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Transcript of Pelosi, House Democratic Leaders Press Conference Today

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, and Congressman Steve Israel held a press conference following a meeting between the House Democratic Caucus and President Obama in the Capitol today.  Below is a transcript of Leader Pelosi’s remarks and the question and answer session:

Leader Pelosi.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  To you and to Vice Chair Crowley, thank you for a very important meeting with the President of the United States and our Caucus this afternoon.  As the Chairman said, the President came as an optimistic leader of a great nation.  He talked about, in addition to what Mr. Chairman said about a window that has to exist between elections, where we just are here to get the job done for the American people.  He talked about the middle class and those aspiring to it, who we are here to work for to get the job done and with some optimism that, although we have our disagreements – and that’s what the political, the democratic process is about – people with differing views coming together to reach solution that, in this window of time, that we should take advantage of it to benefit the American people. 

It was an interesting collection of questions from our colleagues, ranging from climate change, to taxation, to stopping the cuts in biomedical research and what that means to the health of our nation.  The President, again, was inspiring, was optimistic, was realistic and called upon us for unity and invited any thoughts that we had on how we go forward.  Being unified does not necessarily mean having no questions about each other’s positions.  Being a lively Democratic Caucus, we had the questions, we had the unity, and we appreciated the optimism of the President. 

And with that, I’m pleased to yield to our distinguished House Democratic Whip, Mr. Steny Hoyer.

***

Q:  Mr. Israel, you are the Chairman of the DCCC and so your job is to elect Democrats and with the President coming in and saying he’s run his last election, but he’s also committed to you to help elect Democrats.  Did he explain how he would reconcile those two things between trying to work out a deal with Republicans and not demagogue them in order to win House seats.

Mr. Israel.  Well, several things.  First of all, it shouldn’t be earth shattering to anybody that a President of the United States, any President of the United States, would prefer to work with Members of his own party who will not block him and slam the door on any compromise, on any negotiation.  There is nothing new there at all.  But the President also said to us that there is a time for politics and there is a time for governing.  This is a time for us to get things done and I respect that and I understand it and as the Chairman of the DCCC, I’ll be part of that.

Chairman Becerra.  He can walk and chew gum as well.

Yes?

Q:  Leader Pelosi, the President – Republicans say that the President expressed a willingness to make big changes to Medicare if that’s what it takes to get a grand bargain.  Will Democrats stand behind him on that?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I’m, I’m not sure of the characterization.  I didn’t hear the President say that, but I will say what we have done so far and it has been very positive.  In the Affordable Care Act, we already found over $700 billion in savings, which we put back into Medicare to increase benefits for those, for the beneficiaries, to extend the life of Medicare by almost a decade, by closing the donut hole and by providing free checkups for seniors now.  They are enjoying those, those benefits, increased benefits now.  We also have in the Affordable Care Act initiatives to look at the regional disparities which cost us money in terms of high reimbursement for low performance.  We’re about quality, not quantity of services and that report is coming out and that’s a place where more money will be saved.

We’ve already gone down that path when you see that the rate of increase in Medicare spending, health care spending as it relates to Medicare has gone up only .4 percent, that is a slowing of the rate of increase, and in Medicaid it is completely even.  And again, with the regional disparities addressed, the curve will bend further in terms of lowering costs.  That is one of the basic premises of the Ryan budget, that he can reach balance, although it isn’t a real balance, but he can, he is aided in his attempts to do that by the fact that the CBO has given the baseline, it has given on the basis of lowered, lowering Medicare costs than anticipated, Medicare costs.  We have said and agree with the President that we can make savings in prescription drugs, $140 billion worth in fact, that had been in the President’s budget and that we support.

 So, already we have taken us on a path that improves benefits for those who, whether it’s our seniors or others who benefit from Medicare and Medicaid, we have sustained the life of Medicare for a longer period of time, we have found places like prescription drugs where considerable savings can be made, and we’re open to talking about how we can find other ways to save.  Whether that’s somebody like me paying more for, for a co-pays, or a deductible, but we have to be careful when we means-test because most of the beneficiaries on Medicare make $40,000 or below.  Others of us can afford to pay more.  So Medicare’s already means-tested in certain aspects of it, I think there’s room for some more of that.

So, drastic cuts – $140 billion in pharmaceuticals, some of the findings that are in the, the Affordable Care Act called for, will lower the number as well.  So we feel very comfortable in this.  Look, we invested, we Democrats were the authors of Medicare, we are protectors of Medicare.  We want it to be sustained.  We want it to be there for a long period of time.  We recognize the demographics of many more people, baby boomers who have come on and continue to come on the system.  But, again, we’re there to make sure that it is strong.  Republicans have said they are there to see it whither on the vine and there approach is to end the Medicare guarantee in ten years for future seniors.

Q:  Did Democrats send a message to the President today: “don’t go too far when it comes to Social Security or Medicare?”

