, December 8th.
Q: As you meet with the President tomorrow in the White House, he could be excused for looking at the Republican agenda and saying that you want to erase his health care bill, undue Wall Street regulations, return spending to before he was president. The list goes on. As he talks to you there is a feeling among some that the Republican agenda in the House is just sort of going back to the day before Barack Obama was President, sort of like the ghost of Christmas past, you were never born. As he talks to you, is there any credence in that notion, he might look at your whole agenda and say you guys wish I didn't do anything, you want to pull the laces on everything I have done? Where can you meet him in the middle?
Mr. Cantor: Let's not forget what happened November 2nd. We have always said the election was not necessarily an endorsement of anything that the Republicans were about at the time. It was an absolute repudiation of what has gone on in this town over the last couple of years. What we are trying to say by proposing the spending cuts, by saying that we need to repeal ObamaCare and begin to replace it with the kind of health care that Americans want, when we say we have got to look at the impact of Dodd-Frank, what we are saying is that the things that were done were so extreme and outside the mainstream of where most Americans were, let’s fix them. I think the President got that when he went along in the lame duck session with the tax deal. It wasn't everything that we wanted for sure, but it did demonstrate that there was a recognition that his way had gone awry and wasn't producing the results he thought they would do. I'm hopeful it is in that spirit that the President is at lunch tomorrow.
Q: Does that translate to a lot of the agenda here is pretty much undoing his first 2 years, just undoing them. Is that in the spirit of what you are describing or is there a halfway between the first 2 years of his presidency, which have been rejected and what you want?
Mr. Cantor: The agenda right now is about jobs and the economy. It goes back to what I have said earlier when I was at home. This is serious. This is not some fiction here. Small businesses don't have access to credit. You look at the housing market and the situation that is occurring there and that big piece of the economy that is still stalled at best. If you look at the competitive nature of our allies abroad, we've got work to do, we really do in order to bring down this unemployment level. That's the spirit in which we are going into this meeting.
Q: With regard to the CR and amendments, if someone were to propose an amendment to strip the EPA of funding, would you support that and/or make it in order?
Mr. Cantor: We'll strip EPA of funding altogether? We will see if an amendment like that occurs. Obviously your question speaks to the overreach on the part of the EPA and the at least seeming mood to try and accomplish what the Administration could not do legislatively by regulatory means. That was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution of this country to say that we should allow a regulatory body or an administrative agency to legislate in that way or to actually pass regulations that would accomplish the same thing without any oversight or any say by Congress, the elected body.
I think that your question suggests exactly what we are saying is that there has been a tremendous overreach on part of the agencies and we are going to try to address that.
Q: In terms of spending, you guys want to take tens of billions of dollars off of the 1.5 trillion deficit projected for this year. Some have even said you are reviving the Bowles Simpson plan where you take almost $4 trillion over 9 years off of the deficit. Is there any openness among GOP leadership at taking a look at that idea?
Mr. Cantor: We have always said and I have said in here, that it is essential that we begin to come to grips with the fact that our entitlements are not in a state where they are going to proceed and be there for the next generation. We are going to have to all come to grips, those of us who are 54 and under, with the fact that those entitlement programs are going to have significant reforms before we get there. Because if we keep them the same, this country will not be able to grow in the way we are expecting. But I would say directly to your question about the Senate, I think that the leader over there, Leader Reid, has said that there is no fiscal problem with Social Security. I have said before, we have got to deal with that, and maybe perhaps that will be an item on the agenda after lunch to get the President to do that.
Q: What do you think of Bowles Simpson, though?
Mr. Cantor: Well, again, I think that Bowles Simpson assumes the extension of ObamaCare, which is a problem, I think, for most of us. So we are going to have some discussion there. That is the latest entitlement program, one that is extremely threatening in terms of the fiscal well being of this country that compounds the existing threat that we already have.
Q: Does the Republican spending plan for the CR for the 2012 budget include military cuts? And is there greater pressure from the freshmen Republicans to look at military spending?
Mr. Cantor: I'm not going to get out in front of our appropriations chair until the proposal goes online. But I will say what I have said before, every dollar and cent in the federal budget is on the table. That includes the Pentagon. We have all got to assume that we are going to have to do more with less, and it just is what it is.
Q: I just want to clarify your answer to an earlier question. Are you saying that before the bill leaves the House, you expect the CR to include language prohibiting the use of money for the health care reform bill?
Mr. Cantor: Yes.
Q: Mr. Cantor, on taxes, Senator Hatch said today that he was going to push for a reopening of the repatriation window. Is that something that you support and things like that this year?
Mr. Cantor: Personally I'm very supportive of that. I was supportive of that last time. I do know as well that there are some Democrats who have actually indicated support for that measure as well. Because if right now we are looking at businesses not having access to capital and an environment in which the deployment of that capital is not taking place, anything we can do to jump start the wealth creation effect in this country will be a plus in terms of job creation and that's what we have to shoot for.
Q: In line with the proposed cuts you're making, there are concerns growing about mass transit and especially Washington's metro system, which is considered the national metro system, a national metro system and that they won't be able to operate under proposed cuts, especially under the Republican Study Group as opposed to the regular proposed cuts. What is your response to those who fear about mass transit?
Mr. Cantor: I think the response there would be applicable to all sectors of the economy. Everyone is going to have to learn to do more with less. We have just grown entirely too big, spending money we don't have, and as I said earlier, we can't afford to keep doing so if we want to maintain the standard of living we have in this country. Again, I would wait for the specifics as to the discussion around the bill.
Q: I would like to talk about the speech by President Obama yesterday, the Chamber again. The President seemed to suggest, as you have also stated, that business is sitting on large amounts of money and they are not spending. And he sort of suggested that it was in a patriot thing or it was a quid pro quo as you said that they should do it. Do you have an sense that perhaps the President and his economic team still sort of don't get how business operates?
Mr. Cantor: My statement was this: Just because Washington says so, that business or anyone should respond as far as spending money, is just anathema to the way we think America works. If we are going to correct the ailing economy and put us back on the path to growth, we are going to have to create an environment that businesses will want to come here, will want to deploy capital here, will want to invest in research and innovation here. That's how we lead in America. It is not because Washington says “go do that” and businesses then go and do that. That's not who we are. So again, I will hopefully have this discussion with the President tomorrow.
Q: Out at the RSC, they are planning to introduce a bill to recreate the so called Byrd Committee, which would be a committee that just looks at programs to cut and ways to trim spending. Is there an appetite among leadership to allow a committee to begin in this Congress like that?
Mr. Cantor: What I can tell you is that committees and their subcommittees are doing exactly that, and that is the oversight function, engaged on a daily basis. Remember, we have designed this calendar and the daily schedule so there is time for subcommittees and committees to do their work and to really engage in the oversight process and produce results. So again, I haven't seen the RSC's proposal, but it is very consistent with what we are saying about the oversight function.
Q: If it takes longer than March 4th to get the continuing resolution through the House and through the Senate, are you thinking that the monetary number of cuts that you are making is going to keep declining because you keep programming? So is the 32 billion or 58 billion actually going to be less if we don't do this by April or May?
Mr. Cantor: That's a good question. I can't answer it. All I can tell you is our hope is that we can resolve this prior to March 4th, so that we can get back on to the activity of governing and what we should be doing now anyway, which is the next fiscal year. But as you know, we are in this position because of the lack of any spending bills or even a budget being passed last year under the prior majority.