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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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MR. GREGORY: We're here in New York. Congressman Pence, good to have you here with me on, on our breezy set here this morning. We'll be able to get through that.

I want to get to the pledge and its contents and this whole debate about whether these are new ideas or not...


MR. GREGORY: just a moment.

But, Congressman Van Hollen and Congressman Pence, I want to start on the narrow issue of tax cuts and the big tax cut debate that is part of this midterm campaign.

We know, Congressman Van Hollen, that the Senate has kicked off the decision--kicked it back, I should say, till after the elections to take on whether or not the Bush tax cuts should be extended. What will the House do on this important question?

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, David, the House will vote before these tax cuts expire at the end of the year. Whether we vote before the election or not is something we'll take a look at. But I want to be very clear as to what the stakes are here because what the Republicans have said is that they're going to hold tax relief for 98 percent of the American people hostage until they can get permanent tax breaks for the top 2 percent, even though that would blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit, something that would be added to the credit cards of our children and grandchildren, and slow down economic growth and jobs going forward.

MR. GREGORY: But what about the timing? Because you say it's probably not till after the election. I've talked to economists, read their words this week, who say the longer you wait the more uncertainty. Why not put it to a vote before the midterms?

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, we are absolutely going to get this done before the end of the year. We may well take it up before the midterms. But, as you've heard from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, they are insisting on holding the tax cuts for most of the American people hostage until they get these breaks for the very top. And we don't think that we should be adding $700 billion to our deficit. That's fiscally reckless at a time that we need to be imposing some fiscal discipline. We should not be adding red ink that's going to have to be picked up by others and, and put us more in hock to China and other countries.

MR. GREGORY: OK. All right, Congressman Pence, you can...

REP. VAN HOLLEN: That just does not make sense.

MR. GREGORY: can take on the substance of that. But first, answer this question about the time, maybe, because this is where the news is, should the House take this up before the midterm vote?

REP. PENCE: David, there is no question that there should be no higher priority for the Congress of the United States today than making sure that no American sees a tax increase in January of 2011, not one. I, I, I have to tell you, this, for all the world, seems like a moment where Congress is putting politics ahead of prosperity. You know, it--what, what they're proposing here, even a--even if they found some way to just extend middle class tax relief, would be an enormous tax increase in January on job creators in this country. You know, higher taxes won't get people hired. Raising taxes on job creators won't create jobs, and the American people know that.

But let me say one last thing. I, I...


REP. PENCE: ...I think it would be unconscionable for this Congress to adjourn without giving the bipartisan majority in the Congress that wants to extend all current tax relief an up or down vote.

MR. GREGORY: All right. But let me ask you this because this is a key question.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: David--wait, David.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah, hold on, Congressman, I'll get right back to you. But I want to ask this key question. In this Pledge to America that...

REP. PENCE: Right.

MR. GREGORY: ...that we'll talk about in, in greater detail in just a moment, is this commitment to bringing down the deficit.

REP. PENCE: Right.

MR. GREGORY: As well as extending the tax cuts. How do you answer the charge from Democrats, from the president as well, that you don't have a way to pay for extending the tax cuts, and yet you're committed to deficit reduction?

REP. PENCE: Well, look, in the Pledge to America, which I look forward to chatting about, we say, look, we've got to do something to get this economy moving again. We give real and meaningful proposals to begin the process of reining in runaway federal spending by both political parties...

MR. GREGORY: But, but how do you pay for the tax cuts is the question.

REP. PENCE: ...and reforming the government.

Look, job one needs to be to create jobs. The American people know the last thing you want to do in the worst economy in 25 years is raise taxes on small business owners and family farmers. We have to vote before Congress adjourns for the political season, the fall elections, on an up or down vote. More than 30 Democrats support extending all the current tax relief. And, and we're calling on Speaker Pelosi and leaders like Chris, give us an up or down vote, let the Congress work its will and give the American people certainty...


MR. GREGORY: Congressman Van Hollen, go ahead.

