Transcript: Majority Leader Cantor's Pen & Pad

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Tuesday, February 14, 2011

Mr. Cantor: Good afternoon. Welcome. Happy Valentine's day. I see that we are already partaking of the Valentine's candy. Good thing.

Today the President released his budget, which is his vision for our country. Today was a great opportunity for this President to lead and I think the President missed that opportunity. Given our current fiscal situation, this is the single most important document that the President will release, because it shows his blueprint for the future. It spells out the priorities that he has for how he wants to lead this country. Unfortunately, I don't think that this document lives up to the promise that perhaps was hinted at during the State of the Union. I think that what you see in this budget document is, yet again, an unwillingness to move away from more Washington-centered policies of spending that we have seen too much of over the last couple of years.

The President said he wants to win the future. You know, I share that goal with him. I just don't think you can do that by repeating the mistakes of the past. The American people deserve a government that spends their money the same way they would spend their money. What you see in this document is a willingness to put off the tough decisions for the future, rather than taking them on today. And if you look to see what he is saying: ‘let’s freeze at the current levels that went up so much in the past two years.’ We don't know if he is going to be President or not in 2013. In 2021 he is still advocating more freezes; you know he won't be President then. So why can't we look to today to try and make these decisions rather than putting them off for tomorrow, if we are talking about wanting to protect tomorrow and win the future?

It seems that this is just a page out of the same old playbook that we have seen here in this town over the last several years since this Administration began. We see more government spending to try and create jobs, resulting in larger debt, larger deficits, while unemployment remains unacceptably high. The President is essentially doubling down on the bad habits of the past by calling for more taxes, calling for more spending, which brings on more borrowing and we have seen that cycle before. Now, contrast that with what we are trying to advocate and what you will begin to see play out on the floor this week. We believe that growth has been elusive in this country in part because of the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal condition of our country. And we believe that serious reforms are needed in order to get this economy back on track and get people back to work.

We have been strong advocates of free markets to allow small business people and investors to keep more money that they earn rather than to focus the spending here in Washington. We believe that we in Washington ought to demonstrate that we are willing to make the tough decisions to live within the government's means, which are the people's means, just like people and small businesses are doing across America every day. That is why we are laser focused on the economy and jobs and to see how we can create an environment for private sector growth. This week, starting tomorrow, you will see the debate on our continuing resolution, which will call for at least $100 billion of cuts in spending for the remainder of this fiscal year. Again, we are taking action today. We also will be presenting at the end of next month, towards the beginning of April, our own budget, a serious document that will reflect the type of path we feel we should be taking to address the fiscal situation, including addressing entitlement reforms, unlike the President did in his budget. It is high time that we see plans from Harry Reid and this President. We want to see their plans.

You know, there is so much talk around here about the alleged draconian nature of the cuts that we are presenting. But where is their plan? Where is the demonstration that they are willing to make the tough decisions? I saw comments from Whip Hoyer that some in the Democratic caucus are going to be supporting our cuts. Well, I hope that Whip Hoyer is out there whipping his members in support of that. I think that he did indicate that our cuts were cosmetic. Well, if they are that easy then come join us, because we are serious in trying to change the culture here and to actually begin to reduce spending in Washington. As you know, part of our effort is also in creating an environment that fosters long term economic growth. We need to do something about the government impediments to job creation. That is why we have launched a top-to-bottom review of the regulatory process, so we can make it easier for small businesses and innovators to creating value and jobs in the communities we represent. Again, we Republicans remain very committed to using every tool at our disposal to do what we can to create an environment that fosters long term growth so we can get people back to work. With that, I am glad to answer any questions.

Q: Mr. Leader, Democrats so far have been critical of the way that the CR will be handled on the floor tomorrow. Your side has said this will be an open process. Some Democrats I have talked to in the past 24 hours say, no, this isn't really because the way the rule is structured the bill will be evolving organically as we go through amendments. And if you have already had your amendments preprinted, you can't then go back and amend later on down the line as the bill evolves. Is this truly an open process, or are they just giving you sour grapes? 

