Transcript: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor presents the GOP’s 2013 agenda “Make Life Work” at AEI
Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang
Transcript: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) presents the 2013 Republican agenda at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Feb. 5, 2013:
…You know, in Washington, over the past few months our attention has been on cliffs, been on debt ceilings, budgets, deadlines, and negotiations. All of this is extremely important because I don’t think there’s any substitute for getting our fiscal house in order. There’s no greater moral imperative than to reduce the mountain of debt that’s facing us, our children, and theirs.
And our House Republican Majority stands ready for the President and his party to join us in actually tackling the big problems facing this country.
But today, I’d like to focus really on what lies beyond the fiscal debate, and over the next two years, our House Majority will pursue an agenda that’s based on a shared vision of creating the conditions of health, happiness, and prosperity for more Americans and their families and to restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits.
We’ll advance proposals aimed at producing results in areas like education, health care, innovation, and job growth.
Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self-reliance, faith in the individual, trust and family, and accountability in government.
Our goal is to ensure that every American has a fair shot to earn success and achieve their dreams.
It’s my hope that I can stand before you two years from now and report to you that our side as well as the President’s found within us the ability to set differences aside in order to provide relief to so many millions of Americans who just want their life to work again.
You know, in so many countries throughout history, children were largely consigned to the same station in life as their parents – but not here. Because here we’ve seen the son of a shoeman become the President of the United States. We’ve seen the daughter of a poor single mom developed and build a company that turned into her being the owner of a TV network.
In America, the grandson of poor immigrants who fled the Tsarist Russia come here and that grandson became the Majority Leader of our House of Representatives. That’s what this country’s about.
You know, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two bicycle shop mechanics gave mankind the gift of flight. The Wright brothers flew only 22 feet at that time, 18 feet in the air, but they performed a miracle. As a result, only 66 years later, this country put a man on the moon and brought him back. That’s who we are. We can do an enormous amount as a people.
The Wright brother’s father, Milton, actually inspired his sons by giving them a toy helicopter. He never ever wanted his two sons, Orville and Wilbur, to fly together for fear he’d lose them. And 7 years after the original flight – so in 1910, Milton gave them the permission to fly together – the only time they ever did and it lasted 6 minutes. Now, later that day, Orville took his 82-year-old father up into the air; it lasted 7 minutes, rising 350 feet at that time while Milton shouted “Higher, Orville, higher.”
Now, I think it’s a great testament to what our country is about because in America, we do have higher expectations for our nation, just like Milton had higher expectations for his sons.
Since our founding, we’ve believed that we could be the best hope for mankind. That hope led generations of immigrants to risk everything to endure a tough journey to come to our shores. And the driving motivation for the millions of immigrants passing by Lady Liberty in New York harbor was the generation that came after them. And because of that hope and those high expectations coupled with the determination to see them through, every generations since has had it better – up until now.
You know, lately, it’s become all too common for us to hear parents really fear that their kids are not going to have it better than they, and for all of us parents that is a scary thought. I mean, let’s face it: It’s gotten a lot tougher to raise a family in America.
And our goal has got to be to eliminate this doubt gripping our nation’s families and to restore their hope and confidence so that they the parents can once again see a better tomorrow for their children.
You know, together my wife, Diane and I, raised our three children – Evan, Jenna, and Mikey, and we couldn’t be more proud of the young adults that they’ve become.
Our nest is now empty but I can tell you we understand – we both do – the pressures that all parents are under and the tough times that parents are going through: Parents working, saving for college, paying for braces, helping with homework, shuttling from one after-school activity to the next.
It’s not easy. That’s why we worry so much.
Where can you afford a home in the best neighborhood so your kids will have the right school? Which health care plan can you afford so you can see your doctors? Will your children actually make it through all those nights of homework and graduate from school and, if so, get into a college? And then, are you going to be able to afford it? What about a career – is that going to be available to them?
These are all real-life concerns. This is what keeps parents awake at night, fearful that life is not going to work out the way they hoped.
During the last several years with the stagnant economy, too many mothers and fathers have had to come home, walk into the kitchen, and tell their family they didn’t have a job anymore. Now, how’s a family like that supposed to save for a rainy day when it just got tough to even make it through the next month? These are the families that should be our focus. They’re desperate to have the nightmare over.
