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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Sequester and Gun Control

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

DAVID GREGORY:
Mr. Speaker, thank you for taking the time.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
David, good to be with you.

DAVID GREGORY:
As we sit here Friday afternoon, you've emerged from a meeting at the White House. There is no deal. Take me inside the room. What happened?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
We had a very nice, polite discussion, but I had asked the president and Senator Reid to come with a plan to replace the sequester. Now listen, we've known about this for 16 months. And yet even today, there's no plan from Senate Democrats or the White House to replace the sequester. And over the last 10 months, House Republicans have acted twice to replace the sequester. There are smarter ways to cut spending than these automatic across the board...

DAVID GREGORY:
But Mr. Speaker that's just not true. They've made it very clearly, as the president just did, that he has a plan that he's put forward that involves entitlement cuts, that involves spending cuts, that you've made a choice as have Republicans to leave tax loopholes in place. And you'd rather have those and live with all these arbitrary cuts...

(OVERTALK)

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Well, David that's just nonsense. If he had a plan, why wouldn't Senate Democrats go ahead and pass it? The House has acted twice over the last ten months to replace the sequester. If we're going to- the president got his tax hikes on January the first. If we're going to get rid of loopholes, let's lower rates and make the tax code fair for all Americans.

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, let's just talk about that for a second, because this can get complicated, but it's an important point. If most Republican economists believe that tax loopholes is actually tax spending, it's actually spending in the tax code.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
That's correct.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, so if you like defense spending and that's going to be cut arbitrarily, you agree that this is stealth spending in the tax code. Why not give on this? Why not allow some revenues to come from tax reform, protect defense spending and you unlock the key to getting the kind of entitlement cuts the president says he would give you, if you would just give revenues on tax reform?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen. I have worked with the president for two years to try to come to an agreement. Unfortunately, we've not been able to do so.

DAVID GREGORY:
Right, but why you are opposed to that formulation, because you were for tax reform a couple months ago.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
I want tax reform. Republicans want tax reform. We want to bring rates down for all Americans so that we've got a fairer tax code. But to arbitrarily pull out a couple of tax expenditures and to say, "Well, we ought to use that to get rid of the sequester." Listen, every American knows Washington has a spending problem. Every American, in these tough economic times, has to find a way to balance their budget.

They've got to make choices. And they expect Washington to live within its means and to make choices as well. Now we know that we've got a structural deficit. The president has run up five trillion dollars worth of debt in the last five years. We have another one trillion dollar budget deficit this year. It's time for the president and Senate Democrats to get serious about the long-term spending problem that we have.

DAVID GREGORY:
Again, and the president has laid this out, he is serious about tackling the long-term spending problem, including dealing with Medicare, but he said it here. There's an ironclad rule that Republicans have. No new revenue. And without that, there can be no deal.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
David, the president got $650 billion of higher taxes on the American people on January the first. How much more does he want, one. When is the president going to address the spending side of this?

DAVID GREGORY:
But Simpson and Bowles, who a lot of people around here think is really the paradigm, how to look a long-term debt reduction. They wanted a lot more revenue. And you've always said, "Look, he got his revenues. End of topic. He got $600 billion." You yourself, said, "Look, we got 99% of the Bush tax cuts extended." That's a pretty good deal. So you didn't have to give a lot for that. Only 18% of the Bush tax cuts were rescinded with that 600 billion.

(OVERTALK)

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
No.

DAVID GREGORY:
And you've committed. Wait a second. But you've committed to more in the way of revenue just last December.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
But the president and I never came to an agreement. He could have come to an agreement, but he didn't. He got his tax hikes. It's time to cut spending and every American knows it.

DAVID GREGORY:
But the president, is he not committed to spending? Does his deal that we saw on the table not include over $900 billion in spending cuts over 10 years?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Oh the president asked $1.3 trillion worth of increases in revenue. And only put up $850 billion worth of spending cuts. Everybody in Washington knows what the problem is, but nobody wants to address it.

