Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for accommodating our schedule to not be here in the morning. As we gather here, we have growing concern about the escalating violence in Israel and in Gaza. I want to associate myself with the comments of President Obama and, sadly, with our Secretary of State. As you know, the President has stated that he has spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu and expressed what we all believe, that Israel has the right to defend itself as a nation, and we are also concerned about any civilian deaths. We mourn those deaths, and we want Hamas not to put people in harm's way so that we can avoid the loss of civilian life. Last night I spoke to the White House on this subject, I just got off the phone with Ambassador Michael Oren. We will continue to monitor that situation.
As you all know, last week we had an election. The American people spoke very clearly about their wish for us to reach an agreement to create jobs, grow our economy, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way. Now we have an opportunity. This is opportunity time for us and for the American people to demonstrate to all Americans that we are here to get the job done. That starts with our effort to ensure the economic security of the middle class, restore certainty for our small businesses, and spur growth in our economy as we reduce the deficit.
Tomorrow – last week, today, tomorrow – as the bipartisan leadership [of] Congress comes to the table at the White House with President Obama, we must act in a bipartisan, responsible way to address our fiscal challenges and to strengthen our economy to create jobs without further delay. President Obama has called for a balanced approach, and House Democrats support that and have long supported a grand bargain. As our negotiations move forward, Democrats continue to back an agreement that is grand in scope, that increases revenues by asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share, and that makes responsible cuts. Any agreement must ensure economic growth that creates jobs, injecting demand into our markets, and bringing in even more revenue. Any approach must take into account the $1.5 trillion in spending cuts already enacted through the Budget Control Act, though not included in the sequester that needs to be lifted while pursuing a path that upholds our priorities and supports the middle class.
House Republicans can prove that they are prepared to work in good faith on the fiscal crisis facing our country by calling up a vote to extend the middle income tax cut now, a tax cut that will give 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small business owners more certainty heading into the holiday season. The Senate has already passed this legislation. House Democrats are ready to vote on it. We must not hold middle class tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans or drastic cuts that threaten our economy.
As the President rightly noted yesterday, we can take this step now and have it on his desk by next week. House Democrats will act as partners in an effort to reach an agreement. Again, the President said we have heard the voices – we all agree with the President, we have heard the voices of the American people, we have heard from CEOs and business leaders, we have heard from our friends representing America's working families and labor, calling on both parties to sit down and make necessary changes. We stand ready to answer the call. The President said both parties can work together to make these decisions in a balanced way and responsible way, and he added there is only one way to solve these challenges, and that is to do it together. We will work with our President and our colleagues in the Senate and with our colleagues across the aisle to get the job done.
Questions? Those who didn't have yesterday or the day before. Yes? You did. You? Okay. One and two, you decide.
Q: Just in 1995 there was sort of a clear idea about what deficit reduction should do in terms of, you know, there was a five year plan, then a ten year plan balanced by a set year and so on. There seemed to be a deficit goal at that point. What seems to be lacking now seems to be, there doesn't seem to be sort of a common deficit goal. Is there a goal that you have in mind, a stabilization of debt to GDP, balanced by a certain year, primary balance? What is your goal going in?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let me just say this: I think that you have a very important question there, and what we should do when we go in tomorrow and when some other, not 1995, but other negotiations have gone in, we said let us just stipulate to a set of numbers, whatever the goal is, whether a ratio of debt to GDP is an appropriate measure, there is some people who think it isn't, we should not go to that place, but let's at least have some markers that we agree on so that the target or the goalposts are not moved, but I am not here to say today what that is because we want to go to the table, maybe that first meeting is to determine that framework. We will see tomorrow.
Q: Madam Leader, President Obama said yesterday he is open to, quote unquote, new ideas to increase taxes on the wealthiest without necessarily allowing the top rate to hit the 39.6 [percent] in January. Do you share that position with the President, open to new ideas on that matter?
Leader Pelosi. Well, as I said, we are open to a grand bargain, and however we get to the place where we can have significant deficit reduction. Now, the President campaigned on the [$250,000], the American people support that, I think that is where a good deal of leverage is in these negotiations, but again, as I have said before, I am fairly agnostic about certain things. I just want to have something that is fair and that will work, and let's see what makes up a grand bargain.
Q: Following on that exactly, Madam Leader, are you agnostic about 39.6 [percent]? For the top tier, is it more about a large enough revenue marker, whether that is a combination of income tax rates and loopholes or other forms of revenue or is it important to you that the Clinton era tax rates for the top earners returns to what it was on the income side?