Leader Pelosi.  Well, one of the subjects that came up, separate from Medicare was the question of the chained CPI that we talked about this morning.  But as I said this morning but was not reported in my view accurately – so I’ll take on the press now – was that if there can be an, a demonstration that chained CPI does not hurt the poor or the very old, then it is something to put on the table, as you put on the table of raising tax – other things that might sustain Social Security for a longer period of time, recognizing the demographic shift that is taking place.  But we have a responsibility to all of the American people, we want to invest in our children.  They are our hope for the future.  But we want to keep our, and we want to keep our promises to our seniors and their families and those who depend on Medicare and Social Security, but we, again, unless, and the President is very clear about this, and you might want to integrate it into your questions, very clear: no revenue, no change in the entitlements.

Q:  Madam Leader, where do you see the process going from here?  We’ve got the debt limit coming up in a couple of months…

Leader Pelosi.  Steny?  When are votes?  He’s our time guy.

Q:  The CR gets us six months, but how do you see this process playing out?

Whip Hoyer.  Well, I think the President has facilitated further discussion, not only between the White House and Members.  He’s had Republican Senators to dinner.  He’s had, in my view he’s going to have other Republicans and Democrats down to the White House and other venues, he’s come up here, as Xavier has pointed out, coming more than halfway, maybe Joe you said that?

Chairman Becerra.  He was actually the optimistic guy.

[Laughter]

Whip Hoyer.  Oh, you were the optimistic guy?  That’s right.  I knew somebody said it.

Vice Chairman Crowley.  We all can take credit for it.

[Laughter]

Whip Hoyer.  The fact of the matter is, where do we go from here?  The legislative process, democracy is an ongoing, day to day, week to week, month to month process.  Obviously, if we’re going to work towards a solution to the problems that confront us, it will have to be done in a bipartisan way.  If it’s not done in a bipartisan way, we’ve seen it doesn’t get done.  We’ve done some bipartisan efforts – VAWA is the most recent example, Violence Against Women Act, overwhelmingly bipartisan bill passed.  So, I think the next steps, the way we go, is to continue discussions.  I intend to continue to have discussion with the Republicans as the Leader continues to have discussions with Mr. Boehner.  I think that’s the, that’s the way we’re going to proceed.  Hopefully, we are optimistic that we – don’t want to wear that word out – but that we can get to a place, because everyone that I’ve talked to, Republican, Democrat, conservative and liberal, thinks that we need to get to a different place than we are now.

[Reporter attempts to talk-over Chairman Becerra as he motions to two reporters in front row]

Chairman Becerra.  Last two questions right here, this row.  Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

Two questions.  Right here and here.  Last two.

Q:  Leader Pelosi, you mentioned that climate change was one of the other issues that came up.  What were, what was the President’s message on that?  Did he make commitments?  [inaudible]

Leader Pelosi.  It was actually the last question, it was more of a statement than a question, posed by our very distinguished Henry Waxman, an expert on this area.  The recognition was that the President mentioned it very strongly in his State of the Union address and Henry was just adding his voice to saying this is an important issue and that we should be addressing it very strongly.

Q:  So no new policy commitments, or…?

Leader Pelosi.  No, no.

Chairman Becerra.  Last question.

Q:  One of the Republicans said it earlier today that the President was willing to go along with a lower corporate tax rate that is revenue neutral, is that a position that you would go along with?  And further said that he was open to the possibility of a corporate tax rate reform that would leave out individual, in other words, not be a comprehensive tax reform.

Leader Pelosi.  Well, we have a number of Members of the Ways and Means Committee here who I am sure will all want to address it, that question, but I do want to say this.  The point here is that when we ask the Republican leadership if there were, wasn’t there any wasteful loophole, special interest loophole that they would close in order to reduce the deficit?  They said: “no.”  They would close some wasteful special interest loopholes only to lower the rates.  Well, we’re not opposed to lowering the rates if we can get more people to taxes because we’ve closed loopholes.

So, that’s a question about how we simplify and make our tax system more fair.  And we don’t disagree with the President that if that, if that can be done to lower rates, okay, but not abandoning the obligation to lower, to lower the deficit as well.  That is a really important.  We need revenue and we cannot walk away from that source.  It’s a big source.  The other part of it is that, that we want to be competitive in the global economy and that’s a consideration that the President put forth.  But I want to yield to our distinguished Chairman, and we have one, two, at least two here.

Chairman Becerra.  Joe Crowley as well.

I only add that if you recall, the Republicans were for closing loopholes for purposes of reducing the deficit, before they were against closing loopholes to reduce the deficit.  They in fact said that they could $800 billion worth of tax loopholes that they could close, during the discussion of the so-called “fiscal cliff” debacle.  And I think that the Republicans were correct then and this position they’re taking now runs totally contrary to what they said before and I hope that they don’t walk away once again from that proposal that they put forward because it could help us truly reach a, a landmark deal that lets us see the economy grow, Americans get back to work in bigger numbers, and quite honestly, then we can do all the other things that are so important.  Whether it’s health care, whether it’s climate change under control.  Everything that Americans believe that their leaders should do.

