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Transcript of Pelosi, House Democrats Press Conference Calling for Vote on Clean Debt Ceiling Increase

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, and Democratic Caucus Chief Deputy Whip Peter Welch held a press conference today calling on the House Republican leadership to vote for a clean debt ceiling increase – ensuring the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  Below are Leader Pelosi’s opening remarks, followed by a question and answer session:

Leader PelosiGood afternoon.  Today, it is a pleasure to join my colleagues, our distinguished Democratic Whip, Mr. Hoyer, our distinguished Assistant Leader, Mr. Clyburn, and our champion on this issue of a clean debt ceiling, Congressman Peter Welch, who for years has demonstrated great leadership in lifting the debt ceiling with a clean bill.

Indeed, to get nearly every Democrat to sign this letter in a matter of days is quite a remarkable accomplishment.  Mr. Hoyer has led the charge to address our economic and fiscal challenges in a balanced way for his whole time in Congress.  And Assistant Leader, Mr. Clyburn has been a champion for consumers who are very definitely affected, consumers in our great middle class, who are greatly affected by a default on the lifting of the debt ceiling, honoring the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

The Republican agenda keeps going from bad to worse.  The Republicans keep threatening a government shutdown in order to put insurance companies back in charge of America’s health care.  Now, Republicans continue to hold the full faith and credit of the United State hostage to their radical agenda.

This morning, Treasury Secretary Lew, as you know, made it clear that the debt ceiling will be reached on October 17th.  As he wrote in his letter: “If we have insufficient cash on hand, it would be impossible for the United States of America to meet all of its obligations for the first time in our history,” for the first time in our history.  Refusing to raise the debt limit possesses a cataclysmic danger, some say worse than cataclysmic danger to the stability of our markets and the economic security of our middle class.  Again, we’ve talked about this before.  But for the American people, the results would be disastrous in this respect.

Every day, Americans would be paying higher interest rates on credit cards, mortgage payments, car payments, [and] student loans.  And for small businesses, higher interest rates on their business loans.

I asked you to raise your hand, I was very pleased last week that some of you did [when I asked]: “Who has a 401(k)?”  ‘K’ as in the markets would jeopardize America’s 401(k) accounts, pensions, and other retirement plans – your 401(k) in jeopardy because of the radical, right-winged agenda that the Republicans are putting forth.  Even talk of a default in August of 2011 led to a downgrade, just even a discussion of it slowed economic growth, impacted the markets, and caused consumer confidence to plummet.  [Federal Reserve] Chairman Bernanke said: “A government shutdown, and perhaps even more, so a failure to raise the debt limit,” he talked about both, “could have very serious consequences for the financial markets and for the economy.”

Democrats know that Americans cannot afford another Republican manufactured crisis.  That’s why we are standing together to support a clean increase in our debt limit so America can pay its bills and avoid another debilitating crisis to our economy.  It’s time for Republicans to abandon their reckless agenda and for Democrats and Republicans to come together, to work together to pursue the responsible course – to raise the debt ceiling, to end the sequester, to create jobs, to grow the economy, and strengthen the middle class.

My colleagues here have all been champions in that regard.  And I’m pleased to yield to our champion on getting this letter.  I mean, you have no idea how difficult it is, over a weekend, to get so many signatures, even when we’re in session.  And so, I salute Mr. Welch for his leadership, for his commitment to fiscal soundness in our country, and for the respect he commands in our Caucus because they support him in this letter.   Mr. Welch?

[Mr. Welch and Members of the House Democratic Caucus speak]

***

Q:  Madam Pelosi, how much of an increase are you actually looking for?  One or two trillion, or are you trying to get this issue settled for the rest of the Obama Administration or maybe like a $5 trillion increase?  How much of an increase in the debt limit do you ask for a clean increase?  Is there a dollar amount associated to that?

