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. Here we are, Thursday in December. Talk around here is what's going on at the negotiating table. Is anything going on at the negotiating table? What is important, I think, though, is what is happening at kitchen tables across America and the relationship to decisions that are made here to what those discussions are. I think it's important to take a moment to see the context between which of these negotiations, when and if they take place, have taken place. The middle class – I had said before when we saw the Republican plan, that the Republican proposal was an assault on the middle class, on our seniors, and on our future.
When you look at kitchen tables across the country and how people are concerned about how they pay their bills, how they – if they can keep their homes, what's happening, it's important to note that all of the decisions that are made here that relate to the economic security of seniors have an impact on the middle class, on middle class families, and on the prospects for the future for the young people in their families. When we listen, as we do, to young people across the country, they understand that their future depends on their having education and training. They also know the relationship between the security of the seniors in their family and the prospects for their future, because if there is not that economic security, and their parents have to be looking after their grandparents, that limits their possibilities. They recognize that. They have told us that. And then when it comes to seniors, and we talk about how we're going to affect Medicare, Social Security and the rest, that takes place in the context of what has happened in the past few years, where there is insecurity about keeping – staying in their homes; a review of pensions that happen in the private and public sector throughout the country; again, issues that relate to the age of Medicare, et cetera. So, again, it's not just about what we do here, it's about what's happening in the economy and how vulnerable they are at this time.
So people are viewing what we have here as almost irrelevant unless it really addresses their concerns. And these are the concerns of the great middle class, and, one family at a time, what we do can either strengthen or weaken those families and their prospects. So it is really important that we recognize the role that each piece of the – what are the revenues, what are the investments, and what cuts should we make in them, and how do they contribute to growth and the creation of jobs as we reduce the deficit. I think that it's hard to explain to anyone why – why is it even a mystery in the conversation that we shouldn't be having the upper two percent of our population paying its fair share. How do you start? By saying we want to know what you are going to do to seniors before we will do what we know we have to do, which is make the wealthy pay their fair share?
So, again, that's sort of the connection that those of us in the House of Representatives have to our district, which is very immediate. We bring back to the table those concerns and that kind of an atmosphere, plenty of other uncertainty in their lives relating to home ownership, pension, long term health care, all the rest of it. It seems to me that the first thing we can do to instill anymore confidence in people is to take up the middle income tax cut, to go forward with that. What it does is two things: gives a middle income tax cut, money that will be spent injecting demand into the economy, creating jobs; but at the same time, it also frees us from the hostage taking of the Republicans saying: ‘we will not give the middle class income tax cut unless you give it to the wealthiest people in our country.’
Our economy has thrived under the Clinton rates. Whatever the rates should be now should look sort of like that. Over 20 million jobs created, largely in the private sector, in that atmosphere. So, it's about job creation, it's about growth, it's about deficit reduction and the relationship to want to reduce the deficit, create jobs. And so it's hard – you know, I can't even explain to my constituents why Congress isn't in session now trying to at least build bridges of understanding and representing. [I tell] Members all the time, ‘your job description and your job title is saying’ "Representative." Representing the needs and concerns, the challenges, the opportunities, the aspirations of the American people at their kitchen table and how that should be brought, those concerns should be central to our discussion at any negotiating table here in Washington, D.C.
It really is something that has to be seen in really a more comprehensive way, and not just one thing, not just one thing about raising the age of Medicare. First of all, show me the money. I don't even know why that is something that people think is going to produce money. What are we going to do with people between 65 and 67? Why is that – where is the money? Show me the money there. But it's not even the right thing to do, first and foremost. But is it a trophy that the Republicans want? Is that the trophy that they want in order to do what is right, to raise – to raise the rates for the wealthiest people in our country?
With that, I'll be pleased to take any questions.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said yesterday that he would – the White House would be willing to go off the fiscal cliff if there was no movement by House Republicans on tax rates for the top two percent. Would you be willing to go off the fiscal cliff if the Republicans did not budge on the top two percent?
Leader Pelosi. I did not understand his statement in the way that you characterized it. I think the way I heard it, and the way – I think it was not as a threat we go over if they don't, it was a prediction: if there is no agreement, then the fiscal cliff has to be dealt with. But I didn't see it as if they don't do this, we do that. I saw it as a statement of fact. It's not a threat, it's a prediction. If there's no agreement, we go over the cliff. Let's hope that we can have an agreement.
