Transcript: Majority Leader Cantor's Pen & Pad
September 7, 2011
Contact: Doug Heye, Megan Whittemore

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mr. Cantor: Hello, good afternoon. Welcome back. I hope everyone got a little decompression time with us being out of Washington. We are back. So good to see you. You know, first before I make a few remarks, I know this is a week of reflection for the country and I think it appropriate, even in this room that we observe a moment of silence remembering the people who lost their lives 10 years ago. Thank you.

Throughout August, I can tell you that I, as well as my colleagues in the House, met with constituents and confirmed what it is that I think we are all thinking, is that people right now in the country are very anxious. They are worried about their economic situation, worried about job security, worried about paying the bills and their future. Frankly, I heard that they have lost a lot of confidence in Washington. While they are going through such tough times, they are sick of the rancor in this town.

On Thursday, the President is going to address us, that is tomorrow, in a joint session of Congress and he is going to talk about jobs. On Friday, he and I both will be in Richmond and both of us will be speaking about jobs and how we get this economy back on track. I appreciate the President's renewed focus on jobs, but the truth of the matter is we have very different opinions as to how to grow this economy and to produce some sustainable job growth. That has been evident for quite some time now. For example, if you go all the way back to January 2009, when the President first assumed office, his prescription for the way forward was a deficit-financed stimulus package. We said we had a better way. We differed with him on the way to get people back to work and composed a plan that was very focused on small business growth. The evidence is now here, we can see that since the passage of the stimulus plan, the deficit-financed package a net 1.7 million Americans are out of work. In other words, there is a net loss in 1.7 million jobs from nonfarm payroll.

During the debate, I think the important piece is that we agreed to disagree. Nobody questioned people's motives back then. I don't question the President's motives or his commitment to country now. That is the way forward as we really put our minds to work to see how we can address what is ailing this country, which is the economy. Plain and simple, my point is that good people can disagree. That doesn't mean anybody is putting politics above country. I believe that all of us, both sides, are trying to do what we think is best for the country. But in a divided government, you have a particular challenge. And the challenge is not to allow the differences to prevent us from making progress on what the people sent us here to do. That means that we really need to focus on areas of common agreement, or those areas where we can potentially find some common agreement.

The Speaker and I sent a letter to the President yesterday spelling out some things that we thought could potentially be areas of agreement. First, we indicated our appreciation for the President's realization that his proposed regulation in the EPA having to do with ozone was something that could have cost up to $90 billion and millions of jobs. We applaud his actions in pulling that regulation back. The Administration still has six regulations with a cost exceeding $1 billion that are pending, and another 218 with the cost of $100 million, each pending. We can hopefully have some progress in trying to pull those proposed regulations back so we don't get in the way of what people want to see right now, which is job creation.

I believe the President will talk about the need for more infrastructure spending. We believe in infrastructure spending. We know that our roads and bridges and highway networks are in need of repair and we know that there are certain areas of the country that need additional roads. The President has said that he believes we ought to give states added flexibility. We agree with that. That is an area of commonality. Right now there is a requirement that states set aside 10 percent of the monies they get for things that are not related to vehicular transportation. Maybe we ought to lift that set aside requirement and allow for the states to spend the money that they think is needed for their transportation requirements.

The President also talks about the need for us to extend unemployment benefits. It was December of 2009, the Speaker and I, then the Minority Leader and I, presented to the President a no-cost jobs plan. In that plan, we talked about the potential programs around the country that actually are beginning to show results in reforming our unemployment compensation programs. The state of Georgia has a program called Georgia Works. That is something that has demonstrated reform works and we can get people back to work, and at the same time providing the safety net of unemployment benefits. These are the type of things we can work on together. In that no-cost jobs plan, we also said to the President back then that outside sources have found that if we pass the trade bills, we are going to see the creation of hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. So let’s do it. Certainly that is something we can do together.

