Transcript: Majority Leader Cantor's Pen & Pad
July 6, 2011
Contact: Doug Heye, Megan Whittemore

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Good afternoon. Welcome back. Happy belated 4th. We have a busy week with all things going on. Let me briefly go over the schedule on the House floor. This week, we are going to be completing the discussion on the DOD Appropriations bill. We are going to begin consideration of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, as well as take up the rule for the Flood Insurance bill.

Additionally, tonight we've got several suspensions on the floor. One of them comes out of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is a resolution that I co-sponsored with the Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, regarding the situation in the Middle East and specifically targeting Hamas. In essence what the resolution says is we in the United States and in Congress do not support any government that has Hamas as a part of it. That discussion will be had tonight on the floor.

Let me turn to the debt ceiling discussion and the President's press conference last week and the implications or the suggestions that he may have left in that press conference regarding the Biden talks and what was going on there. As many of you know, and I have spoken with some of you, the Biden talks ended or in my opinion stopped, because there was an impasse - clearly the other side, the Democrats, wished to impose tax hikes on small businesses and families in this country. I had said all along to the Vice President and others that, first of all, we don't support tax increases, especially in such an ailing economy and number two, there are no votes for tax increases in the House. And then to hear the President come forward and indicate that somehow that those talks stopped or blew up over loopholes is just not the case.

Think about it. Think about the revenues that he is talking about. The changes that he is advocating and the depreciation scheduled for corporate-owned jets is about $3 billion over 10 years. That is in the context of the over $2 trillion in savings that the Biden talks identified. Now, that is just not serious to say that somehow we Republicans walked out over a corporate jet loophole. It is not the case.

Again, I was asked by the Speaker to go into those discussions and to identify where we could achieve savings commensurate with, or exceeding, the amount that we are being asked to increase the debt limit, and we did that. The Biden group produced a blueprint where I can envision us proposing and accomplishing over $2 trillion in savings. And that deal is still in the works and I believe is still there, and that we can deliver on. The President went to the mics again yesterday and invited us to the White House - which is certainly something I know that we're all looking forward to, to have some more exchange of ideas - he also said to leave the talking points at the door. I'm hoping he takes his own advice, because those talking points associated with corporate jets and loopholes are just that, they are talking points, and they are not substantive in terms of what we are trying to do.

I would also say this to the President, that he has initially, through his Secretary of the Treasury, set as a deadline August 2nd. Now he is saying we need to act even quicker. My response to him is we have been working, the Biden group had over 6 weeks of discussions. I had several one on one conversations with the Vice President. He knows very well where I am, where most Republicans are, and where the Speaker is, as far as what we need to get done. For the President to suggest that we have not been hard at work, I'm going to tell him tomorrow, come on, you know, we don't have to wait until July 22nd. Let's do the deal tomorrow. Republicans want to deliver results, and we have gone in with the objective of trying to achieve the kind of savings that the Speaker has set out, which are those savings equal to, or in excess of, the amount we are going to increase the debt limit.

I am looking forward to the discussions tomorrow. I'm hopeful that they can be substantive and actually deliver some results. At the end of the day, what the American people are waiting for, which most of us heard when we were at home, is that we need to get this economy going again. Yes, we need to get the fiscal house in order, but there are some serious problems out there with the limitations that small businesses feel they are working under, and we need to free small businesses and entrepreneurs up, so we can begin to see people get back to work and grow this economy.

With that, I will take some questions.

Q: So if you say that the talks didn't end over things like the corporate jets and loopholes and so forth, does that mean that you could accept some of those things?

Mr. Cantor: What I would say is this, the Vice President has known all along exactly where I stand as far as revenues are concerned. I have said from day one, we are not for tax hikes on the American people or businesses, and if the President wants to talk loopholes, we'll be glad to talk loopholes. We've said all along that preferences in the code aren't something that helps economic growth overall. But, listen, we are not for any proposal that increases taxes, and any type of discussion should be coupled with offsetting tax cuts somewhere else.

Q: In terms of the feedback to the idea of tax hikes there, those who aren't Republicans have very well defined what you guys call a tax hike. Does any change in law that changes revenues from projections, anything that changes rates?

Mr. Cantor: Let me just make it very clear. Raising taxes, increasing revenues paid by businesses and families in this kind of economy especially is counterintuitive. Why would you want to raise taxes in a sputtering economy? And that is the position we have held all along. So any discussion about loopholes must be accompanied by offsetting tax cuts. That's all. We are not for increasing revenues.

