Nancy Cordes: Congressman Steve Scalise, welcome to "Face to Face." Thanks for doing this. Talk to me a little bit about this plan and why the party changed course from demanding dollar-for-dollar spending cuts to suspending the debt ceiling, at least for a few months.
Steve Scalise: We're still pushing for spending cuts, but there's a number of steps that we're going to be taking in the next few months, to number one, finally control spending. To make sure both the House and the Senate pass a budget, which the House has done the last two years and unfortunately the Senate's refused to do their job and pass a budget in more than three years. So we're going to finally put pressure on the Senate to do their job. And at least show - lay out what families do every day. And they sit down and say, okay, how much money do I have coming in? How are we going to spend it? And let's put that plan in place. But then we also have big sequester cuts that are hitting on March first. This is going to be significant in that it brings the discretionary spending level down below a trillion dollars. That's significant because it finally shows that Congress is starting to address the real problem of spending that, again, so many families across America look at Washington and say, how come you keep spending money you don't have every year with trillion dollar deficits? So you finally start seeing real cuts that need to happen to put our economy back on track, and to finally put our fiscal house in order. And so there are a lot of things that are going to be happening in the next few months that finally start addressing the real problems that are holding our economy back.
Nancy Cordes: You were one of the members of this working group that figured out what you wanted to do - this "no budget, no pay" bill. How long did it take you? What else was on the table?
Steve Scalise: Well, you know, we've been seeing some of these challenges coming down the road for weeks and months. You know, everybody knew that the debt ceiling was going to be hit somewhere in maybe mid-to-late February. We shouldn't sit back and wait for another crisis before we start putting a plan in place to deal with it. And so, a number of us starting working early off saying, how do we address not only this problem - because frankly the debt ceiling is a symptom of Washington's spending problem. And so too often Washington just kicks the crisis down the road and says okay, we got another crisis, let's just get through the day and put another band-aid, and then try to move onto the next crisis.
Nancy Cordes: Isn't this a band-aid though? I mean it's going to come up again in three months
Steve Scalise: No, this is actually a mandate. It says, for once, Congress has to follow the laws that they passed. You know, the law says that Congress has to pass a budget. The Senate ignored that law for the last three years and there's been no consequences. So this finally puts real consequence and says, you know, Senate, we're going to give you time to go do a budget. We're going to do a budget in the House like we've done the last two years that the Republicans have been running the House, but the Senate has just ignored that law--
Nancy Cordes: So what happens -
Steve Scalise: So they finally have to obey that law.
Nancy Cordes: What happens then? Because everyone knows budgets aren't binding? The House and the Senate don't have to stick to the sepnding levels that they lay out in their budget?
Steve Scalise: Well the budget is your roadmap for what your priorities are for funding the government. And you know I think most people look at Washington and they say, you know, why can't you live within their means? The federal government takes in about two-and-a-half trillion dollars a year. The problem is that Washington spends over $3.5 trillion a year. So you end up with massive deficits. What we need to do, I'd like to see us have a path to a ten-year balanced budget. So that we can finally show the American people what our priorities really are, how were going to make sure we meet the basic obligations of our country, but do it in a responsible way where we're not dumping all of this debt onto the backs of our children. I've got a three-year-old and a five-year-old, and they are inheriting this debt. And we can't keep dumping it. It's immoral to dump this debt onto the backs of our children. And so you start that by laying out a plan in your budget. Your budget is your plan. Again, families do this every year. Businesses do this every year. It just seems to be something that's been a void in Washington where the Senate, for whatever reasons, refused to do that job. And so this makes them have to do that and lay out that list of priorities. And then let's go and start figuring out how we actually make this government work and get our economy back on track.
Nancy Cordes: They say they were planning to do a budget this year all along.
Steve Scalise: Well I guess they've been hiding some secret plan. For three years - I mean, this must be a great budget that they're working on because they've been working on it for three years. They haven't shown anybody. This shouldn't be something that should be done in a back room by a couple of people that are embarrassed because the country says, "Wait a minute. You haven't done your job in three years. When are you going to start doing the basic things that you were elected to do?" It's about time they do a budget. I mean, families have been doing this every year. It's not something new to hardworking taxpayers that are saying, look, we have to live within our means. It's time Washington live within its means.
Nancy Cordes: There are a number of conservatives, maybe you were even one of them, who had been saying for months, no increase in the debt limit unless we get dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. How did you convince disappointed conservatives that this was the way to go instead?