The best thing for us as we look towards the next three or four months is to focus on delivering results to the people of this country. That means we have to focus on areas of commonality, and try to transcend differences here. We need to build consensus and that is going to require us all not to impugn motives or to question patriotism. We have a job to do. The people of this country have sent us here to produce results and right now it is about focusing on an agenda for growth in America so we can see more jobs. With that, I'm delighted to answer any questions.

Q: Mr. Cantor, can you talk for just a moment about how we are going to handle these appropriation bills? I know the Republicans wanted to, you know, pass all the bills in the regular order and go to conference and the whole 9 yards. It doesn't appear that is plausible at this point. Are we going to have a CR? For how long and how far are these concessions?

Mr. Cantor: There are discussions ongoing and the anticipation is that we will take up the CR the week of the 19th and again my expectations are there has been no agreement, but my expectations are that that CR will take us some time through late fall.

Q : You spoke about voters being concerned about the rancor. Do you think that is a message that a lot of your members heard? And do you think that that voter sentiment will affect the possibility of getting an agreement on either the committee or just in general?

Mr. Cantor: Which committee?

Q: I'm sorry. The super committee.

Mr. Cantor: Again, they have got plenty of work to do. Having been through the Biden discussions, I know full well the areas that we could find agreement on. I'm hopeful the Joint Select Committee can use those findings as a basis for their work. I also knew that in those talks it was very helpful to not have outside advisors speaking publicly about what should or shouldn't be done. Again, they have got a lot of work to do. I'm hopeful and I do think that the members that the Speaker appointed to the committee are very serious in trying to get something done.

Q: Mr. Cantor, you say outside advisors. Do you think, though, that the President can help in any way for the super committee to achieve its goal? Can he play any role there?

Mr. Cantor: I do. And I meant that outside public statements being made may or may not be helpful. My confidence is in the people that the Speaker put on that committee. But, I think anyone can be constructive right now and obviously the President is in the role to do that. Again, I just hope that the President will sort of join us in setting aside the criticisms, the impugning of motives, the lack of being there for the good of the country. That kind of posturing isn't helpful and especially in light of what I heard throughout the August recess. The country doesn't want a blame game anymore. They want to see solutions and results.

Q: They also want to see, as you said results. Forgetting some of the outlines of what the President is going to announce, $300 billion in spending, $300 billion in cuts, do you think is the broad outline of what we are seeing enough to boost job growth which is what the Americans want to see?

Mr. Cantor: We have outlined sort of our suggestions as well as some potential areas for agreement. The country has not seen a concerted effort that all of us should be focused on trying to produce results to allow the private sector to regain its footing. I'm hopeful that is what the President really is intending to do because we can find areas of agreement as I just pointed out.

Q: Yesterday you talked about this letter a little bit, but yesterday you guys also requested that the President brief you ahead of the speech. Have you received any sort of notification from the White House whether he will do that? And have they given you any sort of indication that they will go along with any of those areas? Do you think you can compromise on that?

Mr. Cantor: I have not heard from the White House.

Q: Mr. Cantor, you talked about jobless benefit programs and transportation funding. Is that as far as you're willing to go? Are you willing to see more money poured into those programs and an extension to jobless benefits as well?

Mr. Cantor: First of all, as far as my comments on transportation, if we are already spending money and that money is not being spent on the priority of transportation, it probably makes sense that we make sure that happens before saying how much more you want to spend. Again, we have got a systemic issue here and I think the President has indicated a willingness to give states more flexibility.

Q: And on the jobless benefit, sir? You talked about that the Georgia program, do you believe that that program should be extended?

Mr. Cantor: The same sort of spirit of reform would apply to my response there. If you're spending money right now and the goal is trying to get people back to work and then provide them a safety net in the interim, you ought not to be forgetting about the goal which is more job creation and that is why I point to this program in Georgia that seems to accomplish both.

Q: Mr. Cantor, you mentioned about the new era of civility that you would like to see in the next 3 or 4 months. Obviously the debt limit fight got quite heated. Are you going to instruct your members to try and maybe take it down a notch for the next 4 months, which will probably be equally as heated, at least on paper?

