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Transcript of Pelosi, House Democrats Press Availability After Meeting with President

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 Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, Congressman Steve Israel, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen held a press availability today after meeting with President Obama to discuss the debt ceiling.  Below are the Leader’s opening remarks, followed by the question and answer session:

Leader Pelosi.  Good afternoon.  We just had a conversation with the President about the looming deadline.  We are still optimistic that there is a path to lift the debt ceiling in time.  We are pleased with the work done thus far, of what we’ve heard, of the bipartisan legislation being prepared in the United States Senate.  We are disappointed that the House Republicans decided to sabotage, or at least delay, what was happening there.  But we are hopeful that the – everybody knows that time is of the essence.  And if the Republicans in the House want to put up a bill, they should do it soon.  But they have to know if it is, as it has been described, that they’ll have to do that with 100 percent Republican votes. 

We stand ready.  Our Members have signed letters and petitions to open government – that we are there for a clean legislation to open government and clean legislation to lift the debt ceiling that would take us on a path to the budget table where any and all issues can be discussed.

So, that’s where we are.  I’m optimistic.  I believe because the impact of not lifting the debt ceiling is so catastrophic that there will be those in the Republican Party who will see the light.  We stand ready to supply the votes.  But if they go on the path they’re on, they’ll need 100 percent Republican votes.

With that, I’m pleased to yield to the distinguished Whip, Mr. Hoyer.

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Q:  Leader Pelosi, on the Obamacare piece, House Republicans are talking about just consolidating to what is known as the “Vitter Amendment” and including staff in it as well, something that I know that a lot of Democrats and Republicans – does your statement about not having Democratic votes, does that stand if they shrink their demands to that Vitter Amendment, taking away the health benefits of Members, lawmakers, as well as staff? 

Whip Hoyer.  Let me just take a crack at that.  Let me reiterate: we are 48 hours, this is the 15th day of the shutdown where government workers have been precluded from serving those who are been trying to get veteran’s benefits, those who want to get on Social Security, and those who want to go to our parks. 

We are two days from, according to the Secretary of the Treasury, not being able to manage our debt and stay a zero-risk nation.  The extraneous risks that the Republicans are talking about do not serve our nation.  And what the Leader and I are saying is our Members are prepared to cooperate fully in getting those two things done.  Then we can talk about other things.  We need to move on those and we need to move on them now.  We are hopeful that the Speaker, we’re very pleased with what’s happened in the Senate.  The Senate has been working together in a bipartisan way to try to get to an agreement.  I’m sorry that that bill hasn’t been sent over to us, but there will be time to talk about other matters once we get the government open and pay our bills.

Q:  Leader Pelosi, how confident are you that you can keep your Democrats together, that you won’t lose any Democrats supporting the GOP proposal as it stands now?

Leader Pelosi.  We feel pretty confident. Let me just say why.  This full faith and credit, take any one of the proposals they have – they’ve had a whole assortment of proposals that they would say: “The full faith and credit of the United States of America is less than our doing a cheap shot amendment.”  For example, on the [Vitter] bill.

But here it is.  The whole world is watching.  This is a global consequence.  It can have a catastrophic effect.  We are the United States of America, the biggest economy in the world.  And we want to have our credit rating downgraded?  We want to pay more for the money we need to borrow in order to conduct the government.  We have engaged these expenses; we have to honor the commitment to paying for that.  And if you don’t appreciate the global and national consequences of it, and the international global table doesn’t resonate with you, just think of America’s kitchen table – kitchen tables where people are now going to pay more for their interests on loans, for student loans or mortgage, their car payments, their credit card bills.  If they are small business owners, they are going to pay more interests on their business loans.

So, your interest will go up and your 401(k) will go down.  Does anybody in here have a 401(k)?  Do you check it from time to time?  This is what is at stake here and how it directly affects people, over and above, in the bigger picture.    

So, our Members understand that we’re here to do something big and consequential for our country.  Already, we have had an opportunity cost of time when we should be doing bills to create jobs and set our budget.  That’s why we are eager to go to the budget table.  That’s why the Senate bill that says: “Lift the debt ceiling, open government, and go to the budget table” appeals to us. 

I have to say I would rather have a Senate bill, or our bill, that would say: “We’re going to extend the debt ceiling for a year.”  I think just a few months isn’t long enough.  But nonetheless, that is what a compromise if about.  That’s where their comfort level is.  We accept that.  We will have strong, strong Democratic support.  And I’ll say it again: if the Speaker thinks that he is going to put all these extraneous matters, to question the full faith and credit of the United States of America, he’s going to have his own votes to do it. 

Q:  Leader Pelosi, the Senate conversations have ground to a halt.  There isn’t any more work on the Senate bill.  They are waiting for the House to choose legislation that has to be on the floor tonight.

Leader Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  And what you’re saying is you don’t see it pass through that path – why are you therefore optimistic that it is going to get resolved in the next 48 hours?

