OTR Interviews

'Twas Days Before Christmas and Your Taxes Are About to Go Up, and Not a Creature Is Stirring in Washington ... Not Even Your Congressman

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the frustrating payroll tax cut extension impasse in Congress, why Obama should show leadership and why a 2-month deal isn't viable


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 20, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) of course has just said he appealed to you personally. He said, I need John Boehner to help out.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I need the president to help out! All right?



GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: House Speaker John Boehner calls on President Obama to bring the Senate back to work. And now the House and the Senate have drawn the line in the sand. It's all about the payroll tax cut extension. The deadline or your taxes go up is December 31st. So exactly where are the lawmakers? You think they're burning the midnight oil? Not exactly. Most lawmakers have left the Capitol and have left Washington, headed home for the holidays. So now what?

We spoke with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier tonight.


VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, nice to see you.

REP. ERIC CANTOR, MAJORITY LEADER: Greta, always nice to see you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I want you to know that we walked through the U.S. Capitol, and you are the only member of Congress that I've seen. It looks like everybody has fled. Everybody in the Senate's gone. Everybody in the House has gone. And your business is unfinished.

CANTOR: Well, that is true. And what we did today in the House is we called upon the Senate to join us in conference so we can sit down, work out differences and make sure that there's not going to be a tax increase on the working people of this country next year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I'll even do a little bit of help for you. It goes a little bit farther back than that because The House actually passed a bill originally about a week ago, right?

CANTOR: That's...

VAN SUSTEREN: That called for a year extension of the tax cut. And then on Saturday, the Senate passed theirs, which was different, which said only two months. And now the president wants you to accept the Senate's.

CANTOR: Right. And really, what's going on is everybody on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol, both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue want a year's-long tax holiday extension.

VAN SUSTEREN: Then where is everybody?

CANTOR: Well, exactly. And that's exactly what we're left wondering. And the House is committed to working through this process. And the fact is, the differences are not that great. We're not that far apart on this. And the president himself has said that it's inexcusable for Congress not to extend tax relief for working families for the entire year.

And that's exactly where we are. So we've got about 10 days or so before the end of the year, and that's plenty of time enough for us to go in, solve the differences, sit down, roll up our sleeves, work through a compromise so we can get the thing done. And that's exactly what we're trying to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that going to happen? Because it looks like everybody's fled town.

CANTOR: Well, what happened today is the bill itself is back into the hands of the Senate. Now, Harry Reid has got a decision to make in whether he is going to come back, appoint conferees so we can get the work done for the people.

And you know, I just come from a standpoint to say, Look, what the Senate passed is unworkable. You know, the people that are in the business of payroll administration have said that prescription of a 60-day extension could cause increased uncertainty and costs and could actually hurt workers and small businesses. And I think right now, given the economic times and the tough year that people have had, they don't need that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, even getting -- even before getting to that point, whether the two-month is a good idea versus the year -- and of course, if we do the two-month, we're going to have the same problem...

CANTOR: Same thing again.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... in two months. No, I understand that. But I think what many American people feel is, like, this gets put up to the deadline, and then we have this fighting back and forth. The president came out today and he chastised the House Republicans, and it looks like everybody has fled town. And the American people are sitting there back at home, saying, Well, you know -- and I do say -- I note that you are here, I might add. You're the only one here that I see -- is the American people sit back and say, you know, How can do you that to us? You know, How can you not sit down and talk?

CANTOR: Well, that's exactly what we have done today. And the speaker has appointed the House conferees. You know, I have asked that -- when I was on the floor talking with the minority whip, Steny Hoyer, that he and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi go ahead and appoint their conferees so we can get to work. It doesn't have to go down to the wire. We really aren't that far apart. And we're here wanting to work. Our conferees will be here tomorrow, ready to go to work. And we're asking Harry Reid to come back to town because the bill is now in the Senate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is he going to do that? Is Senator Harry Reid -- do you have any indication he's going to take up the operatives -- the conferees? Any indication?

CANTOR: I have none yet, but I would say again it's up to him because the ball's in his court now and -- because the House has acted. We rejected the 60-day extension. And we said, Look, sit down with us. We want a year. And really, the differences on how we take care of the budget impact of the year-long tax holiday extension -- that's all. And we're not that far apart, given the so-called "pay fors" of how we get there. And we can sit down and do this.

And I think, really, as we approach Christmas, as the American people are looking at the new year, it's really time I think to show what we can do together to produce a result, rather than always resort to what Washington can't do and give excuses.

VAN SUSTEREN: The president scolded you today, scolded the House Republicans. Is there something the president should be doing to facilitate getting Senator Harry Reid to appoint his conferees to sit down to meet with your conferees and to resolve this?

CANTOR: One of the things that president said was that there are extraneous issues involved and that's why the House Republicans have taken the position that we are. And that's just not the case. I mean, really, the difference here is a year versus 60 days. That's it, because the other issues have really been resolved in the prior discussions.

And all we're talking about now is are we going to give working families the certainty that they deserve, or are we going to ask working people to operate on a two-month basis? And I think the latter is really an untenable position. How do people operate with their expenses and managing their household budgets when they don't know what their tax liability is going to be?

VAN SUSTEREN: And I think the American people -- I think it bothers them most, whether they agree with the Republican version or the Democratic version, I think the most troubling thing is that it's just going two months down the road we're going to be going through the same thing. And there's a lot of -- I mean, a lot of people are really disappointed in Congress.

CANTOR: Right. Well, the dysfunctional aspect is this. Why should we settle for a 60-day extension when everybody, Democrats, Republicans, House Senate and the president, all say we should do a year? No wonder people are scratching their heads, wondering what's going on in Washington. We all know that a year is where we need to go. Let's do it. There aren't a lot of differences here.

Harry Reid ought to come back to town, ought to appoint conferees, Nancy Pelosi ought to appoint conferees so that we can get the work done of the people and do so, so they can have some certainty going into the new year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me know. We walked through the Capitol. It's like a ghost town. You're the only one that we see that has lights on in the place. Maybe there are others here. But I do acknowledge the fact that you're still here working, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you.

CANTOR: Thank you, Greta.