REP. PENCE: ...that there will be no tax increase.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: David, this notion that Mike's talking about, that you need to have these tax breaks for the very top to create jobs and economic expansion, Mike, those tax rights are in effect right now. They're in effect right now. I don't see all this job creation as a result of those tax cuts. They've been in effect for nine years. At the end of those nine years, we've seen losses of millions of jobs. So this, this story that somehow those breaks for the very folks at the top create these jobs is, is just nonsense.

And I want to make one other point because they have...

REP. PENCE: Well, but the--there's no question...

MR. GREGORY: Hold on. Go ahead. Go ahead.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: ...they have--they--one other point. They have tried to mask this as an issue with small businesses. Well, it turns out that only 2 percent of small businesses are affected. And when you look at the definition of small businesses, you find that they're big hedge funds, big Washington lobbying firms, KKR, Pricewaterhouse. Because, under the definition of tax code, anything that's an S corporation qualifies. So I want Mike to tell us whether he really believes that KKR, whether Pricewaterhouse, whether those are the kind of small businesses that need help? Because that's the folks that they're trying to help out. We don't...

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask a different question about taxes.

REP. PENCE: Well, well, look...

MR. GREGORY: Wait a minute, I want to...

REP. PENCE: Can I respond to that, though?

MR. GREGORY: Well, in just...

REP. PENCE: I think he makes a very good point.

MR. GREGORY: OK, go ahead.

REP. PENCE: If the current tax relief was enough to get this economy moving again, the economy would be moving and it's not. What, what Chris and the Democrats in Congress and the administration continue to insist on is a tax increase in January of 2011. But I want to stipulate to the point. That's why Republicans, in the Pledge to America, called for a 20 percent business deduction on all business income immediately, to be voted on in this Congress. We think there needs to be more pro-growth tax relief to get the economy moving again. But, for heaven sakes, let's not raise taxes on job creators.

MR. GREGORY: All right, but let me ask you a bigger question about tax cuts or tax hikes. You say in the Pledge to America that you want to bring spending down to 2008 levels, which you well know is not enough to really seriously tackle the deficit, even if you bring it back to 2008. So the question for you, and I'll ask Congressman Van Hollen, how can you rule out tax hikes as we move forward if you want to get serious about tackling the deficit?

REP. PENCE: Well, look, I, I--number one, I think you rule out tax increases because our problem isn't that the American people are taxed too little, our problem is that Washington spends too much. In the Pledge to America we call for cutting discretionary spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, cutting the amount of funding allocated to Congress, freezing all pay on nonsecurity federal employees, ending federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ending TARP. That'd save a trillion dollars over 10 years alone. And, you know, reducing discretionary spending back to those 2008 levels, that would be--I mean, that would save $100 billion this year.

MR. GREGORY: That's fine, but that doesn't...

REP. PENCE: We, we can get there through fiscal discipline and reform.

MR. GREGORY: ...that really doesn't tackle the deficit completely.

Congressman Van Hollen, the question for you and for Democrats, can you rule out tax hikes as we move forward to be serious about cutting the deficit?

REP. VAN HOLLEN: I'm sorry, David, what was the question? I couldn't hear you.

MR. GREGORY: Can you--do you really rule out tax increases not just for the wealthiest Americans, but even for the middle class, if we're going to get serious about dealing with the deficit?

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Yeah. Yeah, we think it would be a big mistake to raise taxes on 98 percent of the American people. And I want to go back to this point that Mike raised about small businesses. The president and the Democrats have proposed tax cuts for small businesses to generate new activity. In fact, the president's just said let's provide 100 percent write-off for investments made between now and 2011. And what was interesting was they had this big ceremony for the pledge at a small business site, within hours they came back to the Hill and voted against the Small Business Lending Bill which, in addition to increasing access to credit for small businesses, contains significant tax cuts. And Senator Voinovich, who's a retiring Republican senator said it's time for the Republicans to stop playing politics when the American people are hurting. And I hope they will begin to do that because...


REP. VAN HOLLEN: ...they violated their pledge within hours about cutting taxes to small businesses.

MR. GREGORY: You know, as you go back to 1994, Congressman Pence, there was the Contract with America, and one of the big issues, if you go back even to interviews I've done with Republican leaders till after the election of President Obama, was that this wanted to be the party of new ideas.

