Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Mr. Cantor: Good afternoon. Welcome back. As you know, we have a pretty full load this week on all fronts. We continue to be focused, as House Republicans, on the number one issue out there, which is the lack of jobs and a failing economy. As we return back from our travels and visits in our home districts over the weekend, I think Members are reminded again of the difficulties their constituents are having. Just the notion that they are embarking upon the summer travel season and gas prices still are stuck around $4 a gallon and the fact that nationwide at least 25 percent of home mortgages are underwater. Obviously, that has a dampening effect on people's outlook and the economy. We have said for weeks, if not months, the anemic growth of new jobs, of startup businesses in this country, has a lot to do with the fact that people in the communities across the country are not feeling good about this economy, because it is real. The economy is not good.
The Democrats have said that they take ownership of this economy. And you still haven't seen any indication by the Majority in the Senate of where they intend to go as far as growing the economy. In contrast, we have put forward our plan for job creators, because we believe strongly if you look through the prism of growth, small businesses and entrepreneurs, we can see a way back towards trying to get the economy growing again and people back to work.
So this week, consistent with that, the patent reform bill will be debated on the floor. This is a bill that is part of our plan for job creators. We have said all along that the backlog of 700,000 patents is unacceptable. Patents, as intellectual property, are a big piece of how we innovate and protect the assets of our country so we can lead in the 21st century. This is a critical piece, and I look forward to not only a healthy debate on that bill, but to its passage this week.
We are also bringing a bill forward from the Energy and Commerce Committee that deals with untangling the permitting process of offshore exploration of energy and natural resources in Alaska. Again, this goes to trying to straighten out the regulatory policy gone amok in this town, and also responding to people's wishes that we do something about energy production in this country that could help bring down gas prices.
I know there have been a lot of questions about Libya over the weekend. We have up on the floor this week a discussion on the DOD appropriations bill. You can expect some activity there. I also would anticipate some actions, stand alone, on the question of involvement in Libya.
Lastly, as far as the Biden talks are concerned, today's discussion starts in about 25 minutes. And once again I will go into those discussions willing to roll up my sleeves and work hard to see if we can find some resolution. You know, from my assessment it is crunch time in those meetings. We have hit the point at which we are at some really tough stuff. Big numbers. Everything, as I have said before, is on the table, except tax increases. That includes Medicare, Medicaid, and the other mandatories, as well as discretionary spending. Again, it is crunch time. In my experience in negotiations in my prior life, when it gets tough, it is up to the parties involved to focus on making the case. And I'm going to continue to go in there and make the case that House Republicans want.
Look, none of us, myself included, came to Congress to increase the nation's credit limit. But we said all along that this is an opportunity for us to try to right size the spending direction in this country, and to make sure that we stop spending the money the way we have, and money we don't have, and begin to reform the system so we can have real changes here. That is what the people sent us here for. So we will look forward to hopefully making some progress each day we are in those talks this week.
With that, I am delighted to answer any questions.
Q: Would you be open to a short-term increase?
Mr. Cantor: I don't see how multiple votes on a debt ceiling increase can help get us to where we want to go, we want big reforms, we want big spending cuts, and big changes to how this town works. And to me, it is a case of having to make some tough decisions. I am not so sure that if we can't make the tough decisions now, why we would be making those tough decisions later. Frankly, I put the onus on the President. I have talked about the productive talks I have had with the Vice President. But the President has not seemed willing to engage and say that he is willing to do the tough stuff with us. Again, if you look at what is going on in those meetings, which I am sure you would like, there is some real tough stuff in there. Big numbers, big changes to popular programs, but frankly, the right medicine we need to try will begin to bend the curve back towards not having to spend money we don't have. So I don't see how multiple votes are going to help us towards that end. And I have said all along, as you know, that it is my preference that we do this thing one time, again, based on the notion that we have to make some tough decisions. Putting off tough decisions is not what people want in this town.