Leader Pelosi. I don't – I would like that to happen, the latter part of your equation, but you would maybe not be surprised at the list of items on the agenda from my House Democratic Caucus about ways to increase revenue that are out there. I am not going to share all – I am not going to share them with you right now, but I am going to – we just finished our Caucus, within the hour we finished the Caucus, and I am going to review some of the suggestions they have made, but I am not going to say yes or no to any of that. What we want is the top two percent to pay their fair share. It is just not right, as the CBO, the nonpartisan CBO office, they have said that tax cuts at the high end did not produce jobs. That is the report that the Republicans wanted to snuff out.
So, what is it? What is it that produces growth? Let's put that on the table. None of this is meant to be punitive. It is all meant to be productive, to create jobs, to produce growth that in turn will produce more revenue because more people will be working as we make responsible cuts that we stand ready to do, and that we – but get additional revenue by having something more similar to the Clinton rates.
This isn't, shouldn't be hard. I mean, this shouldn't be hard. Nothing much – what has changed since last June when we had this discussion is we have had an election, the President was very clear about the [$250,000] and above, the American people know what that is, and every poll we take they support that. So this shouldn't be hard.
What is hard is if you come to the table saying I am coming here to undermine the public [will], and so what my goal is not to create growth, reduce the deficit, my goal is to undermine the public [will] and honoring our responsibilities to the American people, whether it is in response to a response to a natural disaster, whether it is a response to a low, a dip in the economy where unemployment insurance is necessary. So a budget should be, you have heard me say, a statement of our national values, what is important to us as a nation should be reflected in that budget. And so none of us comes as the only person making the decision. We all come to the table hoping to influence the decision, and I don't know what value is served, with all due respect to your question, by going into that level of specificity without seeing a context in which it is, but wealthier people paying their fair share, the President has been very clear about that.
Somebody who didn't have one yesterday. Yes?
Q: The Republicans have talked about adding new revenue if Democrats are willing to accept structural changes to Medicare and Medicaid. What could you accept, what kind of changes can you accept to Medicare and Medicaid to satisfy that end of the bargain?
Leader Pelosi. What do you think they mean by structural changes? Do they mean reducing benefits to our – to America's great middle class? What do we mean? I mean, let's define our terms. What do they mean by structural changes? And what is a topic…
Q: Raising the age of eligibility.
Leader Pelosi. And why are we relating revenue to Medicare, I mean the fact that – and Medicaid, whatever? Those issues – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid – they should be in their own realm. Whatever adjustments would be made in Social Security should be to strengthen Social Security, not to subsidize a tax cut for the wealthiest people in America and say that is how we balance the budget. The same thing with Medicaid and Medicare. But, again, we have said we support a grand bargain. Senator Reid and others have spoken out that they are not going to touch any of the entitlements, so I think that that gives you some indication of the likelihood of something like that happening.
But let us go to the table and see unless somebody wants to define what – you are asking me, would I support what they are saying. I don't know what they are saying by structural. Is that a euphemism for I am going to cut your benefit if you are a middle aged senior? Is that what structural change means? No, I don't support that.
You are next.
Q: In the hours leading up to your announcement that you were staying on as leader some progressive lawmakers launched a campaign to encourage you to stay.
Leader Pelosi. Did they?
Q: They offered praise for you, but also concern about whether Steny Hoyer is liberal enough.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, please, let's not go there. That was yesterday.
Q: At some point in the future he wanted to take over, do you think he would have to address a trust deficit with the liberals in your Caucus?
Leader Pelosi. No, let's just keep it brief because we need to have time to talk about the World Series. We haven't gotten around to that yet. Yes, sir?
Q: Madam Leader, some economists talk, Krugman, Robert Prentner, Randall Wray among them, suggest that the grand bargain is really a ploy to undermine Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and that no deal is better than a bad deal. Does a grand bargain, in your opinion, include the dealing with the debt ceiling which is also looming and which the really, I guess, the bellicose Caucus in the House has much more sway in deciding on whether or not to raise the debt ceiling than perhaps in the fiscal cliff.
Leader Pelosi. Well, you have got a lot of stuff in there. That is quite a question. First of all, we are not hoping to have a bad grand bargain. Fair and workable, balanced, that is what we are talking about. I think it is – we have to go to the table with a determination to reach agreement. I think that is very, very important. The – and I would hope that what is agreed upon would be something that we can support, that we can support, that the Democrats can support in the House. That doesn't mean that we say, you know, I am a legislator of one. No, that is not the case. You have a majority in the Senate of Democrats, a majority in the House of Republicans. The White House is very formidable in all of this, of course, because they have leadership, the aspirations of the American people supporting the President and they have the signature. So let's not – let's think in a little more optimistic way about something that could be a good thing for our country. I think we absolutely must – you know, there is nothing, if you are progressive, as I am, you don't see any value in a big budget deficit because interest on the debt alone, the debt service is robbed from investments that could be made for deficit reduction that could take place. So, we all know that we have to reduce the deficit, and one of the ways we got here were tax cuts for the wealthy that did not produce jobs, so let's not go back to a place or continue on a path that got us into this fix in the first place. But let us go to the table of good faith that we want something to happen because I do think that if nothing happens the consequences could be grave, and really we have the full faith and credit of the United States, you mentioned the debt ceiling and the rest, and again if we all go to the table with good faith, budget agreements have been made over and over again. There is no reason we shouldn't have one now unless there is – unless there is an anti government ideology on the part of the Republicans to undermine any of the good will.