And the best way to ensure that their hope for the future is restored is by making opportunity a reality for them, and it’s going to come if we provide a path forward, give them the tools to take advantage of a growing economy. We need to see business expansion and start-ups created so that there could be more jobs and opportunities for their kids and for them.
Now just like parents, Washington has got to start showing care for the generations ahead while leaving the parenting to the parents.
Now, government policies got to strike a balance between what is needed to advance the next generation, what we can afford, what is a federal responsibility, and what is necessary to ensure our children are safe, healthy, and able to reach their dreams.
Now, opportunity and belief in tomorrow start with an education system that works.
In an 1822 letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man.”
With an eye toward Mr. Jefferson’s vision, since 1965, the federal government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into improving schools, especially in low-income areas. Over $15 billion last year. And frankly, the results have not matched the investment.
Joining us here today is Joseph Kelly [sp] and his family. Now, Joseph is a heroic dad in my book, and he was worried that the public schools were not helping his son, Rashawn [sp], who’s here in the front row. Rashawn flunked the first grade, and by the fifth grade he was 3 years behind on most subjects. The school actually put him into a special education class, and Joseph would try and sit in on the classes in order to help his son, Rashawn, but was met by hostility with school administrators and even had to obtain a court order so Rashawn could have a tutor.
Violence was so prevalent in Rashawn’s school that there were 8 D.C. police officers patrolling it on a daily basis. Mr. Kelly heard of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and dedicated himself to making sure that Rashawn and his 3 sisters could have access to a school that could provide them with a safe environment in which to learn, to give them an opportunity, in fact, that they could see college as an option – an opportunity that Mr. Kelly did not have.
Within 2 years at a private school, Rashawn caught up to his classmates, and he’s now a student in college. And his sisters, who are here with us today as well -Dominique [sp], Shaquita [sp], and Renatta [sp] – are attending the Preparatory School of D.C. and are on a similar path to opportunity.
Now I visited this school yesterday and it is amazing. It is making a real difference in the lives of kids who, without that school, could possibly be lost. And this is what is at stake. Because now, they have great teachers, terrific administrators, small class sizes, and a mission that said every kid’s got to succeed.
Now, no one should deny Rashwan or his sisters this opportunity. Joseph Kelly nor any parent should have to wait for failed education systems, failed school systems, to get their acts together.
You know, throughout the country, there are some promising signs that we can bring schools and parents together to improve our educational system.
San Francisco public schools adopted a funding according to what’s termed a “weighted student formula”, and under this policy the more students a school attracts, the more money that school, its administrators and teachers receive. Low-income students are weighted heavier in the funding formula as are children with disabilities and those learning English as a second language. So there’s incentives for schools to seek the more vulnerable population and reasons for schools to differentiate themselves and to excel.
Imagine if we were to try and move in this direction with federal funding. Allow the money we currently spend actually follow individual children. Students, including those without a lot of money or those with special needs, would be able to access a school, which would give them a shot at having a successful life – a shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams – and wouldn’t be just subjected to the failing schools that they were assigned to. Their options ought to include not just public schools, private schools but also charter schools.
A competitive environment where schools compete for students rather than the other way around gives every child from the inner cities of Washington to the streets of Los Angeles an equal chance at a greater destiny.
Now, one of our priorities here in the House will be to move heaven and Earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable. And when those children graduate from high school, we must expand their choices and college has got to be an option.
In 1980, the average cost of college was roughly $8,000 a year. Today, it’s over $20,000, and less than 60% of students who enroll in a 4-year program graduate within 6 years. Clearly, something’s broken.
Now, according to President Obama’s former Jobs Council, about 2020, there’ll be about 1.5 million jobs without the college graduates to fill them while there’s persistent unmet demand of 400,000 to 500,000 job openings in the health care sector alone.
Recent reports indicate there are not enough applicants to fill the jobs in the booming natural gas industry.
Now, suppose college has provided prospective students with reliable information on the employment rate and potential earnings by major. What if parents had access to clear and understandable breakdowns between academic studies and amenities? What would those costs be? Armed with those knowledge, families and students can make better decisions about where to go to school and how to budget their tuition dollars. Students would actually have a better chance of graduating within 4 years and getting a job.
Helping students realize opportunity and a career while keeping tuition costs low makes common sense.