Steve Scalise: Well you know a year and a half ago when we had the last big battle on the debt ceiling, a number of us worked on a plan that was called cut, cap and balance, which was a plan that, again, to me, solves the problem. The debt ceiling is just a symptom of that problem. And so you don't look at the debt ceiling in an isolated way, you look at is a whole comprehensive plan of, "how do we not only address the debt ceiling, but how do we address the fundamental problems that exist in Washington that keep creating these times where we hit the debt ceiling again and again?" And so this plan was put together to say, let's not only address the debt ceiling as the next crisis, lets actually start putting some long-term solutions in place so we don't live crisis-to-crisis. Because that's creating so much uncertainty in our economy, it's one of the reasons that families are looking at Washington in such a disappointed way because they don't see Washington tackling the long-term problems. This actually forces real long-term solutions, and it starts by forcing both the House and the Senate to produce a budget, to lay out that roadmap to establish what those priorities of the country should be.
Nancy Cordes: Republican leaders promised holdout conservatives that they would produce a budget that balances the budget in ten years. Is that even possible? I mean Paul Ryan's budget htat you voted for the past two years doesn't even balance the budget until 2040, and that was already some pretty tough medicine, cutting food stamps, cutting Medicare. Can you really balance the budget in ten years?
Steve Scalise: Well you know, I'm now chairman of the Republican Study Committee, but each year the Republican Study Committee's put out its own budget. And last year our budget actually balanced in five years. And it means you make some tough choices.
Nancy Cordes: Like what?
Steve Scalise: But again, I mean, number one you actually reform Medicare so that it doesn't go bankrupt. You know, President Obama just wants to leave Medicare alone. The problem with that is, if you actually do nothing, no, you know current law in Medicare is Obamacare - Medicare goes bankrupt in 12 years. I don't think that's acceptable to sit by and let Medicare go bust. And so we put a plan in place to save it from bankruptcy. But it also allows us to balance our budget so that current seniors know that Medicare is going to be there for them and it won't go bust. But the younger generation, people my age and below, will actually see that there's going to be something there for them, too. Where right now they don't see anything because all they see, you know all these big programs like Medicare and Social Security set to go bankrupt and Congress doing nothing about it.
Nancy Cordes: How big of a consideration was it that if we keep threatening to shut down the government, or threatening to allow a default to occur, voters are going to stop seeing us as a governing party?
Steve Scalise: I think what frustrates people across the country most is that they're not seeing Washington do their job and handle and tackle the big problems. You know, we've got very, very massive problems. Spending is out of control in Washington, , but the economy's still not on track. In large part because a lot of the policies coming out of Washington. And it's time we start dealing with those problems. And, you know, all these political speeches and the divisive language being used by the President on down, it's time for everybody --the elections are over. It's time for everybody to start rolling up their sleeves and getting to work and putting solutions on the table. I think what hard-working taxpayers want to see us do is work on solutions so that the middle class can get back on track with, and people that are looking for jobs right now, they just want Washington to start tackling these problems and they're not worrying about the next election. Really that's what this plan does. It starts putting in plan a place - a place in plan - that solves these problems long term so we don't live from crisis-to-crisis while the economy struggles.
Nancy Cordes: This bill suspends the debt ceiling until mid-May. What's the difference between suspending the debt ceiling and raising the debt ceiling?
Steve Scalise: Well it has the same practical effect but it removes the politics from the debt ceiling. You know, we don't want the President to go say, oh, okay this is only going to give me three weeks. We want to make sure that there's enough time for the Senate to go and do a budget. Just like there will be enough time for the House to go do a budget. The Law says it has to be produced by April 15th. So we get through that period, and now the House and the Senate will have had to produce a budget. And then let's see what those priorities are. And the President wants to see an increase I'm the credit card limit. You know, the President's run up the credit card, he's maxed it out. and now he's not only saying, pay the previous bills, which all of us agree we ought to do, but the President's also saying, give me another credit card so I can go spend more money.. Well if he wants that other credit card, I think it's only responsible that he actually show us how he's going to spend the money. Because, you know, a parent, when their kid comes home from college and the kid says, okay, I incurred a bunch of bills, the parents are going to pay the bills. But they're not going to go give their child another credit card to go rack up even more bills. They're going to say, sit down and show me a plan. How are you going to actually get through the next year so that you don't have the problems that you had this past year? And again, I think that's what families across the country are looking for us to do. They're saying, look, every year we sit around the kitchen table and we figure out our budget so we set priorities. And there are things we like to do. We like to go out to dinner and take vacations that we might not be able to take this year because, you know, we just don't have enough money coming in. Well Washington hasn't done that in years. And it's time that Washington start living by the same rules that hard-working, middle-class families are living by.
