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. I am here today with my colleague, Congressman John Larson, for a long time the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. I invited him to be here with us this afternoon because yesterday I named him to head a leadership task force on election reform. I believe that election reform and how we do our politics is directly related to – has a direct impact on the policies that we create in Congress. Our founders risked their lives, their liberty, their sacred honor for a government of the many, not a government of the money. And John Larson is the perfect person to help honor the vows of our founders in that regard. We will be hearing more about that. But first, I want to talk about the subject at hand.
As you know, as we have been saying, as the President has said, he has his pen in hand, he is ready to sign a middle income tax cut. Last July, that legislation passed the United States Senate. A similar, exact same bill was introduced in the House at that time. And since then, we have been asking the Republican leadership to bring the middle income tax cut to the floor. The clock is ticking, the year is ending. It is really important with tax legislation for it to happen now. We are calling upon the Republican leadership in the House to bring this legislation to the floor next week. We believe that not doing that would be holding middle income tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the rich, tax cuts for the rich which do not create jobs, just increase the deficit, heaping mountains of debt onto future generations. And so to that end, if the bill, if there is no announcement of scheduling of the middle income tax cut – which by the way, has tremendous support in the Republican Caucus, I think we would get 100 percent vote on it if it came to the floor – if it is not scheduled, then on Tuesday we will be introducing a discharge petition, which you know, if we could get 218 signatures, would bring the bill automatically to the floor. That would mean that we need some Republicans who support middle income tax cuts to sign on with us.
This is really very important. So much has been said – this is only one piece of what we have to do before we leave for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, every other holiday that is coming up. The other part of it, of course, is to avoid going over the cliff. You have heard much said about what happens if we do. Let's dwell instead on what happens if we do not go over the cliff. There is so much confidence that will go forth to the markets, to consumers, so much good that can come of it in terms of growing the economy to create jobs. That is why we were so pleased to get the report from the President's team yesterday about the President sticking with his big, bold, and balanced approach, which says we have to create jobs through infrastructure, et cetera, investing in infrastructure. We have to make cuts. But in order to get there from here, in terms of reducing the deficit, we also must have revenue. We thank the President for his leadership, for calling upon Republicans to come to the table to get this job done. And the President has the confidence of our Caucus that we are there to supply votes to pass this when he and they come to agreement.
Again, first and foremost right now, we would hope that today the Speaker would say that we are scheduling a middle income tax cut next week. So again, elections have consequences. The President campaigned, he made it very clear, he made it very clear that he was supporting a tax cut for the middle class, that he wanted the expiration of the tax cuts for the high end. And the American people know that debate; they voted for him. Even more people support, if you look at the polls on the subject, it is overwhelming support for repeal of the high end tax cuts to reduce the deficit and also to grow our economy.
With that, I would be pleased to take any questions. Yes, sir.
Q: Madam Leader, the response from the Republicans today was instantaneous. Mr. Cantor just finished saying that they are not going to raise rates. He said that. May I know your response to that? And where do you think, given that line in the sand, if you will, where do you think this process stands?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first, let me just say that we have – there are three elements to this: growth, reduction in spending, and raising of revenues. We have already voted for – we, the Democrats, have already voted for over a trillion dollars in cuts in spending. That was part of the Budget Control Act. And that is part of how we should go forward. You cannot speak about reducing the deficit without talking about raising revenue. And I think that the President has taken his message to the American people, and I hope that the Republicans will listen to them. But I know one thing for sure, that in the Republican Caucus – and I am the last person to speak, and usually I don't – but I do know that many of the Members there want to decouple, that they are ready to vote for a middle income tax cut. And then we can leave the subject of rates, and all the rest of that, to next year when we do simplification and fairness, close loopholes, lower rates, whatever we would do under a broader tax reform package.
Q: Madam Leader, have any of those Republicans who you are sure want to decouple high income rates and middle income rates said to you, or any Member of your team, that they would sign a discharge petition?
Leader Pelosi. No.
Q: Madam Leader, last year, I believe it was, you seemed to embrace the idea of redefining wealth as kind of a middle ground, making it a million dollars or more. Is that something that you still could embrace?