Mr. Hoyer.  I don’t have a dollar amount.  But I think that the Republicans – and I agree with them on this – are looking to get this through the next election.  So, whatever dollar amount gets you to, maybe, January of 2015.  And the reason for that is, frankly, Mr. Boehner recognizes the irresponsibility of this action and doesn’t want to take his party through it a second time in an election year as he did not the last time as you recall in 2011, which he proposed to doing the same thing.  I think that’s a – that would an agreed upon objection. 

Q:  Leader Pelosi, several of you cited what happened in 2011…

Leader Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  And going with the brink of the debt ceiling fight then.  Does this feel similar, worse, [or] better?  Are you more optimistic this time?  I mean, I know all these are struggles, but how does this feel compared to that fight we went through two years ago? 

Leader Pelosi.  Mr. Welch, would you like to speak to that?

Mr. Welch.  It’s worse.  You know that was the first time Congress went from grand standing on the debt ceiling to actual confrontation. In this Congress, we’ve had leadership lead Congress into dysfunction and we’re about to take a step into disintegration.  In this year, what you’re seeing, is people who actually believe that it’s a legitimate tactic to blow up the country in order to achieve a goal, which is to get rid of ObamaCare.  And it’s reminiscent of another statement somebody made in a different context: “We’ll blow up the country in order to save it.” 

I mean, this is just wild and reckless.  There’s no legitimate rationale for any Member of Congress to destroy or jeopardize, as [Congressman] Jim Clyburn said, “the full faith and credit of this country,” that has such consequences to students, to home-owners, to businesses in order to “get their way,” especially when the way they want to get has been decided by the American people in the last presidential election.  It was decided by the Supreme Court.  And it was decided by Congress.

So, this is really wild behavior on the part of the Republican conference.

Q:  Madam Leader?

Leader Pelosi.  Yes?

Q:  How problematic would it be for, in general, to enshrine a precedent where the party out of power can demand reform and concessions in exchange for the debt ceiling?  And in your part, would you commit to not to doing any such thing if you’re Speaker again under a Republican President?

Leader Pelosi.  Let me just speak to that issue in a broader sense because five years ago last week, all of us here, were faced with a vote that was a very, very serious one.  And that was about passing the TARP bill.  A Republican within the White House, his policies over eight years produced a meltdown of our financial markets, increased the deficit enormously and they came to us at the 11th, 12th hour really, 12th hour and said: “help!”  And we, as Democrats, went out there and said: “Time is of the essence.  We must work in a bipartisan way in order to save our country from what was coming.”  We were already in a deep recession.  We were going over a serious financial institutions meltdown and all of that would come really close to a depression.   In fact, that night, when we were all gathered there, Chairman Bernanke said: “If we do not act immediately, we will not have an economy by Monday.”

So, we stepped up to the plate for this Republican President.  It wasn’t a vote our Members wanted to take.  Viewed to them as bailing out the banks, we thought it was saving our economy.  It’s one that has still left a bitter taste in the mouths of the American people because they thought: “We bailed out Wall Street and nobody bailed out Main Street.”  Would you think that that’s an accurate impression that the public may have of this?  Well, it’s what we hear.  It’s what we hear.  But nonetheless, at that moment of truth, the Democrats were there to support the initiative – we improved it – of the Republican President to bail out his problem, created by his economic policies because it was important for our country.  And we all were there.

Was it was 170 Democrats?

Mr. Hoyer.  It was 140 the first time, 170 Democrats...

Leader Pelosi.  The next time.  And the Republicans still never reached…

Mr. Hoyer.  Sixty-five and 95. 

Leader Pelosi.  …Never reached 100 that they promised on day one.  Now this is a different thing.  That was an emergency at the moment, predictable in my view of the policies that were in place.  The Republicans at the time who did not believe – they were “laissez faire, laissez faire, laissez faire.”  They made Adam Smith look like a piker. 

