Transcript: Rep. Eric Cantor on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the July 12, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Time for another in our continuing series "Right Now," where we talk with rising conservative stars about the future of the GOP.

Today we welcome Virginia congressman Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives.

And, Congressman, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-VA.: Chris, nice to be here.

WALLACE: The latest jobs numbers shows, despite White House projections that the stimulus package would keep unemployment under 8 percent, it's now at 9.5 percent and climbing. Is it fair to say that the stimulus is a bust or just that it's too soon to tell?

CANTOR: Chris, I do think it is fair to say that the stimulus is a flop. The goal that was set when we passed it was unemployment wouldn't rise past 8.5 percent, and what we see now is businesses just aren't hiring. Even the best projections have us losing 750,000 more jobs this year.

WALLACE: But only — this is on the part of the White House — only $60 billion of the $500 billion in spending in the stimulus package has been allocated so far.

And I want to put up a list of the projects in your congressional district. Here they are. There's more than $75 million in federal spending from the stimulus in your district.

Are you prepared to call for all those projects to be shut down?

CANTOR: Well, Chris, this is the thing. You know, all those projects in my district and elsewhere may be laudable in and among the — in and of themselves, but the purpose of the stimulus bill should have been to be targeted at small business people. That's where the stimulus bill missed the mark.

We don't have people hiring others right now, and that seems to be the problem. Do you know that right now that the average length of someone's unemployment is 22 months? If you put that together with someone having only 12 weeks on average of savings, that's a real problem. And there's a reason small businesses aren't hiring.

WALLACE: So the White House is talking now about spending the current stimulus faster, getting the money out more quickly. I gather you want to rewrite the plan.

CANTOR: Well, listen. We met and — and I met with the president along with our Republican leader John Boehner back in January. We presented the president with our plan.

And the president was insistent that we go his route and that we deploy the nearly $800 billion in order to get the money spent. We said from the very beginning, "We need to be about preserving, creating, protecting jobs."

WALLACE: So how would you do that?

CANTOR: Well, what — how we would do that is we would, number one, give people the ability and incentives to hire people. I mean, right now businesses are — it's very difficult.

And we see the cap and trade bill that just passed. When we see the health care that's being proposed this week, what is — how those bills are coming down the pike is basically on the backs of small business people.

We shouldn't be making it harder for people to hire right now. We should be giving small businesses an incentive to hire, give them a tax break, give people an individual — give individuals hope that we're going to lower energy costs, not increase it like we did with cap and trade.

WALLACE: All right. We're beginning to see the first cracks in public support for President Obama. According to the Gallup poll, support for the president among independents has dropped from 59 percent in June to 53 percent so far this month.

And in the key state of Ohio, Mr. Obama's job approval has fallen from 62 percent in May to under 50 percent for the first time.

How big an opportunity is this, Congressman, for Republicans?

CANTOR: Well, you know, listen. I think that, you know, all of us want this country to get back on track right now. We just have some huge challenges. And what the public is beginning to see is that — again, the realization of the old adage that bad policy makes for bad politics.

And that's what you've got here. You've got policies aimed at trying to arrest the downfall in this economy, and it's simply not working.

And so the opportunity is for the Republican Party to demonstrate that it can and deserves to lead again, and that's why we've been very outspoken in terms of our position on how we address this growing unemployment situation.

WALLACE: And yet, if I may, voters aren't ready, it seems, to turn to the GOP yet. I want to put up another poll.

When asked about Democrats in Congress, voters disapproved by a margin of 12 points. But when asked about congressional Republicans, the margin is minus 28 points — not exactly a vote of confidence, Congressman.

CANTOR: Listen, Chris, there's 16 months until the next congressional election. And where I think that we will head is, unfortunately, in an environment where we see continued job loss. We will see lackluster growth, because we are not taking it as a priority to reduce the cost of hiring people.

WALLACE: So how does the GOP turn around that public perception, "Yeah, we've got doubts about the Democrats. We've got even more doubts about Republicans?"

CANTOR: Well, the bottom line is Republicans need to demonstrate that we've got the solutions for the issues that face American families today.

Barack Obama promised that he would not raise taxes on working families. Well, they just did that last week with the cap and trade vote. They're about to do it this week and next with the health care vote.

All we're talking about now is how are we going to pay for these gargantuan government programs, and really not only to no effect to address the current problem but to make matters worse.

So the Republican Party does have a plan. We are proffering solutions to these very difficult economic problems. What we're also doing is we're launching national efforts to go about this country, to engage a discussion with the American people about how our solutions work better for them in these economic times.