(crosstalk)

Listen, I've been here for 22 years. And I've watched presidents from both parties. I've watched leaders from both parties kick this can down the road, kick it down the road and they kick it down the road. We're out of road to kick the can down. We've got a long-term spending problem that has to be addressed. I've spent the last two-plus years trying to bring this town to address this problem. And it is going to be addressed.

DAVID GREGORY:
There's going to be different points of view on that, because obviously, the president believes that he has done it and is addressing it. I want to try to pin you down on two points. You were just talking about tax reform and your objection, it seems, to this formulation which is allow some revenues to come from tax reform to unlock entitlement cuts and then you'd get rid of the sequester. But you think that's sort of arbitrary. It's just a couple of deductions. Are you open down the line to using revenue derived from tax reform closing deductions to actually pay down the deficit?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
I'm going to say it one more time. The president got his tax hikes on January the first. The issue here is spending. Spending is out of control. There are smarter ways to cut spending than this silly sequester that the president demanded. And so we need to address the long-term spending problem. But we can't cut our way to prosperity.

We also have to have real economic growth. American family's wages aren't growing. They're being squeezed. And as a result, we've got to find a way through our tax code to promote more economic growth in our country. We can do this by closing loopholes, bringing the rates down for all Americans, making the tax code fairer. It will promote more economic growth.

DAVID GREGORY:
But there's no ironclad evidence that lowering marginal tax rates is going to lead to economic growth.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Oh yes there is. There's mountains.

DAVID GREGORY:
Bill Clinton raised taxes, President Reagan raised taxes and the economy performed well...

(OVERTALK)

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
There's mountains of evidence that if we bring tax rates down, that we will help spur economic growth in our country.

DAVID GREGORY:
That hasn't been tried before?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Yeah, Ronald Reagan, 1981.

DAVID GREGORY:
Right, he also raised taxes.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
And it worked very well.

DAVID GREGORY:
But he raised taxes as well and it didn't hurt the economy did it?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, he lowered taxes twice, both in 1981 and again out of the 1986 tax reform. When they lowered rates for all Americans, we had this boom in economic growth. Why? Because we got rid of a lot of the silly deductions, brought the rates down, and it helped promote more economic growth in our country.

DAVID GREGORY:
The president says, "Look, on the long-term spending issues on health care." And I've talked to you about this with you before. You'd like us to raise the eligibility rate for Medicare recipients. That's something the president opposes. He is however willing to do...

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
No, no, he was for it a year and a half ago...

DAVID GREGORY:
Right. He was for it and then he pulled back.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Before, he was against it, yes, let's just be fair.

DAVID GREGORY:
Right. Okay, he pulled back. But he's for means testing for wealthier Americans. He's got that on the table according to the White House. And he's for what's called in this town chain CPI, which is basically a reduction in benefits over time. How is that not being serious about the long-term entitlement problem?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Well, then why haven't Senate Democrats passed the President's plan? The House has passed a plan twice, over the last ten months, to replace the sequester. Senate Democrats have done nothing. It's time for them to vote. It's time for us to get back to regular order here in Congress.

But when the House passes a bill, the Senate passes a bill and if we disagree we go to conference to resolve those differences. I made this point at the White House today. It's time for us to do this via regular order. Later on this month, the House is going to move its budget. Senator Reid acknowledged that the Senate expects to move their budget later on this month. Hopefully out of this process, we can go to conference with the Senate and maybe come to some agreement.

DAVID GREGORY:
So what goes on in these meetings? I mean, you talk about a nice conversation. You keep talking about your relationship being pretty good with the president. It's hard for any of us to believe that, given how personal it seems, given how pointed the language seems to be and that you're just at such a basic philosophical, ideological, practical disagreement here. I mean, Congress left town, both sides hate this deal and yet, it's going forward.

(OVERTALK)

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Wait, wait.

(OVERTALK)

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
We had a very pleasant meeting, but it was also a very frank meeting. I made it clear to the president that again, a trillion dollars worth of tax hikes in Obamacare. And you have another $650 billion worth of tax hikes on January the first. You can't tax our way out of this problem. We've got to deal with the spending side, just like every American family has to.

