WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) delivered the following remarks at an American Action Forum event on job creation and economic growth:
Good morning, It’s a real pleasure to be here and I want to salute the American Action Forum and Doug Holtz-Eakin for holding this conference and really trying to deliver on how to focus policymakers on both sides of the aisle, individuals in the Administration, as well as in Congress, to begin all rolling towards the same direction to see about finally turning this economy around. So, I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
We are now in the ninth month of a new Majority and our Majority hit the ground running in January with a clear sense of effecting real change. And I say that because just by makeup, we are now one-third new members, 40 percent of that one-third are individuals who really have never served in public office. They are individuals, like many of us, who came from the private sector and really know the pain and the challenges people are facing out there. They came to Washington for the right reason and they were elected in a year in which there was a political weight, and have come almost as a moral compass for our Conference. They came with the notion that they don’t want to see tricks, they don’t want any more gimmicks. They look at the numbers and say the math doesn’t lie, it’s time for us to solve the problems and produce results. Now, the change in mind that they have and that we all have has not come easy, suffice it to say that all of us have seen what has gone on in the last half a year and it has been a struggle because the stakes are big.
We’re facing two crises in this country. The first is the federal debt crisis that has evolved and been exacerbated over several decades by fiscal mismanagement and policies that have contributed to the hole that we are now in from a fiscal standpoint. Both sides have plenty they can be blamed for, but we are trying to approach this in a way that we can all come together and solve. The resolution at the beginning of August in the debt ceiling agreement puts in place a process for us to begin to resolve the problem and to begin to manage down the debt and deficit.
The other crisis is something that directly affects the people that sent us here, affects us all, and it is the jobs and economic growth crisis. The challenge for all of us is to try and resolve both of these crises, without trying to address one and hurt the other. The President came to Capitol Hill last week to address a joint session of Congress and he specifically came to try and speak to the second crisis, which is the jobs crisis. I will say that there certainly were areas that the President laid out that I believe we can work on together.
There are potential areas of agreement, the President talked about the potential for progress on regulatory relief. The House Republicans have announced their fall agenda that is highly focused on rolling back regulations that have impeded job growth for the middle class. Just this week, we are putting on the floor a bipartisan measure that says no to the NLRB, that we shouldn’t have a federal board that begins to tell private entities where they can expand and where they can put investment in this country. So I am hopeful the President can put some meaning behind the words that he delivered, there is a potential for us to agree.
The President also spoke about tax relief for small businesses and for employers. We agree with that, we agree that now is not the time to raise taxes on anybody if we are trying to grow this economy. The President talked about infrastructure spending. We Republicans believe there is a great need in approaching the decaying infrastructure of this country and we need to come up with a way to address it. We may have some differences in the methods by which we are going to do that. The President suggested an infrastructure bank. I am one that thinks that the infrastructure bank is akin to creating a Fannie and Freddie for roads and bridges which is something we don’t need to do if we’re going to be serious about prioritizing infrastructure spending. Let’s get the system straight, let’s create a spending process that has transparency to it, and not put it in an outside entity that escapes the purview and oversight of Congress and taxpayers.
We also have some areas that we can work on in terms of regulatory relief on the infrastructure side. Right now, we know that states are required to have at least ten percent of the monies that they are allotted set aside for projects funded that aren’t necessarily priority transportation projects. We have some permitting issues that we can get straight so that we can see the flow of monies to projects, rather than to have it sit while the regulatory process stands in the way.
The President also spoke about unemployment benefits. Now, he obviously mentioned that because there are a lot of people out of work, entirely too many people out of work, 14 million Americans out of work, that is equivalent to the population of Pennsylvania. There are 4 million people, equivalent to the population of Kentucky, that have been out of work for a year or more. That is unacceptable. I see why the President feels for those people. What we need to do in fashioning a way forward in unemployment benefits is look around the country to see what works. And what works is work, a job. Unemployment benefits should not turn into a permanent solution, we should somehow connect the unemployed and unemployment benefits with work and job opportunity. These are the kinds of reforms that we Republicans would like to work with the President on.