Mr. Cantor: Members, at least those I have talked to, heard what their constituents were saying. It is not games and politics for people out across this country, it’s real. The fact that we have had such sustained joblessness in this country, the fact that people are doing anything they can in many instances just to stay afloat and to pay the bills, it’s real. That that was the message I know I heard loud and clear, and from the other members I have spoken to.

Q: Mr. Cantor, would it be appropriate for the joint committee to call for new spending if they offset that with excess deficit cutting beyond what was called for in the debt limit discussions?

Mr. Cantor: The initial mission of the Joint Select Committee was to try and affect the necessary cuts so that we could lift the debt ceiling the second tranche. That is their goal and I'm hopeful it will be successful.

Q: Tax reform has always been an important part of the platform, what the GOP is wanting to do. Do you think at this point that is just the purview of the joint committee?

Mr. Cantor: Dave Camp and the Ways and Means Committee have been at work on comprehensive tax reform throughout the year. I'm looking to him and the committee to continue its work, as he also serves on the Joint Select Committee because tax reform is obviously something with a lot of different angles and complexities, but a very needed part of a pro-growth agenda to produce results.

Q: Mr. Leader, the White House and the Democrats in the Senate want to take advantage of this provision in the deficit bill that permits disaster funding to be done sort of on top of the budget caps. You were quoted extensively talking about offsets for disaster funding. Would you be willing to go along or to make some compromise on that?

Mr. Cantor: Thank you for the question. I'm just surprised it took so long. Let me just say this. Unequivocally, I am for sure making people get their money and not having to wait. I would like to say also that some of the reporting done, maybe by you in this room and others has been inaccurate. I have never, never said that I'm holding anything hostage or would be for playing politics with this. It is inaccurate and I think it is irresponsible on part of those who have written that. Again, I went home immediately when the first disaster hit. I was in the Middle East in Jerusalem when I heard that we had an earthquake and the epicenter of which was in my district. We had a nuclear power plant that was within 10 miles of the epicenter.

I got home and I toured the damage with our governor. I have been in constant contact with our governor since the earthquake and the damage that it inflicted on the town of Mineral, Virginia and the County of Louisa. I have been in constant contact with the Governor since Irene hit the Commonwealth and there was significant damage in the flooding in Southeastern Virginia, in Central Virginia in my district. We had close to 900,000 people out of power. That is about three quarters of our metro area. Don't tell me that we don't know disaster, people are hurting and still the conversation at home is do you have your power. I am for making sure people get their money and that there will be no hold up.

Now, your question about the President and whether you're offsetting or not is conflating two things that are going on. In the Budget Control Act, we provided for disaster relief according to a rolling 10 year average. That was within the budget process, and the bills being marked up in the Senate now will be part of that overall budget process. When we are talking about offsets that only has to do with this ad hoc sort of spending that has taken place in the past, which is what we tried to correct in the Budget Control Act. What had been going on in the past is instead of fully funding the emergency disaster relief accounts, we didn't do that and then diverted the money elsewhere. Then when disaster hit, there was a need for an ad hoc emergency package. We don't know and the President hasn't proposed or asked for additional monies. We don't know what the amount is going to be, but we do have in place a mechanism now, under the Budget Control Act, which will be a part of the CR and part of going forward in the budget process, to fully funding according to the 10 year rolling average. Again, I thank you for the question.

Q: Two questions, real quickly. The Post Office is having troubles now. Do you anticipate them coming to Congress and seeking relief? And how do you feel about that?

And, also, on the resolution of disapproval, do you expect, regarding the debt ceiling increase, do you expect to take that up soon?

Mr. Cantor: I will get back to you on the second, as to when the resolution of disapproval will be.

As far as the Post Office is concerned, we are all concerned about it. Our committees are taking a look at it. I know the President is in the middle of a proposal as to how we work through what is needed. There are a lot of suggestions that we talked about in the Biden talks of how we can affect some reform in the Postal Service to avoid any kind of delay in terms of its operation, but necessary reforms are needed.