Q: Mr. Leader, Senators McCain and Kerry have now introduced their counterpart legislation on Libya. It circumscribes to say no ground troops, unfreezing the assets, limited mission, but it doesn't go where the House legislation that is being discussed, about cutting off funding. And Senator McCain specifically said basically admonished his House Republican colleagues, be careful what you do, because it might, you know, if the shoe was on the other foot and it were a Republican President would you be doing the same thing. Do you agree with some of the language that you have probably been hearing that was released this morning on the McCain Kerry position?
Mr. Cantor: What I would say is our Members are very frustrated over the President's actions, his lack of positing a clear mission and vision for our involvement in Libya. Members have not seen the reasons, why or why not, the President thinks that we are involved in hostilities. Because you can turn on the TV and see bunkers blown up. Certainly, that would indicate hostilities. And Members are very frustrated. So that is why I say you will see some discussion on that surrounding the DOD appropriations bill, as well as some stand alone action.
Q: Mr. Leader, both your budget and the President's budget claim a lot of money from sort of drawing down the troops in the war. But that is really more a defense policy question than a budgetary thing. And a lot of people kind of think that's phony savings. Are you going to try to claim some of that savings in these deficit talks?
Mr. Cantor: No, I agree with you those certainly are savings, but not something that I think that you can legitimately claim out of these talks. The first rule to me is we have to be honest with one another. That is what we are trying do in these talks. I mean we have to make our case and not try to spin something that can't stand on its own. So I agree, certainly the savings may be there, but they're not a product of these talks.
Q: Leader Cantor, as you know, Jon Huntsman announced he is running for President today. I am curious on your thoughts on him and whether you think he can win the Republican nomination, whether he can appeal to the Tea Party crowd, and whether he can actually beat President Obama.
Mr. Cantor: I think you are going to get the answer that I have given to you before about our presidential candidates. That is, look, I think there is a clear distinction between the Republicans in the race and this President and his party. And that is just as we in the House have said, you know what, we've got to have a plan to resolve the fiscal situation, we've got to have a plan to grow this economy. I think that Mr. Huntsman will be one of those candidates, just like the rest in our field, that are very serious about tackling these tough issues and trying to provide some leadership.
Q: Mr. Cantor, just from a calendar perspective about 6 weeks out, the times when there is correlation between the Senate and House being in session I believe is only 3 weeks. Would you commit, and do you think there is an appetite within this bipartisan working group to staying in Washington even when the House is not in session or the Senate is not in session to complete this deal?
Mr. Cantor: I have already done that. In fact, I have already been up here, not last week, but the prior, when the House was out, attending the meetings. So there is no question that there is a will to continue to stick it out as long as there can be progress. And again, I am about assessing every day whether that is the case. I can say again, everything that we discussed has led to the point where we are in some very tough discussions right now. As we approach July, there is not much time if we are going to come to see some agreement, and I would just call on the President to be willing to make some of these tough decisions now.
The House has consistently since day one said we are willing to take on the tough issues. I think all of you have covered it, you have written about it, you continue to write about it. We now have people out in the commercial space advocating one way or another about the kinds of prescriptions and saying that we have to deal with the tough issues. The onus is really on the President and his party to step up and show they are willing to do that. Because we've said all along, it is just as reckless for us to just check the box and raise the debt limit, and not reform the system or cut spending, as it is for us to just abandon the thing altogether. All I can say is it is crunch time now and it is time for the President to step up.
