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PBS "Newshour with Jim Lehrer" - Transcript


Location: Washington, DC


MS. WARNER: Leader Boehner, welcome. Thanks for coming.

REP. BOEHNER: I'm glad to be here.

MS. WARNER: When the Democrats unveiled their $825 billion stimulus plan, their blueprint today, you came down to the press gallery and said, "Oh, my God!" Can you elaborate?

REP. BOEHNER: I looked at this package over lunch, right before I went to the press gallery. And there's over a half-a-trillion dollars worth of spending. And it looks like 14 years worth of liberal Democrat ideas that were stuck in the back of a cabinet somewhere. And it's not the kind of spending, in my view, that will stimulate our economy, create jobs, and more -- even more importantly, preserve jobs that are out there today.

I just believe that if we're going to help American families and small businesses, we need to leave more money in their hands, tax less, let them make good decisions with what they can do with more of their own money to create jobs and keep jobs.

MS. WARNER: But were you really surprised? I mean, isn't the scope of it pretty much what President-elect Obama has talked about?

REP. BOEHNER: Oh, no, no, no. This is nothing like the president-elect has talked about. And, frankly, we're working with him. He's asked for our ideas. We have been working to develop those ideas and are sharing those ideas, frankly, as we speak.

But the president understands that we need to stimulate the economy, not stimulate our government. And if you look at the over $500 billion worth of spending, a lot of it's going to fix up federal buildings, and -- and $6 billion to community action programs to do weatherization programs.

It's just more of the same kind of wasteful spending that we have seen in the past. I was really -- I was shocked.

MS. WARNER: But you have --

REP. BOEHNER: And that's what why I said what I said.

MS. WARNER: You have picked out fairly small little pieces of this. What about the big, broad categories? I think there are $90 billion for infrastructure, roads and sewers and bridges.

REP. BOEHNER: No, no, no. Well, there's $30 billion for roads. And, frankly, I think these are ready-to-go projects that really can help. I think some of the water and sewer programs -- revolving programs or loan programs -- are probably solid infrastructure kind of things that we can use.

But if you look at a lot of the spending, it's not going to create jobs. And that's what this plan is intended to do -- except that it doesn't do it. And the level of -- of tax reductions that are -- that's in this package are less than the president-elect has called for.

So we have to remember, now, this is the congressional Democrat plan. This isn't Senator Obama's plan. And, so I'm hopeful that we are going to continue to work with him to move a package quickly that is responsible, that will help preserve jobs and create new jobs.

MS. WARNER: Now, Speaker Pelosi was on the program last week speaking with Jim Lehrer, and she said that 95 percent of Americans will get tax relief in this program.

REP. BOEHNER: It hasn't been outlined yet. We're going to have to wait and see what the Ways and Means Committee decides to do. There's just a big blank spot in this plan, in terms of how they're going to do that.

There are some small-business tax credits in here, quicker depreciation, things to spur investment by small businesses. But, on the individual side, we have not seen any details as yet.

MS. WARNER: But you are trying to draw a distinction here now between President-elect Obama and congressional Democrats; is that right?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, there's no question.

He's made it clear that he wants to take a more middle path. He's been very, I think, sincere in that request and sincere in trying to go down a more middle path. He wants a bipartisan plan to pass the Congress. He's reached out to us and we have reached out to him to work with him.

We have to understand that the plan unveiled today by the liberals in Congress had no Democrat -- or had no Republican input at all, at any level.

MS. WARNER: But, apparently, according to those involved, it did have heavy input from the Obama economic team.

REP. BOEHNER: That may or may not be the case. I don't know. I wasn't involved.

MS. WARNER: Do you think you have leverage here because President-elect Obama has said he wants this to pass with broad bipartisan support?

REP. BOEHNER: I think he's sincere in wanting to work with both parties on Capitol Hill.

I've talked to him several times and I really -- and his top staff people. I think he's serious about it. And I want to work with him. We're facing a lot of economic anxiety in America. Our economy is facing big challenges. This should not be about Democrats or Republicans.

This should be about what can we do quickly to help American families and small businesses.

MS. WARNER: So if you could sum up what your -- essentially, your counterproposal would be, without all the details, is it more in tax relief, or is it that -- just that the spending chunk should be differently allocated?

REP. BOEHNER: I think that we need more in tax relief. The more money we allow to stay with American families and small businesses, they will make good choices with that money. They're either going to spend it or they're going to save it, both of which are good for the economy.

And we would actually preserve and create more jobs more quickly that way. And the infrastructure spending, you know, I think solid road construction projects, water and sewer projects that are necessary, let's go do that.

But I do believe that the focus has to be not on a bunch of old, tired liberal ideas sitting in the back of a cabinet, but ideas that will create and preserve jobs.