Q: Mr. Leader, on the appropriations, beyond the CR, how do you see that playing out? Would it possibly be done by November?

Mr. Cantor: Again, I said that we are going to take up a CR on the week of the 19th here that will probably take us through late fall.

Q: Two questions, real quick. First, back to the FEMA question, the disaster relief, do you think that the $6 billion that the Senate is marking up today is too much? Or is that a number that as you know, Senator Landrieu has said that the House passed amount is too little.

And then, just secondly, can you just address the President coming to Richmond? It sounds like he is on your home turf. Can you just address that?

Mr. Cantor: Sure. Remember the process. There are two things going on with the disaster money. There is one, the current budget process provided for that we just had in our agreement in August in the Budget Control Act. That is the process that is going on in the Senate right now. That bill will be part of the agreement and part of the budget structure that we allow for. And, again, it tried to address the incidence of continued ad hoc emergency spending. So, I have no idea. The President has not said what is needed.

In our State, the Governor and his folks, as well as the localities, are going through assessing the amount of damage and complying with the necessary things that have to happen in order for FEMA to opine. I can't really answer that question about whether it is enough or not. But, again, that is addressed in the budget process. As far as any additional amounts needed outside of that, we will have to wait to see. I have said and will say in here and hopefully you don't go file a report and report it inaccurately I am not for holding up any money, I am not for taking any hostages here. I just think we can act responsibly.

Q: And the Richmond question?

Mr. Cantor: I welcome the President to come to Richmond. The focus now is jobs. I think all of us and, certainly, my constituents are no different than people around the Commonwealth and the country. We are in desperate need to see an economy that grows again. And I look forward to his speech tomorrow night, as well as his remarks in Richmond.

Q: Is extending the payroll tax cut included in the areas of agreement that you see, and also adding that to the employer side? The President has been targeting this as a middle class tax cut which he thinks you will be able to support.

Mr. Cantor: The payroll tax holiday, if you will, is something that I supported in the last agreement. I have always said that there are better ways to focus on small business growth. As you know, Republicans are not for increasing taxes. The payroll tax holiday is something that I have supported in the past. This will be part of the discussions ongoing.

Q: Mr. Leader, most independent economists believe that the 2009 stimulus kept things from getting worse than they could have and that if we stopped extending unemployment benefits and putting Federal money out into the economy, that the economy could contract somewhat.

What do you think of that, in terms of the President's proposal for further stimulus?

And on the question of rancor, there are quite a few Republicans who are saying they won't be attending his speech tomorrow night. Do you, as the leader of the party, believe that they should attend the President's address?

Mr. Cantor: As far as the stimulus package is concerned, I think the evidence is there that it was not successful in meeting the goals that the Administration set out as far as keeping down unemployment. That seems to be our goal now, as well, to make sure we reduce unemployment and get growth going again.

It is very hard to prove a negative that the other side would like to. All I can say is there are potential areas of agreement that we could have on unemployment benefits, I just talked about it here, and I am hopeful that we can continue that discussion.

As far as the President's speech, the Speaker has invited the President. I will be anxiously awaiting his message and will be there.

Q: So you don't mind if the rank and file many of the rank and file don't show up for a joint session?

Mr. Cantor. I don't think there is much evidence that that is the case.

Q: Kent Conrad, Steny Hoyer, and some other Democrats have said that they think when the super committee meets that they should go as big as possible and try to do something on the scale of $4 trillion that the previous deficit reduction group had worked out in their plans. Do you share that view? Do you think that they should do something like that?

Mr. Cantor: It is about delivering results. They have a lot on their plate. And having been through several rounds of this with the White House and through the Biden discussions, I don't think it is helpful for me to say what they ought to be doing or not. I have full confidence in the people who the Speaker put on that committee to try and produce results.

Again, I said before, we did reach a blueprint. Although nothing was agreed upon until everything was agreed upon, as the Vice President liked to say, I do think that the blueprint out of the Biden talks provides a basis for further discussion.

