MR. MATTHEWS: U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler is from Florida. He's a Democrat. And Congressman Eric Cantor is a Virginia Republican.
First of all, Congressman Wexler, I don't know how many hundreds of billions of dollars in wealth we've lost just in three days. I've never seen a tumble like this in the stock market -- 500 points one day, 450 points today, offset a little bit yesterday. Who knows what the hell's coming tomorrow. And we've got two candidates running for president. We've only got a choice between the two of them.
What's your guy think is the problem? What's your guy think is the solution?
REP. WEXLER: The solution is to invest in the American people again; put government on the side of middle-income Americans; give significant tax breaks to people who make $250,000 and less; take seniors, who make $50,000 and less, off the federal income tax rolls altogether; create tons of jobs in America.
We've lost more than 600,000 jobs this year. We need to build roads, bridges, lay broadband. We need to develop alternative energy sources that will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America; stem cell research, which will create a whole new generation of jobs and wealth here in America. Those are the kinds of things we need to do.
What we don't need to do is the deregulation that John McCain and the Republican Party have championed for the last three decades, and that has come home to roost in a very, very dramatic way this week.
MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman Cantor, your candidate, John McCain, says the fundamentals are strong. What do you mean by that and what does he mean by that?
REP. CANTOR: Chris, first of all, you asked what the problem is. The problem right now is we have a crisis of confidence in our capital markets right now that has shaken this economy. It has not only affected the investors in Wall Street. It's affected real people. It's affected the middle class, who are worried about their retirement, who are worried about whether they're going to have a job, who are worried about their health care.
And what we've got to do is put some confidence back into the minds of the public; number one, change the way that Washington works, and number two, provide that transparency for the investor community out there so that we can get the economy going again.
And the bottom line, if you look at the two candidates, it is Barack Obama who continues to harp on the fact that we need to tax capital formation. Right now that means cut off credit from small businesses. That means don't grow jobs. We've got to look at the records, and the record is John McCain has been out there since 2002 talking about changes needed in corporate governance in this country. He has been on bills in 2005 talking about reforming the GSEs. So all this talk about John McCain not being for reform is just not accurate.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, but he says the fundamentals -- let me just ask you what he means by the fundamentals, not this nonsense about the workers being a good guy. We know all that. What does he mean when he says the economy, the economy, is fundamentally strong? What does he mean by that when we've lost maybe a trillion dollars in wealth in the last couple of days? What does he mean by the economy is fundamentally strong? What does that mean?
REP. CANTOR: Well, you know, look --
MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman Cantor, what does he mean?
REP. CANTOR: Chris, I can't tell you what he meant, but I also know that John McCain has said that there is a crisis, an economic crisis in this country right now. It starts with people across this country having difficulty with the cost of living. Look at the price of gas. We sit here in Washington --
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, your crowd's been in charge for eight years. How can you complain about the economy and then claim your party should get a four-year extension?
REP. CANTOR: Chris, there is absolutely no excuse that this Nancy Pelosi-, Harry Reid-led Congress cannot, will not act on the number one issue --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, fine.
REP. CANTOR: -- facing America's families, which is the affordability of energy.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, the way we keep score, gentlemen, is --
REP. CANTOR: We need an energy bill to bring down gas prices.
MR. MATTHEWS: -- the party in power -- the way we keep score in American politics is the party that's in power for eight years and runs the White House, and three-quarters of the time ran the Congress and the White House, takes the heat when things go bad.
Congressman Cantor, you're trying to change the rules now and saying, "Oh, if we take off our uniforms and don't say we're Republicans this week, the people will be fooled."
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely not.
MR. MATTHEWS: I've never heard of that happening in politics.
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely not, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: You're taking off your uniforms.
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely not, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: You're saying you're not Republicans.
REP. CANTOR: Chris, absolutely not. What I tell you is there is a very --
MR. MATTHEWS: Are you a Republican?
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely. There is a very --
MR. MATTHEWS: Are you a Republican?
REP. CANTOR: Yes, I am.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, who's been running the White House for eight years? Which party?
REP. CANTOR: And there is a very distinct difference in what the Democrat candidate for president, Barack Obama, stands for and what John McCain stands for, as well as a very distinct difference in their records. John McCain has been on the side of reform. John McCain believes we've got to return some type of transparency and give investors what they need, the information they need, to act in a prudent way.
We need to also make sure we do not send the signal that we're going to tax capital formation. That capital doesn't have to come to America anymore. It can go anywhere in the world.