Q: You said a moment ago, you said the Biden talks, you said that meeting is still under works, and that is something you can deliver on. Are you saying that the biggest items that you worked through in those talks for 6 weeks is something that can be built upon if you guys can get past this tax issue, and that you still envision that as being a potential framework for the debt limit?

Mr. Cantor: I look at the proposed $2 trillion-plus in terms of savings as the blueprint as to how we can get this deal done, yes.

Q: And if I can follow up. Isn't that a bit risky for your party if you say, well, wait a minute, I realize what your position is on tax cuts, I know where the votes would or wouldn't be on tax increases in the House. This potentially could be the biggest government cut of all time. And are you afraid somebody is going to say, wait a minute, they didn't take the deal, they didn't go down that road at all?

Mr. Cantor: We are trying to demonstrate that we are actually going to begin to get the fiscal house in order, and we are going to change the way this town does business and stop spending money we don't have. That's what we are driving towards. Yes, these cuts are, relatively speaking here in Washington, historic. But the American people see Washington running up over a trillion dollars in deficits on an annual basis. We have a lot more work to do, and that is why this is a blueprint for us to put forward a down payment on actually getting the fiscal house in order once and for all, living up to the goals that the Speaker set, which is the goal of making sure we deliver cuts commensurate with, or exceeding the amount, we raise the debt limit.

Q: A follow up on Jonathan's question. He was asking you about the loopholes, and you said that has to be offset with cuts elsewhere. Could a deal work where you would cut the payroll tax, extend that for another year?

Mr. Cantor: I'm not going to get into individual discussions. I don't think it's right to sit here and have those kind of detailed discussions.

Q: Mr. Leader, again on the question of loopholes. When you say if any loopholes are closed, you want to have them offset tax cuts elsewhere, do they have to be new tax cuts or perhaps, you know, you have this charade every couple of years where you have these extenders that have been going on—

Mr. Cantor: Again, another very good way to ask the same question. I'm not going to get into the individual discussions.

Q: I'm trying to help you out here.

Mr. Cantor: I don't know who you're helping, but I would say I would just say this, again, our position is we cannot be looking to tax families and businesses in this sputtering economy. It is just that simple.

Q: Mr. Leader, the Minority says you're going to need its help to raise the debt limit, and you're not going to get it if revenues are not on the table. What is your way around that? What is your response?

Mr. Cantor: Again, I have had discussions with the Democratic Whip, and hopefully we will continue to have fruitful discussions, because I know he shares in the goal of trying to manage down the debt and deficit and get the fiscal house in order.

Q: Mr. Cantor, your $2 trillion does not include these loopholes. So how much over 2 trillion are we talking about? Are we talking tens of billions or hundreds of billions, or how much would you be willing to consider?

Mr. Cantor: Let me lay out where I think the outline is for the kind of deal that is in the works, at least in the Biden talks. As I have said before, we have had non-health care mandatory discussions, we have had healthcare mandatory discussions, and we have had discretionary discussions. We are saying, in the non-health care mandatory area, there is a potential for over $300 billion in savings; in the health care mandatory area, well over $400 billion in savings. The rest would be the discretionary piece plus interest savings, which gets us well in excess of $2 trillion. That is the basis upon which I believe we can build a deal that can deliver on the promise that we are going to finally start to change things around here.

Q: Can you fill us in at all about the progress that was made over the weekend, and whether or not the Biden talks are forming the basis for what is happening now at the White House?

Mr. Cantor: Again, as many of you know, the President and the Speaker have been in discussions over some period of time now, and I know that we are all trying to do as much as possible to build, to get as much savings for the American people, again with the notion we have to get the fiscal house in order here. So I'm hopeful, and I do think that these discussions from the Vice President held talks will contribute to the overall deal.

Q: Yesterday when the President spoke, he seemed to dismiss the possibility that a short term deal might be possible. How do you interpret that? Do you think a short term deal is totally off the table?

Mr. Cantor: I think many of you recorded way back that the President had said one time that he was going to keep looking for something that he and Eric Cantor could agree on. I think this is that. I agree with him that we need to go and drive towards a deal, which is not a deal that kicks the can down the road. This is an opportunity for all of us to work together to deliver on our promise that we are going to get things straight here.

