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BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks so much for joining us up here on Capitol Hill.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Let's talk presidential politics first, a little bit about Mitt Romney, a little bit about President Obama.
And we'll start with Mitt Romney, because you raised some eyebrows last month when you said, "The American people probably aren't going to fall in love with Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney has some friends, relatives and fellow Mormons." You went on to say, "Some people that are going to vote for him. But that's not what this election is about. This election is going to be a referendum on the president's failed economic policies."
It didn't sound, to me, at least, like a ringing endorsement of the Republican candidate.
BOEHNER: Well, listen, I'm enthusiastic about Mitt Romney and I think the American people will be enthusiastic come Election Day about Mitt Romney.
The point I was trying to make is that this election is a referendum on the incumbent. Now, in this case, it's a referendum on the president's failed economic policies. His policies have not only not helped, they've actually made things worse.
And, as a result, the American people, I think, will vote with their wallets. And I think Mitt Romney is going to win this election.
BLITZER: So you -- it will be a vote -- a win for Mitt Romney not so much because they love Mitt Romney, but because they don't like the president?
Is that what you're saying?
BOEHNER: Well, no, any incumbent president running for reelection of -- the election is going to be a referendum on the job that they have done. And I think this election is going to be similar to what we've seen in the past.
BLITZER: Do you spend a lot of time talking to Mitt Romney?
BOEHNER: I talk to him once in a while. But I don't spend a lot of time talking to him, no.
BLITZER: Has he consulted with you about who his vice presidential running mate should be?
BOEHNER: He has not.
BLITZER: I'm surprised. I mean, you're the speaker of the House of Representatives. You'd think he'd call you and say, what do you think about X or Y or --
BOEHNER: Well, listen, you know, a presidential candidate is entirely capable of picking their own running mate. These -- he's got to keep this in a very closed circle. And I don't expect to be consulted. I don't need to be consulted.
BLITZER: Do you have a favorite in --
BOEHNER: I have a lot of confidence in Governor Romney to be able to pick his candidate.
BLITZER: Do you think he should release his income tax returns for more than just two years?
BOEHNER: I think that's nothing but a sideshow. Listen, I file a financial disclosure form, as do all federal candidates, including Governor Romney. And this is nothing more than a way to try to distract people from the president's failed economic policies.
BLITZER: A bunch of Republicans are urging him to do so, as you know.
BOEHNER: Well, I've -- I -- again, I think it's a sideshow. He -- he released his returns from 2010. He's going to release his returns from 2011. I think that's more than enough.
BLITZER: All right. So we got you on that.
All right, let's talk about President Obama, because yesterday, you said this:
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BOEHNER: I think the president's attack on the private sector in America is exactly what's wrong with his administration. He doesn't give a damn about the middle class Americans who are out there looking for work. What he's trying to do is distract the American people in order to win his own reelection.
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Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States doesn't give a damn about middle class Americans?
BOEHNER: If he did, why wouldn't he meet with his own Jobs Council?
Why wouldn't he spent some time over the last nine months talking to the leaders here in Congress about what we can do together to help get our economy going again?
The president checked out last Labor Day. And he's been on the campaign trail nonstop ever since. It's all about him.
When the American people elect us because it's about them.
BLITZER: Because you used to have a good relationship with the president.
BOEHNER: I have a good --
BLITZER: Because you were -- you were almost -- you were very close to a deal that would have solved a lot of these problems.
BOEHNER: Listen, I have a very good relationship with the president. That doesn't mean we agree on everything. And when you look at some of the nonsense that's gone on in the campaign here over the last couple of weeks, you begin to scratch your head.
Somebody has got to speak English. And I'm not afraid to do it.
BLITZER: On the middle class, he -- you and he agree on one thing, that 98 percent of American households, they should continue paying the current rate, the Bush tax cuts. That is a, you know, a foregone conclusion.
Where you disagree is on the top 2 percent, making more than $250,000 a year.
So here's the question: why not get the middle class, folks making under $250,000, off the table, pass that, extend that?
He says he's willing to sign that into law right away. Most Americans would then no longer have to worry about a tax increase. And then later, you can fight over the top 2 percent.
BOEHNER: Well, Ernst & Young came out with a study earlier this week that made clear that the president's plan to tax the so-called top 2 percent will cost our economy about 700,000 jobs. We all know that almost half that income from that top 2 percent are small businesspeople who run their businesses as pass-through entities.
So, they end up paying their business taxes as part of their personal tax. And this is the wrong thing to do.
BLITZER: But why not just get the -- you know, where you agree, agree, and then fight over the 2 percent later?
BOEHNER: Well, you probably will recall that in 2009, 2010, when Democrats had the White House, they had big majorities in the House, a big majority in the Senate, they couldn't pass that president's plan. They couldn't do it.
Why? Because the votes aren't there. The votes are there, Democrats and Republicans, in a bipartisan way, to extend all of the current tax rates. In this economy, as fragile as it is, raising taxes on Americans, especially American small businesspeople, is a monumental mistake.
BLITZER: I understand that. But I'm just saying, the argument they make is you're holding 98 percent of the American people -- American households -- hostage in order to make sure that the richest Americans don't get a tax hike.
BOEHNER: That -- well, no, that's what they say.
BLITZER: That's what I said.
BOEHNER: What I'm trying -- well, what I'm trying to do is to protect all Americans and keep our focus on what the American people want us focused on, and that's the economy and jobs. And if we're serious about getting the economy going and creating jobs, we need to extend all the current tax rates.