That's the way you create jobs. That's, frankly, how we're going to have the money --
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you --
REP. CANTOR: -- come into this government, Chris, the way that Robert wants to spend it.
MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman Wexler.
REP. WEXLER: Here are the facts. Senator McCain chaired the Senate Commerce Committee and was the champion of deregulation. Senator Phil Gramm chaired the Banking Committee, was the enabler of the deregulation of the banking industry.
Whether we're talking about the prime loan crisis, the subprime loan crisis, whether we're talking about deregulating banks, deregulating telecommunications, it's been McCain and Gramm, Gramm who's writing McCain's economic plan.
These guys cannot run away from their 30-year record, and now it has come home to roost. And what we need to do is protect the families who have their money invested in AIG. And John McCain has flip-flopped on that. Yesterday he said, "No, don't help the families." Today he said, "Yes, help the families." Barack Obama, almost two years ago, filed legislation to address the debilitating effects of these mortgages. John McCain did nothing.
REP. CANTOR: All Barack Obama wants to do is raise taxes.
MR. MATTHEWS: You know, I'm surprised, Congressman Cantor -- Congressman Cantor, we're in a national crisis right now. I'm looking at the market every day and it's scary. And we have a president of the United States who's still in office. He still lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The normal president at this time of a crisis would be on national television at 9:00 at night talking to the American people about the problems we face.
Do you still have confidence in this president you've elected? You voted for Bush the last time. You supported him. Does your party still support President Bush in the way he's leading this country economically? Do you like the job he's doing?
REP. CANTOR: Listen, no one likes --
MR. MATTHEWS: Do you like the job that Bush is doing?
REP. CANTOR: Chris, Chris, no one likes an economic crisis. We have, as I've said before --
MR. MATTHEWS: Do you like the job the president is doing leading this country?
REP. CANTOR: We have a crisis of confidence. What this president has done through his secretary of the Treasury has reached out and tried to make the situation right itself so that the families of this country will not have to worry about where their retirement is coming from.
And you know what? It is about time that we stop the finger- pointing and start solving the problem. That's exactly what this campaign should be about. That is what John McCain is talking about. And you compare that to what Barack Obama has been saying in the last 24 hours. Let the voters hear that, because the question will be, when they go into the ballot box, is who, in their minds, is going to best be able to approach a problem and solve it as quickly as possible without trying to point fingers and lay blame.
REP. WEXLER: Okay, Chris --
MR. MATTHEWS: The problem you have is that your colleague from Virginia, Tom Davis, who once ran your campaign committee, said that if the Republican Party was a dog food, they'd take it off the shelves. And you haven't used the word "Republican" tonight. Your party didn't use it in the acceptance speech. John McCain never said the word "Republican." He never said the word "Bush."
You're trying to take off your uniforms and run from the field of political battle and claim you're not Republicans. You're claiming you're running against this administration. And I'm not going to let anybody get away with that kind of foolery.
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely not.
MR. MATTHEWS: You have to take responsibility, sir, for the policies of this administration that has gotten us into this mess. You can't walk away and say, "Oh, we had nothing to do with this," can you? Say it if you want to.
REP. CANTOR: No, listen --
MR. MATTHEWS: Say you had nothing to do with this situation.
REP. CANTOR: Listen, Chris, it is John McCain and Barack Obama who are on the ballot for presidency of this country. And what the choice is before the people is whether they're going to vote for John McCain, who has had --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
REP. CANTOR: -- the record of experience -- who has been a reformer in Washington --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
REP. CANTOR: -- versus Barack Obama, who has been in the Illinois senate and then been in Washington for three years with very little record to show for it, and frankly very little demonstrable ability to solve problems. People are worried --
MR. MATTHEWS: Does the record of the Republican Party -- you keep giving these --
REP. CANTOR: -- about whether they can afford gas or whether their retirement will be secure.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. Is the Republican Party responsible for the economic policies of this country right now? That's all I'm asking.
REP. CANTOR: I think we're all responsible.
MR. MATTHEWS: Is the Republican Party --
REP. CANTOR: The Democrats have been in charge --
MR. MATTHEWS: What do you mean, "We're all"?
REP. CANTOR: -- of Congress for two years.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
REP. CANTOR: They have been unable to pass any legislation of any consequences.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
REP. CANTOR: And that also is why we're in the situation that we're in.
MR. MATTHEWS: I have never in my life seen a party run from its own record like the Republicans have. Sir, I like the way John McCain the other day said the fundamentals are strong, because at least he was playing defense honestly. He was admitting that he had to play defense.
