MAJOR GARRETT: And we're joined by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Mr. Leader, great to see you. Thanks for joining us.
ERIC CANTOR: Major, it's a pleasure to be here.
MAJOR GARRETT: We're going to get to the specifics and the politics of immigration reform but I want to give you like 30 seconds to tell me what House Republicans have done, what they intend to do this year, what are the larger optics on this issue?
ERIC CANTOR: Well, we just came off of our annual retreat…this week and we had a very robust discussion about a very difficult situation, which is our broken immigration system. And I think the takeaway was, Major, there's a lot of distrust of this administration in implanting the law and we just heard the President in his State of the Union address say, you know what, if he can work with Congress, he's going to do it his own way. And that sort of breeds this kind of distrust and I think we're going to have to do something about that in order to see a way forward on immigration.
MAJOR GARRETT: Alright, we'll get to that. What are the principles, if you could enumerate them, one, two and three that House Republicans will demand for any kind of comprehensive immigration reform bill this year.
ERIC CANTOR: Well first of all, I know that you know that we are not going to take up the Senate bill.
MAJOR GARRETT: Right. That's a given.
ERIC CANTOR: So one of the first things is we believe it is serious that we, and with some seriousness, that we control our borders, right? And this goes back to the distrust. There's not been a determined sense that we are going to secure the borders and make sure that the laws on the books are being implemented now. I would say that is a precursor and has to happen first.
MAJOR GARRETT: The term of art in Washington is a trigger mechanism, written into the legislation, that requires that to be established before any other progress is made on these other issues. Is that the marker you're laying down?
ERIC CANTOR: Well what we're trying to say is there is a prerequisite here. Part of the reason why people are beating down the doors to get in this country is because the laws we have create the opportunity we're about. And so we want to make sure, before anything else, that there is border security and implementation of the laws.
MAJOR GARRETT: But you know the word is trigger. Is that what House republicans will require?
ERIC CANTOR: Well, no one is satisfied with the use of that term if it is defining what is in the Senate bill. And so we would like to see a clear, certain, determined ability to get the situation on the border straight and implement the laws on the interior, so that people can have faith across the country that laws are being upheld and that has got to happen first.
MAJOR GARRETT: The principles enumerate a legal status for the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants here in this country now. What do you mean by that and does that, by definition, mean no citizenship for them ever?
ERIC CANTOR: Major, let me tell you something. I mean, there's a lot of focus on the immigration issue, but you know in reality, we not only want to help the situation there, a lot of the discussion that we had with our members at the retreat was that we want to help the problems right now job growth and the lack of the job growth. We know that 75 percent of Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck. We've come up with some real solutions to help America work for those people too. And so I believe that you're going to see us, in Congress, not only continue this discussion on immigration, but we want to try to get to the heart of the issues that are affecting most Americans.
MAJOR GARRETT: But Mr. Leader, you know as well as I do this is a central dividing line issue. Definitionally and optically for many in your constituency, not only members who have votes but the voters who sent them here. Legal status - yes. Citizenship - never? Or possibly?
ERIC CANTOR: Listen, where I think we ought to start, and again, this is an issue among many that, in fact, most of the country is focusing on the question of the squeeze of the working middle class, the way the President spoke about in the State of the Union, a lack of opportunity that so many people are experiencing now. We want to try and deal with that as well. But so far as immigration is concerned, we've said all along we don't believe in a comprehensive fix. We want to go in a step-by-step approach to try and address the problems. Yes, there's a problem on the border in implementation of the laws. I've always said we ought to be dealing with the things that we can agree on, which are the kids. Most people say this country has never held kids liable for the misdeeds of their parents. And I think that in many instances, kids have been brought here and some, unbeknownst to themselves, and brought here illegally, and yet they know no other place is home. Certainly we ought to take care of that problem. That should come first because it just makes sense to start where we can find agreement.
