Transcript: Majority Leader Cantor's Pen & Pad

Posted on

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mr. Cantor: Good afternoon. Welcome. As you know, we are focused on several things this week, obviously continuing to try and achieve some type of path forward on the continuing resolution. We are operating under the bill that was agreed upon by both the House and Senate that achieved the $4 billion in cuts within the 2 week period, consistent with the level of cuts we advocated in H.R. 1.

I am told that today or tomorrow the Senate will be taking up our bill, H.R. 1, as well as their version, which I am told cuts between $5 and $10 billion off of 2010 levels. So we look towards seeing what the Senate is going to do. Leader Reid has already predicted that both proposals will fail, but he said that he has faith that, “a good compromise on common ground awaits us.”

Now, this is in direct conflict with comments made by Senator Durbin, who said on Sunday that the Democrats offer that, frankly, doesn't even come close to where the House is, “pushed the limit.” At a time when the government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend, our debt is $14 trillion and climbing, it is really irresponsible for Senator Durbin to even posit such an argument and draw a line in the sand, when the rest of America is doing exactly what we are trying to do, which is tighten the belt and cut spending.

We need to find a way to keep the government operating in a fiscally responsible manner. We are continuing to try and do that, to see if we can come to an agreement that we can operate the government and cut spending at the same time.

Last week's jobs report came out, and obviously it was better news than some had expected. When you have the private sector creating 222,000 jobs, that’s certainly a positive development. As we know, you need about 125,000 jobs just to keep up with population growth, so the private sector is in excess of that. When you combine that with the loss in public sector jobs, we were at 192,000 jobs overall.

What we are trying to do is continue to demonstrate that we are not here to shut down the government. We are here to try and cut spending and to live within our means, and we think that is an essential step towards creating an environment for job creation in the private sector.

Now, beyond the CR, there are several efforts under way to help keep our fiscal house in order and to help jobs grow in the private sector. We have the Budget Committee at work that will be producing our document to be voted upon sometime next month. This is a document which, as we have said before, will include our vision of entitlement reform as to how we are going to go forward with that.

When you look at these programs and you look at Medicare, we have said all along that we are protecting today's seniors and those nearing retirement, so that those 55 and older will not see any change in their benefits. But for the rest of us, 54 and younger, we are going to have to come to grips with the reality that if we are going to have these programs around and save them, they are going to have to look a lot different for the younger people of this country.

We also have our committees engaging in some oversight that will produce measures and will be brought to the floor dealing with some of the mandatory spending areas. We have two on the floor this week coming out of the Financial Services Committee. These are programs that were created under the TARP legislation as well as Dodd Frank, programs that we don't feel have been meeting a mission that the taxpayers would want to see met. And, frankly, there are some that have been woefully underutilized and have been ineffective.

So we are trying to demonstrate that we are not just talking about discretionary, we are talking about mandatory savings as well, even before we get to the big entitlement programs in the discussion of the budget.

Lastly, last week the GAO released a really concerning report that identified billions of dollars of taxpayer money going to waste, being spent on duplicative programs. The examples were: 100 different federal programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 82 federal programs dealing with teacher quality issues, 80 federal programs for economic development, 47 federal programs for job training, 56 programs and 20 agencies involved in promoting financial literacy. This is something that I think most people think is unacceptable and is reflective of how Washington just doesn't get it.

So I called Senator Coburn and indicated to him that I wanted to work with him in a bicameral way and felt we could do the same here in the House in a bipartisan way. So we also reached out to the Minority Whip's Office to see if he would be inclined to join us in this effort.

We are always looking for ways to try and work with the other side. When you are talking about getting rid of the duplicative programs, there really is a lot of room for us to work together and come to agreement on that. So we are looking for this to really be a focus of our attention.

This fits squarely in the lane of trying to re instill a confidence that the public is lacking right now in the federal government, because there have been so many promises made that have not been kept. We came into office insisting we were going to cut spending and we were also going to get rid of the waste and duplicative regulations, and that is what we intend to do and you will see us moving forward on this.

This will be simultaneous with the Committees’ continued oversight of existing regulations that are impeding job growth. Again, I think you will see us move forward in the coming weeks with the Energy and Commerce legislation dealing with EPA regulations, as well as the FCC regulations and net neutrality.

With that, I am delighted to answer questions.

Q: Leader Cantor, the budget President Obama sent to Congress does not balance the budget at any time over the next 10 years and never brings the annual deficit below $607 billion. Will the Republicans pass a budget that balances sometime in the next 10 years, and, if so, what year?

Mr. Cantor: In listening to a lot of the discussion on the budget, it is very difficult to balance the budget within 10 years without cutting seniors' benefits now. As I said before, our vision of entitlement reform will protect today's seniors and those nearing retirement. As I am told, you cannot balance this budget in 10 years without severely impacting the benefits that current seniors and retirees are getting now.