Now, Senators [Marco] Rubio and [Ron] Wyden have a proposal that they unveiled right here at AEI, which addresses this goal. And I look forward to working with them along with Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) in pursuing legislative action in the House.
Now, over the course of this Congress, we also want to work to reform our student aid process to give students a financial incentive to finish their studies sooner. We’ll encourage entrepreneurship in college education, including for-profit schools. And we’ll fix the way we subsidize education by making the costs more transparent to parents, students, and the millions of taxpayers who help pay some of the bills. We owe it to them.
Now, a good education leads to more innovation, and throughout our history, American colleges and universities have served as a cornerstone for the world’s innovation. They’re a big part of why the U.S. remains the destination for the world’s best and brightest. Investments in education leads to innovation, which leads to more opportunity and jobs for all. Our problem? The investment we make is not yielding the maximum return.
Each year, our colleges and universities graduate approximately 40,000 foreign nationals with Master’s and Ph.D. degrees, many of whom are then forced to leave the country because there are not enough visa slots in our immigration system to permit them to stay.
So rather than being able to invent things here in America, grow businesses or start one of their own, they do these things somewhere else.
Now, Fiona Ju [sp] is here with us today. She’s earning her Master’s at G.W.’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Originally from China, she’s been in the United States for 5 years, studying operations research in the systems engineering department. If you talk to her, you’ll see she’s pretty smart. She’d like to stay here. She wants to invest her talents in America, and maybe even start her own company. But she’s seen too many of her friends with advanced degrees have to go home despite sharing some of the same dreams and aspirations of wanting to become part of this country.
Now, last year the House passed the bipartisan STEM Jobs Act, which helped fix this problem. We will act again in this Congress and we hope the Senate chooses to join us this time. I look forward to Fiona realizing her dreams and our country reaping the rewards of her hard work and talent.
Whether it’s college or the cost of daycare, making life work for more families means reducing the economic insecurity plaguing so many working moms and dads.
Over the last 20 years the world has changed. It used to be that one could make a career out of just working for one company, and today the average worker stays at his or her job for barely 4 years.
Median income in 2010 was about the same as it was in 1997. Now, experts correctly point out that these statistic ignores the many working families who are getting more benefits, like health care, from their employer not just wages. But trying explaining that rising health care costs are depressing take-home pay and saying that it’s justified. That’s little consolation to the working mom because her grocery bills are still higher, her kids have needs that are getting more expensive, the rent is up, and now she’s just trying to get by. I think all of us know getting by is not the American dream.
As job markets are changing, more skills, training, and education are needed. Federal job training programs ought to make it easier for Americans who are out of work, who are changing their careers to get the skills they need. Yet today, the federal government has a patchwork of over 47 different overlapping programs that are not dynamic or innovative enough to meet the needs of employers or potential employees. We can fix this and we will if we can muster the bipartisan support to do so.
If you’re a working parent, you know there’s hardly enough time at home to be with kids. Too many parents have to weigh whether they can afford for even half a day to perhaps attend a field trip or to go to a parent-teacher conference.
You see, federal law dating back to the 1930s make it hard for parents who hold hourly jobs to balance the demands of work and home. An hourly employee cannot convert previous overtime into future comp time or flex time.
In 1985, Congress addressed this issue but only did so for municipal and state employees because they have now the flexibility to go about earning comp time and flex time so that perhaps if they work one month they can get off and join their kids on a school activity the next. But the same privilege is denied all those employees in the private sector who are paid hourly wage.
There’s a police officer at home in my district, and her name is Vicky [sp]. She’s working a tough job with long hours while raising her kids, and her life is made a little easier because she’s a local government employee. She’s permitted to work some extra hours and save it up for a sick day or school event.
Just imagine, if we simply gave this opportunity to employees and employers at their option in the private sector. A working mom or a working dad could make overtime now and reap the benefits of it when their kids need them, and they wouldn’t have to miss work so they could still pay the rent.
This is the kind of common sense legislation that should be non-controversial and moves us in the right direction to help make life work for more families.
Another step we can take is on taxes. There’s a lot of talk on taxes in Washington right now. For most families, tax preparation is hard and it’s time-consuming. This time of year especially. Think about it. Think what they’re going through. What tax form are you supposed to fill out? Is it more beneficial to file jointly as a married couple or separately? Is a truck or gas mileage deductible or are you forgetting something that the IRS would give you credit for?