You, sir, say you don't have to defend the status quo. You can simply run for office, back Bush for two terms in a row. When he blows it, then you can run somebody else and claim, "Oh, he was wearing a different uniform." You've got to defend your party, sir, don't you?
REP. CANTOR: Chris, let's just take the situation as it is. You know, we've got economic crisis. Families in this country are very worried.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, say so.
REP. CANTOR: They are very insecure. I am not --
MR. MATTHEWS: And where does the buck stop?
REP. CANTOR: -- dodging that question.
MR. MATTHEWS: Where does the buck stop?
REP. CANTOR: So we've got to go forward and try and solve the problem. That's going to be the question at hand in this election.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, Harry Truman -- I know Harry Truman is one of your heroes, sir, because he's the hero of every Republican. And he said, "The buck stops here." I'm just asking you, where's the president of the United States tonight? You had Paulson out there. Where's the president? He's pulling one of these Katrinas again.
Where is he?
The country's worried like hell when you lose this amount of value in the wealth of this country in a matter of days. You'd think the president would come on television and explain the situation to the American people. I'm just asking where he is. That's all I'm asking.
REP. CANTOR: Well, Chris, again, you'll have to ask -- I don't know where he is. I assume he's in the White House. And I assume also that he's in daily if not hourly contact with his secretary of the Treasury, who has been very active over the last several weeks in trying to right the ship so we can get our economy moving again and get jobs growing again. And the answer is not to raise taxes so that we can redistribute wealth so that somehow we can help a select few.
We've got to help all Americans. They're all worried about their jobs. They're all worried about retirement security. They're all worried about where their health care is going to come from. Those are the kind of issues this campaign is about. Those are the kind of issues John McCain has a demonstrated record on. And that is a decision these voters will have to make in November.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask Congressman -- put some heat on Congressman Wexler here.
You laid out the plan, the program of your candidate -- tax cuts for the middle class, big public spending like WPA, works projects, infrastructure-building, including cutting-edge spending on things like stem cell research. All that sounds good.
But one part of your program is going to cut the revenues of the federal government. That's the tax cut. The other part is going to increase the spending of the federal government. It sounds like you're doing more fiscal overreach, more deficit spending. It sounds like the bottom line of the program you advance here.
REP. WEXLER: No, because we're actually being honest. We're saying if you make $250,000 or less, you're going to get tax cuts. But if you make $250,000 or more, you're going to get -- the tax cuts that George Bush and, yes, the Republican Congress gave you over the last eight years, we're going to take those away and put you back at the rates of the Clinton administration, and that will even it out.
It is unbelievable that Mr. Cantor and others continue to say that Barack Obama wants to raise taxes. The truth is, if you're a middle-income American, you will benefit greatly. Yes, families are hurting and they need help with their jobs, their health care and their taxes. And that's what we're offering.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. I'm not pointing fingers here, gentlemen, but I want to ask you both to answer the question yes or no. You can answer it either way. You're elected officials; I'm not.
Congressman Wexler, do you take responsibility politically for the performance of the Democratic Congress the last two years? Yes or no?
REP. WEXLER: Of course we do.
MR. MATTHEWS: You take personal responsibility? Okay.
Do you take responsibility, Congressman Cantor, for the performance of this president the last eight years? Do you take responsibility for that politically -- the performance of this president?
REP. CANTOR: I take responsibility for --
MR. MATTHEWS: Yes or no?
REP. CANTOR: I take responsibility for my performance in the seat that I hold in Congress and our party in Congress.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. So it's every man for himself now in your party.
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely not. I support the policies that our party has put forward. When you look at --
MR. MATTHEWS: It sounds like you're jumping ship, sir.
REP. CANTOR: No way --
MR. MATTHEWS: Are you defending President Bush's performance as president of the United States, as economic manager of this country right tonight?
REP. CANTOR: This president has been --
MR. MATTHEWS: You do defend his economic performance as of tonight?
REP. CANTOR: This president has always been --
MR. MATTHEWS: You got him elected.
REP. CANTOR: -- for trying -- this president has always been for trying to return more of the people's money to them, those who earn it. He has been a commander in chief who's gone out after the threat that has been presented to this country --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, change the subject. Change the subject. The next time you quote Harry Truman, Congressman Cantor, remember what he said: "The buck stops here."
Okay, thank you very much, Congressman Wexler. Thank you, Congressman Cantor.
REP. WEXLER: Thank you.