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Transcript of Pelosi, House Democratic Leadership Press Availability

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra held a press availability yesterday. Below are the Leader’s opening remarks, followed by the question and answer session:

Leader Pelosi.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  I’m pleased to join you, Whip Hoyer, and Leader Clyburn, as well as all of our Members in the very important meeting we had today.  I commend you for how well you channeled all of that beautiful energy into a spirit that is positive, that is unified, and that will take us to the floor tomorrow.  But more important than that, it will take us on our way to the full implementation of the ACA.  When we talk about it, it’s really hard to resist – when we’re talking about quantifying the numbers that are signed up, a half a million people now, as you said, have access as of the numbers that were released.  But there are more since the end of October.  Even in California, our numbers have practically doubled from October to the first two weeks of November. 

But nonetheless, we have to think also in terms of the over three million young people who can stay on their parents’ policies until they’re 26 years old; to the 100 percent of America’s little children who no longer have to be discriminated against because of a preexisting medical condition; to the high risk pools that have afforded people with illness but without recourses the access to care; to the seniors who have benefited from the free wellness; to no copay, no deductible – implementation that is already in effect – as well as lowering the cost of prescription drugs and lengthening the stability of Medicare.  Where are we now?  The bill passed. Its constitutionality was upheld by the court.  The implementation has rolled out over the year to help the American people in many ways already.

And now, despite the glitches, still half a million people are on.  And by the way, 1.1 million more people have logged in and are eligible to go to the next step.  So we expect that, as was the experience in Massachusetts, after the initial rollout then there was an acceleration to it.  So it’s pretty exciting.

So I think that I almost unanimously say that our Members were very pleased with the President’s statement today, that he would do what he could do administratively.  On this, to have the delay, to encourage the insurance companies to make sure that people know what their rights are in terms of going to the exchange.  And you know his provisions, so I won’t visit it except to say that it was positively received by our colleagues.  We’re in the process of putting together our Motion to Recommit – our legislative opportunity as a minority – for tomorrow and you will be hearing more about that tomorrow.  And it is complementary to what the President has done.

So I thank the Administration for their availability on any and all occasions to come and spell out specifically what the opportunities are, and for some of our Members to spell out clearly what the problems are with the Upton Bill, which is the bill of the hour coming up tomorrow. But the fact is, for all the fuss that everybody said about how the Upton Bill was going to protect all these people – it does not mandate that insurance companies must keep those people in their insurance policies.  So it’s only a masquerade.  It’s a Trojan Horse coming in to undermine the Affordable Care Act by expanding the pools and other nefarious actions and provisions contained therein.  So I’m very pleased with the combination of meetings we’ve been having, both as a Caucus and individual meetings in the course of the past couple of days.  And I think that it has brought us together and will take us forward for the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  And with that, I’m pleased to yield to the distinguished House Democratic Whip, Mr. Hoyer.

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Q:  Are you going to whip against the Upton bill?

Whip Hoyer.  We think our Democrats are going to be almost – a large part of them are going to be against the Upton Bill.

Q: Why do you need a Motion to Recommit? If what the President has done is enough then why do you need some kind of…

Leader Pelosi.  Well, the President has made a very important administrative proposal and that’s what he can do administratively.  We in the minority have very few parliamentary opportunities to put on the floor further proposals which would require a legislative action.  So we will have a Motion to Recommit.  And we are in the process of building a consensus around it with our colleagues.  And tomorrow, when we come to the floor, you will see what it is. Whether the President had done something or done nothing, we were going to use our congressional minority prerogative to make our voices heard on the floor about the access to quality health care. 

Q:  Madam Leader, or anyone, the President now apologized for promising that if you liked your plan, you could keep it – and is set about fixing it.  What if Democrats had gone on the campaign trail also making that promise?  And I’m wondering, what are you telling your own constituents about that and have you apologized to them?

Assistant Leader Clyburn.  Well, I have not apologized because I think that all of us, when we were advocating for this legislation, we said time and time again, that we wanted to get rid of discrimination against people with preexisting conditions.  We wanted to get rid of people having their policies cancelled as soon as they got sick.  We wanted to get rid of these annual limits, these lifetime limits.  And all of us knew far well, that all of our constituents were made aware of what is in the policies. 

We determined that time whether they liked what they wanted, and once they become aware, and if they like, they keep it.  But when they become aware of what they did not have, I don’t think there is anything for us to apologize for.  But we are doing present issues that most people – and I’m one of them.  I mean, I have three daughters – the first two, I ended up paying for out of my pocket because I did not read the fine print.  And I had to change jobs in the middle of my wife’s pregnancy.  And they would not – and though my jobs were both state jobs, they had a little thing in the fine print that said ‘when you change jobs, you have to be on the job for 10 months before we can pay for maternity leave and maternity care.’  And I ended up paying for it.  So, just having a college degree is not going to help you much. 

[Laughter]

Chairman Becerra.  Can I just say that I’ve got a district that is extremely working class.  Average income in my district is probably in the low $30,000.  In a place like Los Angeles, that doesn’t take you very far.  If you look at the census data, you’ll find that folks in my district probably hold down more jobs, work longer hours than most people in America.  They have to because they don’t earn very much.  Most of these folks, unfortunately, are among the uninsured.  My congressional district of the 435 congressional districts in the nation is the second most uninsured when it comes to health care in the nation. 

