Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at a press conference with Chef Tom Colicchio, House Democrats, and leading anti-hunger advocates condemning House Republicans’ plan to slash $40 billion from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Below are the Leader’s remarks followed by a question and answer session:
Good afternoon, everyone. I’m proud to be standing here with some of the champions of the gospel of Matthew: “When I was hungry, you fed me.” I know there is bipartisan support for that value in the Congress of the United States. That’s why I’m proud to be here with Chef Tom Colicchio, owner of Craft Restaurants and Food Policy Action founding member, with Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, the Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus but also a very influential Member of the Agriculture Committee who will be managing our side of the legislation next week when the motion is brought to the floor to cut $40 billion, 50 percent of the SNAP Program, a vital nutrition program. [Congresswoman] Rosa DeLauro – champion on this issue on the Appropriations Committee – will be joining us momentarily. Her train is a few minutes late. But she’s always – every time she’s needed, she’s there for the young people of our country. Congressman Jim McGovern, don’t confuse him with Dole-McGovern, McGovern-Dole. He’s a champion in his own right on feeding the hungry of our country and the world. He will manage the bill on the rules side when it comes to the floor next week.
And so, our colleagues who go to the floor on this issue know of what they speak and they bring with them all of the values of the country, all of the concerns of the American people, and all of the needs we must address. Reverend David Beckman, President of Bread for the World, thank you Reverend Beckman for your leadership on this issue, for honoring the Gospel of Matthew, and for being with us today. And Ken Cook, who’s President of Environmental Working Group, another leader who was here for this issue and the larger issue of why it is important to pass a Farm Bill.
I want to thank all of them on behalf of the people in my district. Every one of the recipients of the nutrition programs in the bill has a story to tell. And so I thank you for that. I don’t understand why we are taking up a bill that so undermines who we are as a nation, that we do not even want to meet the needs of the people.
Last week, I was in church, I was in Houston Reverend Beckman, and the priest said, he cautioned against people: “Come to church and pray on Sunday and prey on other people during the week.” And this is what this is. Is it not? When you hear the debate on the other side, you wonder where they are coming from. But I’m hopeful because I know that within the ranks of the Republican Party, there are people who are true to their beliefs on Sunday and the rest of the week as well. And with that, I want to say that it is an honor, and a delight, and a treat for us really, to have Chef Tom Colicchio with us. Because of his leadership, because of his celebrity, because of his willingness to raise the awareness of this issue in our country, I believe we will be successful.
[Mr. Colicchio Speaks].
Q: Madam Leader, my understanding is that the Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow wouldn’t obviously look very favorably on this plan. What about – and I obviously understand the opposition on your side to this, but what about just the idea of getting to conference and so the Senate would maybe strip things back and send it back? And so, you get something that is more workable for your side.
Leader Pelosi. They’ve already – [Congresswoman] Marcia [Fudge] is on the committee, so I’m going to defer to [Congresswoman] Marcia [Fudge].
Ms. Fudge. Well, you have to understand: conference is to come to the meeting of the minds. It’s a compromise. So, how do you go from four and a half billion dollars, which the Senate bill cuts to $40 billion? How do you get to something that is reasonable? And I would say to you that the Ranking Member in the Senate is opposed to the cuts, as is the Chair. Now, he is from a state where he has one of the highest incidences of people on food stamps than any other place in the United States. He understands that his job is to take care of his people, which is what the people we are dealing with do not understand. Instead of tearing down all of the things that are helping people, we should be trying to build a fence around them and build them up. And the Ranking Member and the Chair on the Senate side, understand that. It’s just our people who don’t understand it.
Ms. DeLauro. It would be immoral to ratify a $40 billion cut in the food stamp program. I don’t care what conference it has to go to, that is not where our moral responsibility lies. It is wrong and it should not happen.
Leader Pelosi. Even for what we have seen again, opposing minimum wage and other issues that help working families in our country, this is a new low. But they have avenues to get to conference and they don’t have to stoop this low to get there.
Ms. Fudge. As a matter of fact, we could go to conference with what we have now.
Leader Pelosi. They passed a bill. There is a bill that has passed. Mr. [McGovern], would you like to speak on that?
Mr. McGovern. The Speaker could move to go to conference today. We don’t need to pass any more bills, and surely not a bill that cuts SNAP by $40 billion.
Let me just say one more thing: the people who we are talking about here are poor people. These are people who are struggling. These are people that this economy has hurt the most. These are people who are looking to us, Democrats and Republicans, to try to help them out during this difficult time as they transition back to a job – hopefully, in the near future. But, these aren’t wealthy people; these are people scamming the system. It’s not a lot of fun to be on food stamps. It’s a very inadequate benefit. And so, what’s happening here is that the Republicans are coming full with a bill to punish poor people. And it’s either an incredible lack of sensitivity or it’s an incredible ignorance that they have. But we can go to conference right now. We don’t need to do what we’re doing.
Leader Pelosi. Yes? You have a question?
Q: Do you have all Democrats on board in opposing these cuts?
Leader Pelosi. Yes. The question was, “are all Democrats on board in opposing these cuts?” Yes.
Ms. DeLauro. Two hundred Democrats, 201 Democrats signed a letter in opposition to this $40 billion cut.
Mr. McGovern. Yes. We are united.
Ms. DeLauro. The Democrats are united and they have been steadfast. They also voted against separating out the nutrition programs from the Farm Bill.
Q: Do you even have one Republican at this point? On the record?
Ms. DeLauro. Well, I can’t go on the record for them. But, we do know of several Republicans who have said they would vote against it.
Leader Pelosi. We are optimistic that we can win this vote. We are optimistic when the American people weigh in on it, when people hear the stories of their own constituents. [Congresswoman] Rosa DeLauro is from New Haven, but she was talking about kids in Appalachia. This is in their districts. And I’m – maybe I’m just hoping for divine intervention, but I really do believe that there are enough Republicans that will not identify themselves with such a brutal cut in feeding the American people.
Thank you all – you had one.
Q: It’s hard to predict what Speaker Boehner will do, but if this bill on the floor, do you think he’ll conference what he’s got with the Senate bill?
Leader Pelosi. You’re just going to have to ask him. But that is a path that is open to him.
This seems to be – I don’t know what the purpose of this is. Again, is it a ‘limbo contest’ to show ‘how low they can go’ in terms of reflecting the values of the American people? Is it a gift to the anti-government ideologues? I don’t know what it is because it really doesn’t make sense and I usually can gauge what the motivation is for any legislation initiative. So, you’re just going to have to ask him. But, we need a Farm Bill. Farmers need a Farm Bill. Consumers need a Farm Bill. People who – of nutrition, environmental, [and] conservation initiatives need a Farm Bill. Democrats very much want to go to conference so that we can pass a Farm Bill. It is very important for our country.
So, I would hope that whatever happens to this – and I certainly hope that it goes down in flames – that the other bill that they pass, which is not a good thing, but nonetheless a path to conference. But, when we see you next week – no this week, hopefully our prediction will be true that there are enough Republicans in Congress who pray on Sunday and don’t prey on children during the week.