Q: Governor Christie is meeting at the White House right now with the President, and this afternoon he's got a meeting with the Speaker. I'm wondering if, one, you've got a meeting with him this afternoon, or if you've got any plans to speak with the President, or if you've spoken with him at all to speak about the fiscal cliff.
Leader Pelosi. Well, the – Christie, he is talking about Sandy, though, right? Christie? I thought you were talking about Sandy right now.
Q: I think he'll talk about Sandy, but we also expect that he, you know, could discuss the fiscal cliff at least in some sense with both leaders.
Leader Pelosi. I don't know that. I had a meeting with Governor Cuomo and I met with Mayor Bloomberg about – they came to show me the documentation of the need and the challenges that they're facing in their communities. They know that I am committed to the social compact that what – we have to be there for people in times of natural disaster. One of the first things that happened to me when I became Speaker early – excuse me, a Member of the Congress, was the Loma Prieta earthquake. And if you ever want to feel helpless go to people who've just been a victim of a natural disaster and try to help make them feel positive about what the prospects are. And any doubt about whether the government is going to be there for him, for them, must be removed.
So, I'll be happy to work with whomever. And I know that from my colleagues from New Jersey, some idea of the scope, and, of course, it's in the public domain, but from them in terms of their communities and the impact on their communities. So we'll be working with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to address those needs when we get the supplemental, and hopefully it will be part of a package that will include avoiding going over the fiscal cliff.
Q: Madam Leader.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, I do talk to the President about these matters.
Q: Have you talked to President Obama, Madam Leader, about the fiscal cliff and the state of the negotiations?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Leader Pelosi, can you give us a concrete sense of where these negotiations stand right now? First we're told people aren't talking. Then we're told they are talking. What's really going on?
Leader Pelosi. Probably both.
Q: How is that possible?
Leader Pelosi. Well, maybe they're not talking enough. But, you know, the – there's no reason why we couldn't come to the table and get this done right now. Everybody knows what the elements are. And so, the question is, if we are going to do it, let's do it now. If we're not going to do it, the Republicans are just going to say, ‘never, no way, we will not touch one hair on the head of the wealthiest people in our country, not one red cent from them,’ then let us know that right now, too, so we can take the consequences of that and mitigate for that.
Q: But they said they made a serious proposal with $800 billion in tax…
Leader Pelosi. I see their proposal, as I said, as an assault on the middle class, on our seniors, and on the future. That's how I see theirs. But should we come – having said – have they staked that out for whatever it is, local consumption, Caucus consumption, base consumption, whatever it is, it was not in furtherance of finding common ground.
Q: Jim DeMint announced he was going to be leaving the United States Senate to go to the Heritage Foundation. I wonder what your thoughts are, what the larger meaning of this might be for the Republicans' right flank and for the future of the Tea Party movement?
Leader Pelosi. Well, that's quite a question. We all just found out this morning of the news that Senator DeMint would be leaving. So, I have to see what – again, it's the other side of the building. You know how far away that can be in terms of…
Q: One follow up.
Leader Pelosi. Sure.
Q: If you were a new House Member, what does he represent?
Leader Pelosi. You know what, I'll tell you this. I think what we saw night before last in the United States Senate was one of the saddest – you know, their competition for the honor of worst, most shameful, all the rest of that, but the saddest of all occasions. Imagine that a convention, a treaty was put before the United States Senate that captured U.S. law about the respect and recognition of the needs of people with disabilities. It was something that grew from something we did. And one of the leaders in making that happen in the '90s was Senator Dole, Senator Kennedy, George Miller on the House side and others. And I was there the day the President signed the bill. And Senator Dole was so proud of it all, the role that he and his staff – because one of his staff members had a child with disabilities, and played – it was a beautiful, beautiful bill signing because it related to people's lives so directly, and they knew that.
And so for Senator Dole to come, as the former leader of the Republicans in Congress, to personally come to the Senate floor to lobby – to advocate for that legislation, just needed five more votes, and to see the Republicans in the Senate reject that out of hand for reasons that go beyond reason is – it was stunning. And so you ask me how is it – someone with people who advocates that way in the Senate is leaving, well, I guess it depends on who is replacing that person. But that action that was taken on the Senate – in the Senate the other day was such a slap in the face for our veterans, one of whom was Senator Dole, who was a – a veteran with disability, rose to the heights of our country, ran for President of the United States, presided over the Senate as Majority Leader. For them to slap the face of our veterans, of people with disabilities, families with children with disabilities, that was one of the saddest days.