Mr. Cantor: This is an open process. I think I am correct in saying that never has there been a continuing resolution that anyone can find that was brought up to the floor under a process such as this. Every Member will have an opportunity to submit his or her vision of how we can reduce the deficit. And we will see that process take place throughout the entire week. There is no limit there will be no limit to the number of amendments that Members on either side can offer.

Q: Mr. Leader, how is that going to work, practically speaking? If you do it by the end of the week, you have 435 Members that can offer whatever amendment they want, how do you sort of keep that process from spiraling out of control?

Mr. Cantor: That is exactly why you need some orderly process to allow the debate to take place. And again, the impetus is on all of us to come up with our plan.

We are going to have a process where there is a base bill already online, consistent with the pre notice requirement that we committed to when we assumed the majority. And the Democrats, as well as Republican Members, have the ability to craft their amendments to that base bill. The amendment submittal deadline will expire at the end of tomorrow night. And the Rules Committee is working on making sure that all that takes place, at which time we will see an orderly process for the discussion of those amendments.

Q: Is there any common ground with the budget that the White House released today with House Republicans? Is there anywhere that you see this is something you can agree with?

Mr. Cantor: Listen, we had a nice lunch with the President last week, and the President says things that are consistent with our goals, that we want to reduce spending, that we understand that you can't keep spending money you don't have. We know that nearly 40 cents out of every dollar we spend is borrowed. We can't keep doing that. I think the President realizes that. The problem is the spending that he identifies and that he wants to cut out, he goes and re-spends on priorities that he feels are appropriate for the American people.

Again, that is in direct contrast to the way that we operate. We don't think that all good ideas come from Washington. We feel that you ought to allow people who are earning the money, making the money, to keep more of it so we can see continued value created in the private sector. So it seems to me to be a fundamental difference in the style of leadership here. As far as individual items, I think there are probably some areas of agreement. But we can't keep taking the savings and going to spend it. The object here is to cut. Molly?

Q: Yes. I was wondering do you know how many amendments, or you have any idea about how many amendments Republicans are going to offer? Have Members been talking to you? What is your understanding?

Mr. Cantor: I don't have any clear cut idea of the quantity of amendments. Again, this is an open process. Every Member has a right to craft amendments and submit them.

Q: And then also, one thing that I am sort of unclear on, it was my understanding that the CR cuts $61 billion. Can you explain the discrepancy?

Mr. Cantor: Molly, you know the discrepancy. There has been a lot of discussion about this. In the beginning, when we crafted the Pledge to America, this was in the late summer, early fall, and the assumption we were operating on was the President had proposed his fiscal year 2011 budget.

Q: Yes.

Mr. Cantor: And that was the basis upon which we said we were going to reduce spending back to 2008 levels from 2011 projected levels under his proposal. That is where the $100 billion minimum comes into play. And you know exactly what you are asking. When you begin to compare to the CR now the 2010 levels, perhaps that is where you get your figure. But I can tell you that this is a $100 billion cut, and it will be more, than the President's requested 2011 levels.

Q: Secretary Clinton just said that the cuts to State Department and USAID funding will hurt national security, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you think that her concerns are founded and that maybe that funding should be restored?

Mr. Cantor: I think obviously there are going to be a lot of constituencies, a lot of Secretaries of agencies who don't agree with the priorities outlined in the Republican CR proposal. But that is why we have said the House can work its will. Certainly I have, you know, my position as far as that funding is concerned. We asked the appropriators to go about trying to identify cuts that we could withstand to bring spending back to 2008 levels without jeopardizing our national security.

Q: Mr. Cantor, in your opening remarks you said that the House Republican budget will include entitlement reforms, unlike the President's. Could you give a little bit more detail on that? And also could you lay out where you think the playing field is on budget matters? Because you have got a lot of different things going on right now. You have got the 2011 budget you guys are working, on, the 2012 that the President released, your 2012 budget, the debt ceiling. How do you see things playing out and where they stand right now in terms of working with or against the President?

