Transcript: Majority Leader Cantor's Pen & Pad with Chief Deputy Whip Roskam

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Monday, February 28, 2011

 Mr. Cantor: Good afternoon. Welcome back.

We are joined today by Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, and I am going to let him speak in just a minute, but I wanted to open with a few remarks about what we are looking at this week.

Obviously, our focus is very much on making sure that we can keep this government going and at the same time cut spending. That is what the American people are having to do across this country and have had to do over the last 2 years. It is time for Washington to reflect the notion that we have to learn to do more with less.

I have seen several reports about what Mark Zandi said this morning that cutting spending would somehow cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. I would note that Mr. Zandi was a chief proponent of the Obama/Reid/Pelosi stimulus bill that we know has failed to deliver on the promise of making sure unemployment did not rise above 8 percent.

I also think it is important to ask the question and to differentiate, what kind of jobs is he talking about? Is he talking about government jobs, and, if so, why is the government hiring people it can't afford to pay? This is obviously an unsustainable situation and something that we are trying to address through our approach in the CR we passed 2 weeks ago.

I would also say, the President has talked about how the infusion of stimulus dollars has somehow saved states from terrible fiscal and budget woes. But I can tell you, having seen what happened in my own state, when Virginia received I think it was a little over $3 billion in the winter of '09 to plug a budget hole, what happened in the subsequent year, last year, was the state had to go back and cut the positions and the programs that that $3 billion paid for, essentially leaving us with the debt in the prorated amount that Virginia could claim was belonging to it.

As far as the CR is concerned, about 10 days ago, we took the steps in the House to begin to get our fiscal house in order. We passed a CR that reduced spending back to ‘08 levels, and we did so in the hopes that we could avoid a government shutdown and deliver on the promise of reducing the size of government by cutting spending. It is very clear now where we sit. The House has acted. We don't support the status quo. Just like the voters said last November, they want to see a change here in Washington.

Thus far, in the Senate, Harry Reid seems to be doing nothing but supporting the status quo. There has been no action taken from the other side of the Capitol in the Senate. We are waiting anxiously to see that action.

We have also heard reports now and seen statements made by Leader Reid, Chuck Schumer and others over there, that they may be willing to entertain cuts. I think that is really good news. We have even seen some indication that the Senate would be willing to accept our proposal of $4 billion worth of cuts for a temporary 2 week extension. And that is exactly what we will be bringing to the floor this week, which is a temporary extension of the CR that reflects a prorated amount from our larger bill that was passed 2 weeks ago. Again, this is $4 billion savings for 2 weeks.

We have also chosen to make sure that those cuts were something that were agreeable, because the President had mentioned those cuts and we went after the funds that are typically used for earmarks. We don't see why there is any reason in the world that the Senate doesn't accept that. The early indications are that they do. And if they accept that, perhaps they are now buying into the notion that we need to return back to 08 levels.

At the end of the day, it is the position of Republicans in the House that it is time to be honest with the voters, it is time to own up to the problems this country faces and to take the steps necessary to confront and solve those problems.

Beyond the CR this week, we will also be taking up an extension of the highway authorization bill that will take us through September 30th. This is being done to ensure that the committee has time to reauthorize the program to reflect the true nature of the Highway Trust Fund in its depleted state.

We will also be taking up a Ways and Means bill which repeals the 1099 requirement under the ObamaCare law. As you know, that has been a very controversial provision which small business people especially see as an incredible burden on the ability for them to operate in an efficient manner, and we will be doing all we can to stop Washington from impeding job growth in the private sector.

With that, I am going to turn it over to the Chief Deputy Whip, the gentleman from Illinois, Peter Roskam.

Mr. Roskam: Thank you, Leader.

You know, it is clear there are two key goals here. One is that voters have an interest in having the government stay open, and that voters also have an interest in seeing cuts that are put in place in order to create jobs. You see a little bit of tension, at least the subtext is some tension between Leader Pelosi and Leader Reid. Leader Reid appears to be moving in a direction that says, well, maybe some of these cuts are things that we need to move forward on. Leader Pelosi seems to be rejecting that. So I hope that the Democrats are able to get over their divisions and come together in the same way that the House and Senate Republicans are in working on this goal.

To Leader Cantor's point, if you accept the premise that you can cut $4 billion in 2 weeks, you keep walking down that line of thinking and you can get to the ‘08 levels in 7 months. You can do it. You just have to do it a billion at a time. And if the Senate Democrats have demonstrated that they can finally come around and see their way for $4 billion in cuts in 2 weeks, then surely we can continue on that pathway and the American public can gain confidence in where we are and where we are going.

