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. This is a very exciting week for many of us. Some had the privilege of going to Rome to see the inauguration of our new Pope Francis. I'm very excited, as I said before, about the fact that he took the name of Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of my city of San Francisco. As I said last week, the song of Saint Francis is the anthem of our city: "Make me a channel of thy peace. Where there is darkness, may we bring light." And that's exactly what we saw of His Holiness at his installation.
It occurred on the feast of Saint Joseph, which to Italian Americans is a special – well, Italians all over – is a very special feast. So we are observing and celebrating Saint Patrick's Day as well as the feast of Saint Joseph this week, and what better way than to have a new Pope with new inspiration and new hope. It was pretty exciting.
I must say it was even more exciting to be there with the Vice President. Vice President Biden was so beautifully received by so many other heads of delegations as we awaited the start of the mass. He also, the night before, hosted a reception with a number of the American Cardinals, who were obviously all in Rome, but a number of them came to the reception. So it was a beautiful occasion all around.
And what's exciting for me is to come home and hear the interest that my colleagues have in how it was, and how was it to be there. It was quite wonderful, a thrill of a lifetime.
This week, as you know, we observe the three‑year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. That was about affordability, access, accountability. But what I love about it, and most people don't realize, it's about wellness, it's about prevention, it's about quality of care, it's about a big difference in the lives of the American people. No denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. No lifetime limits on care. I see this as honoring the vows of our founders, who promised – sacrificed everything for life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. Here we have a healthier life; the liberty to pursue your happiness, whether it is to be a cameraman, a writer, self‑employed, start your own business, change jobs, not to be job‑locked because of health care, whether you have a pre-existing condition in your family or just the ability to afford access to health care.
So I think it, as I say, honors the vows of our founders. It's liberating for the American people. It's very exciting in terms of the technology and the rest that is available to us to make real‑time information available for everyone to make our country healthier. If we had never had any problem with the health care delivery systems or insurance denying care, it would have been absolutely necessary for us to pass the Affordable Care Act because the status quo was unsustainable financially; unsustainable for individuals, for families, for local governments, state and federal governments; unsustainable for large corporations. It is a competitiveness issue for our business community. And again, what I said, federal government, to go back, unsustainable for our budget.
As you see by the report of the CBO, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that already, in part, a large part, due to the Affordable Care Act, there has been a slowdown in the increase of health care costs, and that was one of our goals in the legislation. Medicare has – us at .4 percent. We have talked about that before. Medicaid, no increase. And that's very important to the Affordable Care Act. It's very important to Medicare and Medicaid. It's very important to the American people and to the great middle class.
Already there is no denial of care for pre-existing conditions for 17 million children. Starting next year up to 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will not be – will no longer be denied coverage. Being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing medical condition. As I've mentioned, there are no lifetime limits on care, which is important.
Really sad then to say that in this week, as we observed the third‑year anniversary, and as people begin to understand what it means to them in their lives, and as the exchanges are being planned throughout the country, that on the floor of the House today we passed the Ryan‑Romney Republican job‑losing budget bill, which repeals the Affordable Care Act, at least the part that is about care. It takes the savings that we have in the bill, uses it to sustain their tax breaks for unnecessary and not job‑creating for special interests. So it's sort of a hoax that you would take the money and repeal the bill. So no benefits, but we'll keep the savings.
It is a sharp contrast to the bill that was our Democratic alternative put forth by Chris Van Hollen, our ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. That was a bill that's job‑creating; with investments in innovation, and rebuilding our infrastructure, and innovation that relates to energy. It's about investing in education so that we are competitive and number one. It's a bill that strengthens and sustains our commitment to our seniors, whether it's their economic or their health security, in contrast to the Ryan bill, which cuts almost $100 billion – $98 billion – from Pell grants – $100 billion from Pell Grants, in a decade ends the Medicaid guarantee. It is a job loser in the short term and even more so in the long term.
So the contrast could not have been different: one a statement of our values as to support of the middle class, which is the backbone of our democracy, again honoring the vows of our founders; the other a job loser, ends the Medicare guarantee, and makes it more difficult for young people to afford a college education.