So the answer to your question is our budget will balance in the future while we work to protect today's seniors and those nearing retirement and actually move towards reforming the programs for those 54 and younger.

Q: Can you balance the budget while the Health Care Reform Act still is in existence?

Mr. Cantor: It certainly makes it very difficult for us to balance the budget, more difficult to balance the budget with the current health care law, the ObamaCare law, in place. That is why we will be looking to repeal that law and do everything we can to make sure that it does not take full effect, because we have an alternative way. So we want to repeal it. We believe it is a budget buster in a big way.

Q: Mr. Cantor, Mr. McCarthy said this morning you seemed to be heading toward another CR, perhaps 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks. Do you agree with that assessment and also how many more short term measures do you think your conference can stomach?

Mr. Cantor: I spoke to Bill Daley yesterday about this question, about where we see our path forward. I think all of us want to see this resolved so we can get on to the business of next year's budget the way we ought to be doing right now, as well as the next year's spending bills.

My hope would be that we could resolve things, keep the government open and cut spending. The short term stopgap measures have been available so that we don't shut the government down, and I think all options are still on the table right now, because we haven't seen where the White House is.

I said to Mr. Daley, and I will say here, where is the President's proposal? There is a lot of rhetoric about meeting the Republicans and working with them. Leader Reid said as much. But yet we see Senator Durbin saying that their proposal with between $5 billion and $10 billion in cuts has “pushed the limit.” I don't see that as reflective of where the American people want us to go. All options have to be on the table and hopefully we can come to some agreement and cooperation on the spirit that we need to cut spending.

Q: What do you think about Biden going overseas? Did you talk about that with Daley? I mean, here is the head negotiator and he went to Russia for a week.

Mr. Cantor: I didn't.

Q: You didn't. What does that say about the White House's seriousness?

Mr. Cantor: I don't take it as they aren’t serious by sending the dubbed "chief negotiator" overseas. Perhaps they have an interim chief negotiator.

Q: Mr. Cantor, you said that all options are on the note. Does that mean that there could be a government shutdown to get the White House's attention?

Mr. Cantor: I can tell you all really want to write that story. No. No, we do not want to shut down the government.

Q: That is not an option?

Mr. Cantor: We do not want to shut down the government. We want to make sure that we cut spending and operate this government in a fiscally responsible way, the way the people expect us to; that is, spend their money the way they would.

Q: Are you talking to your freshmen about the schedule, to have another 2 week CR, 3 week CR? Do you think you can sell that to them at this point?

Mr. Cantor: Everything has been discussed. We are obviously about a week and a half out from the vote or the actual expiration deadline. There is a lot more work to do. But, look, we want to cut spending. I think our conference is unanimous, the American people overwhelmingly are in favor of cutting spending. And in fact by virtue of the vote last week on the House floor with over 100 Democrats joining us, I look at that as a sign that we will be able to deliver whichever way we go. And if we have to go about cutting spending at the rate we are cutting right now that is reflective of our initial H.R. 1, we will do that. Again, making clear, we don't want to shut down the government, we just want to cut spending.

Q: This is a two part question. What do you make of the claims that Congresswoman Bachmann has been making about there is $105 billion hidden in the health care bill, and, secondarily, can you describe why leadership did not allow via the Rules Committee Steve King's amendment to go forth because of concern of how that would run afoul of how you are running the ship and there was concern that if you did allow that in, that could lead to, I know it is a radioactive word around here, the government shutdown, but that would be in the bill?

Mr. Cantor: First of all, I don't quite know where the 105 number comes from. There certainly are monies that were authorized in the ObamaCare legislation that now come within the definition of mandatory funding. In order for us to pull that back, there needs to be a law passed.

We are in a situation, where we are only one of the three pieces to this puzzle here, between the House, the White House and the Senate. We are trying to see where we can be most effective, that is the route we are going. We have said all along we want to repeal ObamaCare, we want to defund it, we want to delay it at all costs to preclude it from going into full effect.

Now, we did what we did on H.R. 1 because it would have required us to waive the rules of the House. We have said we are going to have our committees looking at these mandatory funds and we are going to produce legislation that will actually do what needs to be done, which is to go forward and explain why it is we want to defund this law, and hopefully we will see a receptive audience in the Senate. Thus far, that certainly has not been the case.

Q: Congressman, to change the topic, the big banks have been making a lot of noise about the interchange fee restrictions in Dodd Frank. Do you expect to be considering legislation on the House floor to repeal that? The second part, are Republicans basically de facto repealing Dodd Frank by not giving the reg agencies the money to enforce it?