Mr. Cantor: Well, your question is a good one, and all this is going to be sort of moving simultaneously. Where we end up in the fiscal year 2011 expenditures will impact the situation in fiscal year 2012 for sure, so we hopefully will be able to manage bringing down spending to 2008 levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 and operate with that certainty. Your question about the budget itself and the entitlement inclusion, yes, we will include entitlement reform provisions in our budget, again, unlike the President, and unlike Harry Reid who doesn't even admit there needs to be any reform of Social Security.

We are going to lead. That is why I said the President missed an opportunity to lead today, to try and address the biggest fiscal challenge we have. And so we are going to lead and include that in our budget. You have heard me say before it is high time for us to begin, from the standpoint where we are talking about reforms needed, that you have a population 55 and older here, and we need to tell them that their benefits and the system that they are used to will stay the same. But it is for the rest of us, 54 and younger, that we are going to have to have some reforms to these systems in order to save them for the crowd that is 54 and younger. So you will see those details developed as we come forward with Mr. Ryan's budget and his committee's work. But again, it is important to note who is leading and who is not.

Q: Do you expect adjustments to both Social Security and Medicare?

Mr. Cantor: I think you are going to see some very bold reforms included. I am hopeful that we can get some cooperation from Harry Reid and the President, because these are programs that touch the lives of every American and we don't want, nor can we, make these changes by ourselves. We want to work with the Democrats and the President in making changes to save these programs. But we can't do it alone. You saw what happened the last time a major entitlement program was put on the books or reformed when one party did it. You have got the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare.

Q: You met with the President for lunch last week. Characterizing your meeting with the President and looking at the budget today, do you feel that he was consistent with what he shared with you during lunch or do you feel to a certain extent you were surprised and he sort of he was talking the talk, but he is not walking the walk?

Mr. Cantor: Well, he certainly talked the talk. And I think his State of the Union was also an occasion in which he spoke well to the challenges facing our country. I feel that his budget document here just misses the mark in terms of living up to the expectations that he laid out.

Q: On the entitlement question, is it simply going to be the Ryan roadmap privatization of Social Security and Medicare voucher, or something different that is perhaps more likely to be the beginning of a conversation?

Mr. Cantor: I think you should stay tuned for what the details will be. There are a lot of different ideas being floated about. Unfortunately, they are not forthcoming with ideas on these issues from the other side. The Democrats need to step up to the table and start to lead. They keep saying they want to lead. And again, just be mindful of the fact that all this is being done because we want to go in and create an environment for creating jobs. There is so much doubt being cast around the fiscal future of this country. We want to go ahead and address it, take away any reason why we can't see capital formation and job growth. That, in the end, is the result we are looking for.

Q: With that, does that mean that you will actually have specific details like actual changes, or will it be more sort of in the next 5 years, we want to reduce the cost of Social Security? I mean, is it you say you are going to have a real proposal.

Mr. Cantor: We are going to include reform proposals in our budget to the entitlement programs. Whether there is action taken on that this year depends on what President Obama and Harry Reid and the Senate decide. That is really it. It also depends on what Leader Pelosi and Whip Hoyer decide do in this House. We can all work on this together, or it can stand out there as what it has been in the past, which is just a political target and an opportunity for those to score points like that. But what we believe very clearly is we need to act in concert to reduce the fiscal threat we face and then create an environment in which small businesses have an easier time to go about creating jobs. That is what we need to do. We all need do this together. So, you know, we are going to tee it up for them, and there will be no excuses. So if they don't take up our offer, then it is very plain, I think, for everyone to see who is interested in leading and who is not.

Q: Mr. Cantor, you mentioned, in talking about entitlement reform, for those under 54, that those above would stay the same. Are you talking about changing the date in which benefits kick in or changing the amount of benefits? What is on the table?