Q: Mr. Leader, you have said flatly, you know, no tax increases on the table. But you and other Republicans have indicated, well, we don't want tax increases, but more revenues might be okay. Ethanol subsidies. Do you think that there is any possibility that -- I mean are you discussing in those talks any kinds of --
Mr. Cantor. Let me answer that in two ways. First of all, my response for revenues is this. We have always believed that growth can be an answer both to the people who are out of a job, but also an answer to help manage down the deficit and the debt. More revenues really comes from growth in the private sector. But if you want to talk about the kind of revenues the other side seems to want to talk about, for instance, we are talking trillions in these discussions. Right? And let's just say that there is a loophole that the other side is fixated on because perhaps they don't like the parties that may enjoy some type of preference or loophole in the code, for instance oil and gas industries. You look at the value of the so called revenue savings or revenue enhancement there versus what we're talking about trillions, you have to wonder, is this about policy and substance or is this about politics? Thus far, I've worked hard to try and at least keep the politics to a minimum in those discussions and try and focus on policy and substance, which is savings. Again, before we say we have to have those kind of loopholes and preferences on the table, first of all, look at it in that context. Lastly, Dave Camp in the Ways and Means Committee is hard at work in trying focus on comprehensive tax reform. Those kind of discussions, whether it is closing loopholes and the rest, have to be conducted in the context of lowering rates, which is what Ways and Means will do.
Q: On Libya, do you think that a House move to cut off or restrict funding for the mission would send a bad message to U.S. allies? That is what Karl Rove, Liz Cheney, and others are now saying.
Mr. Cantor: Again, back to my statement before, Members are frustrated.
Q: What about you?
Mr. Cantor: I am frustrated. The onus is on the President to put forward why we're there. He has still not adequately done that. He has still not responded to so many of our concerns that we are involved in hostilities there. And so this week we're going to discuss all this on the floor through DOD appropriations, and as I said before, a stand alone issue.
Q: Regarding the debt ceiling, one of the things that has been talked about, at least by the CBO, was the idea of changing the inflation measure, the chained CPI. Is that something that has been talked about in those discussions? It would save a lot of money, but it would affect COLAs and so on.
Mr. Cantor. Without betraying the confidence of those meetings, I will say again there are a lot of things on the table. Everything but raising taxes is on the table.
Q: Mr. Cantor, are you insisting that any increase in the debt limit in this fiscal year be exceeded by spending cuts that take effect this fiscal year, or are you willing to trade the national debt for spending cuts that take place sometime in the future?
Mr. Cantor: What we've said all along is that if we're going to increase the debt ceiling, it has to be accompanied with real reforms and big spending cuts. Obviously, the debt ceiling increase is something that the Secretary of the Treasury has said will take us through, depending upon the amount, a certain period of time. What we're driving towards is as many cuts and reforms as we possibly can achieve. Because you can look at it over the first year, the second year, the first ten-year budget window, or long term managing down the debt and deficits. And that is what I think the markets are looking for. I think the people that put us here are looking to see that we have changed the way the system works so that we are no longer spending money we don't have, and how living by the same standard that most people live in their households and their businesses.
Q: Mr. Leader, do you see, back to the chained CPI question, do you see a change in the CPI as an unacceptable tax increase?
Mr. Cantor: Again, I think that inflators in the statute have application both in outlays, as far as benefits, as well as the issue of the tax brackets. And I think that is where the impact can be on both sides. So I don't necessarily look at it one way or the other. I am just saying that these are issues that impact the federal deficit one way or the other.
Q: Mr. Cantor, when you take the tax, the idea of revenues or tax increases off the table, can you outline where Republicans and you specifically are being flexible in these negotiations? If the Democrats are putting everything on the table but you guys are taking that off, where are you being flexible?
Mr. Cantor: No, no, no, wait a minute. The assumption in your question is they are putting everything on the table?
Q: They say they are. I don't know.
Mr. Cantor. Right. In these discussions we have all said everything should be on the table. They continue to say we need to raise taxes. My position has been very solid we are not raising taxes. There are no votes to raise taxes in the House.
Mr. Cantor. At the end of the day, a debt ceiling increase has got to pass the House of Representatives.
Q: So where are you being flexible?