Q: Mr. Leader, the New York Times commissioned an executive pay consultant to look at the compensation of the top 200 company executives and found that their pay was the median pay was $10.8 billion last year, up 12 percent 23 percent from the previous year. How is raising the taxes on those executives' net pay dampening job creation or investment?

Mr. Cantor: First of all, I would say certainly there is a concern when you have those kinds of salaries, but the concern belongs to the shareholders of those companies. I would assume those officers are held to the fiduciary duty that they owe to their shareholders. The focus for us is to make sure that we are not increasing taxes on individuals who are the job creators, and like it or not, the job creators are those who can be successful in a small business context. They disproportionately contribute to new jobs. Those are the people that we are focusing on to say we are not going to raise taxes. That is the essence. I think that most Americans would agree you don't raise taxes in a sputtering economy. It is just counterintuitive if you want to see people get back to work.

Q: Mr. Cantor, the cap and balance pledge that many of the RSC members have been pushing with Senator DeMint, are you going to sign it? What are you telling your members?

Mr. Cantor: I don't want to sign a pledge that conditions my vote on what the Democrats may or may not do. I mean, I'm the Majority Leader, but I really only control one vote, and that is mine, and I won't sign a pledge that conditions my vote on someone else's on the other side.

Q: What do you think of the President's call that this has to be a balanced approach, and he listed out pretty much everything that seems to be a major sticking point at this point? How do you get to that balanced approach if taxes really aren't on the table?

Mr. Cantor: The balanced approach is trying to get our budget into a situation where you see the fiscal house become more manageable. That is what this exercise is all about, because that is important for us to get done so we can start focusing on how we grow the economy in the private sector again. That, to us, is what the proper, reasoned approach is. We look at the kind of spending that has occurred in this town, and you look at the fact that you're borrowing over 40 cents of every dollar you spend. Clearly there is a spending problem, and that is where we are focused on.

Q: As a former Whip, how much time are you going to need to sell this compromise that eventually will come, barring Armageddon, here to your conference?

Mr. Cantor: I would defer to the current Whip on that. Listen, you know, always we have been in the business of trying to be as informative as possible to our Members on this. Obviously there will be a point at which we will come together as a Conference and look to see what we can do to deliver the results.

Q: Is July 22nd, though, an effective date?

Mr. Cantor: Again, I think you heard my view on July 22nd. I just find it interesting that the President wants to somehow suggest yet another date as if we have not been working towards a result for the last 6 or 7 weeks. I mean, come on. We should be looking at tomorrow as an opportunity, not just keep dangling some date and keep inching it backwards. That only contributes to the hyperbole around here. Let's get serious.

Q: The last time you guys cut a deal, there was significant anger after people looked at it for a couple of days. There was some disappointment with it. How does that color this time around? Do you think Members are more are going to be more skeptical when a deal comes forward?

Mr. Cantor: Look, I have said before, none of us feel that we were elected to go and increase the nation's credit limit. This is a tough vote. But in exchange for the vote, what it is that our Speaker has set as a goal is something really important. If we can accomplish this and begin at a $2.4 trillion cut as a down payment towards actually changing the way this place works, that's the goal here. But, yes, there's going to be a lot of questions. A lot of Members feel the same way I do. We weren't elected to go and increase the credit limit. So in exchange for that, there needs to be some fundamental reform here and some reduction in spending so we begin to put ourselves on the glide path to change that trajectory.

Q: Mr. Cantor, are you working so hard towards what some are calling the "grand bargain" that you're going to either miss the deadline or come so close that you're going to cause an unwelcomed global fiscal ripple effect?

Mr. Cantor: Again, it goes back to where the President seems to think we are versus where he is. We have been at work. The Vice President has known where I am, and I would hope he knows where the Republicans in the House are, through my regular engagement with him over the last 6 or 7 weeks. And so it is not as if we are focusing on something that will allow us to miss the deadline, the President has been absent up until the last week and a half where he has begun to engage with the Speaker. We have a blueprint in place. We can build upon that. Where is the President? That is the proper question to ask, and hopefully we will be asking that tomorrow.

Q: A different version of the same question of the last three.

Mr. Cantor: Maybe I'm just slow and not getting the question.

Q: How long will it take? You outlined sort of a three part - they have got mandatory non health care, mandatory health care, discretionary, which is, you know, 2012, 2013 - that is way more complicated than a 6 month CR. How long will it take to put, to literally assemble that, get it scored, get it through the - how long is that going to take on the House side?

