President Obama speaks to the GOP House Issues forum and debunks many talking points offered as questions by Republican House members.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please, everybody be seated. Thank you. Thank you, John, for the gracious introduction. To Mike and Eric, thank you for hosting me. Thank you to all of you for receiving me. It is wonderful to be here. I want to also acknowledge Mark Strand, president of the Congressional Institute. To all the family members who are here and who have to put up with us for an elective office each and every day, thank you, because I know that’s tough. (Applause.)
I very much am appreciative of not only the tone of your introduction, John, but also the invitation that you extended to me. You know what they say, “Keep your friends close, but visit the Republican Caucus every few months.” (Laughter.)
Part of the reason I accepted your invitation to come here was because I wanted to speak with all of you, and not just to all of you. So I’m looking forward to taking your questions and having a real conversation in a few moments. And I hope that the conversation we begin here doesn’t end here; that we can continue our dialogue in the days ahead. It’s important to me that we do so. It’s important to you, I think, that we do so. But most importantly, it’s important to the American people that we do so.
I’ve said this before, but I’m a big believer not just in the value of a loyal opposition, but in its necessity. Having differences of opinion, having a real debate about matters of domestic policy and national security — and that’s not something that’s only good for our country, it’s absolutely essential. It’s only through the process of disagreement and debate that bad ideas get tossed out and good ideas get refined and made better. And that kind of vigorous back and forth — that imperfect but well-founded process, messy as it often is — is at the heart of our democracy. That’s what makes us the greatest nation in the world.
So, yes, I want you to challenge my ideas, and I guarantee you that after reading this I may challenge a few of yours. (Laughter.) I want you to stand up for your beliefs, and knowing this caucus, I have no doubt that you will. I want us to have a constructive debate. The only thing I don’t want — and here I am listening to the American people, and I think they don’t want either — is for Washington to continue being so Washington-like. I know folks, when we’re in town there, spend a lot of time reading the polls and looking at focus groups and interpreting which party has the upper hand in November and in 2012 and so on and so on and so on. That’s their obsession.
And I’m not a pundit. I’m just a President, so take it for what it’s worth. But I don’t believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security. They want us to focus on their job security. (Applause.) I don’t think they want more gridlock. I don’t think they want more partisanship. I don’t think they want more obstruction. They didn’t send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. That’s not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they’re grappling with every single day.
And I think your constituents would want to know that despite the fact it doesn’t get a lot of attention, you and I have actually worked together on a number of occasions. There have been times where we’ve acted in a bipartisan fashion. And I want to thank you and your Democratic colleagues for reaching across the aisle. There has been, for example, broad support for putting in the troops necessary in Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda safe haven, to break the Taliban’s momentum, and to train Afghan security forces. There’s been broad support for disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda. And I know that we’re all united in our admiration of our troops. (Applause.)
So it may be useful for the international audience right now to understand — and certainly for our enemies to have no doubt — whatever divisions and differences may exist in Washington, the United States of America stands as one to defend our country. (Applause.)
It’s that same spirit of bipartisanship that made it possible for me to sign a defense contracting reform bill that was cosponsored by Senator McCain and members of Congress here today. We’ve stood together on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Together we passed the largest increase in the VA’s budget in more than 30 years and supported essential veterans’ health care reforms to provide better access and medical care for those who serve in uniform.
Some of you also joined Democrats in supporting a Credit Card Bill of Rights and in extending unemployment compensation to Americans who are out of work. Some of you joined us in stopping tobacco companies from targeting kids, expanding opportunities for young people to serve our country, and helping responsible homeowners stay in their homes.
So we have a track record of working together. It is possible. But, as John, you mentioned, on some very big things, we’ve seen party-line votes that, I’m just going to be honest, were disappointing. Let’s start with our efforts to jumpstart the economy last winter, when we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. Our financial system teetered on the brink of collapse and the threat of a second Great Depression loomed large. I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t understand, why we got opposition in this caucus for almost $300 billion in badly needed tax cuts for the American people, or COBRA coverage to help Americans who’ve lost jobs in this recession to keep the health insurance that they desperately needed, or opposition to putting Americans to work laying broadband and rebuilding roads and bridges and breaking ground on new construction projects.
There was an interesting headline in CNN today: “Americans disapprove of stimulus, but like every policy in it.” And there was a poll that showed that if you broke it down into its component parts, 80 percent approved of the tax cuts, 80 percent approved of the infrastructure, 80 percent approved of the assistance to the unemployed.