REP. PENCE: Right.

MR. GREGORY: And, in fact, this, this pledge has been criticized for being anything but new. Where satire is most effective, Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" this week raised this issue by comparing some of what was said in 1998 by Speaker--rather, who wants to be speaker, Boehner, John Boehner, to what he said in unveiling the pledge. And this is what it looked like.

(Videotape, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Thursday)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: (From September 23) A smaller...

(From March 3, 1998) A smaller...

(From September 23) ...less costly...
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(From March 3, 1998) ...less costly...

(From September 23) ...and more accountable...

(From March 3, 1998) ...and more accountable...

(From September 23, 2010 and March 3, 1998; in unison) ...government in our nation's capital.

MR. JON STEWART: Wow. That's--I don't even know what to say. This thing's not even a sequel. It's like a shot-by-shot remake of your--I thought the pledge was you were humbled and going to come back with fresh new ideas. Wasn't that the pledge?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: So what's new here?

REP. PENCE: Well, ending bailouts and cutting spending in Washington, D.C., is a new idea, David. And the truth is, look, Republicans didn't just lose our majority in 2006, we lost our way. We walked away from the principles of fiscal discipline and reform that minted our governing majority back in 1980 and again in 1994, and the American people walked away from us. What, what we have in this proposal is not, not necessarily new. The idea of fiscal responsibility, pro-growth policies, openness and transparency in government are solid, American ideas. What Republicans are committing to in this Pledge to America is taking important first steps in this Congress to steer our national government back to those basic practices and principles.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Van Hollen, do you agree? Is this a return to core principles or is this a rehash?

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Look, this is a rehash. It's a recycling of the Bush economic agenda. They put a new front page on it, but otherwise this is a Xerox copy. Their whole answer to everything seems to be give the folks at the very top a tax break, and then they want to undo the regulations and reforms on Wall Street. I mean, the problems on Wall Street led to catastrophe around the country, millions of people lost their jobs, and they're trying to do what lobbyists tried very hard to do, but didn't succeed, which is to say, "Let's put those guys back in charge." And I--it is a return to the Bush economic agenda. There's no doubt about it.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let me follow up...

REP. PENCE: David, David...

REP. VAN HOLLEN: I would point out...

MR. GREGORY: Let me follow up on this point.

REP. PENCE: (Unintelligible)

REP. VAN HOLLEN: ...this is not...

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Pence, hold on, let me follow up on this point...


MR. GREGORY: ...which is where you think this is a credible economic argument. You voted against TARP. You opposed the stimulus, as did other Republican leaders. And yet people, economists who have looked at this from both sides of the aisle, Robert Samuelson writing in Newsweek who is a more conservative columnist on economic matters, says that the aggressive actions taken, going back to TARP and then followed through by this administration, most definitely had an impact on GDP, on the fact that we don't see unemployment approaching 16 percent. Is it credible for Republicans to ask for the vote this November when, effectively, you would've let the financial system teeter off the edge of a cliff?

REP. PENCE: Well, it--look, Republicans weren't prepared to let the financial system teeter off a cliff.

MR. GREGORY: You voted against TARP.

REP. PENCE: We just thought taking $700 billion...
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MR. GREGORY: What would've happened if, if you had not passed TARP?

REP. PENCE: Well, David, we just thought taking $700 billion from Main Street and transferring it to Wall Street was a profoundly bad idea.

MR. GREGORY: That's good rhetoric, but what would've happened to the financial system?

REP. PENCE: Now we...

MR. GREGORY: Who in the financial system thinks it didn't stabilize the system?

REP. PENCE: Yeah, look. Republicans, Republicans had a proposal, it was a backstop, not a handout. It--we could've, we could've worked out this as a lot of the post-mortem analysis suggested we could. Look, this is not a choice between the failed economic policies of the present and the failed economic policies of the past. I know that the Democrats want to frame it that way. What Republicans are saying is we have to get back, we have to end the era of borrowing and spending and bailouts and government takeovers. We have to repeal Obama care lock, stock, and barrel, oppose their cap and trade schemes, and then we've got to get back to the practice of fiscal responsibility and the kind of policies that'll get this economy growing again.