So, anyone who was a party to that, well, I wish them well wherever they are going. Hope that we can have a – more of our values represented there.
Q: Madam Leader, during…
Leader Pelosi. Any women? You did. Okay.
Q: During the fiscal cliff debate, of course, you've talked a lot about tax rates and entitlements in Medicare and Social Security. You haven't talked too much about the payroll tax cut or unemployment insurance. Sort of in a sub rosa thing in this whole debate. You haven't talked about it much. What should happen over the next couple of weeks, or beyond that, with the payroll tax cut and the corollary with unemployment?
Leader Pelosi. Well, the – again, taking one, a payroll tax cut, out of the context of what is happening is, I think – it's not something I intend to do. But I will say this: as important as the payroll tax cut has been in the past two years to get – you know, putting more money in the pockets of people so they will spend it, inject demand into the economy, create jobs, be a stimulus, is – should be no substitute for our passing a middle income tax cut now and to do even more for middle income families in our country.
So, I don't want there to be this illusion, well, we didn't do this, but we did that, and that's okay for now. It would be something that would be a backstop, but it is no substitute for real middle income tax cuts.
Q: Does it need to stay – the rate need to stay where it is now?
Leader Pelosi. Depends on what we do. Depends on what we do now. Depends on if we pass the middle income tax cut. As far as the unemployment insurance is concerned, that is something that is really a safety net for our whole economy. It's not just a safety net for individuals, it's a safety net for our economy. Our economy, a capitalist, free market economy, is one that goes back – goes back and forth in terms of ups and downs. And when it is down, people have paid in to an unemployment insurance program, and then they have those benefits, which probably are one of the most important stimuli for the economy. The economists tell us that, dollar for dollar, there's more demand injected into the economy by unemployment insurance than almost anything you can name, food stamps being another one of those.
So, we have to see them in relationship to our economy over all. I don't think – I think they are two completely different things. Unemployment insurance, I think we always have to recognize as an important safety net for the economy, for our system as – instead of just for an individual, A. And, B, I don't want a payroll tax cut to be a substitute for something stronger that we can do.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you mentioned earlier, the Clinton tax rates, but you also said that they should look sort of like those.
Leader Pelosi. Well, I – I'm in favor of those, 39.6 [percent].
Q: Would you accept something a little bit lower than that, that would still be a – it would keep upper rates, but the Republicans…
Leader Pelosi. I don't want anything that, because you change it, it puts more of a burden on the middle class. So, again, it's – it's about the money, how much money do we need? And that is why I keep saying, what is our goal? Let's have a timetable, let's have our milestones, let's get this done. And whatever the give and take of – are we at the table, are we not, how are we advancing down the field, whether it is formally or informally? But the beauty – some may not see it this way – the beauty of the 39.6 [percent], the Clinton tax rate, is the following: it produces the revenue we need to have a fair and balanced solution that also helps reduce the deficit, A. B, again, it stops the hostage taking of the middle income tax cut unless we, you know, hold harmless the rich. No, it says, no, 39.6 [percent]. But the beauty of it is that then you can go to the next step, which is what is in the President's budget, as I am sure you all know, the 28 percent limitation on deductions. Twenty eight percent. So if you are – if you make – if you make a million dollars a year, and you give money to charity or whatever deductions you take, you get a – it's limited to 28 percent; not 39.6, 28 percent. The differential between 28 and 39.6 is where a lot of money is that also helps reduce the deficit and bring us to a place.
So, what I like about the 39.6 [percent] and the 28 [percent] is they produce revenue. The differential then on top of that produces more, takes us up to the $1.6 trillion in revenue, which is fairly equivalent to what we have in cuts that have been agreed to in this Congress. So far, both in the budget agreement, the interest that is inferred from that, as well as cuts that we made earlier in the year.
Q: But just to follow up on that, if Republicans agree to lower that cap on deductions, could you agree to lower that top rate for the upper…
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know, again, and come as no surprise to you, let's get to the table and talk comprehensively about that. It's not – it's about the money. You know, I have told you before, as one forged in the Appropriations Committee, when things like this would come up, we would say, ‘it's not the price, it's the money.’ So, how much money do we get out of this? If we go lower, how does that impact the middle class? If we had a certain dollar amount we must achieve, and we give relief at the high end some more, then where does that come from? If it comes from the middle class, then no. Then no. But let's see what the combination is that can be put together.