MAJOR GARRETT: But you know as well as I do, to get this all put together, the President said this week that there has to be some meeting of the minds for all, not just the dreamers, the so called kids that you just referred to. And twice now you've avoided the opportunity to say what the principles that were handed out to your members said on camera. Are you running away from this even at the start? The idea that there will be a legal status and possibly a path to citizenship -- can you just define that for me?
ERIC CANTOR: I'm not running away from this. I know this is something that a lot of people want to report on and talk about, but most of the American people are worried about what's going on in their households, the fact that wages have not gone up in this country in ten years, and yes we're going to continue the discussion on immigration. We have said yes. We came out of there saying there's some principles, these standards that are being released are draft standards. We had a very positive discussion and as I said before some things have got to happen, which is the president has got to demonstrate, frankly, the country and the congress can trust him in implementing the laws. Look what he's done with Obamacare. He has selectively enforced that law and some have raised constitutional questions whether he can even do some things like that. So there's a real question of trust here and I, you know, the White House continues to really thumb its nose up, if you will, at the Congress. The President in the State of the Union address did it flat out. He said, "when Congress doesn't work with me, I'll just go do it myself." And again, that's part of the problem in this town and why there's been such a difficult time in getting things done.
MAJOR GARRETT: You mentioned the Affordable Care Act, let's merge that with the debt ceiling. There have been some in the conservative movement who have said that there should be an effort to tie, to an increase in the debt ceiling, a removal of the reinsurance corridors in Obamacare -- that's essentially a fee placed on insurance companies to essentially help them through if the risk pool is inadequately arranged for them, meaning they sort of shield themselves from the economic effects of the healthcare law. Is that something House Republicans are going to do, or will you present a clean debt ceiling increase to move this issue off the table?
ERIC CANTOR: Well let's talk about the Affordable Care Act first, and then in juxtaposition with the debt ceiling. First of all, the Affordable Care Act -- I think most of the public has now seen what we've been talking about. This law is a disaster. In my opinion, Obamacare is on borrowed time. You know, policies are being canceled, prices are going up, access to hospitals and doctors are being limited --
MAJOR GARRETT: Not for everybody, you concede that point --
ERIC CANTOR: -- for many folks, especially those in the individual market. And as we begin to see the further growth in terms of implementation of this law, you will see, I believe, more and more people negatively affected. And there's going to be a real problem, a real need for an alternative, and I think it's --
MAJOR GARRETT: Where is that going to come from and when are you going to draft it?
ERIC CANTOR: Well, that's what we talked about today -- this weekend -- I mean this week at our retreat. I believe firmly that we will have a vote on an alternative for a healthcare system that works for people.
MAJOR GARRETT: When?
ERIC CANTOR: Well, I believe we will have it this year. We will have it this year. And you know what the reason is, Major, is Obamacare, I believe, is on borrowed time.
MAJOR GARRETT: So no more repeal votes, an alternative vote.
ERIC CANTOR: We will certainly -- Obamacare, I think, again, is on borrowed time. It's not working. And we want a healthcare system that works for all Americans. And in fact, we had a proposal, and the President continues to say that we didn't have solutions, we put a solution forward in 2009 when Obamacare was passed. Many of the provisions in that proposal will be in our proposal going forward. You know, we're going to deal...
MAJOR GARRETT: Who's leading up that effort? And when will we see it?
ERIC CANTOR: Listen. Well first of all, let me talk about what's in it. Because, you know, we are going to deal with those pre-existing conditions. We don't want them to go without coverage. We just deal with it in a way, and provide high risk pools, so that we can limit the increase in costs for everybody else and do it in a much more effective manner. We say folks ought to have choice of their insurance companies. Let them purchase across state lines. Help bring down prices. And then we say, you know, we ought to have patient-centered care, not care dictated by Washington, which is why we want to promote health savings accounts. These are the kind of things that are in our proposal.
MAJOR GARRETT: Who will lead it up and when will we see it?
ERIC CANTOR: You know, there was a lot of discussion and we --
MAJOR GARRETT: Consensus?