Well, that’s what the Recovery Act was. And let’s face it, some of you have been at the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities. Now, I understand some of you had some philosophical differences perhaps on the just the concept of government spending, but, as I recall, opposition was declared before we had a chance to actually meet and exchange ideas. And I saw that as a missed opportunity.
Now, I am happy to report this morning that we saw another sign that our economy is moving in the right direction. The latest GDP numbers show that our economy is growing by almost 6 percent — that’s the most since 2003. To put that in perspective, this time last year, we weren’t seeing positive job growth; we were seeing the economy shrink by about 6 percent.
So you’ve seen a 12 percent reversal during the course of this year. This turnaround is the biggest in nearly three decades — and it didn’t happen by accident. It happened — as economists, conservative and liberal, will attest — because of some of the steps that we took.
And by the way, you mentioned a Web site out here, John – if you want to look at what’s going on, on the Recovery Act, you can look on recovery.gov — a Web site, by the way, that was Eric Cantor’s idea.
Now, here’s the point. These are serious times, and what’s required by all of us — Democrats and Republicans — is to do what’s right for our country, even if it’s not always what’s best for our politics. I know it may be heresy to say this, but there are things more important than good poll numbers. And on this no one can accuse me of not living by my principles. (Laughter.) A middle class that’s back on its feet, an economy that lifts everybody up, an America that’s ascendant in the world — that’s more important than winning an election. Our future shouldn’t be shaped by what’s best for our politics; our politics should be shaped by what’s best for our future.
But no matter what’s happened in the past, the important thing for all of us is to move forward together. We have some issues right in front of us on which I believe we should agree, because as successful as we’ve been in spurring new economic growth, everybody understands that job growth has been lagging. Some of that’s predictable. Every economist will say jobs are a lagging indicator, but that’s no consolation for the folks who are out there suffering right now. And since 7 million Americans have lost their jobs in this recession, we’ve got to do everything we can to accelerate it.
So, today, in line with what I stated at the State of the Union, I’ve proposed a new jobs tax credit for small business. And here’s how it would work. Employers would get a tax credit of up to $5,000 for every employee they add in 2010. They’d get a tax break for increases in wages, as well. So, if you raise wages for employees making under $100,000, we’d refund part of your payroll tax for every dollar you increase those wages faster than inflation. It’s a simple concept. It’s easy to understand. It would cut taxes for more than 1 million small businesses.
So I hope you join me. Let’s get this done. I want to eliminate the capital gains tax for small business investment, and take some of the bailout money the Wall Street banks have returned and use it to help community banks start lending to small businesses again. So join me. I am confident that we can do this together for the American people. And there’s nothing in that proposal that runs contrary to the ideological predispositions of this caucus. The question is: What’s going to keep us from getting this done?
I’ve proposed a modest fee on the nation’s largest banks and financial institutions to fully recover for taxpayers’ money that they provided to the financial sector when it was teetering on the brink of collapse. And it’s designed to discourage them from taking reckless risks in the future. If you listen to the American people, John, they’ll tell you they want their money back. Let’s do this together, Republicans and Democrats.
I propose that we close tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping American jobs overseas, and instead give companies greater incentive to create jobs right here at home — right here at home. Surely, that’s something that we can do together, Republicans and Democrats.
We know that we’ve got a major fiscal challenge in reining in deficits that have been growing for a decade, and threaten our future. That’s why I’ve proposed a three-year freeze in discretionary spending other than what we need for national security. That’s something we should do together that’s consistent with a lot of the talk both in Democratic caucuses and Republican caucuses. We can’t blink when it’s time to actually do the job.
At this point, we know that the budget surpluses of the ’90s occurred in part because of the pay-as-you-go law, which said that, well, you should pay as you go and live within our means, just like families do every day. Twenty-four of you voted for that, and I appreciate it. And we were able to pass it in the Senate yesterday.
But the idea of a bipartisan fiscal commission to confront the deficits in the long term died in the Senate the other day. So I’m going to establish such a commission by executive order and I hope that you participate, fully and genuinely, in that effort, because if we’re going to actually deal with our deficit and debt, everybody here knows that we’re going to have to do it together, Republican and Democrat. No single party is going to make the tough choices involved on its own. It’s going to require all of us doing what’s right for the American people.
