Interview with House Minority Leader Cantor

Interview with House Minority Leader Cantor

By The Situation Room - November 30, 2010

BLITZER: President Obama talking about his long-awaited summit meeting today with congressional leaders at the White House, including Republicans set to take control of the House of Representatives.

Joining us now, someone who was inside the room at the meeting, the number two House Republican, the incoming majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: The president says it was a good meeting. Tell us what was so good about it. Take us inside.

CANTOR: Wolf, I do think it was a good meeting. I think perhaps it might be a positive start after what I believe is a historic election.

There was recognition on both sides that what the people of this country want is to see Washington to begin working for the public again and to produce results.

And we do have, as Republicans, a golden opportunity to sort of reset the direction in which we're heading and make it towards one of opportunity, responsibility, and success. So I'm encouraged.

BLITZER: What was the most encouraging thing you heard from the president today?

CANTOR: Well, Wolf, where most people, I believe, are is they want to see the economy start again, so that more people can get back to work. And what we've always said is that no one should suffer a tax hike right now while we have near 10 percent unemployment.

And what I heard today from the president was a recognition that this is a tough economy and that we have now, at his request, put in place a process which perhaps we can see a way forward to ensure that no one gets a tax increase this year.

BLITZER: Are you ready to compromise on that issue, allow all the Bush-era tax rates to continue, including for the wealthy, for let's say two years?

CANTOR: You know, Wolf, there's been no negotiation as far as offers being put on the table, so I don't want to sit here and negotiate against no one.

But I would say that what came out of the meeting today was an indication, at least from what I took from the meeting, that this president and his team want to work with us.

The president admitted that perhaps he wasn't as forthright in terms of wanting to reach out to us over the last two years and that maybe we can begin anew and really deliver some results for the American people. First and foremost, let's get the uncertainty out of the way as far as these tax rates are concerned so people can get back to work.

BLITZER: Now you want to go back -- you want to cut government spending, reduce the size of government. You want to go back to the spending levels of 2008, is that right?

CANTOR: It is true. And yesterday, just yesterday, the president himself took one of our ideas that we have talked about since last May, and that is to begin to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy by freezing pay to federal workers. We all know that the pay scales in the federal government far exceed those of the private sector. We -- and I think that that is something that we were looking for. As this president said, yes, I will join you in trying to cut the spending and the deficit in this town.

So we all have to work together. And when you see a Republican majority come January, it is our intention to try and bring down discretionary spending to '08 levels and that will produce the saving of $100 billion alone in the first year to taxpayers.

BLITZER: So you're not including the Defense Department.

CANTOR: In my opinion, Wolf, everything should be on the table. I don't think you can --

BLITZER: If you go back to the 2008 Defense Department spending, that's about $100 billion less than what the Defense Department is currently spending.

CANTOR: I don't think, Wolf, that anyone can defend every dollar and cent that the Pentagon is spending. We're going to have to prioritize.

Make no mistake about it, a Republican majority is going to be a pro-Defense and strong national security majority, but we're also very concerned about doing more with less, and I think because of that everything will be on the table.

BLITZER: What do you say to those 2 million Americans who are about to lose their unemployment benefits after 99 weeks and they're about to go cold turkey, if you will, they're not going to get any more help?

CANTOR: You know, Republicans have never been opposed to giving more help to those who need it. We believe in a safety net for those who need it. We do not, however, support the continued extension of benefits without having some ability to pay for them.

You know, this goes back to sort of what I believe was message out of the November 2nd election, Wolf, and that is we've got to stop spending money we don't have.

So we have proposed again and again, as Republicans, ways to pay for benefits to those who need them without some trickery in budgeting, but to actually to begin to prioritize. And if we're going to help those in need of help, we've got to pay for it.

BLITZER: The gays serving openly in the U.S. military, it's an important issue. Today, the Pentagon, the chairman f the Joint Chiefs, the Defense secretary said they can do it without serious problems in terms of military morale, cohesiveness, unity. The American people seem to agree. If you look at the polls, look at the survey of active duty military personnel, as well.

Are you ready to pass legislation that will repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy?

CANTOR: You know, Wolf, the three things that matter to me, and that is readiness, retention, and recruitment as far as our armed services are concerned. And I, for one, need to take a look at the study which is underway or been produced at the Pentagon to see what kind of impact that a policy like that really has on those three things.

But let's look at the broader picture right now. This election that we've just gone to in this country was very much about people's economic situation and the fact that they want us to put a priority on the economy and getting people back to work, and that is having the environment which more jobs can be created in the private sector. That's what the focus of the meeting of the White House was today. It was all about jobs and the economy first.

And hopefully, that's how we can end the year, is taking care of what I believe is one of the biggest uncertainties facing the economy right now, which is the possible tax hikes that everyone is facing come January 1 if we don't act.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but do I hear you're saying you have an open mind on this issue, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

CANTOR: Wolf, this has always been a question of how that policy will impact recruitment, readiness, and retention as far as our armed services are concerned, and not having had the opportunity to look at that study to determine the impact of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on those three items, I'm not ready to tell you that, yes, we would take a look at it or not. Again, this has to do with our national security.

BLITZER: All right. I'll take that as a yes -- I have an open mind, I want to do some more studying on that -- and we'll leave it at that.

Congressman, congratulations once again on your victory. Good luck in the leadership votes.

CANTOR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia.


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