Mr. Cantor: Where we are being flexible is we want to go and provide a recipe for a return to growth. Number one, it is to get spending under control. Number two, it is to provide some kind of certainty that this place is not going to continue to spiral out of control as far as spending is concerned. And three, we want sound policies that ultimately make sense for growth and getting people back to work. I don't think that you can characterize that as lack of flexibility, or flexibility. But at the end of the day, that is what we're all about here. There is this notion that we've got to be involved in politics, that that has to prevail, so in other words going back to this question about preferences and loopholes and going after the boogeymen. Look at what we're talking about here. We have to hold out growth as the long term goal here, because that is how you get people back to work. So again, it is all about hard work and tough decisions. Flexibility, when you are talking about cutting the kinds of things that we are doing, is certainly not easy for any of us.
Q: So would you define any revenue raiser as a tax increase?
Mr. Cantor: I just said before that raising revenues through growth is something all of us want. We want to see increased economic activity, which naturally says that the government will see more revenues because you will have more economic output.
Q: But anything not associated with growth, anything that raises revenue not associated with growth is a tax?
Mr. Cantor: I just turn the question back on you, if I can ask you a question. Why would you want to do anything to increase revenues that wouldn't produce growth? Right now most people say give me a job.
Q: Mr. Leader, you said that all the mandatories are on the table. I know AARP signaled an openness to reduce benefits to Social Security over the long haul. I know a number of Republicans have new bills out that would basically do the same thing. Is there any chance that your discussion group will address Social Security either in the context of debt reduction or in a sidecar of any kind?
Mr. Cantor: Listen, I’ll say again, it is up to I think the President and his party to step up. I mean we have done a lot of stepping up here on some of the proverbial third rails of politics for almost 6 months. And they have not shown that kind of leadership. I am hoping these talks can result in both of us realizing we are going to have to do this together in order to right the situation and live within our means.
Q: Mr. Leader, will you be able to pass this deal through the House with Republican votes only, or are you going to have to rely on Democratic votes?
Mr. Cantor. I am not the Whip anymore, so I will tell you that I am working with the Whip and seeing where our Members are. As you know, Kevin is holding Member listening sessions at least once, if not twice a week so that our Members can fully engage in this process.
Q: Do you feel that you have had so many of these Republican freshmen that came to town saying they didn't want to raise the debt ceiling you said just a few minutes ago you didn't come here to raise the country's credit card limit that this is going to be hard for them backing off of that question, you know, to get a majority of your majority to vote for this that some of these guys have to go back on their pledges regardless of what the cuts are in the bill?
Mr. Cantor: I believe this is a moment in time that will demand bold action. That is why it is so important that we have the fortitude to go about doing big things here. Again going back to this week, this is the start of the big things now. Everything that we know drives this deficit poses some potential peril for all of us on both sides of the aisle, if you want to just talk politics. But if you want to talk about policy, what we can do in the end is maintain the safety net for those who need it in this country, and to protect today's seniors and others who are relying on that safety net, but put us on a course that makes sense and has long term viability. Again, it goes back to the question, are you going to make those decisions now or are you going to kick the can? I don't think we can afford to kick the can. I don't think the votes are there to kick the can. That is why it is important that all of us realize we are going to have to make these decisions together.
Q: Mr. Leader, looking through the calendar, would there be any circumstance where, I hate to state this, you would consider delaying the recess, being essentially next week that you are going into negotiations, and also since there won't be a colloquy at the end of this week since the recess is coming up, I assume, could you talk about what is going to be happening, your priority one or two after the break?
Mr. Cantor: We are going to continue to focus on the issue of jobs, that is where we are. Our Committees are currently working towards a June 30th deadline of submitting their findings as far as the potential regulations and current regulations that are in place that are impeding growth in this economy. We're going to continue to focus on that. We have the appropriations process going full gear. Again, that follows through on our commitment in the House passed budget that we mean business when we say we're going to begin to start to live within our means. That is going to take, obviously, a lot of time there. We'll have some continued actions on the regulatory front and we can provide you with a better picture as we get towards the end of the week.
Q: And about next week?