I was just home in my district and it became increasingly clear to me while in the Chicago area at a series of constituent meetings that voters are watching. They are watching how the House is conducting itself, the openness of the process, and they have an expectation that we are going to move forward.

But it is most interesting to me, this is my final point, that the entire conversation in Washington, D.C. has changed. During the last Congress, the premise was how are we going to spend and continue to place a burden on the taxpayers? Now the entire conversation, including the conversation with the Senate and the White House, is where are we going to save? And I think that direction is what this new Congress is all about.

Mr. Cantor: Questions.

Q: Leader Cantor, are you suggesting now that possibly if the Senate is going to approve this $4 billion in cuts, you will have piecemeal going forward, a billion the next 2 weeks, 3 billion a month from now, 4 billion in July, it will go piece by piece. It won't be one big chunk like what came out of the House?

Mr. Cantor: It is certainly not our intention that that would be the best way to operate. I think the people of this country expect Congress to get their fiscal house in order, and the best way to do that is to deal with the fiscal year before us and move on to continuing the same kind of fiscal discipline as far as the next fiscal year is concerned. The House has taken action. We have made our position known as to where we think this country ought to go for this fiscal year, for the remainder of it. The Senate has done nothing.

So I would say to Leader Reid, go ahead and allow our proposal to be brought up for a vote on the floor of the Senate. There is plenty of bipartisan support for many of the amendments that occurred throughout the CR discussion a week ago. So, again, we put our position forward. We are trying to do everything we can to deliver on our promise to cut spending and not shut the government down, and that is why we are putting forth a temporary CR.

Q: But going forth to have some sort of agreement on a long funding CR so you don't have the battle every 2 weeks?

Mr. Cantor: I think all parties, whether it is the White House, the Senate or the House, as well as the American people, would like to see us get on with the business of governing, and that is right now to cut spending and get this economy going again.

Q: You made it perfectly clear that you don't want a government shutdown. I am just wondering, looking back, we saw in the Washington Post over the weekend Newt Gingrich looking back at ’95-‘96 and said that shutdown ultimately was both good for the country and good for the Republican Party. What is your sense of that historical analysis?

Mr. Cantor: I wasn't here in '95. I am going to remove myself from being qualified to answer that. All I can say is I don't believe that the American people want to see a shutdown. I think they want to see us cut spending, they want to see this economy going again and jobs created.

Q: That much said, if there is a shutdown, the way things are constructed now, the District of Columbia, which has home rule but is still connected to the Federal Government, would be included in the shutdown, unless you all pass a bill that would exempt the district. They did that in ’95-‘96. Would you be prepared to support a bill now?

Mr. Cantor: Dave, I would only say it is not our intention to see the government shut down. I think we have demonstrated a commitment to do everything we can to avoid that. It is up to the Senate. It is up to Harry Reid to step up and indicate that he is not willing or desirous of shutting down this government.

Q: Mr. Leader, conservative leaders have called on the Republican leadership to make defunding Planned Parenthood a nonnegotiable element of any CR. Under any circumstances, are Republican leaders willing to approve a final CR that funds the government for the remainder of the year and does not prohibit funding for Planned Parenthood?

Mr. Cantor: Again, I think that we are trying to demonstrate right now that we don't want to see a shutdown and there will be no policy changes in the temporary CR that we will proffer this week. However, in the long term, again, for the remainder of the fiscal year, it is up to Harry Reid to answer to the Members of his body and then thus their constituents as to where they stand. And why he is fearful of holding a vote on some of these issues is really the question to be asked.

Q: Mr. Leader, let me take you overseas for one minute, to Libya. Senator Lieberman said over the weekend that the United States Government should recognize the opposition provisional government in Libya and give them arms and military assistance in order to keep them going. Do you think that is a good idea?

Mr. Cantor: I have taken the position here before that I want to be supportive of an Administration that wants to promote the kinds of things that we do and it is often not helpful to have 535 opinions coming at you. I will say though, I am very concerned about the situation brewing in the Middle East. I am concerned about the spread of radical Islam, as I have said before, and our priority should be to stop that spread and to do what we can to bolster the allies that we have in the region.

Q: Do you think the Administration is doing a sufficient job?

Mr. Cantor: Again, I don't think it is helpful for me to be opining about that. I do I think share in Senator Lieberman's commitment that we need to demonstrate that America is willing to stand up against anybody who is not respectful of innocent life, as we see now unfolding in Libya.