So that was the week that we are in, and now our Members will be taking that message home about the contrast in budget priorities; about the observance of the third‑year anniversary of health care, the Affordable Care Act, and what that means in the lives of America's working families; and in celebration of the fact that we have a new inspirational leader in Rome, Pope Francis.
Q: You didn't mention the CR that passed, which underfunds the Affordable Care Act…
Leader Pelosi. Yes, it does.
Q: …and it also locks in four gun provisions that had been temporary. It locks in the sequester.
Do you feel like the Republicans are on a bit of a roll and have you guys on your heels right now?
Leader Pelosi. Well, no, I don't feel that at all. We're here to get a job done. We will not, as I said earlier on, be a party to shutting down government, because all of that is worse than whatever you can describe, including sequester.
By including the Commerce‑Justice bill in there, there are provisions that are in each year. So when you say temporary, they are in each year in the Commerce‑Justice‑State [Department] bills. That's one reason it would be important to examine that more carefully and not just in a ‘are you going to shut down government or not,’ and here are the provisions of the bill.
We did get one victory in terms of something that they did want to put in that was not in furtherance of gun safety, but because we agreed to a CR, there couldn't be a CR if that other provision was in the bill. We can get that information to you.
But no, the first vote on the CR was about substance. The second vote on the CR was about keeping government open, and we want to remove all doubt that whatever our disagreements on some of these bills, it was worse to shut down government.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about budgets? Speaker Boehner was here about an hour ago, and he talked about, you know, how it's good to have these ideas on the table, and the parties can kind of fight it out. The Democrats have a budget, the Republicans have a budget, and then, you know, let the public decide.
Do you think, though, that these things are such messaging documents now that the political wings of both parties use these to go back in the campaign and say, ah, you voted for this, you didn't vote for that, and vice versa? Does that risk – they are not binding at the end of the day. Is that what these budgets and these budget debates are…?
Leader Pelosi. Well, they certainly shouldn't be, but they are a definition of party priorities. And while we don't like – you know, as I say to Members when they come here, you are an independent representative of your district. Your job title and your job description are one and the same: Representative. Now, you have to lead sometimes for national issues that may be viewed differently in your district, but the fact is you have to vote on the basis of the oath we take to the Constitution, your constituents and your conscience, those three Cs. The party part of it is the least important.
Having said that, there comes a place where you have a commonality of interests, and therefore you're in one Caucus or another. But the fact is you're here to work together to try to get a job done for the American people. And your biggest success would be for it to be bipartisan, sustainable, and that means you may have to compromise on part of it, but that might make it stronger.
So again, the budgets really do define what is important. On the one hand you have the Chris Van Hollen – the Democratic substitute that we had. The only vote we could have was today. We tried over and over again to bring it to the floor, but they blocked even the consideration of it on the floor until we could get, what, 15 minutes on each side as a substitute here.
But that is a budget that I believe is a statement of values of most of the people in our country, a commitment to the middle class, the strength of the middle class; fairness, in terms of opportunity, and fairness, in terms of revenue. It's also about job creation. Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. You've heard me say that before. And that's very important to the success of our middle class. It's about educating our children. It's about respecting the role that Medicare, et cetera, plays in the lives of the family, where young people's success is better advanced if their parents can focus on them and not worry about their own parents.
On the other hand, you have a budget that is a job killer, the same thing practically as the Romney budget which was defeated by the American people in November. And that is about disdain for the people that I have just talked about. It's about being handmaidens of the special interests; about having a revenue policy that is not about fairness, but about special interests. And I think that is a sharp contrast: $98 billion out of – $98 billion out of Pell Grants, while giving tax breaks to Big Oil so they have an incentive to drill so they can make a trillion dollars in profit; tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas while we have investments in infrastructure and energy here.
So I think that in the budget you see a blueprint for what we believe in. And we believe in the middle class, and we believe that our democracy depends on their being strengthened. And a good part of that is something – the separation has happened more recently. It's always been a debate, but it's always frequently resolved when the rubber meets the road through appropriations and the rest.
But the statement of values that we have is one that we're very proud of and, we believe, stands in stark contrast to theirs. The implementation, that is to say the appropriations bills as they come along, will, I think, be more of a place where people would say, you voted for this, that, or the other thing. But I don't know that is so in the budget.
