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CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript: Health Care and Immigration


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SCHIEFFER: And good morning, again. Well, I went to the Capitol to talk to House Speaker John Boehner on the week that the House had voted for the 39th time to kill or delay the president's health care plan. So with this shaping up at the least productive legislative session in history, I began by asking Speaker Boehner, wasn't it time to get on to something else? "Absolutely not," he told me. Republicans have only begun to fight this plan and won't be satisfied until they kill it.

BOEHNER: The program isn't ready. This is not ready for prime time. This is not good for the country, and we're going to stay at it.

SCHIEFFER: So we can expect more of this.

BOEHNER: Absolutely. You're going to see a lot more of it, and you're going to see bipartisan votes coming out of the House to begin to derail this thing.

SCHIEFFER: Knowing full well that this is going nowhere.

BOEHNER: Well, Bob, I've been around this town for a little while, like you have -- not quite as long -- but around here, never, ever, ever is not usually a good prescription. The senators know, the Democrat senators know that this law's not workable. They know it's not ready. It was Max Baucus, Senate chairman, Democrat chairman of the Finance Committee, who said that this was a train wreck. They know it's a train wreck, so I wouldn't be so quick to suggest that they're never going to take this up. Matter of fact, I would urge Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, put these two bills on the floor of the Senate to delay the employer mandate and to delay the individual mandate, and let's see what happens.

SCHIEFFER: All right, let's talk about the other big issue, and that is immigration. I just want to cut right to the chase here. Will you allow any immigration bill to come to the House floor for a vote if it includes some kind of path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants that are in this country now?

BOEHNER: Bob, we have a broken immigration system. The legal immigration system is broken. We have the problem with 11 million people who are here without documents, 40 percent of whom, by the way, came here as legal immigrants. So we've got a very big problem. And what I've committed is that, one, the House does not like the Senate bill. You know, it's one big massive bill that, in my opinion, doesn't have enough serious triggers to protect our borders.

SCHIEFFER: But would you allow -- getting back to the question I asked--


BOEHNER: (Inaudible).

SCHIEFFER: Would you allow a bill on the floor that provides a path to citizenship?

BOEHNER: Bob, what we're going to do --

SCHIEFFER: -- 11 million people?

BOEHNER: -- what we're going to do in the House, is we're dealing with this in a commonsense, step-by-step approach. We want to deal with this in chunks, chunks that the members can deal with and grapple with and frankly chunks that the American people can get their arms around --

SCHIEFFER: But can I say this --

BOEHNER: -- 1,300-page bills that no one has read.

SCHIEFFER: Are you not going to answer that question?

BOEHNER: It's not about me. This is about -- this is about allowing the House to work its will.

SCHIEFFER: Would you allow that to happen?

BOEHNER: This is about bringing these bills out here in a commonsense way. And I'm not going to predict what's going to be on the floor and what isn't going to be on the floor. Now that's what you're asking me to do. I can't do that, and I don't want to do that. My job in this process is to facilitate a discussion, and to facilitate a process so the American people can see what we're doing and so the members understand that we're dealing with this in a deliberative way.

SCHIEFFER: Do you, Mr. Speaker, yourself, personally, favor a bill that has a path to citizenship for those 11 million?

BOEHNER: Bob, people have been trying to get me to do this since the day after the election.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you're the leader of the Republicans.

BOEHNER: The day after the election I made clear that I thought it was time for our government to deal with this serious problem of immigration.

SCHIEFFER: You actually said you were for a comprehensive bill.

BOEHNER: And I believe that we have to deal with it. We have to deal with it in an honest way. It's not about me. It's not about what I want. What I'm -- what I've committed to, when I became Speaker was to a more open and fair process. And as difficult as this issue is, me taking a hard position for or against some of these issues will make it harder for us to get a bill.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you this, then, can your party survive without pass something kind of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship? Senator Lindsey Graham, who is about as conservative as you can get --

BOEHNER: And one of my dear friends.