And as I said in the State of the Union speech, there’s not just a deficit of dollars in Washington, there is a deficit of trust. So I hope you’ll support my proposal to make all congressional earmarks public before they come to a vote. And let’s require lobbyists who exercise such influence to publicly disclose all their contacts on behalf of their clients, whether they are contacts with my administration or contacts with Congress. Let’s do the people’s business in the bright light of day, together, Republicans and Democrats.
I know how bitter and contentious the issue of health insurance reform has become. And I will eagerly look at the ideas and better solutions on the health care front. If anyone here truly believes our health insurance system is working well for people, I respect your right to say so, but I just don’t agree. And neither would millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who can’t get coverage today or find out that they lose their insurance just as they’re getting seriously ill. That’s exactly when you need insurance. And for too many people, they’re not getting it. I don’t think a system is working when small businesses are gouged and 15,000 Americans are losing coverage every single day; when premiums have doubled and out-of-pocket costs have exploded and they’re poised to do so again.
I mean, to be fair, the status quo is working for the insurance industry, but it’s not working for the American people. It’s not working for our federal budget. It needs to change.
This is a big problem, and all of us are called on to solve it. And that’s why, from the start, I sought out and supported ideas from Republicans. I even talked about an issue that has been a holy grail for a lot of you, which was tort reform, and said that I’d be willing to work together as part of a comprehensive package to deal with it. I just didn’t get a lot of nibbles.
Creating a high-risk pool for uninsured folks with preexisting conditions, that wasn’t my idea, it was Senator McCain’s. And I supported it, and it got incorporated into our approach. Allowing insurance companies to sell coverage across state lines to add choice and competition and bring down costs for businesses and consumers — that’s an idea that some of you I suspect included in this better solutions; that’s an idea that was incorporated into our package. And I support it, provided that we do it hand in hand with broader reforms that protect benefits and protect patients and protect the American people.
A number of you have suggested creating pools where self-employed and small businesses could buy insurance. That was a good idea. I embraced it. Some of you supported efforts to provide insurance to children and let kids remain covered on their parents’ insurance until they’re 25 or 26. I supported that. That’s part of our package. I supported a number of other ideas, from incentivizing wellness to creating an affordable catastrophic insurance option for young people that came from Republicans like Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe in the Senate, and I’m sure from some of you as well. So when you say I ought to be willing to accept Republican ideas on health care, let’s be clear: I have.
Bipartisanship — not for its own sake but to solve problems — that’s what our constituents, the American people, need from us right now. All of us then have a choice to make. We have to choose whether we’re going to be politicians first or partners for progress; whether we’re going to put success at the polls ahead of the lasting success we can achieve together for America. Just think about it for a while. We don’t have to put it up for a vote today.
Let me close by saying this. I was not elected by Democrats or Republicans, but by the American people. That’s especially true because the fastest growing group of Americans are independents. That should tell us both something. I’m ready and eager to work with anyone who is willing to proceed in a spirit of goodwill. But understand, if we can’t break free from partisan gridlock, if we can’t move past a politics of “no,” if resistance supplants constructive debate, I still have to meet my responsibilities as President. I’ve got to act for the greater good — because that, too, is a commitment that I have made. And that’s — that, too, is what the American people sent me to Washington to do.
So I am optimistic. I know many of you individually. And the irony, I think, of our political climate right now is that, compared to other countries, the differences between the two major parties on most issues is not as big as it’s represented. But we’ve gotten caught up in the political game in a way that’s just not healthy. It’s dividing our country in ways that are preventing us from meeting the challenges of the 21st century. I’m hopeful that the conversation we have today can help reverse that.
So thank you very much. Thank you, John. (Applause.) Now I’d like to open it up for questions.
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: The President has agreed to take questions and members would be encouraged to raise your hand while you remain in your seat. (Laughter.) The chair will take the prerogative to make the first remarks.
Mr. President, welcome back to the House Republican Conference.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: [Off microphone.] We are pleased to have you return. (Inaudible) a year ago — House Republicans said then we would make you two promises. Number one, that most of the people in this room and their families would pray for you and your beautiful family just about every day for the next four years. And I want to assure you we’re keeping that promise.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that.
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: [off microphone] Number two, our pledge to you, Mr. President, was that door is always open. And we hope the (inaudible) of our invitation that we (inaudible).