DAVID GREGORY:
You've used some tough language this week. And at one point this week, you directed your fire at the White House and at the Senate. And here's what you said.

(Videotape)

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: We have moved a bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
What did you mean by that? And is that appropriate for the Speaker of the House to speak that way?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, I speak English. And the fact is, the House has done its work. We have this sequester because the president demanded it and because Senate Democrats have refused to act.

DAVID GREGORY:
And 174 of your members in the House voted to support it at your urging. You both agreed to do this.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, the president demanded it at the 11th hour in July of 2011, when- because he didn't want to be inconvenienced by having another vote on the debt limit before his reelection in 2012. And as a result, the agreement that Senator Reid and Senator McConnell and myself had that didn't have the sequester, he would not accept. So he demanded that we find a way so he could avoid a second debt limit vote before his reelection. That's where the sequester came from.

DAVID GREGORY:
So you say that the house has twice passed a bill on this. The truth is, you passed a bill that you knew was never going to be accepted by Democrats. You target setting up exchanges under Obamacare. You target Dodd-Frank. You target Medicaid eligibility. Laiden with poison pills that you say the Senate Democrats are doing now.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Most of the changes in our bill to replace the sequester came out of the president's own budget. Not all of them, but most of the changes.

DAVID GREGORY:
But the stuff you put in there, you knew Democrats wouldn't support it. And it's exactly what you see Senate Democrats doing now, which is putting things that Republicans won't support.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
David, here's the process. The House passes a bill. The Senate can pass a bill and if we disagree, we go to conference and work it out.

DAVID GREGORY:
So Speaker, what happens now? What do you think the impact of all of this is? The president is saying there will be a ripple effect in the economy. There will be a growth cut. There will be a loss of 750,000 jobs. What's the impact?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Well, then, why hasn't he acted?

DAVID GREGORY:
But I'm asking you what is the impact? I know how you feel about why he hasn't acted.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, this is not the smartest way to cut money. The smarter way would be to actually move a bill that deals with our long-term spending problem. You can't continue to spend money that you don't have.

DAVID GREGORY:
But is this going to hurt the economy? Will it hurt economic recovery?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen. I don't know whether it's going to hurt the economy or not. I don't think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is the president exaggerating when he and his cabinet lay out the consequences?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Well, if you look at the fact that they claimed all these air traffic controllers are going to be laid off and then if was found out they really didn't have to. And then when Secretary of Education went out and claimed that all these teachers in one county in West Virginia were being laid off as a result of the sequester, found out that wasn't quite true. And then they release thousands of detainees down in Arizona before the sequester even takes effect. There are a lot of questions about how the White House is handling. the communications on this.

DAVID GREGORY:
But you wrote, you called the sequester dangerous and it would, "threaten US national security." Were you exaggerating?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
I am concerned about its impact on our economy and its impact on our military. Listen, we've known about this problem for 16 months. We've known the sequester was coming. That's why the House last year acted twice. Why didn't the Senate Democrats act? Where was the President's plan? Why didn't they pass something? And here we are, at the- beyond the 11th hour, looking at each other without, without having acted.

DAVID GREGORY:
Do you think Bob Woodward has exposed something about the White House positions on all this that we didn't know?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Well, I think he made clear that this sequester was the President's idea. It was the White House that demanded it. I think Bob Woodward was right.

DAVID GREGORY:
The feeling is, you hear it publicly from the president but also privately as well, that you can't agree, even if you'd like to, on any more revenue, because the House caucus, conservatives, Tea Party folks were so upset with you for the last revenue increase to avoid the fiscal cliff that they in effect lead you, you don't lead them, that you don't have room to maneuver.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Well, David, let me just say this. There's not one member of our caucus who said one word to me that was critical of the fact that we lowered taxes for 99.1% of the American people, not one.

DAVID GREGORY:
Are you securing your speakership?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, I'm here to lead the fight against out of control spending. And I'm going to lead that fight as Speaker of the House.

