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 morning. Good morning.
Q: Good morning. We're tired. We were up watching the filibuster.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, I see. Well, we always like people who can hoot with the owls and soar with the eagles, and this morning you clearly are doing that. Not that it's that early in the morning.
Okay, this week we saw something quite remarkable: the stock market soaring to new heights. Same time, we see productivity keeping pace with all of that, reaching great heights. But we don't see income for America's middle class rising. In fact, it's been about the same as since the end of the Clinton years. That is 15 years income is around the same level, in terms of rate of growth versus productivity, and now the stock market. This impact on the middle class is a big one, especially when it's taken in the context of all the other challenges the middle class has faced, the near-depression coming out of the Bush years, the lowering of value of their homes, their pensions, their savings, using their savings because of other – because of unemployment and the rest.
And so we have a situation where if we are to honor our commitment to the middle class, which is the backbone of our democracy, we have to reflect that in our – that intention in our public policy. That's why I'm so glad this week George Miller and Senator Harkin introduced an increase in the minimum wage. When we increased it in 2007, in our first 100 hours, it was the first time it had been increased in 11 years. It's time for it to be increased again. They have increased it, made – proposed raising a Fair Minimum Wage Act, it's called, to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, index the future raises to inflation, very important, put more money in the pockets of working families. And it is important to note in this Women's History Month that more than 64 percent of minimum wage earners are women. This has a big impact on the financial security of our women.
Now, so this week, the House passed their Continuing Resolution. For some reason, it's hard to tell from the debate on the floor, they decided to put into law the sequester. Sequester exists. We have to deal with it or do away with it. We do not have to reinforce it in the legislation. Those who understand, on the Republican side, its damaging impact on our national security and our economic security, said it means nothing to have it in the bill. It means nothing to have it in the bill. Well, then, why is it in the bill? Is it to get votes? Is it to harden the position on the Republican side? And this is – it's so sad because the Continuing Resolution is the responsibility we have to keep government open, and I look forward to our taking that vote when the Senate acts upon the Continuing Resolution next week.
Why are we in this situation?
The main reason we are here is because the Republicans have refused, refused to produce more revenue. I've asked them, “are there any loopholes that are not sacrosanct to you?” They say: "we would close loopholes, but only to lower rates." I thought we were lowering the deficit. I thought that was the point. This isn't just about shuffling money among their special interest friends. I'm very willing to look at how we lower rates to increase revenue. And if closing some loopholes accomplishes that, let's review that as we look at tax reform. But in terms of closing loopholes to reduce the deficit, the Republicans say “no.” And what does that mean? That means the sequester; that shows the choices they have made. They have chosen to protect a tax break for corporate jets while at the same time losing four million Meals on Wheels for our seniors. They have chosen tax breaks to send jobs overseas while losing 750,000 jobs, a minimum of 750,000 jobs in the sequester. They have chosen tax breaks for Big Oil, instead of education for little children. Title IX, Head Start, you name it, education affected for our little children. They have chosen to protect, without, you know, making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share, a cost that comes out in the sequester to military, the health of our military families, and the training of our troops before they go into the theater of war. That's what their priorities are in the sequester. They will not close loopholes to lower the deficit, to lower the deficit. The Speaker even said, when he was fighting the expiration of [the] Bush tax [cuts], $800 billion in deductions that could be addressed in order to produce revenue. I think it's more; I think it's $1.1 trillion. Our whole budget is, three, what, $3.5 trillion? And so, when we talk about reducing spending, we certainly must, and we certainly have $1.6 trillion in the previous Congress, $1.2 [trillion] of it in the Budget Control Act.
But spending is also related to tax cuts. Tax cuts are spending. Tax expenditures, they are called. Subsidies for Big Oil, subsidies to send jobs overseas, breaks to send jobs overseas, breaks for corporate jets – they are called tax expenditures. Spending money on tax breaks. And that's the spending that we must curtail as well. And if we do, we could come closer to the one-on-one of revenue and cuts in spending.
So we know they want to raise the age of Medicare recipients because they won't touch these tax breaks for the wealthiest and the special interests in our country. It's just plain wrong.
So, Democrats have put forth a fair, balanced plan. Congressman Chris Van Hollen, we're so proud of his work, the Ranking Member on the Budget Committee. We have tried over and over again to have it come up on the floor of the House, but it's been rejected every time in the Rules Committee and rejected on the floor to even bring it up. I don't know what they're afraid of. Maybe they're afraid of their own Members voting for something so reasonable, that makes everyone pay their fair share. It has a revenue piece, it has spending cuts, and it will be legislation that will promote growth.