Mr. Cantor: Look, I think the proper answer right now is, are we going to get some agreement in concept so we can go ahead and begin that work and begin bringing the discussion to our Members about what it looks like. Again, the President has not been willing to do it. That is the whole reason why I believe the Biden talks were put into abeyance. We need the President to come in and break the impasse, and let's get about the nation's business.

Q: Mr. Cantor, the President didn't actually say, leave the talking points at the door. He said, leave ultimatums at the door. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to actually just leave the ultimatums at the door?

Mr. Cantor: Listen, we are about trying to deliver results. There are no votes in the House for tax increases. Whether the President looks at that as an ultimatum or not, it is what it is. The reality is we will not be supporting tax hikes for the very reasons that I have been saying here for the last 25 minutes and every other meeting.

Q: But there are Democrats who would vote for tax hikes in the House. So could it be a bipartisan vote that you all strive for?

Mr. Cantor: There are not sufficient votes in the House, nor do I believe we ought to be raising taxes.

Q: Do you think there is any risk that Republicans are refusing to take yes for an answer from Democrats? David Brooks wrote a column where he raised the question of you have got all these trillions of dollars in spending cuts that you say the Biden group has vetted, and the Democrats say, we won't go there without a revenue increase. Why not take the deal and give them a couple hundred billion dollars in revenue increases?

Mr. Cantor: Because the President needs us to respond to his request to raise the debt limit. His request is to raise the debt limit. And in exchange for that, we have to be able to demonstrate to the people who elected us that we are not going to keep spending money the way this town has. And that is the essence of the bargain, if you will. It is increasing the credit limit in exchange for reducing spending and delivering on the promise that we are actually going to change the system here. That is the deal.

Q: To follow up on that, 2 trillion plus in spending for a couple hundred billion in revenue sounds like you're getting what you want. As a ratio, it is why is that not enough?

Mr. Cantor: That is in theory. But in reality what has happened in this town, we have a very ailing system here. There is very little accountability to the taxpayers. Money is being spent without measure. It is like throwing good money after bad to say we need to go raise more revenues before we change the system.

Q: Every fiscal commission has said you can't balance the deficit problems on the spending side alone.

Mr. Cantor: We believe strongly that you're never going to get into a situation that you begin to manage down the debt and deficit, because none of the commissions have brought it to balance. We’re about managing down the debt and the deficit, and none of that can occur unless we begin to change first. You don't want to be throwing good money after bad. Nobody does that. Nobody can get away with that. That's our point.

Q: Did you really mean it before when you said that you're only raising the debt limit because the President asked you to?

Mr. Cantor: I said that because clearly we believe that it is a very tough vote. Clearly there are over one hundred Members on the other side of the aisle who feel like they can take a clean debt limit vote and not have anything done in terms of changing the spending pattern of this town.

Q: But you do acknowledge - McConnell started to do this too, he says he's only raising the debt limit because the President has asked him to. I mean, the water is rising.

Mr. Cantor: I have always said that I think most Americans believe that this country pays its bills. So, yes. And I have said before –

Q: Even if he never asked you to raise the debt limit, you recognize as a responsible House leader you would have to raise the debt ceiling?

Mr. Cantor: There is no question that the amount of increase in the debt limit is in direct correspondence to fiscal mismanagement in the past. These are bills that have been run up. That has to be done, yes. I have always said so. But it can't be done without an exchange, which is to say we are not going to do it again, we are not going to let the spending get out of control like it has in the past, and we need to begin to work towards bringing this system under control.

Q: Mr. Cantor, you said it is what it is on this tax issue; you can't raise taxes in the House. So tomorrow when you go in there, how are you going to make up the difference between where you left off with Biden and where you need to be? What specifically are you going to suggest if you're taking that specific thing off the table? Is it Medicaid cuts? Is it entitlements?

Mr. Cantor: I'm not sure I know what you're asking. I'm just going to respond and say this was the impasse when the Biden talks broke up, and it was that we are not going to support tax increases. We feel strongly that's the wrong move in an ailing economy, and that's the position most Americans have as well.

I'm going to go in there and insist, number one, Mr. President, the ultimatums, the talking points, no matter what you want to call them, are a distraction to what the underlying disagreement was in the talks. The underlying disagreement was do you think you ought to be taxing small businesses and families right now, or do you think we ought to be focusing on trying to bring spending under control, which is where we start and where I'm hopeful that we deliver.

Thank you very much.