Mr. Cantor: These talks and the substance behind these talks will continue to go. They went the last time we were in a break as well. So, we will have to see. Again, I am about trying to go and drive as hard as we can forward to reach a resolution here that can garner the support of our Members. Because at the end of the day, I think I can speak for all of us, we understand the gravity on both sides of this issue of a debt limit increase.
Q: Mr. Cantor, the White House has formally announced the President will be making the announcement tomorrow evening. First off, have you received a briefing? And secondly, your reaction to the details that we are learning of the surge, the 30,000 being pulled out by the end of 2012?
Mr. Cantor: I have not received a briefing from the White House. And I can say that I would probably want to reserve comment until I heard what the President had to say.
Q: Leader Cantor, if the House does consider a resolution this week to defund operations in Libya, would you intend to vote in favor of that resolution?
Mr. Cantor: I am going to withhold my decision on my vote because first of all, no decision has been made on what kind of resolution will come forward this week on the House floor. So that is why I withhold my position because we don't know, haven't made a decision as to what form it will take. As I have said before, you are going to have a discussion around DOD appropriations, and you will likely have a stand alone discussion as well.
Q: A number of RSC members are pushing for a bill that would eliminate U.S. involvement in IMF bailouts, obviously the Greece context. Last year Mr. Pence tried it. Do you support such a measure, and is it going to get a vote on the floor?
Mr. Cantor: I haven't seen the details of the measure, so I would be a little bit reticent about offering my opinion on it.
Q: Do you have concern about U.S. involvement in IMF bailouts?
Mr. Cantor: I have concerns about wherever U.S. taxpayer dollars are being spent right now if they are not being spent with the original intention and authorization of the expenditure. Again, just as any family or business would have to do, you have to reassess now whether the original mission is still valid, and then if the mission is still valid, whether the expenditures are meeting that mission. So I am concerned about taxpayer dollars everywhere.
Q: You and the Speaker have both kind of come to the point that any cuts agreed to would need to exceed the increase to the debt limit. And I am wondering if the Democrats that are at the table have agreed to that point and you guys are just working around the numbers to figure out what the increase is, and what the cuts are, and how to get there? Have they actually agreed to that point that you and the Speaker
Mr. Cantor: I think you have to ask them whether they have agreed to it. There has certainly been a lot of discussion around that point in the meetings.
Q: You have said several times the President has to get more involved, come forward. Are you suggesting that it is time for him to come into the talks or you have had this nice relationship with Biden. Is something missing that you think there seems to be no expectation you will complete this deal, that it will have to be turned over to the President and Boehner and the four.
Mr. Cantor: Right.
Q: Do you think that is sooner than later then?
Mr. Cantor: All I know is I go in there trying to drive towards getting more spending cuts and more reforms. So when the President decides he wants to go and seal the deal with the Speaker, we will be ready for that to happen at whatever point he wants to.
Q: But are you waiting for him, or is there some point where you and Biden turn to him and say we've brought it this far, and now you guys have to finish it?
Mr. Cantor: Again, I haven't had the sort of closure discussions with the Vice President, if that is what you are asking. What we're trying to do, again, this week is the first time we're really hitting crunch time. As you know, these are big numbers, big programs. So I am not sure that I know when the President, or the Vice President, will decide that we've made enough progress. Frankly, maybe the President's looking to the Vice President to make that decision. All I know is I have been asked by the Speaker to go in, negotiate as hard as we can to try and get as many cuts and as many reforms as possible. And that is what our Members want.
Q: About the spending cuts, what would you say to American farmers who would be negatively affected by cuts to agriculture subsidies?
Mr. Cantor: Listen, there are going to be cuts, sort of equal opportunity cuts, to most all. Most Americans would expect that America and the federal government needs to live within its means, that we should manage down this debt and deficit. And it is not easy for anybody to have to inflict this kind of fiscal discipline, but it has to be done.
Thank you very much.