MS. WARNER: So, more broadly, how would you describe the hand you think House Republicans have now, going into this new administration?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, we're in the minority --

MS. WARNER: And a bigger minority from last time.

REP. BOEHNER: -- and a bigger minority than we were over the last two years.

And I think our -- what we're attempting to do is, we want to work with the new administration. There probably will be times where we can. There will be times where we will disagree. But, when we disagree, we're not going to be the party of "No". We want to be the party of better solutions.

And I have pushed our members rather strongly that we don't want to be out there whining, and we don't want to be out there just being the party of "No"; that we have better solutions, and if we do, let's put them out there.

MS. WARNER: But President-elect Obama did campaign and did win on a program that was quite different from the Republican program.

Do you see yourselves going more than halfway on that, or do you see yourselves sticking to essentially what was presented to the voters in the last campaign, and voting no if the bill doesn't end up following that?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, Margaret, there's -- running a campaign for an election is a lot different than governing.

And as we get into the governing, the president, I do believe, wants to take a new approach. And we want to work with him on that new approach. What that will look like, I don't think anybody knows as yet. But I think we owe it to the country to find as much common ground as we can.

MS. WARNER: There was a report in, I think, Roll Call recently that said you had called on your fellow Republicans -- and you alluded to this -- but to really temper their rhetoric about President-elect Obama. Is that true?


You know, our country has big challenges and big economic challenges. We had a big election. President-elect Obama won. The country wants to see him succeed. And I think it's important that he succeed. It's important for our country.

And so while we may not agree every day, I do think that it's in the country's best interest. And, at the end of the day, that's my guiding principle: What's in the best interest of our country? And if the idea or proposal is, I'm going to be for it. If it isn't, I hope to have a better idea that will be good for our country.

MS. WARNER: Finally, we are in the final days of the Bush presidency. He's giving his farewell address tonight.

What kind of shape do you think he's left your party in?

REP. BOEHNER: The president has -- he was dealt a lot of tough cards over the last eight years. I have worked with him closely over this last eight years. We're very close friends. And he's had to make a lot of tough decisions.

But I can tell you that the president, in my view, made every decision based on what he thought was best for America -- not best for the Republican Party, and not best for his own popularity. He made tough decisions in terms of what he thought was good for the country. And you know, when you make those tough decisions, sometimes, they're not popular. Sometimes, they don't turn out as well. Clearly, the war in Iraq -- there were a lot of mistakes made before we got on to the right path.

And so as a result, yes, Republicans have taken a few hits. But don't worry. We're going to have new ideas and better ideas. And the American people will have a chance to take a look at those in the months to come.

MS. WARNER: And what do you think it will take to recover?

REP. BOEHNER: Honesty. You know, speaking to the American people about our better ideas, our better solutions, having a dialogue, having them once again consider voting for our members and our ideas.

And over the course of the next two years -- we go through this, unfortunately, every two years -- you know, they will have a chance to decide. Do they want more spending or less spending? Do they want higher taxes or lower taxes? Do they want a health care plan rooted in reestablishing the doctor-patient relationship, or do they want government-run health care?

There's going to be a lot of opportunities for the two parties to show the real differences. And two years from now, we will go through it again.

MS. WARNER: President Bush, in remarks last week, said he thought one thing the party had to do was to present a more inclusive face to the voters. And he specifically cited immigration. And he said: You know, when our party came out against immigration, it looked like that they were against -- we were against immigrants. And many other Americans then concluded, well, they must be against people like us, too.


MS. WARNER: Do you agree that there needs to be an adjustment, too, in sort of the face that you present to American voters?

REP. BOEHNER: You know, it was -- what was said was not heard the same way.

And I have talked to, you know, a number of Hispanics who -- legal Hispanics that are here in our country, and we're glad they're here -- who heard the rhetoric of that debate that went on over illegal immigration, heard it differently than a lot of people intended.

And so how this is discussed, how it's dealt with is critically important. Hispanics are going to make up an even larger percentage of the electorate in the next election.

But we have to remember, we're a nation of immigrants -- all of us. And this country has always had its arms open for legal immigration. And the really interesting part is, there were a lot of legal immigrants who were some of the most outspoken in favor controlling illegal immigration.

MS. WARNER: Finally, in terms of what it will take to recover, do you think the Republican Party recovering depends, though, on President-elect Obama not succeeding?

REP. BOEHNER: No, I don't think so.

You know, I just think that we're going to find a lot of common ground, is my hope, because I think that's good for the country. But you know, over the course of the next couple of years, we're going to have issues where we're going to have philosophical disagreements, or we're going to have better solutions.

And I think elections ought to be about a party or a battle of ideas, not a bunch of personal attacks. And so I hope to make sure that our members and our team really do have a list of better ideas that the American people can look at and they can judge.

MS. WARNER: House Minority Leader John Boehner, thank you for being with us.

REP. BOEHNER: Thank you.


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