GOP lawmakers gear up to block waiver of welfare work rule

Reaction from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," September 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF "YOUR WORLD": You are looking live right now at the House floor. Lawmakers are gearing up to vote on a resolution to block waiving work requirements in the welfare reform law.

Let's just say it's an issue that has the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, fuming.


REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-VA. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: If you look at what the president's been about since he has been in office, it has been really about waiving the work requirement, especially when it has to do with the food stamp program.

So, without -- with all the rancor and everything, I decided to ask the Congressional Research Service, which is as you know a nonpartisan arm of the Congress, to take a look at -- and this is their study -- to take a look at the history of the SNAP program, the food stamp program, under the Obama administration.

Well, the Obama administration and the president asked for the waiver of the work requirement in the stimulus bill. And what we have seen is that the president continually has supported waiving the work requirement. And the impact of that on the food stamp program is we have seen a doubling of the population that would otherwise be required to work under the food stamp population that is now -- that were benefiting from the program when you didn't put the work requirement in.


CAVUTO: But, congressman, could you argue that a lot of those people are on food stamps because the poverty rate has increased, the economy's been iffy at best, and so it is natural that it would increase to this level?

CANTOR: No question that, in a tougher economy, you're going to see the rolls swell.

But that population only swelled about over 40 percent. What we're talking about is, able-bodied individuals without dependents who would otherwise be subjected to the work requirement. That population itself more than doubled.

It was over a 100-and-some percent increase. And this is the point. Nobody wants to take away these benefits from people in need. What we want to do is make sure that they begin to need them less, which means they'd get back to work.

And this work requirement includes the ability to go to a training program. And, again, so it makes no sense as to why the president would be asking for these waivers. History has shown he's supported waivers throughout his presidency on the SNAP program, or the food stamp program, which is why I believe you see him asking for the waiver of the work requirement again under welfare. We're against that.


CAVUTO: But you could flip this around with the -- I understand where you're coming from, congressman.

But Democrats will seize on your remarks today, others on the heels of Mitt Romney's 47 percent remarks, and say, see; the Republicans have a dismissive view of the needy.

How would you answer that?


CANTOR: That is not true. We have a bill on the floor that we will vote on this afternoon that we will vote on today that is a bill that overturns the administration's move to lift the waiver requirements for work.

And what we say is this. We want -- we do not want to take away from people in need the safety net. We don't. What we want to try and do is make sure that less people need that safety net. And the way you do it is you help them get back to work. You help them access training programs.

We want life to work for people. We do not want to just rob them of what they need. We want them to need the safety net less and to get back into a productive mode so they can begin to determine their own destiny. That's what we want to try and do.

CAVUTO: By the way, I mentioned Mitt Romney and the 47 percent remarks. And he's trying to bounce back from that.

What did you think of what he said?

CANTOR: Well, again, I think that what we want to be focused is on the fact that Republicans care about people's well-being.

The purpose of some of the fiscal policies we put on the table is to actually sustain the safety nets, again, to make sure that people who need the safety nets have access to those safety net programs.

CAVUTO: So, you don't think he was throwing half the people in this country under the bus or saying, the hell with you, I'm not getting anywhere with you?

CANTOR: No, I don't.

I think again it's a distraction that the Obama campaign is trying to put out there to take away from their record, which has been a failure, because I do believe that you talk to most people in the country. They know that we can do better in America. They know that their life can work better if it were just for better leadership in Washington. And that's what this election is about.

CAVUTO: But are you worried about how it's resonating in the polls?

And I know -- and you and I talked at the convention how it's very early to make a big deal out of polls and swings. But, in battleground states, things are not looking good for this ticket, and, more to the point, maybe even the Senate for Republicans.

In your own state of Virginia, the Democrat has pulled out to a four or five-point lead depending on the poll. So hopes of the Republicans taking the Senate might look a little iffy now. Who knows? As you remind me again, time tells, but that, somehow, Republicans are not seizing the initiative or botching it.

What do you say?

CANTOR: Well, I know, in Virginia, Neil, that the issue is about jobs, it's about helping people get back to work.

We have a huge issue in the commonwealth about the defense cuts.

CAVUTO: Right.

CANTOR: Obviously, we are a defense-rich state. And this president has failed to put a solution on the table that would help avoid the defense cuts.


CAVUTO: Yes, but you guys signed on to that sequestration that now means these defense cuts, right?

CANTOR: Well, as you know, Neil, the House has taken action to say we don't want these defense cuts. We want to act in a fiscally responsible way to make sure that we are beginning to slim down the federal spending, but don't do it in a way which disproportionately impacts our defense-related jobs.


CAVUTO: Were you surprised then, congressman, when Mitt Romney had criticized the whole sequestration thing, and actually both sides, Republicans and the White House, for how that was handled, what, a year ago now, right, sir? He said: "This sequestration idea of the White House, which is cutting our defense, I think, is an extraordinary miscalculation." These were his remarks on "Meet the Press."

He went on to say: "I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it, and I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it."

CANTOR: Well, the reality is we were in a very difficult situation with the country poised to really enter into a stage in which we've not been into, which was the possibility that the country would default on its debt.

We didn't ever want that to happen. No one wants to bring this country into a default. And so we operated in good faith that we could come together and solve these problems for the good of all of the country. And, unfortunately, the president and his administration has not seemed willing to want to join us in trying to solve these problems.