Q: Mr. Leader, the White House came out a little while ago in support of a Senate bill from Senators Landrieu and Brown and Wyden that would loosen the date by which States do experiments, they would be exempt from the Affordable Care Act. In other words, they could get a waiver to the Affordable Care Act by 2014 instead of a 2017. Does this sound like a good proposal to give more flexibility to States sooner under this?

Mr. Cantor: Again, it is just making our point that not only have we seen a variety of exceptions and waivers issued for the private sector under the act, but now we are seeing how that act is troubling states in a real way as far as their trying to figure out the fiscal situations. Again, I think it makes the case that we are trying to make here. The ObamaCare law is an impediment to job growth. It is something that seems to be an impediment to states now to get their fiscal house in order.

Q: The Administration is calling this a fix, this is something meant to correct what may be difficult for states and allow them to plan much earlier than they may otherwise. Is this a positive?

Mr. Cantor: Our commitment is to repealing ObamaCare and delivering an alternative that really focuses on costs first. That is the problem in the state arena, and it is the problem in the private sector. We have seen the premium increases that occurred after the passage of the law. It is an unworkable structure and it is something that needs to be addressed. That is why we will continue at the committee level, as well as through floor action, over the course of the next several months to not only look to defund and delay the implementation of that law, but to produce an alternative so we can replace it.

Mr. Roskam: Let me just follow up on one point that came up in the Ways and Means Committee not long ago. Secretary Sebelius was there and we raised the point about waivers and the articulation of a waiver policy and how clear it was and how predictable it was for the private sector. It is creating a great deal of ambiguity, the waivers. They seem like line of scrimmage audibles, that they are just making them up as they are going along. One large corporation, for example, gets a waiver, a small tool and die manufacturer in my district doesn't get a waiver, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

To the Leader's point, it is just part of the inherent weakness in the entire health care law, that it was put together in a way that wasn't artful and, as we have maintained, bad process makes bad results.

Q: Mr. Leader, could I ask you a little bit about the Defense of Marriage Act? Could you talk about the path forward? The Speaker suggested that there would be a response from the House. Are you talking about an amicus brief, something on the floor?

Mr. Cantor: I think he indicated that the House will decide how to proceed by Friday. I stand by his commitment to make that happen. Again, I do believe that this is a case that is distinguishable on its merits, and to have the Administration take the position, the President take the position that he is not defending the law of the land, is something very troubling I think to most Members of the House. (Please note – due to questions surrounding Leader Cantor’s answer to this question, we’ve clarified to reflect his intention.)

Q: Can you give us an idea of what we are likely to see before Friday?

Mr. Cantor: I think you will see that on Friday.

Q: Majority Leader Reid plans to vote on a cyber security reform bill in March. Current proposals have a provision that would give the President authority to restrict Internet traffic in the event of a national emergency. When should the President have this authority and would you support a bill with it?

Mr. Cantor: I have not seen the details of what Mr. Reid is talking about, so I will reserve comment.

Q: Mr. Leader, could you elaborate on some comments your spokesman had Friday that you had concerns about Congressman David Rivera and do you think he should step down or address it?

Mr. Cantor: The comments that we made were simply, there are ongoing investigations in Florida involving Congressman Rivera, and we are respectful of those investigations. I am obviously very concerned about the reports surrounding those investigations, but we will wait to see the result of them.

Q: Mr. Leader, the Speaker said a couple days ago that net neutrality could come up for a vote within the House within the next month or so, a resolution of disapproval on the FCC's open Internet order. Could you speak a little bit more about that and what you guys intend to do in the next couple weeks?

Mr. Cantor: I think you will see the work of the Energy and Commerce Committee focused on trying to make sure we rein in the reach of the regulators that has caused there to be a lot of uncertainty in a lot of different arenas, certainly on the Internet, which is a huge engine for growth in our country. We see a lot of value in making sure that we come out against the net neutrality moves on the part of the FCC. And I again will reiterate what the Speaker said, we will be moving toward that over the next month or so.

Q: Should we expect a defunding amendment or something like that that would stop the FCC from using its dollars to carry out that order, or should we expect that resolution of disapproval?

Mr. Cantor: I think you will begin to see that we are going to push forward on all fronts. The one thing that we committed to in the first days of this Congress was we have a duty of oversight. We have a duty to make sure that the agencies are carrying out the intent of this Congress, and obviously as the FCC moves to implement those rules that would accomplish a net neutrality, something that this majority opposes, something that we will move to try and stop.

Q: Are you confident that you have the support of the freshmen for the short term CR, and did they have any input on the actual creating of it?