ERIC CANTOR: We've got -- there is a consensus about Republican solutions for a healthcare system that works for everybody, which includes those without a job, which includes those who are sick. And I believe that our Committee Chairman, the Ways and Means Chairman, Dave Camp, the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Fred Upton, as well as the Education and Workforce Committee Chairman, John Kline, are all working on different elements of this that I believe will turn into an alternative for Obamacare.
MAJOR GARRETT: Timeline?
ERIC CANTOR: Well look it is --
MAJOR GARRETT: Spring?
ERIC CANTOR: -- it is obviously very important for us to get this done, because a lot of people are hurting because of Obamacare.
MAJOR GARRETT: What about debt ceiling? Will that be clean or will you attach things such as the insurance bailout as it is called by some in your conservative movement?
ERIC CANTOR: Here's what I'm thinking now: I think the last month has seen Washington actually make some progress in getting along and getting things done. You know that the Paul Ryan-Patty Murray budget deal manifested into the budget vote, the spending bill that was passed a couple of weeks ago. And I think that did reflect the reality. We've got two very, very different views of how to go forward fiscally, but yet small steps forward toward reducing spending. I'm hopeful that that attitude can actually --
MAJOR GARRETT: Even though that added spending in the short-term.
ERIC CANTOR: Well, over the ten year budget window it reduced deficit and what it did, it replaced some of the discretionary cuts, the kind of across-the-board cuts that don't make sense with entitlement cuts...
MAJOR GARRETT: And what does that tell us about the budget, the debt ceiling coming up?
ERIC CANTOR: What I'm saying is I think that that attitude, we should be able to work together yet again to try and do something to move the needle towards fiscal reform, to move the needle towards reduction in spending while we continue to incur more debt.
MAJOR GARRETT: Yes, but what -- the question is will that be a clean debt ceiling or not?
ERIC CANTOR: What I believe is we can work something out, and I'm hopeful that the President and the Senate will work with us in the House to actually do what has typically been done with debt ceilings, which is making some progress towards addressing the spending problem in Washington, making some progress toward trying to grow the economy around the debt ceiling. That's the way it's been done for the last three decades, and this President has just consistently said he doesn't want to even engage, and is, like, ignoring the problem. So I'm hopeful that those days are gone and we can actually work together around this debt ceiling...
MAJOR GARRETT: There'll be no default, in other words.
ERIC CANTOR: I'm confident there will be no default.
MAJOR GARRETT: Alright, before I get on to a Super Bowl question, in the Weekly Standard, about this issue, there's a -- as it plays with immigration and Obamacare: "bringing immigration to the floor ensures a circular GOP firing squad, instead of a nicely lined up one shooting together [and] in unison at Obamacare and other horrors of big government liberalism." Your reaction?
ERIC CANTOR: I don't think there's any question that Obamacare is going to play prominently this year. It will obviously, I think, inure to the Republicans' benefits at the end of the year, at election time. So yes, we'll be discussing people's healthcare because people are hurting. We're going to discuss a lot of issues, Major. We're going to be discussing immigration, we're going to be dealing with the big issues of this squeeze the middle class is feeling, the opportunity gap, and I'm hopeful that this president can come forward and finally sit down and work with us to effect some results.
MAJOR GARRETT: Before I let you go, it's Super Bowl Sunday, Russell Wilson and you attended the same high school in Richmond, Virginia, Collegiate High School -- what's your pick, and who are you rooting for?
ERIC CANTOR: All Seahawks, all the time. No question, I think outside of Seattle, Richmond, Virginia has the largest fan base for Seahawks in any one town in the country. Not only Russell Wilson but Michael Robinson is from Richmond, he went to Varina High School. We're looking for a good game and a big win.
MAJOR GARRETT: Final score?
ERIC CANTOR: Oh don't even go there with me.
MAJOR GARRETT: Alright. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, thank you so very much. And we'll be back in just one minute.