In 1935, the form 1040 was accompanied by a 2-page instruction booklet. Today, taxpayers have got to wade through over 100 total pages of instruction. Just filling out a W-4 at a new job is confusing. You really shouldn’t need a worksheet to see how many dependents you have.
Chairman Dave Camp and his committee are already underway in their efforts to responsibly re-write the nation’s tax laws. As in education policy, health care and all else, tax reform should reflect the priority of working families and the future they’re trying to shape for their kids.
If nothing else, we must stop putting special interests ahead of our working families’ interests. Loopholes and gimmicks benefitting those who figured out how to work the system in Washington are no more defensible than the path of wasteful and irresponsible spending we’ve been on for decades. Working families should come first.
Everyone agrees a fairer, simpler tax code would give all of us more time. And in our attempt to make the tax code simpler, we must continue to demonstrate support for young parents who invest in having kids and raising a family because after all they are America’s most valued investors.
In 1997, a Republican Congress created the child tax credit specifically to help ease the financial burden of families raising children. In 2001, it was expanded. Such a policy helps to limit the size of government and results in fewer Americans looking to the government for support.
Now, leading up to April 15, families will be besieged by concerns of their taxes. But it’s health care and the concern for a healthy family that always worries parents the most.
Most Americans have come to expect the best health care in the world. But there’s no doubt our current system is too complex and too costly.
President Obama’s health care law resulted in higher premiums and costs for families and has made access to quality health care and innovation tougher.
If we want to reverse those trend, we should start by choosing to repeal the new taxes that are increasing the cost of health care and health insurance like the medical device tax.
With us today is Erin [sp]…a clinical nurse for 30 years in Baltimore. She spent the past 10 years coordinating the research on a study to approve a new replacement disc to treat patients suffering from crippling neck and back pain. Over time, Erin discovered that she suffered from the very condition that her work aimed to treat.
On her days off, Erin would spend time at her daughter’s lacrosse tournaments – barely able to move – and then would have to go home and spend most of her time there with an ice pack on her neck. She went in for surgery and got those new disc replacements. Erin’s with us in a cervical collar today but thankfully she’s on the mend.
The new medical device tax in Obama care makes it harder for researchers to develop those innovative devices in the United States and, thus, makes it harder for patients like Erin to get the care they need.
Obamacare’s unnecessarily raised the cost of our health care. Even those who have pre-existing conditions could get the coverage they need without a trillion government program costing all of us more.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when we talk about health care reform.
Many families like mine are dealing with the challenges presented by aging and very sick parents. They rely on Medicare for relief.
In 1965, the federal government created Medicare and modeled it after the standard Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan at the time. But in the past 50 years, both health care and health insurance have changed dramatically but the government and Medicare have just not kept pace.
And Medicaid is not doing any better. Under the Medicaid system, the rules are set in Washington but much of the bills are being paid in our state capitols. Collectively, states are spending more on Medicaid than they do on K-12 education, and states don’t have the flexibility to innovate in order to lower costs and provide better care.
As a result, in many cases, patients have been swallowed up by the system and have become an afterthought. These programs are broken and many patients are going without proper care. That’s not fair to the people and the families who depend on these and we’ve got to fix them.
We can modernize Medicare so that it isn’t so complicated for seniors or health care providers, and make it easier for them to get the care they need in a cost effective manner.
We should begin by ending the arbitrary division between Part A – the hospital program – and Part B – the doctor services.
We can create reasonable and predictable levels of out-of-pocket expenses without forcing seniors to rely on Medigap plans. Seniors who choose to receive treatment through a group of doctors and hospitals working together to control costs, they should share in some of the savings through lower Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs. This is both cost-effective and good for seniors.
We can provide states with more flexibility with respect to Medicaid that will allow them to provide better care for low-income families in a way that ultimately brings down costs. Options for states should include streamlining the process for determining eligibility and allowing them to offer health coverage through patient directed health care or flexible benefit programs. And we must make it faster and simpler for states to gain federal approval of waivers to modify their Medicaid programs.
Now, long-term, controlling health care costs will require smarter federal investments in medical research. Many of today’s cures and life-saving treatments are the result of an initial federal investment and much of it is spent on cancer research and other grave illnesses.
