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Transcript of Pelosi, House Democratic Leadership Press Stakeout

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic Leaders’ held a press stakeout following a meeting on the fiscal cliff.  Below is a transcript of the press stakeout:

Leader Pelosi.  Good afternoon.  As you know, we just had a meeting with the Secretary of the Treasury and the President’s Congressional Liaison to Congress, Rob Nabors.  It was a very productive meeting.  This doesn’t have to be a cliffhanger.  The President has his pen poised to sign a middle income tax cut.  It has already passed the Senate.  House Democrats are prepared to vote for it.  We urge our Republican colleagues in the House to bring the middle income tax cut to the floor.  Their own Members are saying let us give a Christmas present to the American people.  This tax cut, this reassurance, this confidence that will give them as consumers, will give confidence to the markets as well.

The President has been clear, and we support him, on holding firm to the $250,000 tax cuts, expiration of tax cuts for people making over $250,000 a year.  That to be part of a big, bold, and balanced package that has big cuts – we’ve already voted for over a trillion dollars in cuts – revenues are needed and job creation is essential to reducing the deficit.  We firmly believe, if you want to reduce the deficit, create jobs.  If you want to grow – you can grow the economy and reduce the deficit.  It’s all together.  And that is attested to by every bipartisan task force, commission, you name it, that has come together.  You can’t get there from here, in terms of deficit reduction and fiscal soundness without having revenues be on the table.  I’d like to yield to the Assistant Leader, Mr. Clyburn, for his comments.

Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn.  Thank you, Madam Leader.  I think that this meeting was very, very fruitful.  It simply reminds us that, once again, of exactly why we’re here.  But I would add to what the Leader has said, the fact that the time for posturing is over.  We are in a holiday season when people will love to turn to their families with some certainty and I think we ought to give them that.  And it’s very easy to do.  The President has laid out a plan that has been fully vetted for months.  That plan received a majority vote by better than three million voters.  We also, House Democrats, ran with the President on this plan of his and we received, Democrats, almost a million more votes than our Republican friends did in this past election.  So we think that the time for posturing is over.  We ought to just get serious about doing what is necessary for the American people to have their faith and confidence maintained in this process.

And with that, I’d like to yield to our chair, Mr. Becerra.

Chairman Becerra.  I agree with what was just said by our Leader and our Assistant Leader.  And I would simply add that, it really is simple math.  What we heard from the Secretary and Mr. Nabors added up.  And it is a bold, a balanced plan that could easily get the signature and votes of any number of our colleagues bipartisanly.  And so, this really should not be a cliffhanger, there is no reason why folks should be approaching Christmas without knowing if Congress will get its work done.  We believe that we could move forward and if the, our colleagues on the Republican side aren’t willing to move forward with what the President has put forward as a balanced plan, then at least let us vote here in the House of Representatives on what is already passed in the Senate on a bipartisan basis.  And that is protection for the middle class from seeing their rates rise for them.  So they should not be held hostage this holiday season simply because our Republican colleagues may not be willing to accept the balanced plan by the President.

And with that, let me yield to the Ranking Member of Budget, Chris Van Hollen.

Mr. Van Hollen.  Well, thank you Xavier.  Just a couple points to add to those of my colleagues.  The President’s plan [is] not a secret.  The President’s had his plan on the table now for more than a year.  It’s laid out very clearly in his budget, it combines some very difficult cuts with additional revenues by asking higher income individuals to contribute a little bit more to reducing our deficit.  It’s right there.  The President talked about it during the campaign as Assistant Leader Clyburn said.  Republicans have made some nice positive noises, but they haven’t put their plan on the table.  So, we’re asking them, you know, what they’ve got there.  The final point I want to make is, I hope, you know, based on some of the comments my Republican colleagues are making, that they’re not fearful of engaging the American public in this conversation.  The President is talking to Congressional leaders, happened at the White House.  But he wants to have a conversation with the American people as well.  Because what’s at stake here affects their future and their lives.

So, again, it’s a little curious some of our Republican colleagues complain that the American people – that the President’s reaching out to the American people and engaging in this important national conversation.  

With that, I’d like to introduce the Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Levin.