Mr. Cantor: As far as interchange is concerned, I personally have always been of the opinion that that is something that the government has stepped into and is an attempt to fix a commodities price, and I am not aware that the Senate has indicated it wants to change its position on the Durbin amendment one way or the other. But we are monitoring that. As far as repealing Dodd Frank, your question is

Q: De facto by not giving the reg agencies some money?

Mr. Cantor: There are a lot of questions around the Dodd Frank bill and the follow up uncertainty that was within that bill. They gave so much power to the agencies to implement the regs, and our Financial Services Committee will be hard at work in trying to follow up on that uncertainty, to identify it. And where we see the rules in that bill precluding capital formation, making America a less competitive place for people to invest capital and to grow it, you will see us respond to try and defund that agency's actions.

The bills that I referred to on the floor this week have to do with - there are two programs, one is the FHA program under the TARP and one is the mortgage program that was under the Dodd Frank bill. These are programs that were underutilized. Frankly, the one I think under the Dodd Frank bill had to do with Mr. Frank thinks it is a loan program. It is really more of a grant program.

Q: But on the interchange fees, do you expect to repeal the Durbin amendment?

Mr. Cantor: I think I have spoken to that already.

Q: Mr. Leader, I am wondering if you could talk a little bit about Chairman King's hearings on Thursday. First, tell us a little bit about the purpose for those hearings.
Mr. Cantor: Which hearings are you talking about?

Q: The extremism hearings, the purpose of them. Is there legislation being contemplated, in your own words?

Mr. Cantor: This is the Homeland Security Committee. The purpose is, if you ask Chairman King, to try and assess how we can better work with the Muslim community in America to stop the spread of radical Islam. We have seen the Fort Hood incident that occurred. We have seen other evidence in America about the spread of radical Islam.

If you look internationally, and certainly in the Middle East, I have said before in this room to you, that our priorities should be to stop the spread of radical Islam. That is in the security interests of the United States. So it is consistent with that notion that he is proceeding. After all, it is the Homeland Security Committee.

Q: What are the guidelines for the hearing? There are some concerns about his credibility and the divisiveness.

Mr. Cantor: I don't even know how to respond. I don't think there is any question about his credibility, and I don't know what you are asking about guidelines. He is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

Q: Where would you like to see him go with these questions and where would you like to not see him go?

Mr. Cantor: Just as I said before, we have had demonstrable occurrences in this country that show we have a risk of the spread of radical Islam. That is not within the security interests of the United States and its citizens. It is something that we really want to work with folks to see if we can stop.
Q: With regard to a potential short term CR, do you see riders on there, particularly the EPA riders, and how would you expect the administration's energy and environmental budgets to be treated relative to other priorities this time around?

Mr. Cantor: Again, we have established a formula or construct for an interim stopgap CR, if that is where we end up, and discussions about riders and policy issues you can say accurately are ongoing with members and committees.

Q: Can I follow up on the issue on Mr. King's hearings. One Member has suggested that he is singling out one religious minority.Did Mr. King get some signoff from House Republican leaders in going forward with these hearings and are there any concerns about the attention on them?

Mr. Cantor: I think it is one hearing out of many that he is having. I think you in this room have sort of become fascinated with this hearing. I would say to you it is pretty obvious where some of the problems have been in terms of terrorist activity. There is no question that it has been encouraged by the radicalization of folks coming out of Central Asia and the Middle East and have used this as a reason to perpetrate terrorist acts. Again, that is a fairly well accepted notion at this point, and that is where Chairman King is going.

Q: A follow up on that question. Is it perhaps that the Muslim American community is crying fire about this particular hearing, that they are overreacting, so to speak, to this hearing by the Congressman?

Mr. Cantor: Again, people are free to react the way they want. What I can tell you is I believe that we in this country are threatened by the spread of radical Islam, both abroad and at home.

Q: Where does defunding the neutrality of the FCC rank among your budget priorities?

Mr. Cantor: It is certainly a priority for us. You will see, as I indicated earlier, the work of the Energy and Commerce Committee come to the floor. Certainly we believe that the Internet has been a tremendous source for growth in our economy and has also facilitated an entirely new way of communications, from a social perspective as well as a business perspective, and we believe that introducing government control over the Internet is something that is an impediment to future growth in that arena and others.

Q: Are you surprised more companies haven't come out in support of the shift to overturn the rule?

Mr. Cantor: No, probably not. Given the posture of this Administration and if you are talking about companies that are regulants of the agencies, I think it is probably predictable, their hesitancy to come forward in opposition to something that the regulator has done.

Q: Mr. Cantor, at his meeting with reporters today, Mr. Minority Whip Hoyer said you guys have focused on an aspect of the budget, the discretionary funding, to the extent of ignoring things like Medicare, entitlements and things like that, and he sounded like to me, my colleagues were there with me, you kind of won the battle on that, but you are taking away from the fact that the real problem is Medicare and Social Security and entitlements, and yet you, in his view, are recklessly cutting away at vital programs. How do you respond to that kind of characterization?