Now, one of the most courageous people that I know, is a young girl from Richmond named Katie [sp], and Katie’s here with us on the front row. And I’ve known her for many, many years and her mom.
See, Katie was diagnosed with cancer just as she was one years old. That is any parent’s nightmare. And Katie and her family went through a tremendous struggle over many years trying to deal with this tumor that was discovered. And by the time she was 7-years-old, the family went to St. Jude in Memphis and had a successful radiation treatment. Katie is doing well today but she still is worried about her condition and the family will soon return to Memphis as she often does to make sure that’s she going to stay on this path to having her life work again.
And I know – when you come up here and see Katie’s smile, she has the best and most brightest smile of anybody I know. It’s an inspiration. And her mom and Katie and her family are very interested in seeing smarter federal investment in childhood cancer and for us to continue to play that role that can make life work for families like Katie’s again.
Now, prayers for Katie’s recovery do help but we’ve also got to pray that scientists and researchers that they find cures to diseases so that our parents and grandparents don’t leave us too soon, so that children like Katie are not robbed of a healthy life. And there is an appropriate role – and a necessary role – for the federal government to ensure funding for basic medical research. Doing all we can to facilitate medical breakthroughs for people like Katie should be a priority.
Now, we can and we must do better. This includes cutting unnecessary red tape in order to speed up the availability of life-saving drugs and treatments and re-prioritizing existing federal research spending.
Funds currently spent by the federal government on social science, including on politics of all things, will be better spent helping find cures to diseases.
Scientific breakthroughs are the result of and have helped contribute to America’s being the world’s capitol of innovation and opportunity in nearly every field. For this and many other reasons, people across the globe want to become part of our country. We must never diminish that desire or, worse, become a place that is no longer desirable.
It’s no secret that there are more than 11 million people here illegally, many of whom have become part of the fabric of our country. They, like us, have families and dreams. While we are a nation that allows anyone to start anew, we are also a nation of laws, and that’s what makes tackling the issue of immigration reform so difficult.
In looking to solve this problem soon, we’ve got to balance respect for rule of law and respect for those waiting to enter this country legally with care for people and families, most of whom just want to make a better life and contribute to America.
A good place to start is with the kids. One of the great founding principles of our country was that children will not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. And it is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.
I’m pleased that many of my colleagues in both chambers of Congress on both sides of the aisle have begun work in good faith to address these issues, and I’m pleased these discussion make border security, employment verification, and creating a workable guest worker program immediate priorities. It’s the right thing to do for our families, for our security, and for our economy.
Now, there’s some who would rather avoid fixing the problem in order to save this as a political issue. I reject this notion, and I call on our President to help lead us towards a bipartisan solution rather than encourage the common political divisions of the past.
A sonnet by Emma Lazarus – the New Colossus – was placed at the Statue of Liberty in 1903. Parts of it read: “Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch from the beacon hand glows worldwide welcome. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The message of this sonnet should sound familiar to most of us. The image of the Statue of Liberty blended with the stories of our immigrant past serve as a humble reminder of who we are as a country. It’s the reason I’m able to stand here before you today.
Like so many of the generations living in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century, my grandparents fled the vicious anti-Semitic pogroms of the Tsars of Russia to come to America. Widowed at a young age, my grandmother raised her two sons in a tiny apartment on top a grocery store that she and my grandfather had opened in downtown Richmond. With little but her faith, thrift, and hope for a better tomorrow, my grandma worked 7 days a week to ensure that my dad and my uncle could realize the promise of this great country. And today, my children and I stand as proof as the possibility of what may have seen to her then like an impossible dream.
To uphold this legacy of those who come before us, Washington will need to make some choices, and in a divided government, these choices are often tough. We in the House Majority remain committed to making those tough choices and stand ready to lead with this President.
“Higher!” Milton Wright once shouted from the air. “Higher!”
Making life work for more working people and all who want to work is the best way to a future of higher growth and more opportunity.
Thank you very much.
- C-Span.org: Video of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s remarks on “Make Life Work” at the American Enterprise Institute on Feb. 5, 2013
- Cantor.House.gov: Excerpts of Congressman Cantor’s major policy speech: #MakingLifeWork
- WhatTheFolly.com: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor presents a ‘softer’ Republican agenda to appeal to alienated voters
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