OTR Interviews

Exclusive: Boehner - President Obama 'Too Busy Campaigning' to Be Reached to Discuss 'Common Ground'

House Speaker on Pres. Obama's jobs bill's defeat in the Senate, the quest for bipartisan cooperation and more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 12, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Only here, Speaker of the House John Boehner.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, nice to see you.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Greta, good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I want to talk to you about jobs, but first I want to ask about something you said earlier today, that you want -- that you want the administration to hold Iran's feet to the fire. Exactly what do you mean by holding their feet to the fire? What do you envision as something that would be the smart thing do?

BOEHNER: Well, last year, the Congress passed the Iran Sanctions Act, which gave the administration a toolbox of potential tools they could use to increase sanctions against the Iranians. And the administration has these tools. They're available. And I would believe that they need to use these tools.

VAN SUSTEREN: They aren't using them?

BOEHNER: They are not using all the tools that were given to them by the Congress.

VAN SUSTEREN: So there's some latitude to sort of amp up the sanctions, essentially.

BOEHNER: They certainly are.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you believe sanctions would be effective in sending a message to Iran?

BOEHNER: I think the sanctions that we have in place from the United States, the European Union and others have had an effect on the Iranians, but I believe that more needs to be done.

VAN SUSTEREN: Anything -- what about military action? Are you opposed to putting that on the table right now?

BOEHNER: I don't think you should take any options off the table, but I think there are other tools that are available that will help us achieve an outcome here that would be beneficial for the world.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. We now seem to be in Plan B with jobs. The bill in the Senate failed yesterday. And so now where are we in the present jobs bill? And what would you like to see being done?

BOEHNER: Well, the Senate rejected the president's job bill on a bipartisan basis. And what they rejected was the idea that we ought to tax the very people that we expect to create jobs in America. If we're really serious about creating jobs in our country, we've to take real action.

House Republicans had our plan for America's job creators that we outlined back in May. We've been working on it all year. And frankly, what we're trying to do is to find common ground with the administration. I don't expect the president to agree with everything that's in our plan. And frankly, I don't agree with everything that's in his plan.

But what the American people expect of us is to work together to find some common ground. We're taking a big step today. We're passing the three free trade agreements that have been here for some time, sitting downtown. The president sent them up here nine days ago. We're taking action today in both the House and the Senate -- free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, a step in the right direction where we have agreement.

I believe when it comes to things like infrastructure spending, there was a way for us to find common ground. There are a number of other issues that we're moving through the Congress where the president and Congress do, in fact, agree.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, you talk about common ground. Today, the president said something to a Latino group that didn't sound exactly like you're on the same page. He says that the audience, a Latino group, needs to -- he needs their help in reminding their member of Congress who they work for. So it doesn't sound that this is -- you know, it sounds more like there's a line in the sand, almost a declaration of war if you're not both looking for a common ground.

BOEHNER: Well, in our "Pledge to America" that we outlined almost a year ago, on the eve of the last election, one of the commitments we made was to listen to the American people and to follow the lead of the American people. And trust me, we're continuing to listen to the American people.

And the American people are telling us, Here's what you need to do. Stop the regulatory onslaught coming out of Washington. Fix this tax code so that American companies can be more competitive in a worldwide economy. And then thirdly, stop the overspending that's serving as a wet blanket over our economy.

So we're working on the main planks of our plan to help job creators begin to create jobs. We're looking for common ground with the president. We're up here legislating. We're working. The president is out campaigning. Maybe he ought to sit down with Congress, members of both parties, to see if we can't find more common ground in which -- to achieve the goals that the American people sent us here to achieve.

VAN SUSTEREN: When was the last time you had a conversation with the president where you talked about common ground?

BOEHNER: Good question. I don't know. We really haven't -- we've had one conversation I think since Labor Day, but it's been several months since we've had a real sit-down and a chance to talk about how we move the country forward together.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it seems to me that maybe one of you ought to make a phone call to the other and say, Let's get together and look for this common ground. It doesn't work that way?

BOEHNER: It sounds like he's too busy campaigning to get ahold of him.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you can't reach him.

BOEHNER: I think it's a good suggestion.

VAN SUSTEREN: What common ground do you think you have with the president? I mean, (INAUDIBLE) we sort this. What -- what's sort of a given in terms of common ground on a jobs bill?

BOEHNER: Well, I think we've already talked about several of these things, whether the trade bill, part of his agenda, part of our agenda, moving those bills through the Congress today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you like that, but the president doesn't -- I mean, that trade bill hasn't been moving, you know, with lightning speed in terms of enthusiasm from the White House.

BOEHNER: No, but it was part of their overall jobs package that we agree with. It's part of our jobs package. There's a 3 percent tax on every contractor who does business with any level of government. The president's called for that to be removed. We've called for that to be removed. And there's more common ground here than what meets the eye.