So, we hope that Republicans will remember that they were for closing loopholes for deficit reduction before they were against it.

Leader Pelosi.  So, Joe?

Vice Chairman Crowley.  Okay, I would, I would add just very quickly, and that is the President did make reference to the fact that the rate as it exists right now for corporations does put us at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world.  And that we have to find some way to address that.  But I would just bring it back to the Republican budget that was brought out.  Twenty-five percent across-the-board limit for both personal and corporate taxes and the dishonesty of that budget because they never tell you exactly how they would pay for it.  In order to do that, you’d have to do away, eliminate every possible expenditure including the home interest mortgage deduction, a very popular expenditure amongst many Americans. 

So, I think they ought to be more honest about how they would approach a tax reform than they have been so far.

Chairman Becerra.  The Leader wishes to have one last question.

[Laughter]

Vice Chairman Crowley.  Saved by the Leader.

Chairman Becerra.  You owe her one.

Q:  I appreciate that.  I’m curious to hear what you think the President meant when he said something to the effect of, you know, “I’ve run my last election.”  Because I think one way of hearing that is that he’s not going to be as able to be as aggressive in campaigning for you guys.

Whip Hoyer.  Steve, you want…

Assistant Leader Clyburn.  Well, I think what it meant to me is the fact that he will not go back into history and be a President to run, maybe, for lower office again – the Senate or something else.  He has made it very clear that one of the things, and he did so today, that he has found himself doing in this job, is studying very closely the history of our great country, and I think that’s what he meant.  He was reflecting on presidents in the past having done that and that he would not do that.  But I think Steve is correct, the President is a Democrat and Democrats are going to be running in 2014 and I suspect that the President will be supportive of Democrats.  I would hate to be running for reelection with my President not supporting my reelection.

Whip Hoyer.  Let me make a comment on that though – I understand what Jim said.  I think what the President meant by that was “I’m not going to do things for political reasons, I’m going to do them because they’re in the best interests of our country and our people.”  I think that’s absolutely what he meant.  I don’t think we can accuse him of trying to do something for political reasons to make himself look better.  He’s going to come forward with honest solutions that he thinks will make this country better.  I think he’s been doing that and I think he’s going to continue to do it. 

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I would just like to add to that is I don’t think he’s ever done anything for political reasons.

[Laughter]

But I don’t – I think the point of his making that point was he didn’t want other people to attribute any political motivation to what he was doing.  But I think this has been a President who has been as bipartisan as any that I have seen.  When he was talking about, shall we say, the rough and tumble of politics in Washington, D.C. over time and that his reading of history as a President, seeing it through those eyes, that’s always been – you know, we have differences of opinion and they take different, shall we say, manifestations of that enthusiasm over time.  When he was speaking, I was thinking of one Speaker of the House who became the President of the United States, President Polk, when President Polk was Speaker of the House he said: “this place is so out of order, I’m not recognizing anybody.”

So, again, no matter how far back in time you go, you see the advocacy and the enthusiasm of it sometimes manifesting itself in a way that might not pass in, in somebody’s living room when you see it on live TV, but nonetheless is part of our enthusiasm and our history for our democracy.

Steve, did you want to close on this?

Mr. Israel.  Yeah, very, very briefly.  Look, he was very clear.  You know, he made the point that we had an election four months ago, the politics are behind the President, the politics are behind us, the American people want us to get things done and he is committed to getting things done.

And on that vein, my final point, you know my, our friends in the Republican [Conference] have tried to take some umbrage about who the President called on election night and when.  The American people do not care who the President called and when, they care about what the Republicans are calling for in their budgets.  That’s what counts.  And that’s what the President wants us focused on.

Vice Chairman Crowley.  And since, since I brought up the issue.

[Laughter]

I fear I should answer.  My interpretation was, the President constitutionally cannot run again.  But I’m very optimistic about the future.  But also that the election took place and from my vantage point, their whole politics of being was about removing him from office.  That did not happen.  And now was the time to move forward in this, in this period that we have before the next election and before the next presidential election, to accomplish big things for the American people.  That’s what the President’s talking about.

Chairman Becerra.  You may also want to talk to the decider who he mentioned was his wife, Michelle Obama.

Vice Chairman Crowley.  And she’s optimistic.

Chairman Becerra.  Thank you all very much.

Q:  Did you hear from the President about an invitation to the Pope’s inauguration?

Vice Chairman Crowley.  That’s for Nancy.  She left her heart in San Francisco.

Leader Pelosi.  As soon as I talk to my husband about it, you all will be the first to know.