BLITZER: So there's no way you're going to just separate the 98 percent, a vote tomorrow, next week --
BOEHNER: It would be the wrong --
BLITZER: -- next month?
BOEHNER: -- it would be the wrong thing for the country to do.
BLITZER: And so what are your -- looking ahead to the lame duck session, assuming nothing happens between now -- do you think annoying is going to happen between now and the election?
BOEHNER: The House will extend all of the current tax rates. We'll do this in a couple of weeks. We'll send it over to the Senate and hope that they act. And there's no reason to hold our economy hostage because no one knows what the tax rates are going to be come next year. They could act as early as September.
BLITZER: One of your members, Michele Bachmann and four other Republicans, they wrote a letter to the State Department deputy inspector-general raising questions about one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top aides, Huma Abedin. I know you've condemned this, but tell me what you think about this, because, to me, as someone who knows Huma for 20 years, I mean, it's pretty outrageous.
BOEHNER: Well, you know, I don't know her, but everything that I know about her makes it clear that she's got a sterling character. I'm not sure what the basis of these claims may be, but this is dangerous stuff to be throwing around without a lot of facts.
And, frankly, there are enough legitimate issues that we need to work with here in town, here in Washington, that I just am very concerned about the direction that this thing takes.
BLITZER: Have you spoken to Congresswoman Bachmann about this?
BOEHNER: I have not had a chance to talk to her, but I expect I will soon.
BLITZER: And if you -- and what would you say to her? What will you say to her? Give us a little flavor.
BOEHNER: Well, I expect that she'll offer to me why this came about. But again, these are dangerous accusations. And if somebody had the facts, they should have put the facts out there.
BLITZER: I'm with you. Totally agree.
A quick question on Syria right now. There seems to be a tipping point in what's going on.
Would you support U.S. military action, not necessarily troops on the ground, but air power, cruise missiles, arming of the rebels?
Would you go that far at this point to get rid of Bashar al-Assad?
BOEHNER: I don't think that -- that we ought to go that far. Now, it's clear that the opposition is making progress. It's also clear that they are receiving assistance from their friends in the region.
And I don't think, at this point that it calls for that type of military intervention on our part.
BLITZER: So, on this issue, you're with the Obama administration, basically, and not, let's say, with John McCain?
BOEHNER: I've -- probably correct, because I believe that Assad has to go. But I don't think that we need to over -- overly involve ourselves to the extent of direct military action.
So I'm confident that the opposition groups, they're making progress and I'm confident that Assad's days are numbered.
BLITZER: On defense spending, you know, the fiscal cliff and sequestration and all of the things that potentially could happen, I was listening to former Senator Alan Simpson the other day. And he made the point that U.S. defense spending right now -- whatever it is, $700 billion a year, whatever it is -- if you take the next 15, 14, 15 countries combined, friendly countries like Britain or France or Canada, rivals like China and Russia, adversaries like Iran and North Korea, and you add all of their defense expenditures together, it doesn't reach what the United States alone spends.
So the question is this: isn't there room for significant Defense Department cuts?
BOEHNER: There is room. And that's why when we agreed to the Deficit Reduction Act last year and put caps on discretionary spending for the next 10 years, about $487 billion of what would have been spent at the Department of Defense is going to be cut.
BLITZER: Over 10 years?
BOEHNER: Over 10 years. Now, what is unacceptable, though, is the sequester, another $1.2 trillion worth of cuts --
BLITZER: Over 10 years.
BOEHNER: Over 10 years, half of which would come out of our military. That is going too far.
Listen, the president promised the American people the sequester would never happen. The reason we have the sequester is that the president didn't want to be inconvenienced by having a second debt limit vote before his reelection.
And he and Senator Reid pushed to have this automatic sequester if the super committee couldn't do its job.
They also committed to help get the super committee to produce $1.2 trillion worth of cuts and frankly didn't help.
BLITZER: But with all these troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, isn't there a great opportunity now to slice the --
BOEHNER: I'd say --
BLITZER: -- Defense Department budget?
BOEHNER: No, that's actually, it comes out of a different budget, those activities going on in Iraq and in Afghanistan. But understand that after 10 or 11 years of war, a lot of our equipment is worn down. A lot of it needs to be replenished and replaced.
So, the first half of the cuts, $487 billion, I think is acceptable. And the Pentagon has agreed that we can do that.
But I don't think we can go much further without hollowing out our force, as Leon Panetta described it, and not meeting our number one responsibility, which is providing for the security of the American people.
BLITZER: One final question, because we're out of time.
You're about to celebrate your second anniversary, right, as speaker?
BOEHNER: Well, assuming that we win the majority in November.
BLITZER: What's it like?
I mean what is, you know, you're -- we all know your personal story growing up in Cincinnati. And, you know, it's an amazing story. When you think about it, here you are, the speaker of the House of Representatives. You're up on Capitol Hill. We're talking right now. It's an amazing story, when you think about it.
BOEHNER: It really is. But, you know, welcome to America, where you can be anything you want to be and do anything you want to do. And it's the only country in the world where there -- there's no lid, there's no cap on what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.
BLITZER: So you think about those roots you had there and you see what you're doing right now --
BOEHNER: Well, you're busy around here, you forget about it. But every once in a while you look up and you go, why am I here? Why me?
BLITZER: What do you say?
BOEHNER: Welcome to America.
BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks so much.
BOEHNER: Nice to see you.
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