Leader Pelosi. It is not a question of redefining wealth, it was a question of seeing just where the Republicans would support an expiration of tax cuts. Were they willing to say even if you make a million dollars a year you should not have a continuation of the tax cut? It wasn't redefining wealth, it was about finding out where the Republicans were. And at that point they said, ‘no,’ if you make over a million dollars a year, we are not going to touch one hair on your head. Instead, in their budget they said to seniors: we want you to pay $6,400 more for Medicare while we hold harmless the wealthiest people in our country, even those making over a million dollars a year.
Q: The question is because the rub still is about those tax rates of those families making $250,000 or more, could you see yourself, as a compromise, supporting the idea of moving that?
Leader Pelosi. This is all about a package. And the President has put forth a package that reduces the deficit, predicated on expiration of the tax cuts – $250,000 and above – predicated on some investments in growth, and predicated on over a billion dollars – a trillion, excuse me – a trillion dollars in cuts.
So, taking one piece or another, if you are having a big, bold proposal, you have to have it reduce the deficit. Doing it at $250,000 reduces the deficit. That is the amount the President wants to do. That is what the public understood. That is what they voted for. And in numbers even larger than the President's margin, in all of the polling, the American people support increase – the expiration of the tax cuts over $250,000.
Q: Madam Leader, another aspect of this, do you support President Obama having the power to unilaterally increase the debt limit as Secretary Geithner proposed?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Leader Pelosi, can you clarify something? When you are talking about these trillion dollars in cuts, does that factor in cuts included in the sequester? Are there any cuts…
Leader Pelosi. No, no. As you know, in the Budget Control Act it called for over a trillion dollars in cuts.
Q: Leader Pelosi, the President's proposal would lock in about $400 billion in cuts to entitlement programs, probably largely Medicare. Do Democrats support that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all, you know that we, the Democrats, saw savings in Medicare of over $700 billion in the Affordable Care Act. We used that money to strengthen Medicare, to extend its life for at least almost a decade, and to increase benefits for seniors now. Are there more opportunities for that? Yes. But not at the expense of beneficiaries. And there are all kinds of studies about where some of those savings could come. So yeah, I do.
Q: Madam Leader, should St. Mary's Hospital, which is a Catholic institution in San Francisco, should they be required by the Administration to provide its workers with a health plan that covers sterilization and contraception and those things?
Leader Pelosi. I support the action taken by the President. The compromise I think is a reasonable one.
Q: Madam Leader, the White House proposal yesterday included an extension of the payroll tax cut. I am wondering where you are on that. Would you support that if that is part of this package?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I want the middle class to get a break. I would hope it could be something bigger than an extension of the payroll tax, that holiday. I would hope that we could pass the middle income tax cut. I made that clear, I think. And it is – I think it is important for us not to think that a payroll tax holiday is a substitute for real relief for middle income families in our country. In the absence of some other things, that may have to be reconsidered. I had thought two years – I had hoped that two years would be enough. Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress have stood in the way of many of the jobs initiatives that the President put forward that would have accelerated the growth that we think is possible. And some of it is coming into play. But in the absence of that, that may be something we have to consider.
Q: Madam Leader, Speaker Boehner earlier today described talks as being at a stalemate. I was wondering if you could respond to that. And also, second part of the same question, please, Congress often seems to take to the last minute to cut a deal. Based on your experience up here, is that how you see it this time around? Just go to the last minute and then get a deal?
Leader Pelosi. Well, when the last minute is the last day of the month, I think that that is not right. We all know what is at play here, everybody knows that we have to have cuts, we have to have growth, and we have to have revenue. So, why are we stalling? This delay is harmful to confidence for consumers, it is harmful for confidence for the markets, it is the holiday shopping season. Wouldn't it be better for there to be a clear message, the sooner the better? What did somebody say today? Don't toy around with this. Give people the confidence that they can buy toys for their children. So, you know, if it were the last day of the fiscal year, September 30th, you might say, ‘okay, that has a reason for it to be that date.’ But for us to – when the markets are looking very carefully at what the intentions of Congress are, for us to leave any doubt in anybody's mind that we are going to do this, I think, is harmful to confidence and not right. So, I don't know what the wait is for. It is not as if we have to get more information, that there are certain variables that we don't know about. It is very clear. And every bipartisan – I will end with this – every bipartisan group that has addressed this issue has called for revenue, cuts, and spending.