DAVID GREGORY:
The next crisis potentially is what happens when you fund the government for the rest of the year. That's called the continuing resolution. Are you committed to doing whatever it takes to keep the government open?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Absolutely. We, the House next week will act to extend the continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year, September 30th. The president this morning agreed that we should not have any talk of a government shutdown. So I'm hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work through this.

DAVID GREGORY:
So what happens next? I mean, is the political outcry, did it cause so much political pain on one side or the other that one side gives? How does this get resolved?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
I don't think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved. After we do our continuing resolution, we'll begin to work on our budget. The House has done a budget every year that I've been Speaker. The Senate hasn't done a budget for four years. They've committed to do a budget this year. And I hope that they do. And out of that discussion and out of that process, maybe we can find a way to deal with our long-term spending problem.

DAVID GREGORY:
In the end, you don't really see a pathway here that's open as you sit here.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
If I did, the meeting at the White House this morning might have gone better.

DAVID GREGORY:
I'll ask you with my White House colleagues and the press corps there have asked the president. Do you bear any responsibility for a failure to find agreement?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, there's no one in this town who's tried harder to come to an agreement with the president and to deal with our long-term spending problem, no one. It's unfortunate. And we've not been able to come to an agreement. But the House did its work to avoid this sequester, to avoid these random and automatic spending cuts. The fact is, the president and Senate Democrats have done nothing to pass a plan to avert this and to deal honestly with the spending problem the country has.

DAVID GREGORY:
Obviously not going to see eye to eye, because the president thinks that there is a plan in place. Let me ask you about polling. 57% of Americans in our poll disagree with what Republicans in Congress are doing. Do you think you have the public on your side?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, the American people know that Washington spends way too much money. They know it has to be addressed, because they have to address it in their own family each and every week. And that's why my focus has been to deal with our spending problem. Listen, I came here to save the American dream for my kids and yours. And Washington is burying our economy under all of this debt. And we're burying the future for our kids and our grandkids. That's why I believe it's one of the most important things that we can do here is to solve our long-term spending problem and allow our economy to continue healing and growing.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to ask you just a couple of quick items away from this fight if I can. On gun control, you know, you memorably stood up and applauded when the president recognized gun victims, including Gabby Giffords at the State-of-the-Union. In the House, will they get a vote that the president says they need to get on all of the proposed gun control measures?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
I've made clear if the Senate acts on gun control legislation, the House will consider it.

DAVID GREGORY:
Are background checks the sweet spot here? Could you support those?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
We've already had a number of hearings in the House. We're going to continue to have hearings. But David, we need to look at more than just guns. We need to look at violence in our society. You know, we've got a violent society. And if you've looked at all these mass shootings, what you see is the people who perpetrated these crimes all had a history of mental illness. And so where's the nexus? And how do we ensure that we keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them?

DAVID GREGORY:
It was a poignant moment here on Capitol Hill this week when Rosa Parks was honored with the statue here. And a heated debate about voting rights in the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia said the act now amounts to, "perpetuation of racial entitlement." And questioned whether it was the kind of question you can lead to Congress. You voted to reauthorize this in 2006. You called it an effective tool. Do you believe that the Voting Rights Act is still needed?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Oh, I think the Voting Rights Act is passed with large majorities in the House and Senate. I think it's something that has served our country well. But there is an argument over a very small section of the Voting Rights Act. And that's what the court is going to consider.

DAVID GREGORY:
You told the Wall Street Journal in January, in the middle of the fiscal cliff deal, "I need this job like I need a hole in the head." It doesn't sound like you're particularly loving your work.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Listen, this is hard. I'm think the American people understand it's hard. You know, if solving this spending problem were easy, somebody around here over the last 20 years would have done it. It's not easy. And there are big disagreements between the two parties in terms of how we address it, but it's an issue that has to be addressed. And I've frankly made it my mission as Speaker to address this problem, because it is the greatest threat to our country.

DAVID GREGORY:
This is a high-stakes time. I asked you a bunch of tough questions. I appreciate you coming on and answering them as Speaker. Thank you.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:
Happy to do it.

DAVID GREGORY:
Thank you. Appreciate it.


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