Nancy Cordes: Your bill says that if the House and Senate don't come up with budgets by mid-April that members of Congress stop getting paid. Is it even constitutional to keep members from getting their paychecks, or is this just a gimmick?
Steve Scalise: Well, you know, the Constitution says that pay can't be varied. And what our Founding Fathers put in place, they didn't want Congress to go raising their pay from time-to-time and that's, you know, that's something that's important and a god tenet of the Constitution. But the Founding Fathers didn't lay out when members of Congress get paid. You know, the Senate might get paid every two weeks, House might get paid every month. You know when the payments actually happen is not laid out in the Constitution. And so what this says is pay will be withheld until you do your job. And I think people get that. If you're not doing your job, why should you be getting paid? The law says you have to produce a budget by April 15th. The Senate's ignored that law for the last three years and there's been no consequence. So there's got to be some accountability in place to make sure that Congress has to live by the same laws that families have.
Nancy Cordes: Senate Democrats say that they will do a budget, but that you're not going to like it because it's going to include more tax revenue. Where do you go from there?
Steve Scalise: Well you know, we've produced a budget the last two years and they didn't like it because they criticized it. President Obama criticized it. The problem is, it's hypocritical when you're saying, hey, I don't like what that guy's doing, but I'm not going to show you what I'm doing, what I stand for. If they want to produce a budget that we won't like, that's their prerogative. But that also means they have to put something in writing. They have to lay out their priorities and what they believe in and not only put it in writing, they've got to vote for it. And that's a record that everybody's going to be held accountable for. So if they've got tax increases that will make the economy worse, which is some of the things that some of them want to do, they need to get the votes in the Senate to first of all show that that's what they stand for. And if they can't get the votes, they need to figure out something else. But they need to first put together a plan and vote on it and pass it. That's their job. But that's also what the law says they have to do, and they just ignored that law for three years.
Nancy Cordes: Three months from now when this bill runs out, are Republicans just going to come back and ask for dollar-for-dollar spending cuts to raise the debt ceiling again?
Steve Scalise: We're going to continue to push for reforms that get us on a path to a balanced budget in ten years. This isn't something that's just a talking point. Again, families do this every year. Families look back, and people in South Louisiana, they don't think that this should be that complicated.
Nancy Cordes: But what's going to happen in three months when this bill runs out? Do we have another fight over raising the debt ceiling another three months?
Steve Scalise: Well first of all what you'll see in the next three months is, hopefully the Senate will go do a budget. We will do a budget in the House. So people will be able to look, side-to-side, at these are the President's prioirites, these are the House's priorities, these are the Senate's priorities. What makes more sense for American families? But in the meantime, March 1st the sequester kicks in. Those are real cuts in spending that finally start rolling back the tide of runaway spending in Washington. And so those are going to be significant cuts that finally show that Washington is willing to finally start tightening the belt. And then you've got March 27th coming, which is the end of the funding of government. You know we need to have that discussion on making sure that government's funded at the proper levels to do the basic things it needed to do, but with also the fiscal discipline to show that we're working towards a balanced budget. So there are a number of reforms that need to be made to start addressing these problems, and we're going to be laying those out in the next three months. We're not just going to sit back and pass this and then say, okay, let's wait until the next crisis. We're going to start working early, with the President, and offering him ideas of how we can solve these problems. Not in late May when we're at a crisis, but let's do this in January, and February, and March, before we're at a crisis. And that's going to involve the President, you know, putting the keys to the plane down and going around the country campaigning, and working here with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle in a bipartisan way, which is what he campaigned on. The campaign's over. It's time for him to fulfill that promise and actually sit down with us and say, okay, these are the things you want to accomplish to help balance the budget and get the economy moving again, these are the things I want to work with you on to get that done. And don't do it in a crisis mode in May. We've got a lot of time that we'll have to actually start laying those things out early so that people can see Washington's finally starting to do its job.
Nancy Cordes: Congressman Scalise of Louisiana, the Chair of the Republican Study Committee, thanks so much for joining us today on "Face to Face."
Steve Scalise: Great to be with you.