Mr. Levin.  I think we all agree, it was a very productive discussion.  And I can sum it up very briefly: the President went out and he ran on a clear message: pass the middle income tax cut, address the other immediate needs – the physician reimbursement, the Alternative Minimum Tax, and unemployment insurance – that’s the first order of business.  We need to address the longer term, let us now do the short term and avoid the cliff.  This country should not go over the cliff and everybody in this Congress has a responsibility to make sure that that doesn’t happen.  

And now, Steve Israel – who did such a splendid job – I think you can attest [to] the clarity of the President’s message.

Mr. Israel.  Thank you.  This [was] a good meeting.  Look, the President, the Administration are working diligently and twenty-four-seven to advance an agreement.  House Democrats are ready, willing, and able to compromise.  But number one, we have to have people to compromise with.  And number two, you have to have something to compromise over.  And our Republican friends have shown an unwillingness to compromise up to now.  And continue to stand by and ask us to advance issues without making their own contribution to this solution.  This solution is not that difficult to arrive at.  

One of the reasons the people are frustrated and showed their frustration in recent elections with House Republicans is they see Washington and they see folks agreeing on everything but nothing gets done.  In this case, we know how to get this done.  Everybody agrees that we ought to pass the middle class tax cuts.  We can do that tomorrow.  We all agree that we should pass the middle class tax cuts.  We can do that tomorrow.  We want to do it.  They want to do it.  All it will take is them to say; let’s do this at the very least and then we can deal with other issues down the line.  Businesses have to start making decisions.  People are talking about the fiscal cliff on January 1st, businesses have to start making decisions now.  Projecting the environment they will be in on January 1st.  Let’s give those businesses the service – what they deserve, and their employees, by passing this middle class income tax cut now.

Leader Pelosi.  I’d just like to add that Chairman Becerra, Ranking Member Van Hollen, and Assistant Leader Clyburn were participants in any number of these budget discussions.  This, that, or the other one – there were several as you know – the Supercommittee, Simpson-Bowles, this one, that one, the Biden Group, and the rest.  When they went to that table as representatives of the House Democrats, they had no instructions except to reach agreement.  They shared the values of our Caucus, but the overriding value was that we had to get the job done for the American people.  The only thing I said I wanted to see was that jobs and economic growth would be at the center, the centerpiece of the discussions.  And then whatever decisions we would make about investments or cutting them, revenue, or raising them, would center around how we create jobs.

That is the way we’re going to reduce the deficit: by creating jobs.  And every step of the way, every time we came to the idea of big, bold, balanced, the revenue question was the hurdle.  And it still is.  We just can’t get there from here in terms of deficit reduction.  You cannot cut your way there.  You can grow your way there but you have to have the revenue of part of the confidence building that we’re fiscally responsible.  That we’re going to reduce the deficit.  And that we can get the job done.  Mr. Hoyer was with us also at the meeting but he had another meeting to go to so he is not here with us now.  

But why am I confident?  Because it’s the right thing to do.  The American people expect and deserve this to happen.  It’s only a decision, it’s only a decision to make tough choices, they’re tough choices for us.  This isn’t easy.  But it’s necessary.  And I have confidence that my Republican colleagues will see the light and at least pass the middle income tax cut so we have that level of confidence and we can go from there.

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Q:  Leader Pelosi, considering how Speaker Boehner has already rejected the idea of extending the Bush tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less, are negotiations stalled at this point unless you were to pass that?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, we want the whole package, of course.  But the easiest thing to do is to send a message to the public about – that the middle income tax cuts will continue – is to pass the bill; to pass the bill.  Here, this is stage one.  We would like to see a multi-trillion dollar package as stage one.  That is cuts, substantial cuts, we’ve already passed over a trillion dollars in the Congressional Budget Office in their other suggestions in the President’s budget.  The revenue – the expiration of the high end tax cut – at least $800 billion, and we want the growth.  We want a growth piece in it – infrastructure or something, for the growth piece.  That’s step one.

In terms of what we do in terms of addressing strengthening entitlements, reforming the tax code, making further cuts, that we can do in the next Congress.  And soon.  But this is a big down payment that we are suggesting and it opens the road to much more.  

My colleagues?

Chairman Becerra.  I hope when you ask that question, you’ll ask it of the Republicans in this way: is that the way they negotiate?  By taking things off the table?  Things that have bipartisan support.  That have passed one Chamber – the Senate, which is always a difficult Chamber to pass things because they typically need 60 votes.  But they’ve passed it.  It’s sitting here in the House.  And it protects the middle class today by preserving the middle class tax cuts for them.  If the Speaker gets to just say “no” then you’ve setup a negotiation platform where everyone gets to say no and protect their special interests, all their perks, and we get nowhere.  You have to have everything on the table.  