So, with that, I'll be happy to take any questions.
Q: Madam Leader, the Supreme Court's going to take up the same‑sex marriage cases at the end of the month. And I'm wondering if you have a specific prediction on those as you did on healthcare?
Leader Pelosi. You recognize my, separate from almost everybody else, prediction on where it would go.
I believe – thank you for asking this question. I've spent a lot of time on this. I believe that, just speaking to the DOMA, because we're friends of the court in the House, it's a hundred and – how many? Two-hundred and twelve House and Senate, that's good enough – 212 House and Senate friends of the court in the DOMA case. I believe that DOMA is unconstitutional and I believe that the Republicans know it. Tell me if this is more on the subject than you want to know. In the 2004, 2005, I guess, 2005, 2006, before we won the majority, the Republicans still at that time were a majority. They would pass bills that were called court stripping, court stripping bills. It harkened back to something they tried to do years ago. People like Barry Goldwater, William French Smith, people like that rejected it. But there was an element in the Republican Party that believed that Marbury v. Madison was wrongly decided, that judicial review was not a core responsibility of the Court, judicial review being review of laws passed by Congress for their constitutionality.
So, you know, they passed DOMA in the '90s and that. And so around the middle, I don't know, 2005, 2004, somewhere around there we were running around with these bills. And one of them, one of their court stripping bills stripped the Court of judicial review, was specifically on DOMA. So aware were they that it could not withstand judicial review that they wanted to pass a bill, and the purpose of the bill was to strip the Court of the power to review constitutionality of DOMA. They probably would not have gotten such a bill signed – you know, if they had put it on the DOMA, or maybe they just weren't thinking at the time, they probably would not have gotten a presidential signature for DOMA. But now they resurrected that. So because they themselves wanted to shield DOMA from the review of the Court, I think they know it's very weak and that it will fall.
Q: What about the Justices?
Leader Pelosi. Well, there's always that. I keep praying, I keep praying on that. But, you know, I know it's unconstitutional. The question is – I think we're in pretty good shape.
Q: On DOMA or both?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think that DOMA falls and it makes – it's not, strictly speaking, taking Prop. 8 out of the way, there's some still some issues. But I think we have to get DOMA to fall. Of course, Prop. 8, to me, is ridiculous. And I hope that they would – but I just don't know as much as I know about the law that was passed in Congress in terms of their thinking. I know about Prop. 8, in my state of California, and how irresponsible it is. But I can't read into the minds of the Justices. Not that I can on the other. But if they are consistent, if they are consistent with their beliefs, I think that it will be okay.
Q: Madam Leader, this is a two‑part question.
Leader Pelosi. Wait. You get a question every time.
Q: You don't have to call on me?
Leader Pelosi. No, you shouted out.
Q: There is a debate within the party about entitlement reform, [that] should be a part of this grand bargain that may come down over the next year. Mr. Hoyer said yesterday he would support some kind of entitlement reform, the Progressive Caucus came out yesterday saying “no.” Where do you stand on that in the grand bargain negotiations over the next few months?
Leader Pelosi. I've always said that when we have a commitment to the promises we have made to the American people, and that is economic and health security for our seniors and their families who may be beneficiaries of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. But that these should be on their own table. Certainly we know that the demographics are clear, the baby boomers have arrived and will continue to arrive. And so we have to look, how do we make Social Security fiscally sound and there for people as we go forward? But that has nothing to do with doing something there that might yield resources that will be used to continue subsidizing tax expenditures to special interests in our country. Two different tables. Tax reform table over here, Social Security table here.
On Medicare, we already instituted some reforms in the Affordable Care Act. And I'm pleased to note that – well, I [don’t] have it here, but the rate of growth of Medicare is down to, what, four – .4 percent, that is a lowering of the rate of growth. And that was what our goal was in the Affordable Care Act, was to decrease the rate of growth in health care costs. Medicaid, the cost of Medicaid did not grow. So the Affordable Care Act in that regard is working. And there's more built into the Affordable Care Act. Studies, we asked the Institute of Medicine, that will be due the end of this month, that will talk about how we get more value and less volume in terms of the quality of care versus the quantity of care. And that's a whole issue that was a very big discussion for us in passing the Affordable Care Act. In fact, disparities, regional disparities in that were probably the biggest obstacle to passing the Affordable Care Act until we resolved it in a way that said we will respect the findings of the Institute of Medicine.