Mr. President, several of us in this conference yesterday on the way into Baltimore stopped by the Salvation Army homeless facility here in Baltimore. I met a little boy, an African American boy, in the 8th grade, named David Carter, Jr. When he heard that I would be seeing you today his eyes lit up like I had never seen. And I told him that if he wrote you a letter I’d give it to you, and I have.
But I had a conversation with little David, Jr. and David, Sr. His family has been struggling with the economy.
[On microphone.] His dad said words to me, Mr. President, that I’ll never forget. About my age and he said — he said, Congressman, it’s not like it was when we were coming up. He said, there’s just no jobs.
Now, last year about the time you met with us, unemployment was 7.5 percent in this country. Your administration, and your party in Congress, told us that we’d have to borrow more than $700 billion to pay for a so-called stimulus bill. It was a piecemeal list of projects and boutique tax cuts, all of which was — we were told — had to be passed or unemployment would go to 8 percent, as your administration said. Well, unemployment is 10 percent now, as you well know, Mr. President; here in Baltimore it’s considerably higher.
Now, Republicans offered a stimulus bill at the same time. It cost half as much as the Democratic proposal in Congress, and using your economic analyst models, it would have created twice the jobs at half the cost. It essentially was across-the-board tax relief, Mr. President.
Now we know you’ve come to Baltimore today and you’ve raised this tax credit, which was last promoted by President Jimmy Carter. But the first question I would pose to you, very respectfully, Mr. President, is would you be willing to consider embracing — in the name of little David Carter, Jr. and his dad, in the name of every struggling family in this country — the kind of across-the-board tax relief that Republicans have advocated, that President Kennedy advocated, that President Reagan advocated and that has always been the means of stimulating broad-based economic growth?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there was a lot packed into that question. (Laughter.) First of all, let me say I already promised that I’ll be writing back to that young man and his family, and I appreciate you passing on the letter.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: But let’s talk about just the jobs environment generally. You’re absolutely right that when I was sworn in the hope was that unemployment would remain around 8 [percent], or in the 8 percent range. That was just based on the estimates made by both conservative and liberal economists, because at that point not all the data had trickled in.
We had lost 650,000 jobs in December. I’m assuming you’re not faulting my policies for that. We had lost, it turns out, 700,000 jobs in January, the month I was sworn in. I’m assuming it wasn’t my administration’s policies that accounted for that. We lost another 650,000 jobs the subsequent month, before any of my policies had gone into effect. So I’m assuming that wasn’t as a consequence of our policies; that doesn’t reflect the failure of the Recovery Act. The point being that what ended up happening was that the job losses from this recession proved to be much more severe — in the first quarter of last year going into the second quarter of last year — than anybody anticipated.
So I mean, I think we can score political points on the basis of the fact that we underestimated how severe the job losses were going to be. But those job losses took place before any stimulus, whether it was the ones that you guys have proposed or the ones that we proposed, could have ever taken into effect. Now, that’s just the fact, Mike, and I don’t think anybody would dispute that. You could not find an economist who would dispute that.
Now, at the same time, as I mentioned, most economists — Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative — would say that had it not been for the stimulus package that we passed, things would be much worse. Now, they didn’t fill a 7 million hole in the number of people who were unemployed. They probably account for about 2 million, which means we still have 5 million folks in there that we’ve still got to deal with. That’s a lot of people.
The package that we put together at the beginning of the year, the truth is, should have reflected — and I believe reflected what most of you would say are common sense things. This notion that this was a radical package is just not true. A third of them were tax cuts, and they weren’t — when you say they were “boutique” tax cuts, Mike, 95 percent of working Americans got tax cuts, small businesses got tax cuts, large businesses got help in terms of their depreciation schedules. I mean, it was a pretty conventional list of tax cuts. A third of it was stabilizing state budgets.
There is not a single person in here who, had it not been for what was in the stimulus package, wouldn’t be going home to more teachers laid off, more firefighters laid off, more cops laid off. A big chunk of it was unemployment insurance and COBRA, just making sure that people had some floor beneath them, and, by the way, making sure that there was enough money in their pockets that businesses had some customers.
You take those two things out, that accounts for the majority of the stimulus package. Are there people in this room who think that was a bad idea? A portion of it was dealing with the AMT, the alternative minimum tax — not a proposal of mine; that’s not a consequence of my policies that we have a tax system where we keep on putting off a potential tax hike that is embedded in the budget that we have to fix each year. That cost about $70 billion.