SCHIEFFER: -- without immigration reform your party is in a demographic death spiral.

BOEHNER: This isn't about politics and it's not about our party. This is about doing the right thing for our country. We're a nation of immigrants. Immigration has strengthened our country. We have got a broken system. My job is to work with the House members on both sides of the aisle, facilitate a conversation and facilitate a process where we can deal with this honestly and openly.

SCHIEFFER: But you're not going to say what you're for or what you're against, you're just --

BOEHNER: Why do I want to make -- If I come out and say I'm for this and I'm for that, all I'm doing is making my job harder. My job is to -- as the leader of the House, is to facilitate this conversation, this process, that involves members on both sides of the aisle, involves the American people, and when they can see us moving in a deliberative, step-by-step commonsense way.

SCHIEFFER: That is kind of an interesting take on leadership, though. In other words, you don't see yourself as someone who has an agenda. You're there to just sort of manage whatever your people want to do? Is that -- I'm not sure I understand what you see as your role as the leader.

BOEHNER: The House -- the House should be allowed to work its will. You know, I've watched a number of speakers during my tenure here in Congress. And, you know, I can talk about what happened just before I became Speaker. All the bills were written in the Speaker's office. Those bills turned -- all turned out to be very unpopular, whether it was the stimulus bill, the Dodd-Frank bill, ObamaCare, and shoved through the floor of the House, 430 members, Democrat and Republicans, locked out of the process. This is not the way the House is intended to work.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this, Mr. Speaker. Do you -- have you come to this approach because you can't control your caucus?

BOEHNER: No. Bob, I talked about this the day I was sworn in as Speaker, that I considered my job was to open up the process, let members participate. Yes, I've got certain things that I'd like to see accomplished. But this is not going to be about me. I said it the opening day. And it's never going to be about me. It's what's in the best interest of the country. If we're listening to the American people and we're following their will, our House will work just fine.

SCHIEFFER: Well, is it in the best interest of the country to keep the government in total gridlock? Because that's where we are right now. Nothing has happened.

BOEHNER: We've got a divided country. We've got a divided government. Democrats have the White House. They have the Senate. American people sent Republicans here to the House. We have divided government. Our job is to find the common ground. Yes, the country is divided, but, my goodness, there is common ground.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't see anybody finding common ground right now.

BOEHNER: Well, it's a little harder to find today than it was 10 years ago.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you about another leader, that is the President of the United States. What do you think his agenda is for the second term?

BOEHNER: I have no idea.

SCHIEFFER: Do you talk to him? When is the last time you all spoke?

BOEHNER: I talked to him last week, I believe it was. We've had some more regular conversations here over the last couple of months.

SCHIEFFER: What was that about?

BOEHNER: Well, I'd like to keep the conversations between president and myself between the president and myself.

SCHIEFFER: But you said back there at the beginning you wanted to find the common ground that's eluded us. Do you feel you have found any common ground with the president?

BOEHNER: I think we all recognize that immigration reform has to be dealt with. And while we have a lot of different opinions about how to get there and what to do, I do think it's an issue that has to be dealt with.

SCHIEFFER: Let's talk with the economy. You often ask, where are the jobs? But it's clear, it seems to me, that cutting spending specifically through this sequester, has resulted in job loss, both in the private sector and in the government.

BOEHNER: Republicans have a plan for job creation. We've been at this now for the last two and a half years. And whether it's making student loans more affordable, stopping unnecessary regulations, trying to get our budget deficit under control -- all of these things would help get our economy moving again. Listen, this new normal of slow economic growth, no increase in jobs that are available, wages are being basically frozen. We're squeezing the middle class. And I would argue the president's policies are getting in the way of the economy growing, whether it's Obamacare, whether it's all these needless regulations that are coming out of the government. It's getting in the way of people wanting to invest in our economy. I used to be a small businessman. I know how this works.