Q: Two deals or one?
Leader Pelosi. I am sorry?
Q: Two agreements, two bargains or one bargain?
Leader Pelosi. I am sorry?
Q: Fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, are there two separate…
Leader Pelosi. Oh, I see what you mean, I am sorry. Well, I would hope not. I would hope that by now – well, I am with the 11th Amendment, so, is it the 11th Amendment that – 14th? Whatever it is, I am with the Constitution of the United States.
Now we have to talk about baseball. I am glad you have on orange today. I was going to do that, but I have a little more formal thing to do later so I couldn't. But, as you know the past week the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, and this week I still haven't gotten my baked goods, what are those things called, dogies, that they are sending? Coney dogs. I am eagerly awaiting my winnings on the bet, and I know it will be delicious and wonderful. It has been very sweet so far.
Q: Did those Michigan members support you for Leader again?
Leader Pelosi. You have to ask them. Here is the thing, though, this is really important, and I said this to the bipartisan group of members this morning, the freshman class, that when we had our celebration, a million people came, watched the parade and gathered at the Civic Center in San Francisco. It was beautiful. Larry Baer, the CEO of the Giants, had past owners, present owners, our Mayor, the rest, Mayor Lee. What was very moving, though, was – were the players. Romo had on a t shirt that said “I just look illegal.” Did you see that? Are you with the program? Did you see that? No? Come on, guys, get with it. And Ryan Vogelsong, he said something so beautiful. He said: “everybody kind of comments on the San Francisco Giants, that they are such a diverse group, and they have come from here and there and everywhere, but the reason that we win is that we play as a team, and each member cares more about the name on the front of the uniform than the name on the back of the uniform,” and that was such a beautiful thing. And what I said to those freshmen, Democrats and Republicans, this morning is that we are all, on the front of our uniforms, it is ‘Team USA,’ and we have to work together for our country to continue to be number one and prevail, and that hopefully they will find a way to do that.
It wasn't like this before, even when President Bush was President we worked with him. This is a new phenomenon that a party would say to the President, “never. Does never work for you? Because that is when we are going to cooperate.” So hopefully with this election and with their fresh start as a freshman class in a bipartisan way, they can find agreement. It is always a kaleidoscope here. This side of the room may be in agreement on a subject vis à vis this side of the room, next time it is the first two rows versus the last two rows. It is always, whether it is regional or whatever, it is always about our Constitution, our conscience, and our constituents. The role of the Caucus, that is very much behind the first three Cs that I mentioned. So we are looking [forward to] this bright new class. As you know, I am very proud of ours. As you know, it is a majority of women and minorities, but as you probably also know, there is diversity of opinion in our Caucus as well, and that is to be respected. As you probably also know that I think every person in our Caucus, man or woman, whatever ethnicity, believes that each of us is stronger because we have a mix at the table. In San Francisco I always say the beauty is in the mix, that is where the strength is, that is where the creative thinking is. So we are very proud, and we all want to be on the same Team USA. So if you want later, maybe I will show you, we have here – the reason I brought this ball is because my son caught a foul ball from Scutaro, and I said I will take it to the celebration to get it signed. So he signed it, but then also Willie Mays was there, Willie McCovey was there, Orlando Cepeda was there, Pablo Sandoval was there, and so was Gaylord Perry, it was, the list goes on and on.
Q: Your husband says that is his ball.
Leader Pelosi. That is right, because he buys the season tickets. Every time I take it to show to somebody, he makes that point. So in any event, there are many names that you would recognize on here. I am going to put it next to the ball on loan from my husband that I have from Bobby Thomson. I mention that because he came when we opened the new stadium in San Francisco, Bobby Thomson came. This is history for the sports fans. He came that day and then of course here we are now some dozen years later celebrating the World Series. But my ball that I got that day from Bobby Thomson, he wrote, “Bobby Thomson, shot heard round the world.” That is an insider thing. So in any event, Juan Marichal. In any event, I think maybe tomorrow, what did I call them, dogies, they may arrive. They said, they may have to send them, in order, they may have to send them by overnight mail, and I said, “as opposed to regular mail?” I am not sure. But if they come tomorrow, you can come see. Thank you.