Mr. Cantor: The Deputy Whip may want to speak to the actions going on with the freshmen. I can tell you we have had a very open process. Members are informed about the road forward as far as the temporary CR.

Mr. Roskam: Yes, we have been in touch with a lot of Members all across the conference, during this entire CR conversation. The feedback that we have gotten has been very, very positive.

Q: On the CR, while you are talking about that, the cuts that you have outlined, would you be willing to accept anything less than that or do you see the amounts that were identified in the long term CR that you passed as something that you need to keep to?

Mr. Cantor: The House has made its position known and I am not going to sit here and negotiate the position of the House. We are where we are and we are at '08 levels. That is what our commitment was, and what we see is Leader Reid has not been willing to put anything on the floor to date, and I think that is unacceptable to the American people.

Q: But Leader Reid has changed his position and is now saying that he will accept some cuts, so is there some middle ground between '08 levels and the cuts that the Senate Democrats are looking at and the $60 billion you are talking about?

Mr. Cantor: Again, it is important for there to be a full hearing in the Senate, just like there was in the House, and I would suggest that there may be a lot more people on Mr. Reid's side of the Capitol that would be supportive of returning to '08 levels than maybe he would like to believe.

So, again, we are not going to sit here and negotiate this bill. But all I would tell you is the House has acted on its vision of how we go forward for the remaining 7 months of the year, and will act again this week to avoid a government shutdown while cutting spending. There has been no corresponding action to date on the part of the Senate.

Q: Just to clarify, are you saying you are not going to do any other long term CR until the Senate acts? Is that what you are saying here? You are going to do 2 weeks, and then the rest of the year it is in the Senate's court?

Mr. Cantor: No, listen. Again, we will stand by our commitment, we don't want to see a government shutdown because the American people don't. They want to see more jobs, and they want to see the cutting of spending taking place, just like they are doing in their businesses and households. We are going to be consistent with that. I have already indicated my preference to provide more certainty over the course of the next 7 months in cutting spending and getting our fiscal house in order.

Q: In terms of the policy riders, how big of a priority is that, that those stay in whatever long term funding?

Mr. Cantor: As far as a 7 month package, that would reflect, much like what other similar packages have reflected in the past. There are some important policy riders that need to be a part of a longer term CR.

Q: Mr. Leader, you mentioned Mark Zandi and the debate over the impact of potential cuts. You guys have a letter out today from John Taylor. But looking below that on your economists, you have got a guy, the Kenneth W. Lay Professor of Economics from Missouri, a guy from someplace, Stetson University, on that 150 economists letter. Do you think to some degree that the stance that there won't be any impact on jobs from cuts such as you are talking about is a minority position among the Congress?

Mr. Cantor: I think my point earlier was this. You have to distinguish between what kind of jobs you are actually talking about. If you want the government to continue to fund jobs that we can't afford, that is the real question. We have to figure out a much better long term solution that is sustainable.

Q: Are you saying, Mr. Cantor, that you would be willing to accept, as the CR passed by the House would, some cuts in government jobs that would contribute to unemployment in the short term, even though some economists believe that that would hurt this fragile recovery?

Mr. Cantor: What I have said in the past is we are borrowing nearly 40 cents out of every dollar that Washington spends. That is an unsustainable course and the public spoke out loud and clear last November. They want to see spending brought back down to a prudent level and we are working to try and do that.

Q: How concerned are you about the rapid escalation of oil prices leading into the spring summer driving season? Do you think there is any need for Congress to act to tackle the high gas prices?

Mr. Cantor: I think all of us are concerned. There has been an average increase of 18 cents per gallon in the last week or so, a huge impact on people's discretionary spending, a big concern. I think that you will also see coming out of the committees, Energy and Commerce, Resources and others, work towards the direction of trying to posit a position on an energy policy going forward.

Q: Mr. Cantor, just on a percentage basis, what would you tell Americans are the chance that the government would shut down this Friday? If they are just standing there like what's going on? What are the chances?

Mr. Cantor: I am all for creativity here. Again, I am not betting against ourselves, because it is betting against the American people. They don't want to see a shutdown. So I am hopeful we can get through this week, have a resolution with the Senate, and hopefully that will breed fruitful conversations that we can see a longer term solution put forward and passed so we can continue to right the ship from a fiscal standpoint.

Q: Mr. Leader, last week or 10 days ago when the CR passed here in the House, you weren't able to get any Democrats to vote for the final package. Do you suspect that any will vote for the short term CR here, 2 weeks?