And then the last portion of it was infrastructure which, as I said, a lot of you have gone to appear at ribbon-cuttings for the same projects that you voted against.
Now, I say all this not to re-litigate the past, but it’s simply to state that the component parts of the Recovery Act are consistent with what many of you say are important things to do — rebuilding our infrastructure, tax cuts for families and businesses, and making sure that we were providing states and individuals some support when the roof was caving in.
And the notion that I would somehow resist doing something that cost half as much but would produce twice as many jobs — why would I resist that? I wouldn’t. I mean, that’s my point, is that — I am not an ideologue. I’m not. It doesn’t make sense if somebody could tell me you could do this cheaper and get increased results that I wouldn’t say, great. The problem is, I couldn’t find credible economists who would back up the claims that you just made.
Now, we can — here’s what I know going forward, though. I mean, we’re talking — we were talking about the past. We can talk about this going forward. I have looked at every idea out there in terms of accelerating job growth to match the economic growth that’s already taken place. The jobs credit that I’m discussing right now is one that a lot of people think would be the most cost-effective way for encouraging people to pick up their hiring.
There may be other ideas that you guys have; I am happy to look at them and I’m happy to embrace them. I suspect I will embrace some of them. Some of them I’ve already embraced.
But the question I think we’re going to have to ask ourselves is, as we move forward, are we going to be examining each of these issues based on what’s good for the country, what the evidence tells us, or are we going to be trying to position ourselves so that come November we’re able to say, “The other party, it’s their fault.” If we take the latter approach then we’re probably not going to get much agreement. If we take the former, I suspect there’s going to be a lot of overlap. All right?
Q Mr. President, will you consider supporting across-the-board tax relief, as President Kennedy did?
THE PRESIDENT: Here’s what I’m going to do, Mike. What I’m going to do is I’m going to take a look at what you guys are proposing. And the reason I say this, before you say, “Okay,” I think is important to know — what you may consider across-the-board tax cuts could be, for example, greater tax cuts for people who are making a billion dollars. I may not agree to a tax cut for Warren Buffet. You may be calling for an across-the-board tax cut for the banking industry right now. I may not agree to that.
So I think that we’ve got to look at what specific proposals you’re putting forward, and — this is the last point I’ll make — if you’re calling for just across-the-board tax cuts, and then on the other hand saying that we’re somehow going to balance our budget, I’m going to want to take a look at your math and see how that works, because the issue of deficit and debt is another area where there has been a tendency for some inconsistent statements. How’s that? All right?
CONGRESSMAN RYAN: Thank you. Mr. President, first off, thanks for agreeing to accept our invitation here. It is a real pleasure and honor to have you with us here today.
THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you. Is this your crew right here, by the way?
CONGRESSMAN RYAN: It is. This is my daughter Liza, my son Charlie and Sam, and this is my wife Janna.
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, guys.
CONGRESSMAN RYAN: Say hi, everybody. (Laughter.) I serve as a ranking member of the budget committee, so I’m going to talk a little budget if you don’t mind. The spending bills that you’ve signed into law, the domestic discretionary spending has been increased by 84 percent. You now want to freeze spending at this elevated beginning next year. This means that total spending in your budget would grow at 3/100ths of 1 percent less than otherwise. I would simply submit that we could do more and start now.
You’ve also said that you want to take a scalpel to the budget and go through it line by line. We want to give you that scalpel. I have a proposal with my home state senator, Russ Feingold, bipartisan proposal, to create a constitutional version of the line-item veto. (Applause.) Problem is, we can’t even get a vote on the proposal.
So my question is, why not start freezing spending now, and would you support a line-item veto in helping us get a vote on it in the House?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me respond to the two specific questions, but I want to just push back a little bit on the underlying premise about us increasing spending by 84 percent.
Now, look, I talked to Peter Orszag right before I came here, because I suspected I’d be hearing this — I’d be hearing this argument. The fact of the matter is, is that most of the increases in this year’s budget, this past year’s budget, were not as a consequence of policies that we initiated but instead were built in as a consequence of the automatic stabilizers that kick in because of this enormous recession.
So the increase in the budget for this past year was actually predicted before I was even sworn into office and had initiated any policies. Whoever was in there, Paul — and I don’t think you’ll dispute that — whoever was in there would have seen those same increases because of, on the one hand, huge drops in revenue, but at the same time people were hurting and needed help. And a lot of these things happened automatically.