But I like the President's proposal because it supplies the money, it has fairness, it holds the middle class harmless, and it has the amount that we need to have, again, the balance and the deficit reduction that we need.
Q: Madam Speaker – I'm sorry, Madam Leader, Apple Computer, your home state constituent, had an announcement today. They are going to start making the iMac’s here domestically. You've had a U.S. manufacturing agenda; for example, tax incentives for domestic manufacturers.
Are you going to be trying to promote that in the coming weeks as part of this package or next year? What sorts of things are you going to put at the top of your priority list for maybe building on this announcement today?
Leader Pelosi. Well, as you know, our colleague, Congressman – our distinguished Whip, Mr. Hoyer, has been the leader in the Make It In America agenda as part of our ABC: A, American made; B, build the infrastructure of America; C, cut [taxes] for middle income taxpayers to help create the growth that we need. So that – that's very positive. It fits very comfortably in something that I've been advocating for a long time, which is our innovation agenda, which took the form, legislative form, of the COMPETES Act, which we passed years ago and then reauthorized the COMPETES Act. And we had to persuade our Republican colleagues that it was a good idea. But we did get a lot of votes; it was very bipartisan, as it turns out.
So it fits with our COMPETES Act, our innovation agenda, our Make It In America, and it's certainly consistent with the President's American Jobs Act that I think will be, I would imagine – well, from our standpoint, I don't even have to imagine. From our standpoint, if you are talking about what we would do the first day, it would be a jobs bill that would reflect what I just said, those ABCs. It would also, in keeping with the attitude I have that you cannot separate the ballot box and the bread box, as Walter Reuther referred to it, we would have to have campaign finance reform.
First bill we would probably put forth is what we've been talking about is – that is my DARE. You know the DARE: Disclose – I understand Mitch McConnell came over to the House Republicans and told them not to support the DISCLOSE Act – Disclose – ‘I'm Nancy Pelosi, I support this’; ‘I'm Barack Obama.’ Everybody has to say except these people who want to hide behind what they call public interest PACs, or whatever they are. Disclose. Amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. Reform, a campaign finance reform, take it to public financing of campaigns. Take it all the way down. Enforce. Enforce the law. And the laws – one of the laws we would like to enforce is a new law that we would introduce that day.
George Miller and, proudly, John Lewis have been part of putting this approach together, and it is that people would – we would have a federal law that would only apply to federal elections. That is all we can do in terms of elections. That in a federal election, people should have the opportunity to vote in one hour. That would encourage early voting and also vote by mail and like that, so that people would not be – the vote would not be suppressed by limiting the number of machines, the number of polling places, the number of hours, the number of days. So, we think that that would have an impact on policy, the more people who can vote. That comes back to make it – the ABCs: American made, build the infrastructure, cut the taxes for the middle class. You can add the D, the DARE, ABCD.
Q: Madam Leader, what do you think of the fact the Republicans have left town? They're not here. You haven't mentioned it, but there's no Congress – I mean, there's no House because the Republicans have left town. What's your response to that?
Leader Pelosi. I think I did reference it, but I thank you for bringing it up again.
Why are we here – why are we not here? The existential question is phrased differently. Why are we not here? Why are we not here trying to build confidence, find common ground? Even as Members interact with each other, not just the principals, as they refer to leaders or the principals on the committees of jurisdiction, why are we not here getting information? Was it Voltaire that said, ‘if you want to debate with me, define your terms?’ What are we talking about here; what are we talking about when we say restructure entitlements? What does restructure mean? Destroy? Wither on the vine? Voucherize? Or does it mean let's work together to make these stronger and improve benefits for the beneficiaries.
So, why are we not here at least finding common ground on what these terms mean? Why aren't we here talking about what our goal is? And why are we here just stretching this out so that in this time of consumer confidence, which is important to our economic growth, market confidence as we come to the end of the year, we would lengthen – shorten the length of time where all of that was in question? We most certainly should be here. And it came as quite a surprise, and I'm rarely surprised, that the Republicans would leave, who came in Tuesday and left Wednesday, twelve o'clock, noon, with all that needs to be done, avoiding the conversation. Sounds like people don't want to be in town for some reason, and the reason is; is because they are – we are asking them to sign a discharge petition to urge their – if they don't want to sign it, to urge their leadership to pass middle income tax cuts, which is liberation, which is freeing from the hostage taking, which is the setting the table for what can come next once we understand that we're holding the middle class harmless as we go forward.
Thank you all very much.