So, we already have that in the mix. And as I said this at a recent meeting of some of the leaders, if the purpose is to make the Medicare stronger and more fiscally sound, we're happy to talk about that because we need to do that. If the purpose is to take a scalp: "we're going to raise the age," doesn't produce any money, just raise the age, take a scalp, take a trophy, then we're not in for that. So, yes, certainly, as I have always said: “every dollar we spend, we have a responsibility to the taxpayer and the beneficiary to make sure it is spent well.”
So, if we're here to solidify and to make more fiscally sound and to honor the guarantee that Medicare and Social Security will be there, let's sit down and talk about that. Trophy taking, that's not for us.
I don't say that in disagreement with what the Progressive Caucus is saying. I think we're all pretty much [in] the same place, that we have to do it, not at the expense of the beneficiaries but in fact for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
Q: Last night President Obama had dinner with some Republican Senators, today he's having lunch with Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen, two Budget Committee Members.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: What do you make of this new overture from the White House towards Republicans? Do you think it can produce any results?
Leader Pelosi. I hope so. I hope so. They seem to be pleased. They talked about immigration, debt limit, issues of that kind. I hope so. I think that that's always good. I think, as one who has been a leader in the Congress for a while, I always think it's very important to understand the motivation of Members and what the possibilities are in terms of courage. And so I think it's important that they all get to know each other better.
Q: Leader Pelosi, can I just follow up on that? Do you think that this is what was lacking in the inability to come to a grand bargain before, is that it was not reaching, the President was not reaching out to rank‑and‑file Members like this in the past?
Leader Pelosi. My staff is going to be worried that I'm going to answer wrong. This President has been so respectful, given so much time to the Republicans and their views to the point that at one time in one of our meetings, I said to the President: "Mr. President, I'm busy. And I don't have any more time for this. You have to be the busiest person in the world. If and when they come up with a new idea, why don't we just call you back into the room." Because he has tried so hard to listen, to accommodate, to be respectful of their points of view.
No, I do not think this is why we didn't reach a grand bargain. I think we didn't reach a grand bargain because the Speaker of the House walked away from an agreement that he and the President had arrived at, probably because he couldn't sell it to his own [Conference]. And I don't care what anybody else says about that.
I know you always have a question. But I have to – it's Women's History Month, and, besides, every day is Women's History Day for me.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Chad mentioned Rand Paul's filibuster last night. He was joined on the floor by one of the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee who raised his concerns about whether the Administration has the authority to use drones to kill Americans on American soil. You served on the Intelligence Committee for a time. Do you share Senator Wyden's concerns?
Leader Pelosi. What I share is the concern we all have that Congress have sufficient oversight over the executive branch when it comes to issues that relate to the security of our country, or any issue, for that matter. But this is where the great coming together that our country and our founders experienced in their own time, because they were always under threat, witness the War of 1812, and the challenge to balance freedom and security. I don't think that the Administration has any intention of using drones in the United States against American citizens or otherwise. So I don't have that fear. But I do support and have been a fighter for, whoever the President is, the Congress being informed and having sufficient oversight over the actions they might take in relationship to the balance between freedom and security.
Q: Senator Paul, on this issue, said he's not getting the information that he wants from the Administration. Do you think he needs to do more?
Leader Pelosi. I'd be the last person to ask about what [Senator] Paul has and whether that would rise to the level of sufficient. I know Senators – we have an Intelligence Committee, they have an Intelligence Committee. According to the law, Members of Congress through the committees must be informed of certain things. At a certain other level of classification, only the Ranking Member and Chairman and certain other leadership Members, the Gang of Four, the Gang of Eight, must be informed of certain things. I don't know where he falls into that. But I have a suspicion that Senators do not think that it should be confined to the Intelligence Committee. I don't even know if he's on it. I don't know enough about him to know if he's even on the Intelligence Committee. But suffice to say all of us, every one of us, rank‑and‑file Democrats – I mean, House and Senate, we all have to take votes on certain measures, so we all have to have enough information to make an informed vote, whether it's about the budget of our intelligence and security agencies or whether it is about the policies that spring from those budgets.
Q: Did you watch the filibuster?
Leader Pelosi. What?
Q: Did you watch any of the filibuster?
Leader Pelosi. There are certain things that fall into the category of "life is too short." I myself had, what, four speeches to make last night. I was doing my own thing. I had my own responsibilities. I took note that it was happening. And let me say that I hope Democrats will use the filibuster sometime as well, in that way.
I think we have to go. Somebody else is coming pretty soon. Thank you all very much.
Q: Thank you.