[Laughter]

A piker.  They did not believe in any discipline, in any supervision, any regulation – and that’s how we got to where we were.  And when the walls came tumbling down, they didn’t believe in intervention.  You have to give them credit.  They were true to who they are.  And they do not believe in a public role.  So, we were there to save the day, save the country.  What we’re talking about here in my view, to get to your point, we shouldn’t be doing this.  The full faith and credit of America is an established fact.  I think the 14th Amendment covers it.  The President and I have a disagreement in that regard, I guess.

[Laughter]

I guess.  I would never have taken it off the table, but yes, I would be willing to say: “Don’t mess with the debt limit, don’t mess with the debt limit.”  Whatever luxury you want to be afforded to make your point and get attention because it’s center stage, that’s a luxury we can’t afford.  So yes, I would say yes to that.

And by the way, to go back to that five years ago when the Chairman said what he said, it was interesting to me because I always think of it and how close we were to the brink and how secretive they kept it from the rest of us.  But I couldn’t help and think of it last year in the presidential election when the Republicans were saying: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  They had the nerve to say: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  When four years ago, almost to the day that they were speaking, we weren’t going to have an economy by Monday.

So, let’s understand what balance we really need in terms of the public-private partnership to make our country grow.

Mr. Hoyer.  Can I?

Leader Pelosi.  Please, Mr. Hoyer.

Mr. Hoyer.  I just want to add one thing to that because I think this is important.  At that meeting, there were probably 15 or 16 of 17 of us around Speaker Pelosi’s table.  Speaker Pelosi was the Speaker.  And Republican President, Republican Secretary, and Ben Bernanke, a Republican Appointee, I don’t think he’s a partisan.  I said that the country was in deep trouble and needed immediate action.  Every leader, the Republican leadership of the House was at that table, the Republican leadership of the Senate was at that table.  The Democratic leadership of both the House and the Senate, every leader said: “If that’s what we need to do to stabilize our country and to save our people from a depression, we will do it.” 

There’s an analogy: we delivered on our side of the aisle.  We had 142 votes.  I went over to Mr. Blunt and said: “[Congressman] Roy [Blunt] you only got 65 on the board.  That’s 207, we cannot pass it.  I said we would give them 120 [votes].  We put 142 Democrats on the board to support [President] Bush’s policy because we thought it was right for the country.  And we went to our Members and got the votes.  The difference was those leaders, who said they were for the President’s proposal, could not deliver.  To that extent, there is an analogy to today.

Q:  I have a question – Mr. Hoyer can handle this, or Mrs. Pelosi.

Mr. Hoyer.  Mrs. Pelosi can handle any question you ask. 

[Laughter]

Leader Pelosi.  We’ll just toss it to Mr. Clyburn. 

[Laughter]

Q:  Two years ago, you might remember that the Republicans staged to vote on a clean debt limit increase to demonstrate that it was impossible to pass.  You may noticed that they have yet to schedule a comfortable vote now.  Why do you imagine that is, Mr. Hoyer? 

Mr. Hoyer.  Because I think they’re at least thirty responsible Republicans, and I think that’s the sadness of it.  I think there are a majority responsible people in the House of Representatives.  Unfortunately, on the other side of the aisle, not only have they taken the government hostage in their C.R. role, not only have they have taken the credit of the United States hostage, but unfortunately, a minority of the Republican conference has held hostage the responsible and reasonable Members of their conference.  That is why I think we are in this position.

Leader Pelosi.  Mr. Clyburn, do you want to say something?

Mr. Clyburn.  Well, I think – I'm not too sure it's as clear on the way [Congressman] Steny [Hoyer] has expressed those numbers.  If you recall, the 142 was mirrored up with 65, which did not get us to 218 [votes].  And we had to come back later.  Now, this was after we all agreed that we would put up 120 [votes] and they would put up 100 [votes].  And their 100 [votes] turned out to be 65 [votes].  Then, we had to go back to our Members and ask our Members to step up even further.

We got 30 more Members, Democrats, to come on board in order to pass that bill.

Mr. Hoyer.  On the following Friday.