With that, though, I am going to change the subject and yield to my distinguished colleague.
Q: Can you comment on Boehner calling it a stalemate, saying talks are at a stalemate?
Leader Pelosi. I hope not. I hope not. Maybe that is a figure of speech. But the country cannot afford, nor should we even think in terms of stalemate. I want to just say about Mr. Larson, Mr. Larson – I want to give a full – keep on the subject of the budget, but as I said, this is not – these are not – the tax code is probably one of the issues that big money weighs in on elections more than anything else. This is where you see a lot of heavy duty – and they are not bashful about it, by the way. So it is related to this conversation. But it is fundamental to our democracy. I said during the campaign, our democracy is on the ballot. Thank God the President won. Because now we have a chance to make some of the reforms that I talked about earlier.
But what I want to now do is yield to my colleague, the gentleman from Connecticut, long standing authority on the subject of election reform in terms of the role of money in campaigns, again honoring the vows of our founders for the government of the many, not the government of the money. And a person who commands the respect of our colleagues, has worked with grassroots organizations, brings real authority to the subject. Congressman John Larson, the chair of our task force.
Mr. Larson. Well, thank you, Madam Leader. And I thank you for the opportunity to serve our distinguished Caucus in an area that is critical to all Americans. We were just through a major presidential and congressional elections. And it is clear from listening to our colleagues, and more importantly from listening to the people out there in this country, that it is long overdue that we have what we refer to as DARE, which is disclose, amend, reform, enforce, empower, and have reform of elections in a way that is going to make sure that every American has access to the polls, and that anyone who seeks to run for public office has the ability and the financing to do so, and that we are able to limit the amount of money that has so overshadowed our process.
To those ends, I am honored that the Leader has chosen me to head up a task force. There is no shortage of bills, there is no shortage of enthusiasm and ideas that emanates from our Caucus. And we will be coming to the floor early with legislation that we know will empower the American people. And we will work, not only within the beltway, but outside to take this message forward. Because we know people who stood in lines far too long, and how proud we are of them to stay in lines, even when the results of elections were known, to make sure that they did their patriotic duty and the most fundamental right that we have here, and that is the right to vote. This Caucus is out to guarantee that that continues to flourish in a way that is fair, in a way that is forward minded and looking, in a way that is just for all Americans.
Thank you, Madam Leader, for that opportunity.
Leader Pelosi. Any questions on this subject? Yes?
Q: I am just wondering if the Administration has submitted to you the need for any legislation on election reform.
Mr. Larson. Certainly, the President has said from the end of his campaign, and even during it, that he recognizes the strong need for reform in this process.
Q: Any specific proposals that you have heard from there?
Mr. Larson. We will be working closely with everyone, including the President, including our Republican colleagues as well I would point out, many of whom have already, and most notably Walter Jones, expressed interest in this area. And we will continue to reach out not only here, but outside the beltway as well.
Q: Is there any frustration in your Caucus that the Justice Department's Voting Rights Section wasn't more aggressive? I know they had their work cut out for them. But there was quite a bit of complaints about voter suppression and also gerrymandering around the country where they didn't take action.
Mr. Larson. I don't know that I would say it was frustration, but certainly by the number of bills that have been offered and issued, that is an indication that they think the system is less than perfect, and that we need to continue. And part of our focus is going to be on enforcement. And that is something that has come across loud and clear from the Members of our Caucus.
Leader Pelosi. One concern we do have is the Supreme Court reviewing Title V, Section Five of the Voter Rights Act. This is really alarming to us. And that is what Members are watching very closely and want to have legislative action to address or redress as the case may be.
Q: Madam Leader, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republicans want changes to eligibility such as means testing and an increase in age requirements regarding Medicare. In return, the GOP would agree to more tax revenues, but not higher rates.
What is your response to Mr. McConnell?
Leader Pelosi. Nothing new in that statement from Mitch McConnell. Thank you.