Now, the reason that I’m not proposing the discretionary freeze take into effect this year — we prepared a budget for 2010, it’s now going forward — is, again, I am just listening to the consensus among people who know the economy best. And what they will say is that if you either increase taxes or significantly lowered spending when the economy remains somewhat fragile, that that would have a destimulative effect and potentially you’d see a lot of folks losing business, more folks potentially losing jobs. That would be a mistake when the economy has not fully taken off. That’s why I’ve proposed to do it for the next fiscal year. So that’s point number two.
With respect to the line-item veto, I actually — I think there’s not a President out there that wouldn’t love to have it. And I think that this is an area where we can have a serious conversation. I know it is a bipartisan proposal by you and Russ Feingold. I don’t like being held up with big bills that have stuff in them that are wasteful but I’ve got to sign because it’s a defense authorization bill and I’ve got to make sure that our troops are getting the funding that they need.
I will tell you, I would love for Congress itself to show discipline on both sides of the aisle. I think one thing that you have to acknowledge, Paul, because you study this stuff and take it pretty seriously, that the earmarks problem is not unique to one party and you end up getting a lot of pushback when you start going after specific projects of any one of you in your districts, because wasteful spending is usually spent somehow outside of your district. Have you noticed that? The spending in your district tends to seem pretty sensible.
So I would love to see more restraint within Congress. I’d like to work on the earmarks reforms that I mentioned in terms of putting earmarks online, because I think sunshine is the best disinfectant. But I am willing to have a serious conversation on the line-item veto issue.
CONGRESSMAN RYAN: I’d like to walk you through that, because we have a version we think is constitutional.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me take a look at it.
CONGRESSMAN RYAN: I would simply say that automatic stabilizer spending is mandatory spending. The discretionary spending, the bills that Congress signs that you sign into law, that has increased 84 percent.
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll have a longer debate on the budget numbers, all right?
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia.
CONGRESSWOMAN CAPITO: Thank you, Mr. President, for joining us here today. As you said in the State of the Union address on Wednesday, jobs and the economy are number one. And I think everyone in this room, certainly I, agree with you on that.
I represent the state of West Virginia. We’re resource-rich. We have a lot of coal and a lot of natural gas. But our — my miners and the folks who are working and those who are unemployed are very concerned about some of your policies in these areas: cap and trade, an aggressive EPA, and the looming prospect of higher taxes. In our minds, these are job-killing policies. So I’m asking you if you would be willing to re-look at some of these policies, with a high unemployment and the unsure economy that we have now, to assure West Virginians that you’re listening.
THE PRESIDENT: Look, I listen all the time, including to your governor, who’s somebody who I enjoyed working with a lot before the campaign and now that I’m President. And I know that West Virginia struggles with unemployment, and I know how important coal is to West Virginia and a lot of the natural resources there. That’s part of the reason why I’ve said that we need a comprehensive energy policy that sets us up for a long-term future.
For example, nobody has been a bigger promoter of clean coal technology than I am. Testament to that, I ended up being in a whole bunch of advertisements that you guys saw all the time about investing in ways for us to burn coal more cleanly.
I’ve said that I’m a promoter of nuclear energy, something that I think over the last three decades has been subject to a lot of partisan wrangling and ideological wrangling. I don’t think it makes sense. I think that that has to be part of our energy mix. I’ve said that I am supportive — and I said this two nights ago at the State of the Union — that I am in favor of increased production.
So if you look at the ideas that this caucus has, again with respect to energy, I’m for a lot of what you said you are for.
The one thing that I’ve also said, though, and here we have a serious disagreement and my hope is we can work through these disagreements — there’s going to be an effort on the Senate side to do so on a bipartisan basis — is that we have to plan for the future.
And the future is that clean energy — cleaner forms of energy are going to be increasingly important, because even if folks are still skeptical in some cases about climate change in our politics and in Congress, the world is not skeptical about it. If we’re going to be after some of these big markets, they’re going to be looking to see, is the United States the one that’s developing clean coal technology? Is the United States developing our natural gas resources in the most effective way? Is the United States the one that is going to lead in electric cars? Because if we’re not leading, those other countries are going to be leading.