So, what do I hear from folks back home?  I am getting a lot of thank-you’s, a lot of thank-you’s.  And as I mentioned, Andrew Striker waited three hours to get his policy but he is going to save $6,000 now.  Seeing better health care coverage, that is $6,000 in his pocket, $6,000 extra in his pocket.  I think that all of us are hoping that that’s the story with this new health security law.  We’ve got to get past the glitches and the Administration has heard it from us any number of times.  And they’ve said it themselves: “We did not want to see these glitches, these bumps on the road with the website.” 

But the important thing is not to repeal it because you had some glitches, is to continue to improve it so that you can have more stories about Andrew Striker great health insurance and saving $6,000.

Whip Hoyer.  I just wanted to say first of all, you understand that if you had a policy on the day that this bill was adopted, you got to keep it.  Now, you didn’t get to keep it if the insurance companies did not want offer it to you.  We didn’t say the insurance companies had to give you the policy, we said if you like it, you can keep it.  But nobody had in mind that the insurance companies were going to be forced to offer people insurance.  They are not forced to offer insurance to people right now.  And so, the statement, if it was limited to the bill itself, it’s absolutely accurate. 

Now, the problem is people interpreted that and frankly, we said it expansively.  And as you may have heard me say in my press conference, we weren’t as precise as we needed to be on that issue.  Now what the President has done is said: “Look, we made that representation; we’re going to try to keep that for the next year so that you can have time to figure out what is in your best interest and your family’s best interest. 

But as it related to the time it was being made when we presented the bill, that statement was accurate.  After the bill, of course, the bill said you could have your policy but at the end of this year, it had to comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.  Why?  So that we would in fact share the risk and not have somebody have a policy that was of such low incidence of payment for healthcare that it would be passed along to the rest of us.  That’s the premise of insurance; you want to share the risk.

Leader Pelosi.  The President was very gracious in taking responsibility and in making an apology.  But I agree with Mr. Hoyer.  What the President said in regard to the Affordable Care Act is absolutely so.  There is nothing in the Affordable Care Act that said that your insurance company should cancel you, that’s not what the Affordable Care Act is about.  It simply didn’t happen.  Did I ever tell my constituents that if they liked their plan they could keep it?  I would have if I ever met anybody who liked his or her plan, but that was not my experience, that was not my experience.   And it was not my experience as a mother of five, who occasionally has a bad back and the rest of that.  I was considered a poor risk, even though I had some resources and thought I was quite strong for having five children.  But the insurance company didn’t see it that way. 

So I didn’t run into many people who said, “I love my health insurance policy.”  And if it is that, they do because it’s such a low premium and high deductible predicated on no incident of accident, illness, diagnosis or anything within their own family – something is down the road for them.  And the fact of insurance is to spread the risk, for those families as well.  So as far as the Affordable Care Act is concerned, what the President said was completely accurate.  I commend him for his graciousness and for taking responsibility. 

Whip Hoyer.  I just want to make a comment, because I know exactly what the Leader meant, but let me tell you.  When Members said that, there’s nothing in this that mandates that any large corporation – which insures most people in America – would stop their policy.  Nothing, zero, nada.  And it was our expectation and hope that if General Motors or Microsoft or General Electric or whoever you work for had an insurance policy, there is nothing in this bill which says they need to cancel it or stop it, period.  And they’re the overwhelming number of insured in this country and that’s certainly what all of us expected.  Because I had some people come up to me who did like their policy, who were working for a corporation – large, medium or small – that was giving them a good policy and they liked it.  And I was absolutely accurate and said, “Nothing in the bill is going to take this policy away from you,” and that is accurate and it was accurate and it is accurate.

Q:  Can you explain in greater detail the President’s legal authority in this administrative fix?  They’re saying enforcement discretion.  Do you expect private companies to offer plans that are illegal under the law because the President says he won’t enforce it?  And do you think that’s a good precedent to set going forward?

Leader Pelosi.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.  The fact is, it’s a Presidential prerogative, in terms of enforcement. It is not unprecedented. In fact, it’s precedented. 

[Laughter]

Q:  The other day was a pretty feisty meeting, when you had officials who came up here yesterday.  You said things went very well today.  As Denis said when we asked him, he said that things went great, twice.  What happened today?  Did they hand out early Christmas gifts?

[Laughter]

Q: What changed?

Chairman Becerra.  I point you to the headline about where the Republicans want to take us.  Every Member who came yesterday to the Caucus to listen to the Administration was anxious to know how we would move forward and make this better.  And how do we continue to have a health security law that’s working for everyone?  And yesterday we hadn’t heard how the President was going to try to address the concerns that were being expressed by lots of Americans.  Today, we did and today, we got some further explanation and some detail from the President’s own representatives.  And so when they walked out today, they got the answer to the question that they had asked yesterday. 

And once again, their question is not: “Will we repeal these new protections and rights that Americans have to insure that they’ll never go bankrupt if they have to take their child to the doctor?” It’s: “How do we make it better so folks like Andrew Stryker in Los Angeles, the gentleman I just mentioned, can continue to move forward to make sure he saves $6,000 on his health insurance?”  So I think a lot of Members are pleased that we have a way to move forward to improve on the health security law, to make it better so that Americans will continue to have or get affordable health insurance.

Leader Pelosi.  Thank you all.