House GOP Conference Chair Jeb Hensarling
HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt joined now by Congressman Jed Hensarling of Texas. Congressman Hensarling is, of course, the Chairman of the GOP Conference. He was at White House today meeting with President Obama and the other Republicans. Congressman, before I begin, I just want to know if the President made any Twitter jokes today?
JH: If he did, I didn’t hear him [laughing]. I’m not sure humor is his strength.
HH: Well, I have to tell you, have you been watching your colleague across the aisle Congressman Weiner today? He’s having a rough day.
JH: Well, I understand that kind of at a distance I’ve had better things to do, but if I could observe, I noticed the lead-in to this portion was Dire Straits and certainly our economy is in dire straights if we don’t do something about this debt and that was the conversation that we had with the President.
HH: Alright. Set this up for people as to location, duration and who said what and how the exchange went.
JH: Well to the President’s credit, he is inviting all members of Congress within their respective party group or caucuses to go meet with him and so I guess 220 of us had RSVPd this morning and we went over to the White House at 10:00. I want to say that we were there until roughly 11:30, and the President made a few introductory comments and the Speaker let him know very clear that it was evident that we are not going to pass any debt ceiling increase. We’re not going to help him pay his bills unless he starts to cut up the credit cards-that much was quite obvious from our vote last evening and we laid it on the line that if he’s going to expect our help to do that, there’s got to be something serious. The good news is that he at least acknowledged that the big drivers of our nation’s structural debt frankly are the large entitlement programs that we all know are going broke, and so the good news is that the President acknowledged it. The bad news is he refuses to put a plan on the table to deal with it. He’ll give us a speech, but he won’t give us a plan. That in an of itself was disappointing but you know Hugh, at any time you can have I guess Democrats and Republicans talking together it’s probably better than not.
HH: The last time the President met with the Conference, your predecessor the current Congressman, future governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, confronted him with all of these suggestions the Republicans – and the President got pretty sparky about that-didn’t like that at all. Congressman Pence wasn’t deterred; I hope you guys weren’t deterred today from speaking very candidly to the President that he is failing in his responsibilities of this country. Did it get sparky?
JH: Well, I’m not exactly certain what the term means. I would say that it was pointed. It was factual. Frankly, there weren’t many questions asked of the President. It was Republicans making our points about number one, the fact that we are on the press of a spending crisis and number one it threatens our jobs. It threatens our so sovereignty and frankly it threatens our children’s future. I mean I would say that Republicans spoke the truth to power-again what the President is going to do with that, he certainly heard us. Whether or not he understands it, I don’t know. Again, he claims that there will be some common ground. We will have to see it. I haven’t-I guess it’s how I approach most things in Washington, high hopes and low expectations but particularly there was an interesting exchange with my dear friend Congressman Paul Rein of Wisconsin who has been the leader on our budget effort. He, myself and Dave Camp were invited to the President’s speech at George Washington which was just astounding for the political rhetoric that was thrown at us and it was a bunch of aspirations with no policy behind it.
HH: So how did the exchange with Congressman Rein, Chairman of the Budget Committee, go today?
JH: Well, one, Paul Rein got a standing ovation at the President’s White House. It’s the people’s house. He is the current occupant of it, but he spoke quite candidly to the President that if you really want to solve this problem and frankly there’s been a little overheated rhetoric and demagoguery perhaps on both sides, but the President for all intense and purposes, it was George Washington’s speech roughly six weeks ago was making incredible accusations against the Republicans and he needs to decide whether or not this is about the next election or the next generation and that speech that he gave and frankly his actions seem to be that he’s more concerned about the next election than the next generation. I said most members didn’t ask him a question. I asked him a question and that was, Mr. President, you say that entitlement spending needs to be on the table-has to be on the table, but where is your plan? We’ve heard the speech but we don’t have a plan and unless numbers can be put to it by the Congressional Budget Office who, by the way is run by a democrat, but there’s only one plan out on the table and that’s the republican plan authored by Congressman Paul Rein and I was disappointed because the President essentially said that he’s not putting a plan out there.