Q: With the Affordable Care Act, are there aspects to the law that Democrats would still like to tweak or reform, and what's the likelihood you'll be able to do that, given, frankly, the opposition? Is an imperfect bill better than no bill at all?
Leader Pelosi. There is no perfect bill that has ever existed – if you know of one, please let me know – in the 200‑year history of our country. But the fact is that there's always – for example, I for one would like to have what the President has in his budget, which is to have pharmaceutical prescription drug accounting done differently so we are talking about saving over $100 billion. That's something that was very important for us in the House, but we could not get it to be part of the whole bill. So that's a place where much more savings could come in.
As with every bill, when you see the implementation of it, you're always open to saying, ‘how can we make this better?’ But if you're asking for immediate suggestion right now, I would say – I think I'm getting it, the pollen, on the rugs or something – I would say first and foremost that there's much more savings to be achieved by the provision that's in the President's budget now that relates to prescription drugs.
Q: I wanted to ask you about a bill from New Jersey that's going through the state legislature to ban gay‑conversion therapy. There's a similar ban in your home state of California. Governor Christie has not said how he is going to rule on this bill, which hopefully will pass. As someone who has been active on gay rights issues, I'm just wondering what you think of this issue in sort of the broader debate on gay rights issues that's going on right now.
Leader Pelosi. Well, I thank you for your question because this is one that is near and dear to my heart, and I'm very eager to hear what the arguments will be next week in the related issue. That would be the constitutionality of DOMA and of the consideration by the court of Proposition 8.
I believe in science, and I believe in evidence, and I don't think there's any scientific evidence that says that we should have such a public policy that tries to do what you described that bill as doing in New Jersey. I'm not familiar with that exact bill. What did – are we calling it? Conversion?
Q: Conversion therapy.
Leader Pelosi. Conversion therapy. Yes.
So, I don't know what the scientific evidence is to go down that path, but I do know it's disrespectful and discriminatory, and therefore I would oppose conversion therapy and support the bill as we have it in California.
But again, I haven't seen that particular bill. I assume the bill says there's a ban on conversion therapy? Well, what's the point? You know, what is the point? What is the point? I think it's stale. I think that younger people understand that we talk about respect for all God's children, not wanting to be discriminatory in any respect, that, that really has no place, and it certainly doesn't. Would that be in the schools? Is that what they – doing it in the schools? Just taking people aside?
Q: I'm not sure, but I just wondered, just more broadly, because more of these bills are being proposed.
Leader Pelosi. What is their purpose? Is their purpose to – you know, we've been through it. Let's put it that way. When I came here, two issues that were very important: HIV/AIDS, you know, a global issue, but also the discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, or people who just are from the LGBT community. And we worked very hard for a long time on hate crimes legislation, starting then with a narrower bill. I'm very pleased that when President Obama became President, we were able to pass fully-inclusive hate crimes legislation.
And so, again, I don't believe in discrimination of any kind, and I don't believe in – and I think what you're describing is discriminatory.
When it comes to what's before the court, you know, I made my predictions about the health care bill being Constitutional. You remember that?
Q: You were off by one vote.
Leader Pelosi. I was off by one vote, that's true. I gave somebody more credit than he deserved.
But nonetheless – but for all of you who kept pressing me and saying, ‘but if, but if not,’ and I said, ‘no, it's going to go this way,’ here's what I think about – DOMA is definitely unconstitutional. But don't take my word for it.
You've heard me say this, I'm sure, but around 2005, the Republicans in the majority passed legislation specifically related to DOMA, which had, as you know, passed some years before in the '90s. But they came up with a specific bill relating to DOMA that stripped the courts of their right of judicial review. They said Marbury v. Madison was wrongly decided, that the courts do not have right of judicial review, and therefore they were passing this bill to strip the courts of judicial review. Why would they do that in this forum if they had a constitutional bill specifically related to DOMA?
So, I feel pretty confident about what will happen there, but you never know. You never know. So we are eagerly awaiting.
