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Price Discusses Obama's Speech

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Big question, of course, is how do Republicans in the House, where they are the majority, how did they react to the president's speech this evening. We're going to find out from one member of the House leadership right now. Congressman Tom Price of Georgia is chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, and a member of the Budget Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. Welcome to the program once again.

Representative TOM PRICE: Thank you so much, Robert. Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: In a nutshell, your reaction to the president's speech - is it a positive step from your standpoint?

PRICE: Well, it's curious because oftentimes in the chamber itself you feel something or sense something different than the televisions and I can't tell you what the television showed. But in the chamber, it felt from my perspective to be a desperate speech. It was mostly political - I think Mara mentioned that, that it was really the reelection - beginning his reelection platform. It was mocking and dismissive of many of the proposals, positive proposals that we believe we've put on the table. And it - I thought it was less than productive for the political discourse that must occur this fall, as we attempt to try to solve these remarkable challenges we have.

SIEGEL: Well, let's pick apart some of what he asked for today. Continuing the payroll tax holiday, both for employers and employees, Republicans on board with that possibly?

PRICE: Well, it's a tax reduction in his eyes. In fact, it's just a shift of the money to pay for Social Security. So, from a policy standpoint, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's a good nugget from a rhetorical standpoint, for the class warfare that he seems intent on fighting. But, you know, whether or not that survives, I don't know. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense from an economic standpoint because the money to pay Social Security recipients has to come from somewhere. If it's not going to come from the payroll tax, then it's going to come from the general fund. And so, then you're just borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

SIEGEL: Extending unemployment benefits, and also, giving a break to employers who hire the long-term unemployed or hire veterans, for that matter.

PRICE: Well, the unemployment insurance issue is interesting because even Alan Krueger, his newly selected chief economic advisor, has written significant work on how this is a disincentive to return individuals to the workforce. We're at 99 weeks right now, I assume the president wants us to go to 151 weeks with his proposal today. Once individuals are out of the workforce for three years, which is what that would be, then they lose significant work skills. And so, again, it sounds good but from a policy standpoint...

SIEGEL: Very tough sell, you're telling me. In the brief time left, should I even bother asking about the infrastructure spending? If you're down on the payroll tax, I assume that's a nonstarter.

PRICE: We're strongly in favor of infrastructure spending.

SIEGEL: You are?

PRICE: But we believe it ought to be paid for as a priority of the federal government, as opposed to spending money that we don't have to pay for infrastructure improvement.

SIEGEL: Well, he says he's going to tell you how he's paying for it.

PRICE: I can't wait.

SIEGEL: Okay, Congressman Price, thank you very much.

PRICE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Congressman Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. And obviously, not very enthusiastic about what the president asked of the Congress today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.