HH: Of course he’s not. Politically he’s not going to take any hits so my question Chairman Hensarling of the GOP Conference is will the Speaker and will the leader lay out in detail the minimum that the deficit-the debt ceiling hike will require. I know the Speaker said a dollar of increase in the limit requires a dollar in spending cuts but he didn’t put a time table on it so you know it doesn’t really mean anything. Are there teeth in that yet?
JH: Well, here’s the marker that the Speaker has laid down and I’m very encouraged by that. Number one, any increase in the debt ceiling-in other words to pay off these bills it is going to have to be accompanied by frankly even a larger decrease in spending that actually has to be written into law, not pie in the sky.
HH: But over what period of time? That’s the whole deal over what period of time.
JH: Well, I understand the time value of money, but you know like it or not just I don’t always like the referee at a football game, this is something that would be scored which is the technical term estimated by the Congressional Budget Office so if it’s over a three year period of a five year period or whatever, the number is going to have to be larger to exceed whatever the debt ceiling increase is going to be in the offing.
HH: So in your opinion it’s a present value-if he wants a trillion dollar in debt hike, he has to come up with a trillion dollar in present value cuts?
JH: I think to a great extent, yes. People would be looking at the present value but also Hugh, what’s important is we know that there are a lot of promises that in the by and by just never quite occur. There’s going to have to be significant savings up front and the other thing that the Speaker has said is that we’re going to have-the President is going to have to do something to help save these entitlement programs for future generations. They’ve got to be modernized and unless they are on the table frankly there is no reason to be voting for this debt ceiling. We’ve made it very clear and so I like the markers that the Speaker has put down and…
HH Let me try and grab you for three more minutes Congressman after the break. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back with Chairman Jeb Hensarling of the GOP Conference.
HH I’m concluding a conversation with Jeb Hensarling, Congressman from Texas, Chairman of the House GOP Conference, number four in the leadership there. Congressman, as we went to break, you were talking about raising of the debt ceiling and frankly if entitlements are on the table and we’re not getting one for one in present value, there is no reason to lift the debt ceiling, will the Republicans blink on this or will they actually risk the upheaval in the markets because it looks to me like the President’s playing chicken with you guys?
JH: Well, I don’t know if the President is or not and listen Hugh, it is ugly. It is ugly to immediately slam on the brakes and cut 40% of your spending overnight, but there is something even uglier and that is bankrupting our children. So I think the Speaker has made it very clear. You know there is a reason they have a debt ceiling vote and that is to put something in place to stop the madness. If you look at any positive effort to curtail spending and frankly most of them have not been successful. Some have been successful for short periods of time like the Graham Redman Law back in the ’80s. Frankly, it was very successful for about five or six years and then for whatever reason Congress lost their self discipline, but my point is this the opportunity to put some kind of speed bump on the road to national bankruptcy is a debt ceiling vote. It’s the only opportunity you have.
HH: Well, I agree with that.
JH: You have to have a game changer though. There has to be a game changer dealing with the drivers of our structural debt and those are the big entitlement spending programs.
HH: And this is the hardest question Congressman Hensareling a lot of this audience is cheering you betcha. They are saying amen give me another amen; however, this audience and I believe that the House GOP blinked when you guys came down to it on the CR that cuts were token and were significant so the question is are you guys going to blink again?
JH: Well, listen Hugh, I was disappointed in the number that occurred. All that I can tell you is number one, what the Speaker has said, the line that he has drawn in the sand, and watch what happens as this thing unfolds. Again, the Speaker has said we are not going to vote for a debt ceiling increase that doesn’t have greater savings than whatever he’s asking us to put forward. The Speaker has said that there will be no tax increases. The Speaker has said that entitlement spending will be a part of this. Those are the markers that he has laid down and I think that’s the basis for actually changing this game and I believe that the vast majority of the Republican Conference will support him on this and the President has to make a decision. Again-here’s another point that I think is very important to make Hugh, and I believe that this whole issue of default on the sovereign debt to a great extent is a red herring. That would be catastrophic and I’m not sure it’s been done since the Continental Congress but the legal opinion that is out there is that the President has the ability to ensure that the bond holders are paid and then we can fight it out from there so if there’s any default on the sovereign debt, that’s the President’s responsibility.
HH: Jeb Hensarling great conversation. Thank you, Congressman.