MR. GREGORY: Name me one painful choice on spending the Republicans are prepared to make, that there could be some real blowback for politically, that they'll stand by if they want to reduce the deficit and rein in spending?

REP. PENCE: Well, look, I, look, I, you know...

MR. GREGORY: I read through this. I want to know where is the painful choice that you're prepared to make on spending?

REP. PENCE: Look, I, I never thought you'd ask. Look, cutting discretionary spending.

MR. GREGORY: On what?

REP. PENCE: Down to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout...

MR. GREGORY: Name the painful choice on a program that you're going to cut.

REP. PENCE: Look, we could reduce, we could reduce government employment back down to 2008 levels. That's $35 billion over 10. We could eliminate government programs like the Save America's Treasures programs.

MR. GREGORY: (Unintelligible).

REP. PENCE: That's $300 million.

MR. GREGORY: Talk--what about entitlement spending? Are you going to raise the retirement age...

REP. PENCE: Look...

MR. GREGORY: John Boehner suggests might be a good idea on Social Security?

REP. PENCE: Look. Well, you know, in--the last time I was on this program, I told you we'd keep our promises to seniors and near seniors, but for Americans under the age of 40, we absolutely have to begin to reform Medicare and Social Security in ways that'll ensure its long-term fiscal solvency. But let me assure you, the Pledge to America is not the end-all, be-all, it's meant to be a good start.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Congressman Van Hollen, what about President Clinton who said this week on MSNBC, "Perhaps the Democrats need a pledge of their own. They need a card with three or five of the top points that they're going to campaign on." What would those be for Democrats in the fall and do you take his advice?

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, the Democrats have set out what their plans are. We're going to continue as the president has said to focus on providing relief to small business going, going forward. We have a bill coming to the floor of the House this week that I hope Mike Pence and his colleagues will join us on to try to make sure that we are not put at a competitive disadvantage by the Chinese currency manipulation. We're going to continue to focus on clean energy jobs and incentives for clean energy, and we're going to continue to focus on the economy.
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And I have to say, when you look at the Republican so-called pledge, you find a lot of phony numbers. Let me give you an example. They say they're going to, they're going to save $16 billion by getting rid of TARP. Mike, we voted to get rid of TARP already. It was part of the Wall Street Reform Bill that Republicans opposed. That bill terminated TARP. And yet, in this pledge, they're pretending that they're going to find savings from shutting down something that we've already shut down. That's the kind of thing I think people are tired of. Earmarks. They've made all this talk about how they were going to end earmarks. We reformed the earmark process. We said no more earmarks that distort the private market by going to for-profit, private entities. There's not a word in there about that. I assume that they're going to go back to their old ways...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: ...when they quadrupled earmarks.


REP. VAN HOLLEN: It's hard to take seriously, given their record here, and it is the same old, same old.

MR. GREGORY: I've got...

REP. PENCE: Look, different from the Democrats, we Republicans refuse to request any earmarks this year whatsoever. We've imposed a self-imposed moratorium on earmarks, and we're going to end earmarking as we know it...


REP. PENCE: ...if we have a chance to lead the Congress again.


MR. GREGORY: I'm going to leave that, I'm going to leave that part of it done. We have about 10 seconds left.

Congressman Van Hollen, you're in charge of getting Democrats elected in the House. How bad will November be at this point in time in your judgment?

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Democrats are going to do very well. We're going to keep the majority because the choice we've talked about here, they said they were listening to the American people. One of the biggest recommendations was to end these perverse tax breaks that encourage offshoring, outsourcing of American jobs. We've closed down some of those loopholes. We're going to continue to do it. There's not a word about the outsourcing problem in America in that pledge, not one word in 46 pages.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Those are the kind of choices people are focusing on in this election.

MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there. The debate will continue as we move forward in this campaign. Congressman Pence, Congressman Van Hollen, thank you both very much.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY: And up next, here in New York, we kick off NBC's weeklong commitment to Education Nation. How can we best reform our failing school system and make America competitive again? Our special discussion with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; D.C. Schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee; American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten; and Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb, only here on MEET THE PRESS.


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