Mr. Cantor: I think I will respond just as most people would. We have over a $1.5 trillion deficit annually right now, so when we are talking about the kinds of cuts that we proposed in the discretionary area, most Americans would say, you know what, we have had to do that, too. There has been an up tick over the last 2 years, over some 20 percent, 24 percent, I think it is, in discretionary spending even before you get to the stimulus. Certainly we can go back to '08 levels, and that has always been our case.

So the "sky is falling" argument that we are hearing both, perhaps as you said, maybe from the Whip on the other side of the aisle, but certainly the Democratic Whip in the Senate, I think is misplaced. And as far as our unwillingness to take only entitlements, I think Mr. Hoyer knows good and well, as I discussed with him in our colloquy, we intend to bring forward a bill, a budget bill, that deals with entitlements that will have in it our vision of how we are going to reform these programs.

As I said earlier, that is not the case with the other side. It is certainly not the case with the White House. I have said before, it is a missed opportunity on the part of the White House. But we are going to pick up the ball and run with it, and we are going to insist that we all work together. This can't happen unless both sides work together.

Q: What do you take of Senator Manchin, a Democrat's, attack on the President today. He said he is not leading, on the Senate floor. I will give you a free one here.

Mr. Cantor: I don't know. I don't want to have a gratuitous slap, so I don't know. I don't know what he said.

Q: Mr. Leader, I was wondering, Mr. McCaul is introducing a bill today to ban the so called monuments. I was wondering if that would prohibit using taxpayer funds for any building or freeway, whatever, named after that Member, a Member, a sitting Member of Congress. I am wondering if the leadership supports that and whether we will see any floor action on it.

Mr. Cantor: I have not seen the bill nor have I talked to Mr. McCaul about it, so I don't know if I can really comment. I just in general would say the monuments to me were always things that fell within the definition of an earmark and perhaps that has already been dealt with, but I don't know, because I don't know the bill.

Q: Leader Cantor, do you have any interest in the full faith and credit bill of Pat Toomey, a guarantee to the bondholders, a sort of symbolic thing?

Mr. Cantor: Is this the bill that he has proposed which would provide for sequencing of payment of debt?

Q: Yes, exactly.

Mr. Cantor: Again, I don't quite know the full faith and credit piece of it. So if I am to assume what the bill does is it prescribes a situation or fix to the scenario when if we were to not raise the debt ceiling. Not having seen Mr. Toomey's bill, my sense is if we are going to give the President the authority to wake up each morning and decide which bills to pay, that strikes me as conflicting with our notion that we are a nation of laws. And if we are going to then go and prescribe which things are more important to be paid, why don't we just go and cut? Why don't we just go and make the tough decisions ourselves, rather than go in and offlay that job to the President?

So I have said all along, I just don't understand how that mechanism is consistent with the notion we are a nation of laws.

Q: Back on the CR, at the end game of all of this, when Senate Democrats and Republicans have to decide on something, if it ends up being about the midpoint of where the parties are, that would be about $30 some billion, which is about what the Republicans originally proposed back a month or two ago. Is that something that you could see succeeding in the House, without $30 billion?

Mr. Cantor: I think it is premature to even discuss that. We have not seen a proposal coming out from either the Senate or the White House as to where they stand. As I said earlier, the votes that are going to take place either today or tomorrow on the floor begin to lay out where the Senate stands. But, again, where is the White House on this? That is what I said to Mr. Daley. Come on. Why is it we find ourselves in a position, we continue to speak out and lead on this issue. We are going to do the same on the entitlements. Where are they?

Q: To follow up on that question, would you be willing to split your caucus, alienate the most conservative members in order to get something more middle of the road?

Mr. Cantor: Now, if I didn't answer that question - do you think I’m going to answer that one?

Q: Leader Reid said he wants to send a message to the rest of the Congress about what is doable in the Senate by having these votes that are going to fail. So assuming that they both do fail, what message do you take from that about what you might get from the Senate and what the realistic parameters are here?

Mr. Cantor: I think it is really just the first step for the Senate. But we are looking for some leadership out of the leader over there, as well as the President. Where do they stand?

Q: What is your thinking about a number though, when the 61 fails and the 7 or whatever fails?

Mr. Cantor: Well, it does take away two numbers.

Q: Just following up on your conversation with Bill Daley, what did he say in response to you? Did he give you any kind of sense that you can reach agreement before the current law expires?

Mr. Cantor: No, not really. He said that he was going to talk to the President and hoped to get back to me and said he was going to do so today. I have not heard from him.

Thank you very much.

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