Mr. Cantor: I can't answer for the Members on the other side of the aisle. I can tell you I think voters are looking to see who is committed to cutting spending and who is committed to the status quo. That is the whole difference between the House Majority and what is going on in the Senate Majority right now, defending the status quo versus cutting spending.

Q These cuts are very bipartisan right now, but what happens when you run out of bipartisan cuts? What happens then?

Mr. Cantor: Again, that is the question, who is serious about cutting spending? These are not easy choices, and we have said all along none of us are here to bring about pain for pain's sake. We are trying to get our fiscal house in order so we can get the economy going again and people can get back to work. That is where I think discussions need to take place.

We have said all along we are committed to get us back down to ‘08 levels. But let us not forget what that is compared to the annual deficit. You are not even at 10 percent in terms of dealing with the problem this year. So, again, you are right, there is a lot of discussion and differences around where these cuts take place, but it is high time we have those discussions so we can go forward and do it.

Q: As you know, some of the cuts in the original CR to Title I education paid for classroom aid to teachers. Are those jobs government jobs?

Mr. Cantor: I think you would say those are state government jobs, so certainly.

Q: I wonder if I could ask Mr. Roskam, does your district lose any teaching jobs as a result of the cuts in Title I?

Mr. Roskam: This week I had a discussion with about 70 administrators and teachers about the federal role of education, and what was resounding was a history of underperformance, hype and false promises. I have a district in suburban Chicago that on balance would say look, Federal Government, back away an onerous regulatory environment that just drives costs up for local property taxpayers and we can educate our children just fine.

Q: But, sir, I am wondering do you lose any teaching positions in your district?

Mr. Roskam: Senator Durbin yesterday had a press conference where he basically said these are draconian cuts. Well, my argument, and this is what the Leader has been saying all afternoon, is defending the status quo, defending what is currently in place, is the draconian position. There are very few voices in Washington right now that are doing that. I think most folks are saying there are some very serious things that need to be taken up, and the status quo isn't sustainable.

Q: Mr. Cantor you voted against the Republican Study Committee amendment 2 weeks ago that would have added $22 billion, I believe, in cuts. I am wondering why that was? Did that go too far?

Mr. Cantor: I have difficulty when we start talking about across the board cuts because we have committed ourselves to try and focus on the kinds of programs that are not fulfilling their mission adequately or have a mission that is no longer valid. Some of the priorities that have been set by this town, I don't agree with. So I think we should work hard to identify where we want to make those cuts, supporting things that actually function and deliver results and getting rid of those that don't. Again, just as anybody in the private sector would tell you they have to do, that is the goal here.

Q: Mr. Leader, and maybe Mr. Roskam can weigh in on this: What should be the message from leadership to rank and file Members or freshmen or whoever who are hearing from their constituents, yes, we should shut down. We are tired of spending. That was some of the messages that were coming out of town meetings back in the districts. What should your side be saying to folks, look, there is a reason we don't want to shut down the government because of the ultra dimensional impact this would have. What would you say to them?

Mr. Cantor: I would say what I have always said, which is we don't want to see a government shutdown and we want to see spending cut. We can keep the government open and cut spending. That is really where we are. I am hopeful that is where we get to this week as well as over the course of the next 7 months.

So far, it seems, just as Peter has said, that Leader Reid has indicated that maybe he is buying into the notion that we have to cut spending and stop the status quo.

Mr. Roskam: Yes. I think that it is a false choice that you can't do both. I think the public has an expectation that in fact you can run a government, you can run a government competently, you can run a government fairly, but you can do it in a way that can make sense from a fiscal point of view, and that was the overwhelming message from November.

Q: Can you talk about the balancing act you are dealing with in Illinois where the state fiscal house is arguably in a worse position or just as bad as the government and the message you are bringing home to your constituents?

Mr. Roskam: Look, Illinois has raised taxes and is basically chasing an entire entrepreneurial class out of Illinois. I hosted, or I moderated a forum a couple weeks ago with three Governors, the Governor of Texas, the Governor of Mississippi and the Governor of Virginia, and I had not met any of these Governors before that time.

They said Congressman, by the way, where are you from? I said Illinois. And they started laughing out loud. In fact, the Governor of Texas put his arm on my shoulder and said Congressman, you know I am coming to O'Hare to recruit companies. Three days later I am at a district event, I am in a manufacturing facility in my district. The CEO pulls out a letter from the Governor and says, this Governor is serious about doing business.

So the state of Illinois has one cascading problem after another, and I am very concerned about the long term fiscal health of the state. 

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