SCHIEFFER: Steve LaTourrette, recently retired House Republican from Ohio, friend of yours, was asked by "New York" magazine recently what he thought you still enjoyed about your job. And he said, "I can't figure out anything he'd still enjoy. I'd be depressed. I'd be ripping my hair out. I'm surprised he's not bald." What do you enjoy about your job, Mr. Speaker?

BOEHNER: Bob, I came here 23 years ago as a small businessman committed to finding a way for - to achieve a smaller, less-costly, and more accountable federal government. I think the American people are seeing now the IRS scandal, and what the Justice Department did to the press, what happened in Benghazi, and what's going on with Obamacare, the American people are looking up at a government that's out of control. It's too big to govern. And so the mission I came here with as a small businessman 23 years ago is still my mission -- to fight for a smaller, less-costly, a more accountable federal government, to empower the private sector to be all that it can be, to create jobs for our kids and grand kids. That's what drives me every day. And I know people from the outside look in and go, "how can he put up with all this nonsense?" But I don't look at it that way. I stay focused on the mission I came here with, and it's still the mission I have.

SCHIEFFER: Any way you cut it, and whoever's fault it is, you have presided over what it perhaps the least-productive and certainly one of the least popular congresses in history. How do you feel about that?

BOEHNER: Well, Bob, we should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal. We've got more laws than the administration could ever enforce. And so we don't do commemorative bills on the floor. We don't do all that nonsense. We deal with what the American people want us to deal with. Unpopular? Yes. Why? We're in a divided government. We're fighting for what we believe in. Sometimes, you know, the American people don't like this mess.

SCHIEFFER: But it's not the case, Mr. Speaker, of just passing or not passing new laws. You've got the government in gridlock. You're laying off people in the Defense Department. They're working four days a week. You've got the sequester that is the creation of congress. This is not something that...

BOEHNER: Now, Bob, that's wrong. That is wrong.

SCHIEFFER: Hoisted upon Washington by...


SCHIEFFER: Somebody from Mars.

BOEHNER: Who insisted on the sequester, the president of the United States.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I'm talking about Washington in general.

BOEHNER: He insisted on it. Understand something, Bob, the government has spent more than it brought in for 55 of the last 60 years. I made it clear two and a half years when I was about to become speaker that we were not going to kick this can down the road again. So the president insisted on the sequester. I said the sequester would be in effect until the president would agree to cut some reforms that will put us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years.

SCHIEFFER: What do you want your legacy to be?

BOEHNER: He was fair to all and protected the institution. When you look at my job, there's one person responsible for the institution of the House, and that falls into my lap. It's my number one responsibility. But in addition to that, I actually do believe that opening up the process, allowing committees to do their work, bringing bills through committee in a more fair and open process on the floor, will begin to heal this institution. There's partisan scar tissue all over place, but if -- the more I can open it up and allow members to work together, over time that partisan scar tissue will begin to melt and go away. It's a long-term proposition, but I'm committed to it.

SCHIEFFER: What is the most important thing you think could happen this year if you could just wave a magic wand? What would be your number one priority right now?

BOEHNER: Well, that we would do something to fix our fiscal situation. It's the biggest threat to the future of our country. And we can't cut our way to prosperity, nor can we just grow our way out of the problem. We need to do both. So, we need tax reform where we bring down the rates, we get rid of the garbage in the tax code, make it fairer for more Americans and it will help us with real economic growth. But in addition to that, we've got to fix our entitlement problem. These programs are important to tens of millions of Americans, but they're not going to be there if we don't get serious about fixing these programs so that our kids and grand kids aren't given 60 percent or 70 percent of their check to the federal government to pay for our benefits.

SCHIEFFER: Last question, but do you have any hope that any of those things could be accomplished by the end of this year?

BOEHNER: Hope, hope spring eternal. I'm an optimist. I wouldn't be sitting here if I wasn't.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Speaker, thank you..

BOEHNER: Thank you.


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