So what I want to do is work with West Virginia to figure out how we can seize that future. But to do that, that means there’s going to have to be some transition. We can’t operate the coal industry in the United States as if we’re still in the 1920s or the 1930s or the 1950s. We’ve got to be thinking what does that industry look like in the next hundred years. And it’s going to be different. And that means there’s going to be some transition. And that’s where I think a well-thought-through policy of incentivizing the new while recognizing that there’s going to be a transition process — and we’re not just suddenly putting the old out of business right away — that has to be something that both Republicans and Democrats should be able to embrace.
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: Jason Chaffetz, Utah.
CONGRESSMAN CHAFFETZ: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s truly an honor.
THE PRESIDENT: Great to be here.
CONGRESSMAN CHAFFETZ: And I appreciate you being here.
I’m one of 22 House freshmen. We didn’t create this mess, but we are here to help clean it up. You talked a lot about this deficit of trust. There’s some things that have happened that I would appreciate your perspective on, because I can look you in the eye and tell you we have not been obstructionists. Democrats have the House and Senate and the presidency. And when you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn’t. And I was disappointed, and I think a lot of Americans were disappointed.
You said you weren’t going to allow lobbyists in the senior-most positions within your administration, and yet you did. I applauded you when you said it — and disappointed when you didn’t.
You said you’d go line by line through the health care debate — or through the health care bill. And there were six of us, including Dr. Phil Roe, who sent you a letter and said, “We would like to take you up on the offer; we’d like to come.” We never heard a letter, we never got a call. We were never involved in any of those discussions.
And when you said in the House of Representatives that you were going to tackle earmarks — in fact, you didn’t want to have any earmarks in any of your bills — I jumped up out of my seat and applauded you. But it didn’t happen.
More importantly, I want to talk about moving forward, but if we could address –
THE PRESIDENT: Well, how about –
CONGRESSMAN CHAFFETZ: – I would certainly appreciate it.
THE PRESIDENT: That was a long list, so — (laughter) — let me respond.
Look, the truth of the matter is that if you look at the health care process — just over the course of the year — overwhelmingly the majority of it actually was on C-SPAN, because it was taking place in congressional hearings in which you guys were participating. I mean, how many committees were there that helped to shape this bill? Countless hearings took place.
Now, I kicked it off, by the way, with a meeting with many of you, including your key leadership. What is true, there’s no doubt about it, is that once it got through the committee process and there were now a series of meetings taking place all over the Capitol trying to figure out how to get the thing together — that was a messy process. And I take responsibility for not having structured it in a way where it was all taking place in one place that could be filmed. How to do that logistically would not have been as easy as it sounds, because you’re shuttling back and forth between the House, the Senate, different offices, et cetera, different legislators. But I think it’s a legitimate criticism. So on that one, I take responsibility.
With respect to earmarks, we didn’t have earmarks in the Recovery Act. We didn’t get a lot of credit for it, but there were no earmarks in that. I was confronted at the beginning of my term with an omnibus package that did have a lot of earmarks from Republicans and Democrats, and a lot of people in this chamber. And the question was whether I was going to have a big budget fight, at a time when I was still trying to figure out whether or not the financial system was melting down and we had to make a whole bunch of emergency decisions about the economy. So what I said was let’s keep them to a minimum, but I couldn’t excise them all.
Now, the challenge I guess I would have for you as a freshman, is what are you doing inside your caucus to make sure that I’m not the only guy who is responsible for this stuff, so that we’re working together, because this is going to be a process?
When we talk about earmarks, I think all of us are willing to acknowledge that some of them are perfectly defensible, good projects; it’s just they haven’t gone through the regular appropriations process in the full light of day. So one place to start is to make sure that they are at least transparent, that everybody knows what’s there before we move forward.
In terms of lobbyists, I can stand here unequivocally and say that there has not been an administration who was tougher on making sure that lobbyists weren’t participating in the administration than any administration that’s come before us.
Now, what we did was, if there were lobbyists who were on boards and commissions that were carryovers and their term hadn’t been completed, we didn’t kick them off. We simply said that moving forward any time a new slot opens, they’re being replaced.
So we’ve actually been very consistent in making sure that we are eliminating the impact of lobbyists, day in, day out, on how this administration operates. There have been a handful of waivers where somebody is highly skilled — for example, a doctor who ran Tobacco-Free Kids technically is a registered lobbyist; on the other end, has more experience than anybody in figuring out how kids don’t get hooked on cigarettes.