Now, some of the things that I think are troubling about the President’s remarks are this. First of all, it is his message of all or nothing, take it or leave it, pass my plan. Now, that’s just not the way that anything works and certainly not the way Washington works. We’ve been there done that for the last eight months. But just this morning we saw David Axelrod on television saying it again, he said, it’s not an a la carte menu. You have to vote it up or down, take it or leave it. Now, that’s not the spirit I think the people of this country would like to see us take forward.
Now the President’s plan also has in it a significant amount of what I would call stimulus spending. We’ve also seen stimulus spending before – given the promises that were made I think we – at least – I can say the stimulus program was a failure. Why would we want to go do something like that again, especially when we’ve got this federal debt crisis of borrowing money to fund government spending that does not produce the jobs we would want?
The President has also mentioned that he would send up a pay-for bill, or as he calls it a deficit reduction bill. In it he calls for significant tax hikes. As you know, Republicans do not support raising taxes if you want to grow the economy – it’s that simple. The President also likes to talk about taxing the super wealthy, the millionaires, the billionaires and the jet owners. Well, now proposals just aren’t that simple. Looking at the impact of his policies in increasing taxes on people making $200,000 and up, what you see is a tax on the very people you would expect and want to create jobs.
We have also found out through looking at his tax proposals, or at least the reports, that his tax proposals are going to impose taxes on charitable contributions and in fact impact at least 40 percent of tax deductible charitable contributions. I don’t think there are many Americans right now who think that’s a good idea. The question is why would we want to put an impediment in the way of the charities accessing funding when the charities are the ones out there helping the people in need right now? It doesn’t make sense.
Also I would say that in looking at the proposals thus far, it looks as if this tax increase will also affect the ability for states and municipalities to borrow money, because as we know there is a tax deduction afforded for the interest on those borrowers. Now, on one hand the President calls for giving money to states though stimulus spending and on the other he calls for making it more expensive for states to do that. It’s just nonsensical. Again, these are areas of disagreement. Now I will say again, I don’t believe we should let areas of disagreement get in the way of trying to come together on the areas we can agree on and produce results for the people who sent us here – the people expect no less.
In closing, I would say this, in listening to the President the other night in the chamber, something struck me in what the President termed a fair shake. Now I have talked a lot about America and the sense among so many people that somehow they feel that they no longer have a fair shot. And so I think there is some sense that we may be talking about the same thing. Somehow we have to reignite the confidence and optimism in this country among the American people. I believe there are very strong differences about the vision of how we get there, of how we get to that fair shot for the people of America. And the President himself has said that there are going to be big differences – and I think, certainly, the American people understand that – Republicans and Democrats don’t and aren’t going to agree on everything.
The President will then say that some things will be left for the election. Maybe the issue of taxation, maybe some of these other issues will have to be left for the next election because I believe what we’re headed for over the next 14 months is a season in which there will be a robust debate culminating in November 2012 about the very question of who we want to be as a country. I believe that who we are as a country is a place where most people came because they did want that shot, that opportunity at earning their own success. The differences I believe on the other side, and through the President’s policies being promoted, get in the way of that. They get in the way of entrepreneurs, of immigrants who came here decades or centuries ago to make it. The policies in place right now make it more difficult for individuals to go at it on their own.
There is a sense in this town that somehow Washington’s job is to guarantee the success of everybody. I don’t think that that’s what America and our country is about – I think it’s about freedom and it is about opportunity for everyone. And if there is an impediment in the way of someone having that opportunity of earned success, that’s where the government is properly situated to remove that impediment and ensure that success can be had through earning it, by working hard, playing by the rules and seeing it come. So again, there are big differences but I do think now is the time for us to try to set them aside and try to see if we can deliver results, and that will be the job of us in Congress as we go forward over the next several months.