Mr. Cantor: Stay tuned. All of it is on the table. Again, we are trying to elicit the response from the Democrats so that they can finally come to that table with some suggestions of their own, and perhaps we can even yield some results, all in the name of trying to remove the uncertainty that is in the way of job growth right now.

Q: Mr. Leader, the OMB Director told reporters a few minutes ago, I guess earlier today, there was a deal between the House Republicans and the White House to take government shutdown off the table. Is that true?

Mr. Cantor: You know, any time that we propose a spending cut, it seems that Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Harry Reid and others scream, "shutdown." Why is it necessarily that you are only hearing shutdown from one side? We have consistently said it is not our intention to shut down this government. Again, that is political talk, and we ought to get that off the table, and let's go about the real business of trying to cut spending.

Q: On the CR, the issue of environmental riders and so forth and greenhouse gases, emissions, is there any concern from you or any in your caucus about the focus of this debate getting dragged into environmental policy and why that is in this bill in terms of taking away from the message of staying focused on the cutting and the $100 billion in savings that you are proposing?

Mr. Cantor: Remember the context in which the cutting is necessary, and that is we want an environment for job creation. There is no question that we have an environment from a regulatory standpoint that is impeding job growth. We intend to proceed under the Rules of the House and allow for amendments that comply with those Rules. There will be occasion and opportunity for members to offer amendments to deny funding for regulations that are impeding job growth. Same thing for ObamaCare, we had that discussion here last week.

Q: Mr. Leader, late last week it came up, if news reports are accurate, that there is a big split, or seems to be a big split, between the so called Tea Party people, you know, the newly emerging Republicans and the more establishment Republicans, on how much to cut and that you are heading for a real clash over that. Are you confident that you can bring something together at the end of this week or soon that will be a package that everybody can sign off on, or are you going to have a big split?

Mr. Cantor: Yes, I do believe we are going to see a bill come off the House floor with an overwhelming majority of support, certainly on our side of the aisle, that cuts spending at least $100 billion.

Q: How much below that $100 billion would you be willing to accept in negotiations with the Senate?

Mr. Cantor: We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to figure out how to do more with less, and that means cutting spending. The quicker we can come to resolution, the quicker we can get onto the discussion about fiscal year 2012 and our budget, which again can address the much longer term fiscal challenges that represent a much bigger threat from a proportionate standpoint to our Nation's debt load. And, as you know, this cut, $100 billion, is historic. Never has a rescission bill of this size been brought to the floor. It is big, and it is real, and it can impact people's lives.

But we have a budget deficit right now of nearly $1.5 trillion. We have a lot of work to do. So I am hopeful that the Senate can step up, that Harry Reid hopefully heard the message from the people of his state during the election, that they expect Washington to do what they are doing at home, which is to live within their means, to tighten their belts and figure out how to do more with less.

Q: At what point, depending upon how long it takes to negotiate with the Senate, at what point does cutting $60 billion or a $100 billion, depending upon who you want to talk to, become irresponsible for these agencies? Like if we only have 3 months left in the fiscal year, is it too much to cut $60 billion, $100 billion from all these agencies? At what point is it not safe anymore?

Mr. Cantor: Listen, this is going back to 2008 levels. I think everybody remembers 2008 in this room and elsewhere in this town. The sun rose and set in 2008. So these calls of catastrophe, I think right now people understand we don't have the money. You can't keep spending money you don't have.

Instead of trying to somehow justify and maintain the current levels of spending, we ought to be figuring out how we use that credit card less, because that is what the people are having to do right now. That is how we can begin to create that environment for growth again in the private sector.

Q: You have talked a lot about how it is important to deal with the tough decisions right now. But the current budget proposals do not do much to cut the level of defense spending. When is your party going to deal with that issue?