So there have been a couple of instances like that, but generally we’ve been very consistent on that front.
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee.
CONGRESSMAN BLACKBURN: Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for acknowledging that we have ideas on health care because, indeed, we do have ideas, we have plans, we have over 50 bills, we have lots of amendments that would bring health care ideas to the forefront. We would — we’ve got plans to lower cost, to change purchasing models, address medical liability, insurance accountability, chronic and preexisting conditions, and access to affordable care for those with those conditions, insurance portability, expanded access — but not doing it with creating more government, more bureaucracy, and more cost for the American taxpayer.
And we look forward to sharing those ideas with you. We want to work with you on health reform and making certain that we do it in an affordable, cost-effective way that is going to reduce bureaucracy, reduce government interference, and reduce costs to individuals and to taxpayers. And if those good ideas aren’t making it to you, maybe it’s the House Democrat leadership that is an impediment instead of a conduit.
But we’re concerned also that there are some lessons learned from public option health care plans that maybe are not being heeded. And certainly in my state of Tennessee, we were the test case for public option health care in 1994, and our Democrat government has even cautioned that maybe our experiences there would provide some lessons learned that should be heeded, and would provide guidance for us to go forward. And as you said, what we should be doing is tossing old ideas out, bad ideas out, and moving forward in refining good ideas. And certainly we would welcome that opportunity.
So my question to you is, when will we look forward to starting anew and sitting down with you to put all of these ideas on the table, to look at these lessons learned, to benefit from that experience, and to produce a product that is going to reduce government interference, reduce cost, and be fair to the American taxpayer? (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Actually, I’ve gotten many of your ideas. I’ve taken a look at them, even before I was handed this. Some of the ideas we have embraced in our package. Some of them are embraced with caveats. So let me give you an example.
I think one of the proposals that has been focused on by the Republicans as a way to reduce costs is allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines. We actually include that as part of our approach. But the caveat is, we’ve got to do so with some minimum standards, because otherwise what happens is that you could have insurance companies circumvent a whole bunch of state regulations about basic benefits or what have you, making sure that a woman is able to get mammograms as part of preventive care, for example. Part of what could happen is insurance companies could go into states and cherry-pick and just get those who are healthiest and leave behind those who are least healthy, which would raise everybody’s premiums who weren’t healthy, right?
So it’s not that many of these ideas aren’t workable, but we have to refine them to make sure that they don’t just end up worsening the situation for folks rather than making it better.
Now, what I said at the State of the Union is what I still believe: If you can show me — and if I get confirmation from health care experts, people who know the system and how it works, including doctors and nurses — ways of reducing people’s premiums; covering those who do not have insurance; making it more affordable for small businesses; having insurance reforms that ensure people have insurance even when they’ve got preexisting conditions, that their coverage is not dropped just because they’re sick, that young people right out of college or as they’re entering in the workforce can still get health insurance — if those component parts are things that you care about and want to do, I’m game. And I’ve got — and I’ve got a lot of these ideas.
The last thing I will say, though — let me say this about health care and the health care debate, because I think it also bears on a whole lot of other issues. If you look at the package that we’ve presented — and there’s some stray cats and dogs that got in there that we were eliminating, we were in the process of eliminating. For example, we said from the start that it was going to be important for us to be consistent in saying to people if you can have your — if you want to keep the health insurance you got, you can keep it, that you’re not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decision making. And I think that some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge.
And so we were in the process of scrubbing this and making sure that it’s tight. But at its core, if you look at the basic proposal that we’ve put forward: it has an exchange so that businesses and the self-employed can buy into a pool and can get bargaining power the same way big companies do; the insurance reforms that I’ve already discussed, making sure that there’s choice and competition for those who don’t have health insurance. The component parts of this thing are pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole, and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year.
Now, you may not agree with Bob Dole and Howard Baker, and, certainly you don’t agree with Tom Daschle on much, but that’s not a radical bunch. But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. No, I mean, that’s how you guys — (applause) — that’s how you guys presented it.
And so I’m thinking to myself, well, how is it that a plan that is pretty centrist — no, look, I mean, I’m just saying, I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans — is similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.
So all I’m saying is, we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.
I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.
And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It’s not just on your side, by the way — it’s on our side, as well. This is part of what’s happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: Dr. Tom Price from Georgia, and then we’ll have