WALLACE: All right. But let's talk about health care reform, because actually, the plan that's coming out of the House, among House Democrats, is not to tax the middle class. In fact, they're proposing a $550 billion tax increase on the rich, on anyone making over $280,000 a year. What's wrong with that?

CANTOR: Well, really, the big issue, I think, surrounding health care is, number one, do you — do you believe that the government can actually be the one taking over the system and providing the type care that we have.

But number two, how are you going to pay for it? And you're right. Charlie Rangel is poised to announce this incredible half a trillion dollar tax on folks making over $200,000 a year.

But if you look at who that is, half of those people derive their income from small businesses. Half of those people are the ones making the decision as to whether to hire Americans or not. So again, why would we be going into the direction of saying to business owners, "I'm going to take yet even more from you to make it more difficult for you to hire the Americans who are now out of work?"

WALLACE: Congressman, do you believe that every American should have health insurance?

CANTOR: I believe that we ought to certainly put out there as a goal that everyone should have access to health insurance coverage, absolutely.

We ought to make sure that we create a system where you can hold costs down and provide access to a basic plan for all Americans that are out there and can do so.

WALLACE: So how would you get those — you know, you say a goal. This has been something that we've been talking about for 30 years, 40 years. How would you get that 40, 50 million Americans who are uninsured protected?

CANTOR: Well, I mean, listen. That number of uninsured is always fluid. It's changing. And a large part of those that are uninsured have to do with the people who are in job transitions, have lost their jobs.

We need to, number one, put in place some flexibility in insurance coverage so that people are protected if they lost their job, that do — we could say that entrepreneurs who want to go out and start to create their own business and hire people will be protected if we put in some type of self-insured — self-employed insurance plan, so that people can have access to affordable basic coverage. So we need to expand the ability for them to enter larger risk pools to do that.

But listen. The bulk of the people in this country are insured by their employer. And that's about 70 percent of the people. We need — and we need to make sure that those employers stay in the game, and we need to allow them the flexibility so that they can bring down costs.

Government has never demonstrated the ability to do that.

WALLACE: In the time we have left, let's do a lightning round — quick questions, quick answers.

AIG, the troubled insurance company, is asking the Obama pay czar whether it's OK to give out $250 million in bonuses over the next nine months. Otherwise, they say they're going to lose top people and that will jeopardize the taxpayer investment of $180 billion.

CANTOR: Nothing good comes out of the government involved in owning industries and corporations. We ought to have an exit strategy to get out.

WALLACE: But what about specifically this question of bonuses? Should — because there was a huge fuss this last spring about that. Should Congress block AIG from giving bonuses?

CANTOR: Taxpayers basically own AIG. Taxpayers own Freddie and Fannie. We shouldn't be rewarding failure by putting taxpayer dollars behind that. So the quicker we can get out of making those decisions from Washington, the better off this economy's going to be.

WALLACE: A conservative group called Let Freedom Ring wants every member of Congress to pledge that you will not vote on the health care bill until you have actually read it and that the bill is posted on the Internet for 72 hours.

Are you willing to take that pledge?

CANTOR: Absolutely.

WALLACE: You — is your feeling that that's a real problem in Congress?

CANTOR: Well, sure. I mean, we have passed bill after bill — I mean, the stimulus bill that almost spent $800 billion was 1,100 pages, introduced to the floor almost in the dark of night and then voted on the next morning.

No one read that bill, and look at the — look at the problems that arose from the passage of that bill.

WALLACE: Finally, when you've got Republican leaders like Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina or Nevada Senator John Ensign admitting to extramarital affairs and staying in office, questionable use of either private funds or state money, in the case of Sanford, doesn't the GOP, with all its talk of family values, risk looking like a bunch of hypocrites?

CANTOR: Look, I mean, is anyone happy to see all that have happened? No. I mean, it's not good. But listen. We have our thoughts with their families and they themselves.

However, look. The party is not just about personalities. It's about ideas. It's about our ability to go out and prove that yes, we can lead this country again. So we have got a plan. We are talking about the solutions that actually can address some of the problems that working people in this country are facing, and we're going to do that over the course of the next 16 months.

WALLACE: But if you're going to talk the talk, why not walk the walk and say, "You know what? They should step down?"

CANTOR: Well, listen. I mean, again, I say in the instance of the people in South Carolina and Nevada, it is up to them, and those are the elected individuals by those states.

And again, it's not about, necessarily, these personalities. The direction of this country — and the challenges that we face are enormous. And we ought to be talking about how to go about creating jobs again. We ought to be talking about the things that matter most to people in this country.

WALLACE: Congressman Cantor, we want to thank you. Thanks for coming in today and please come back, sir.

CANTOR: Pleasure. Thank you, Chris.

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