Mr. Cantor: As you know, a portion of the $100 billion does occur in the defense area. It does impact the defense area. But I have always said that every dollar and cent should be on the table. We have situations with procurement in the Pentagon that really are unacceptable in terms of the kinds of costs connected with those processes and it adds to the bill at the end. We know there are cost overruns in a lot of the systems under the contracts at the Pentagon. All of these will be fleshed out with our committees. Our Armed Services Committee and Chairman Buck McKeon is looking at ways on how to make sure the Pentagon is doing more with less. Secretary Gates himself says that.

Q: Mr. Leader, just a follow up if I could. You are essentially saying we need to do more with less. But when does less become counterproductive or even dangerous, even something that might get a frail economy back into recession again? What is the tipping point?

Mr. Cantor: Again, Dave, the reason why we chose 2008 is because it was pre-bailout, pre-stimulus. The jump in expenditures over the last 2 years has been extraordinary. I think we can live back within the 2008 levels.

Q: I am just wondering, where do you think the Democrats are going to stand on these new spending levels? Do you think you can depend on a couple dozen votes from them? Do you think any

Mr. Cantor: I am hopeful that we are. I know that there are discussions ongoing among members in this body. I am particularly mindful of the comments made by Steny Hoyer earlier, where he said that there will be some members of his caucus that will support Republicans. This is about America. This is about supporting the American people and doing what they are doing. They expect us to do the same.

Q: Turning to the issue of Egypt, how do you rate the administration's handling of the Egyptian crisis? And also, there are now reports of demonstrations in Iran. And what do you think our government's attitude should be toward that?

Mr. Cantor: You know, I think I said last week that I don't think it is helpful to have 535 opinion makers in this building opining as to the President's performance when it comes to these type of matters with our national security. We need to make sure that the primary goal is to stop the spread of radical Islam. The radical forces in the Middle East are those which pose the biggest threat to us and our ally Israel. We have to make sure that the transition process in Egypt allows for the formation of the kinds of institutions and structures that can lead toward freedom and democracy. That is not a region of the world that that has been so successful. And so again, political parties other than that of the Muslim Brotherhood would certainly be a signal that the reforms and the revolution in Egypt would be headed in the right direction.

Q: Later today you are going to be voting on the Patriot Act. Was it a mistake last week to try to fast track the Patriot Act on suspension?

Mr. Cantor: Clearly, we wanted to see the bill passed. So we are looking at the bill containing these provisions passing today. The intention always was to respond to the Administration's request in an expeditious way for these three provisions to be extended and to allow for the committee to take its time through regular order to reauthorize the act in its entirety and to go through the hearings and have the input in order for that process to proceed. So I expect there to be resolution on that this afternoon.

Q: Mr. Cantor, do you have any plans to bring up the Andean Trade Preferences Act extension, which you were going to do last week along with TAA and then didn't?

Mr. Cantor: Still in conversations with Mr. Camp about the best way to proceed on that.

Q: Mr. Cantor, last week the YouCut proposal was also defeated on the suspension calendar after Chairman King got up and spoke against doing it. Are you going to try to vet some of these YouCut proposals before committees before bringing them up?

Mr. Cantor: Listen, I think the games are starting to be played on suspensions now. I don't think that Mr. King's comments would have necessarily encouraged members on the other side to take the position they did or not. As you know, suspension requires two thirds. We don't have a two thirds majority. Either you are willing and want to engage in cutting spending or you aren’t. And this was a case in which there was not an apples to apples comparison here. This was money owed to the United States. If the U.N. has security needs, then it has the ability to ask its members to fund in a pro rata way its security needs or to ask us in the United States to fund it.

There was no authority whatsoever for the United Nations to use those funds. This was a perfect example of politics being played when we have to cut spending. So it is our intention, yes, to have as much time as possible for the public to understand what is in these YouCut bills. Our commitment was bringing a bill to the floor every week to cut spending. Whether that was through, a properly vetted bill through committee, the CR bill or the YouCut program, we are changing the culture here. Listen to what this conversation has been about in this room. It is all about how much we are going to cut. We are not cutting for cutting's sake. We are cutting so we can create an environment so people can get back to work and we can create more jobs.

Thank you very much.

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