Q: Just to clarify on the disaster aid, Lew sent a letter yesterday that said they will be submitting a budget amendment of $4.8 billion more than there is now in their request. Do you count that 4.8 above the 104.3, or do you think the spirit of the August agreement was that 104.3 would remain the total?

Mr. Cantor: Again, I have not seen Lew's letter, so I don't know what that 4.8 relates to.

Q: It is a pure, under the Budget Control Act, increase adjustment for

Mr. Cantor: Again, I don't know what that spoke to. I don't know whether it is part of and consistent with the rolling average, or whether it is in addition to the rolling average as part of the budget process.

Again, the problem has been always there have been games played with disaster money, underfunding the account, waiting for an emergency to come. Again, I haven't seen the letter, so I can't opine.

Q: The question when I asked someone on the Republican side of the Appropriations Committee, they said the spirit of the agreement was 104.3 is our top line. We are not going to hold up the money, but 104.3 is our top line. Is that your interpretation, or do you recognize that you agreed to go over that sum in the case of disaster aid?

Mr. Cantor: We provided in there the rolling average. That was the first piece of it. The second piece is, if there is a need for emergency offsets, if there is a need for additional disaster funding, obviously that is a Federal role. That is a priority. Again, I have to look at Lew's letter in order to better respond to you.

Q: At the beginning of this Congress, you said the mission, at least of the House, would be cut and grow. And nine months on from there, what do you think the economic impact the employment impact has been of this focus on cutting, on this focus of deficits? Have you been surprised that the focus on the deficits

Mr. Cantor: We have been about cut and grow. The fact is, for the last 8 months plus, we have been about cuts. That is why it is imperative that all of us join together, work with the President, to see how we can grow this economy. That is why, I welcome the President's speech tomorrow night, and I welcome him to Richmond on Friday.

It is imperative that we work together in the spirit of trying to produce results and stop impugning motive or calling people out as insinuating they are putting politics above country. That is not helpful. That is not helpful. We all want to produce results here, and I have laid out some of the areas where I think we can.

Q: Like you say, you have been focusing on cuts. You are separating that from things that could produce growth? You are saying we haven't seen you know, we have seen lower government employment, but we have also seen you know, over into the last 9 months, we have seen lower job growth than we did in the previous year.

Mr. Cantor: If you look at our agenda for the next three to four months, there is a lot that we can do right now to provide relief, roll back these proposed regulations that will allow for small business and others to grow. We also are going to be putting out there, along with the discussion of comprehensive tax reform, some of the things we can do right now. We have a small business tax cut that will go right to the bottom line to help employers with 500 employees or less achieve a better outcome if they hire more people, if they grow. It is essentially a 20 percent tax reduction for small businesses.

These are the kind of things that we believe we can do in order to facilitate growth. We look forward to working with the President to see if that can happen.

Q: So cutting, Mr. Leader, cutting spending was cutting spending, in other words, was an antecedent to growth. It was not meant to be growth was not supposed to be a result of all of the deficit cutting that went on here? Growing is the next step, not...

Mr. Cantor: Growing is part of the budget situation. You can't achieve the result of managing down the debt and deficit if you don't have any growth. These are intertwined. That is why we always say this is simultaneous.

What I am saying is so much of the effort has been focused on cutting because House Republicans have demonstrated our willingness to produce savings and to cut government spending. Unfortunately, the other side doesn't agree with this.

Q: But you did not expect to see the job market respond to your cuttings by now? You are not disappointed, in other words?

Mr. Cantor: I didn't say that. What I said was that we have to focus like a laser on growth. We have to be about a pro growth agenda.

We believe, going back to January of 2009, as I started my discussion in here, the better way to produce a growing agenda is to focus on the job generators of small businesses, not to continue to spend more from Washington.

Again, they are intertwined. We are trying to focus squarely on how we can provide an environment where Washington provides some relief to small businesses.

We have outlined 10 regulations that are proposed. The President has already taken our suggestion on one and rolled it back, and we have applauded him for that. That is a great start. We can work together and achieve those kind of results going forward. Thank you.