The President and Democrats have put everything on the table, we want to be smart and sensible, but we’re willing to be balanced and fair.  And so, for anyone, whether Republican or Democrat, to just automatically have a precondition and say “no,” even though it’s a no to something that passed on a bipartisan basis in the Senate, that really makes it tough to negotiate a real bipartisan deal.

Q:  Madam Leader, do you expect them to buckle?  I mean, you’ve been in negotiations with them before?

Leader Pelosi.  Does anybody want to speak to that?

[Assembled Members Laugh]

I wouldn’t say “buckle.”  See the light might be a better term.  But I do think that there are a number of people in the [Republican] Caucus who are coming forth and saying that they need, you know, just to get back to what Mr. Israel said: those who are engaged in negotiations always, it’s hard to negotiate with someone who doesn’t want anything.  Or if what they want are tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country and they will hold middle income tax cuts hostage to that.  Well, that’s not negotiation, that’s hostage taking.  I don’t think that’s where the bulk of their Caucus is and I don’t think that’s where Republicans in the country are.  But it’s important for the President to have this communication with the American people so that they understand what the choices are here.  As was the case with the payroll tax holiday where the President wanted it, the Senate voted for it, the House Democrats were prepared to vote for it, Republicans held the line, held the line, held the line – Merry Christmas, payroll tax holiday.

Any other questions?  

Mr.  Van Hollen.  May I just, I think, I think we’re confident that we’re going to find a way to prevent us from going over the fiscal cliff because the American people want to take a balanced approach and I would just say, imagine this scenario: Speaker Boehner sticks to his position.  We arrive at January 1st and then we got January 2nd and January 3rd and Speaker Boehner’s going to be explaining to the American people that the reason taxes went up [on] 98 percent of the people, in fact the reason that nobody got a tax refund the first $250,000 of income, was because he and his Caucus are holding out for a bonus tax break for the highest income earners.  And I think, if you think about it in those terms, on January 1st, and 2nd, and 3rd, how he’s going to explain to the American people why he is preventing the country from moving forward, preventing the country from getting tax relief because he’s holding out for the very highest income earners in the country – I think his Members are reading the tea leaves, they’re beginning to look into the future.  And that is exactly why people like Tom Cole are saying it’s – that’s an unsustainable position.  It just doesn’t make common sense to the American people.  And it doesn’t make common sense, I think, to Tom Cole and others like him.  And he’s sort of able to read the tea leaves, look forward, and recognize that’s just an unsustainable position.

Mr. Levin.  Could I just quickly add, I think everybody should go back to the CBO report that in terms of the economic consequences of the cliff, the first step, the critical step, is to extend the middle class tax cut.  It’s almost half of the impact on our GDP.  The upper income is one tenth of one percent in terms of economic impact.  One tenth of one percent.  So, it isn’t a question of buckling.  It’s a question of listening to the American people, to the American people.

Leader Pelosi.  I just would like to close by saying: a lot has been said about what will happen if we go over the cliff.  Let’s think about what will happen if we don’t – if we don’t.  And the confidence that the market sees, the confidence that consumers will have making purchases, injecting demand into the economy, further creating jobs.  The confidence that they have that we can get a job done here.  That’s really important.  But it’s about job creation, about growth, that is so important – a job is the best answer to almost every challenge that a family has.  It is also a great way to relieve the federal budget of some of the social services that are necessary, but more important than that, it’s the dignity of work and rewarding it and the fairness of the tax code – just taking us to the Clinton tax rates, the Clinton tax rates.  Others can speak to what it was under Reagan and the rest of that, but the Clinton tax rates which enabled the private sector to create more than twenty million jobs enabled a great economic success to thrive in our country.

So, I think if it comes down to the question, and Chairman Becerra mentioned, we say to the Speaker of the House: the Senate has passed a bill to extend the middle income tax cuts, the Democrats stand ready to support it, the President stands ready to sign it.  Why?  Why are you holding this up?

Thank you.

Q:  Do you need Speaker Boehner?  Could you get a couple of the Republicans, like the President said, to pass the tax cut?  Are you guys working to get some?

Leader Pelosi.  The Speaker brings the bills to the floor.