Again, that's what this election is about, really, Neil. It's about, are we going to have a leader in place to solve problems and really one that understands the plight of so many Americans that want to get back to work and a president who understands how to create an environment for small businesses to begin creating jobs again?

CAVUTO: What does your gut tell you, then, congressman, about how we are going to deal with this fiscal train wreck we're looking at the end of the year when all the Bush rates expire and we've got the Medicare payroll tax issue to deal with, the AMT? I could go on and on and on.

But they all sort of pile up like planes backing at La Guardia here at the same time. Is it your thinking that everything is kicked down the road for another quarter, another three months, six months until everyone can deal with this in a calmer fashion? A lame-duck Congress deals with it? What?

CANTOR: Well, I think so much of the existence, if you will, of the fiscal cliff comes from the very difficult time that the country's been to and frankly the disagreements in Washington over the last two years.

Much of that has to do with tax rates. And this election will decide whether tax rates go up or not. If President Obama is reelected, taxes are going up. If Mitt Romney is elected, taxes will not go up. And that is a big part of the logjam here of a very different view of how you approach the question of the fiscal cliff, is whether you think that Washington needs more of people's hard-earned money, especially in a tough economic time, or whether we want to focus on growth, want to focus on getting people back to work and do the necessary things we have to do here in Washington so that the federal government begins to live within its means just like small businesses and working families.

CAVUTO: But do you think that, shy of the lame-duck Congress having to deal with that, that the best we can look forward to -- I talked to a prominent Democrat counterpart of yours -- I can't reveal his name, but said, to the point, we'll probably look at doing a maybe three- or six- month extension of all rates and then hash this out next year regardless of who's elected.

CANTOR: Well, I certainly would hope -- and I know that Mitt Romney has committed that if he is elected, that we're going to extend the existing rates, including the individual marginal rates, cap gains, dividends, and the rest for a certain amount of time, so we can engage in tax reform.

CAVUTO: Now, I want to get on foreign policy, if you don't mind indulging me, sir.

We are getting word from the president on Air Force One today saying that there is no doubt in his mind that this was indeed a terrorist attack, that it resulted in the death of our Libyan ambassador and three others. It does not seem to jibe with what the administration officials had said just days ago.

But if that is the case, you have argued regardless we have to be engaged in that region. Not too long ago, you said, "Withdrawing from this region would embolden the extremists and justify Usama bin Laden's strategy, leaving the moderates who share our values and who desire democracy to combat the forces of violence alone."

Now, Ron Paul has come out and said, enough, stop it. Not a penny more. Get out now.

What do you say to that?

CANTOR: The question is whether we believe in America that we should lead or not.

And like it or not, we have reached the point of being the world's only superpower. And if we want to continue to be able to operate in a secure way, securing our citizens here at home, our interests abroad, making sure that our businesses stay competitive abroad, we've got to project our leadership.

There are so many of our allies, especially in that region, first and foremost Israel that faces an existential threat. There are other allies of ours in the Gulf region, the Arab states, who are looking to the United States for leadership, frankly, and are not seeing the...

CAVUTO: But does that mean give them more money, because the argument is, why good money after bad?

If we cannot buy their love with the billions we have given them, why are we putting a deposit on their hate?

CANTOR: It is not to buy their love.

The point of the remarks that I have made I think that you referred to, Neil, are the fact that our aid doesn't come just because someone's entitled. It comes if our allies there are going to stand with us and stand for the things that we believe in.


CAVUTO: But, lately, they haven't. But it puts well-intended people like yourself in a box. What do you do? Do you pour more money?



The question is, especially when you look at the government of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood obtaining power there is a very, very troublesome development. And that's where I think the United States and our foreign policy will have to take heed of whether that government is going to recognize U.S. interests, is going to recognize the fact that we believe the best route forward is for Egypt to recognize its agreements and peace treaty with our ally Israel, and that we stand up against extremism.

We have got to stand up against Islamic extremism that wants to overthrow everything that we're about in that region, as well as here at home.

CAVUTO: Less maybe onerous issues, if you don't mind, I know today, you had this bipartisan event where you all I guess doing the -- what will be inaugural -- what do they call it, the set for it?


CANTOR: The platform.

CAVUTO: Right, the platform.

And I am watching you and Nancy Pelosi. It's a bipartisan -- I guess you're hammering this thing. And she could not get the nail in there. What the heck was going on?


CANTOR: I don't know. She said she was being gentle with the nail.

But in the end, I think that Speaker Boehner went over and helped her finish off her nail.

CAVUTO: Do you guys get along in general? The sharp differences notwithstanding, the rap is that regardless of how the election turns out, you still won't be able to work with each together? What do you say?

CANTOR: We have to.

Listen, I believe, really, that reasonable people can disagree on policy or anything else. Neil, I always go back to the fact that I've been married nearly 23 years. I don't agree with my wife on everything. But what we do is we agree to disagree when we have to and then we go about trying to, in my home, build a family, raise a family, and have a home life.


CAVUTO: Well, I do one better than you, congressman. I always say, you're right, honey. How could I be so stupid?

But I understand your strategy.


CANTOR: But it's the same thing here. We're going to have disagreements.


CANTOR: And I think that most Americans expect that.

But let's find ways we can work together. And that's real bipartisanship, if you can set aside the differences and find things you can work on in common to produce results so life can begin to work again for the people of this country.

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