Congressman Chris Van Hollen.  The only thing I will say in response to that is that the only bipartisan conversations that were going on were in the United States Senate between Republicans and Democrats.  So, you have to ask yourself: why did they stall?  And they stalled because of this deliberate effort in the House, started by the Tea Party Caucus, and once again, Speaker Boehner has allowed that part of his caucus to run the show.

So, what we need is – whatever happens in this legislation, which is not bipartisan, they need to get back to the table in the United States Senate and work out an agreement.  I would just say, with respect to these extraneous provisions, we’ve always said we’re prepared to make adjustments to the Affordable Care Act, we’re happy to discuss any of the issues that are in the Republican budget and the Democratic budget, had the budget negotiating table where we have been trying to go since last March and have been blocked.  But what we’re not prepared to do is accept these unrelated, extraneous measures under the threat of continued government shutdown and under the threat of not paying our bills on time. 

And I would just lastly say: imagine that the President of the United States – who we just had the pleasure of meeting with – said to the House Republicans that he was going to veto the debt ceiling bill, that he was going to refuse to pay the nation’s bills on time unless the House Republicans adopted his budget or adopted his jobs plan.  You all know that they would say that the President has lost his mind.  But that’s exactly what House Republicans continue to try and do even as the clock ticks down towards default because I believe, and I think what we are all saying is that in the United States Senate, reason will prevail once they recognize that the House Republican proposal is not going to go anywhere at the end of the day.

Leader Pelosi.  Let me just say that I do believe there are two possibilities here.  One, it passes, goes to the Senate, and they send something back.  Or, it doesn’t pass.  I think it’s a little frivolous – more than frivolous, reckless – to put a bill on the floor like that when the markets are watching what’s happening here.   

But nonetheless, maybe the Speaker needs to have his “let them sow their oats” or whatever the expression happens to be.  And once they have that opportunity, then sanity will prevail.  Then, perhaps we can take up the Senate bill right away and send that over, or the Senate can act and send it back.  But I think you have to give his folks one last chance to resist.  That’s unfortunate because the time is ticking and it takes a while to gear up the full faith and credit, you know, to continue the full faith and credit as well as to restore confidence that may be ebbing because the clock is ticking.

Q:  Can you explain the urgency given the fact that some Republicans suggest this is an artificial deadline?  What should Americans be bracing for when they wake up on October 17th?  They may not witness changes over night.  

Leader Pelosi.  Oh please.  I mean were talking about something so catastrophic, already the rating agencies are saying what will happen to our credit rating.  If you’re a business man, and perhaps you are a small business man, and under the Affordable Care Act you can be self-employed or start your own business and the rest.  But in any event, would you decide to have your lender charge you more interest?  That would be stupid.  This would be stupid. 

And why do I have confidence?  I have a little more confidence in my colleagues that they would understand that this is a – you can shut down government and that’s a bad thing and you can have a shutdown for 15 days as it has been, and that’s a bad thing.   But you undermine the full faith and credit of the United States of America – and that’s a very hard thing to get back.  So it does have major consequences and you see what happened to the market when they reneged on TARP, that went down 775 points in that one, just as the Republicans were not voting for it. 

So again, it’s sanity.  I have confidence and I’m optimistic because I believe that at the end of the day they will do the right thing even if they have to do contortions to get to that place.  That’s unfortunate because it doesn’t inspire confidence, but if that’s how they have to get there, that’s a path. 

Q:  Did the President ask you to do anything specific for any specific strategy that you would buy into?  And did the issue of postponing the medical-device tax come up?

Leader Pelosi.  You know, I’m not likely to have the conversation.  I mean, unless you promise not to tell anyone.

[Laughter]

…about what transpired in the oval office.  But some of my colleagues may have something they want to say about that.

I want to say that were very proud of our leadership.  I hope you saw them all on TV on Saturday with that line of people going in there to sign the petition to open government, which was historic, and the signatures that we have on letters to have a clean lifting of the debt ceiling.  We have a very unified Caucus, thanks to our leadership.  You heard from Mr. Hoyer; you heard from Mr. Clyburn; you heard from Mr. Van Hollen; you heard from our Chair of our Caucus, Xavier Becerra Vice Chair; Congressman Joe Crowley behind me here and the Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Mr. Steve Israel – a number of New Yorkers here, a number of Californians, a number of Marylanders. 

[Laughter]

In any event, we are proud of our Caucus.  And we are proud of our President that he has said no negotiations on the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  Let’s go to the budget table to negotiate the rest. 

Thank you. 

Q:  It sounds like in the end you are trusting John Boehner will, in your mind, do the right thing and put a clean bill, or something clean enough, on the floor.  Do you trust John Boehner will not let the country default?

Leader Pelosi.  I don’t know what the sequencing of it is but yes.

[Laughter]

I don’t know what the order of it will be but yes.

Q:  Speaker Boehner’s office is saying there will be a vote tonight to re-open the government and avoid default can you respond to that?

Leader Pelosi.  No.  The bill that they’re talking about right now is a bill to default, make no mistake.  The bill that the Republicans are putting on the floor today is a decision to default.  Now once they get over that, then we’ll see what they send to the floor. 

Thank you all.