I think I only have time for one more question. Two questions. Quickly.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the debt limit. It seems like it's going to be the next big fight coming up. And the Speaker said he's going to stick to his principle of a dollar in reforms and cuts for a dollar increase. I'm wondering if you're going to stand by your principle of an increase, or whether you'd be open to another, you know, kind of gimmick vote, like no budget, no pay, where you do like a balanced budget vote – a balanced budget amendment vote, or something like that, to kind of help grease the wheel?
Leader Pelosi. Well, your third part is a theoretical, so I'll just start with the first part.
Yes, that's what the Speaker says, and that is certainly in keeping with the anti-government ideologues that are in his Caucus. If you keep cutting investments in the future that way in order to do something that should be pro forma here, to pass the debt limit – there shouldn't even be this kind of a debate. We could have the debate, but there shouldn't be any doubt in anybody's mind as to what the outcome is about the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
So if you keep saying dollar for dollar, pretty soon you have very little in terms of the public space for public‑private partnerships; for cops on the beat; to see what is going on, on Wall Street; for clean air, clean water, food safety, public safety, public education, public transportation, public housing, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. It just keeps unraveling and unraveling. And that is their point. That's what they believe. They do not believe in a public role. Bless their hearts, they act upon their beliefs.
It's really important for the American people to know what that choice is. And that they would place in doubt for a moment the full faith and credit is wrong. Just the discussion of it a year and a half ago lowered our rating. And that just doesn't have to be the case. We are, I think, coming back on the economy and the rest. This is not in furtherance of that prosperity that we want to have for all Americans.
And so, that will be the debate that we will have, and the President, of course, is the – happily, President Obama in the White House, and, of course, that's where the focus will be, between the White House and the Speaker.
But the fact is that the American people have a lot to lose in that equation. The equities that you must weigh in order to make further cuts on top of $1.6 trillion last year, $1.2 in the Budget Control Act, another $300 or $400 billion in other provisions, of sequestration; now that they're proposing a new budget, it remains to be seen how that translates into appropriations, and on top of that more cuts. It's a blueprint, not just for mediocrity, it is, as my colleague said, ‘a road to poverty for many people in our country and not worthy of the greatness of our country.’
Real fast one more, because I have to go.
Q: On that point there is some talk amongst the conservative House Republicans that have met with the House leadership that they want to attach entitlement reform – you guys say they are earned benefits – they want to cut Social Security and Medicare – possibly to balance the budget, and they want to use the debt limit as leverage. I asked Speaker Boehner earlier if he'd use the debt limit as leverage, and he said, ‘I don't want to put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk,’ but there is some leverage there.
Are you worried at all that the Republicans are going to go down this route similar to 2011 that could put you and the President in a very hard place?
Leader Pelosi. What is the route that you're talking about? They want to use Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security to reduce the deficit.
Q: They want changes – they want entitlement reforms – their words – in exchange for the debt limit being increased.
Leader Pelosi. You realize how harmful this would be for the middle class in our country? If we are to have attention paid to Social Security, it should be on its own table in order to sustain Social Security for a longer period of time, recognizing the demographic shift that is happening with the retirement of the baby boomers.
If we are going to strengthen Medicare, as we did in our bill with over $700 billion in savings put back in for more benefits right here, and now for our seniors, then that is what we should do on its own table, and the same with Medicaid. It shouldn't be anything related to balancing the budget for the Republicans so they can continue to give tax breaks to their special‑interest friends at the expense of America's seniors and people who are dependent on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
So nobody cares more about the sustainability of those initiatives than the Democrats. They are the intellectual property of the Democrats to begin with. They have been sustained by the Democrats over the years. We need them to be strong, and we want to have that discussion, but separate and apart from any of their – because, basically, their view of Medicare is it should wither on the vine. They are already ending the guarantee. They're ending the guarantee in 10 years. They think that Social Security has no place in a free society. That's why they have initiatives to privatize Social Security.
So I said to them, ‘any day you want to talk about strengthening these initiatives, we're there and ready to do it. If your goal, though, is to have them wither on the vine or be reduced in a way that does not meet their purpose, then them's fighting words.’ Them's fighting words.
Thank you all very much. Happy Easter, happy Passover, happy whatever you celebrate.