Mr. Clyburn.  Yes.  Now, I think down in South Carolina we always say: “You can best tell what a person will do by looking at what he or she has done.”  And I think you can best tell what Democrats will do when we have to do what's necessary for the country by just looking at the record.  And the record is very clear: that every time we have been asked by any President, whether it's our party or the other party, we have stepped up to do what was necessary to keep this country moving forward.  And that is the best example that I know.  And we stand ready to do the same today. 

Unfortunately, if your theory is ‘you've got to have a majority of the majority in order to move an agenda,’ that is a problem that we are facing today. 

Leader Pelosi.  And I remind that they did not have the majority for the [Hurricane] Sandy Aid 90 days after it was supposed to be passed.  They only had, what, fewer than 40 votes for [Hurricane] Sandy Aid.  Overwhelming majority of Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act.  So, there's an easy way for this come to the floor that is not breaking any practice that has been in place.

Mr. Hoyer.  Can I just add?

Leader Pelosi.  Please.  Get to the microphone, though.

[Laughter]

Mr. Hoyer.  You asked me for my speculation.  If I’m the majority leader and I think to myself: “We're going to put something on the floor, almost all the Democrats will vote for responsibility and almost all of my guys will vote against responsibility,” I am very he reluctant to put a responsible piece of legislation on the floor because it will focus the American people on the lack of responsibility in the majority party.

Leader Pelosi.  Let me just say what full faith and credit means.  When people bring their money to the bank, the bank uses the money for whatever purposes.  But it is insured by the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  And that’s part of what makes our system run.  On the other hand, when people buy our bonds, they are guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

So, think in your own experience, not the full faith and credit of the FDIC deposits is in question, they're not.  But you have confidence to put your money in the bank because of the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  If that isn’t there for bonds, people are not going to buy our bonds.  This is going to be cataclysmic.  And under one of the scenarios that the Republicans have, it’s Pay China First, Pay China First is what is in the [continuing resolution].  Pay China first.  Pay the debt, whatever the debt we owe china first. 

All these things come together in a way that really is not responsible.  It’s beneath the dignity of the responsibility that we have as Members of Congress and the obligation that we have to find common ground to get the job done and not afford – to the gentleman’s question – not afford ourselves the luxury of perhaps defaulting.  People can make whatever scrambles they want to make to showcase their issues but not with the seriousness of taking down the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  This is very serious.

Q:  I was out in the field a few days ago, reporting on this issue, the debt limit, talking to Americans.  I encountered one gentleman who said he thought the debt limit should be raised but he was put off by the President refusing to negotiate.  Do you think the Democrats risk looking bullheaded by that stance from the White House saying we are not going to negotiate on this, that the prevalence of Americans want to see Congress come together – the White House come together with Congress?

Leader Pelosi.  I think the President has negotiated, and negotiated, and negotiated.  So when he says that, he is really saying: “We’ve taken it to a point, there's no use to talk anymore; we just have to act.”  That's how I see that.  I can understand why that gentleman might get that impression but if there's ever a President, whether we're talking about the continuing resolution, and my colleagues know this, or you're talking about the C.R., he has, in every way, tried to build bipartisan consensus.

I don’t think he advertises that enough.  But I’m happy to do that for him.

[Laughter]

He has a bigger bully pulpit than I do.  But I do think – getting back to the gentleman's question – that none of us should be negotiating on the debt ceiling.  It should just be listed.  When it comes to the [continuing resolution], the President has negotiated.  In fact, we met with him six months ago to give him our view in March – remember that March meeting with the president?   And he said:  “I hear what you're saying.  I think you know what my – how I approach all of this, but I want some months to try to get a bipartisan agreement.”  And obviously that has not come. 

But this President, this is a president who has been so bipartisan and that is a quality that the American people like.  But even he has reached the end of the line when it comes to, Mr. Clyburn’s words, “the shenanigans” that the other side is putting up.  Again, what they’re proposing is unworthy of the task before us and the responsibility of that we have.

Thank you all very much.