I think when it comes to infrastructure spending, while we may not do it in an infrastructure bank, I do believe that we've got to find the funds to take care of our basic infrastructure around the country, whether it's highways, rails. There's a big need there. And we've been stuck on a highway bill between the administration and the Congress now for years. It needs to be resolved.

VAN SUSTEREN: So tell me the mechanics. Do you want to go to your jobs bill and sit down with the president and say, OK, where do we agree, where do we disagree, or do you want to go to the bill that just failed in the Senate and do it that way?

BOEHNER: Well, I'll give you an example. We sent the president a letter nearly a month ago outlining a half a dozen areas of common agreement. We also outlined some areas where we thought we'd have a difficult time coming to an agreement. So why don't we focus first on those things that we do, in fact, agree on to see if we can't work together to get those done?

VAN SUSTEREN: See, I think that's where -- I mean, when the Senate bill failed yesterday and the president seems to say, Let's look at it piecemeal, I thought that was a victory for the Republicans because where you agree, you'll get that. Where you disagree with what the president wants, that apparently is not going to happen.

BOEHNER: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: So it looks strategically like you got the better end of that one.

BOEHNER: Well, it's not about a victory for Republicans or Democrats...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, (INAUDIBLE) for your position.

BOEHNER: This is about -- this is about doing the right thing for the American people. They know we have disagreements between Democrats and Republicans, but they do expect us to work together to find areas where we can at least agree, take a step in the right direction, and then begin to look for another place that we can agree, find common ground, and move.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you both agree on certain tax cuts in the president's bill, right, certain areas where there's tax cuts? You agree on that?

BOEHNER: In some areas, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's where there's some common ground. But where I can't see any Republican agreement is the president's revenue source to finance those tax cuts, which, of course, he's talking about the -- you know, taxing -- he was talking about $250,000 and up, and of course, the Democrats in the Senate were saying a surcharge on millionaires. So you agree on tax cuts, but not on source of revenue. And so that doesn't look like a particularly strong position for the president, having lost now in the Senate.

BOEHNER: Well, I just don't believe that raising taxes in this weak economy makes any sense at all. You know, in the House, a member from the Democrat side introduced the president's job bill at the president's request. But there's not one Democrat co-sponsor in the House.


BOEHNER: And the fact is...


BOEHNER: Not one on this bill. Not one, other than the person who filed the bill. They have no co-sponsors as of the end of last week. And so what you see here is that it's not just Republicans who are in disagreement with the president's so-called jobs plan, it's a bipartisan group. And you saw that vote in the Senate the same way yesterday.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you talk about taxes, I'm curious -- and I'm not asking you to endorse Mr. Herman Cain's 9-9-9. I'm not even asking whether you think it's a good idea or not. But I'm curious, is there an appetite in the House of Representatives to do something dramatic with the tax code, I mean, to really almost start over and redesign it, or not?

BOEHNER: We believe that both on business income and personal income, the top tax rate ought to be 25 percent. And that's our goal. And so as we begin to restructure this, what we're going to do is look at the credits, the carve-outs, a lot of things that have been built into the code for specific groups of people, or in some cases, a very small group, maybe one person, in order to bring those tax rates down, especially on the business side, which I think is doable here in the short term. That would make our economy more competitive, make American products more competitive. It would give us an advantage in terms of getting more people back to work.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I'm curious whether there's an appetite to do something really simplistic, rather than as the commission -- the president's commission last year said there's something like 3,300 or 3,500 loopholes, I mean, like -- and some people pay less tax rate than other -- Warren Buffet pays 17 percent, my high -- my tax rate's higher. A lot of other Americans are higher.

I mean, it is a very complicated tax code. People don't even do their own taxes anymore because...

BOEHNER: It's very complicated. And over the last 10 years, there have been 5,000 changes to the tax code. Now, those 5,000 changes, I'm sure people weren't coming in and lobbying and saying, Hey, raise my taxes. And so I do think that closing a lot of these loopholes and getting rid of a lot of the credits and deductions -- with that, you can bring the rates down, simplify the code, and we'd have a more effective tax code, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: So simplify, close the loopholes, but not dramatically overhaul it.

BOEHNER: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: To the point where something so simplistic as -- and I throw it out again, 9-9-9, because that's what Herman Cain -- Mr. Herman Cain has put it out there.

BOEHNER: If you had a clean sheet of paper, you could do something very simple. You could go to a flat tax. You could go to a fair tax. You could go to a 9-9-9 if you had a clean sheet of paper. But we don't have a clean sheet of paper. We've got an existing tax code, and doing what I'm suggesting, making it simpler, fairer and flatter is what is doable in this political context.

VAN SUSTEREN: And keeping in mind, of course, creating jobs.

BOEHNER: Got to have a more competitive economy if we're going to create jobs.