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Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today

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.  Happy New Year.  I hope you all had a beneficial holiday season, productive and relaxation.  And I always remind you, recreation is important.  Recreate – recreate has the word re-create.  We must renew ourselves being with our families and friends, and being inspired by the holiday. 

So, here we are back in Washington.  The first day of this week with part of the week, first week in 2014, and the Affordable Care Act came fully into effect.  Nine million Americans now have quality health care coverage; 2.1 have enrolled in private coverage; 3.9 on Medicaid so far; 3 million young adults now covered under their parents’ plan.  And, of course, the list will continue to grow. 

What's important about it is not only the quantity of people, but the quality of care.  No one will be denied care and coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.  No one will face annual dollar limits or lifetime limits on their coverage.  No one will go without because of basic services that would be denied them.  Finally, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing medical condition.  As you know, women were discriminated in the insurance marketplace. 

Not only is the ACA delivering peace of mind to millions, it's helping to deliver a historic slowdown in health care spending.  A new report this week from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that from 2010 to 2012, health spending grew at the lowest rate in the 50 years.  We have been collecting this data.  It went at the lowest rate of increase.  This is quite remarkable.  I should have another chart here showing you what the rate of growth was before the Affordable Care Act. 

Reining in health spending is not only good for the price of health care, it strengthens the economy by boosting employment, lowering deficits, and increasing wage growth as the job market expands.  The Affordable Care Act is delivering a healthier future for the American people and the American economy.  I focus on the cost issue, because if there were no other reason to pass the Affordable Care Act, the unsustainability of the cost would be reason enough, cost to individuals, to families, to small businesses, to corporate America, to the local, state, and federal budgets.  And so the goal of reducing cost is now a reality coming into play. 

So that's one place we were in this first week in January.  At the same time that nine million Americans have quality health care coverage, and the list, the number is growing.  At the same time, House Republicans’ obstruction has led 1.4 million Americans to lose their unemployment insurance.  It's a stunning difference in values, a stunning difference in doing the job for the American people – 1.4 million have lost emergency unemployment insurance, people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, who worked hard, and play by the rules. 

Every week that we do not pass these benefits, 72,000 more Americans are cut off from unemployment insurance each week, that is.  Yet House Republicans insist on holding unemployment insurance hostage to tax cuts for the wealthy, for their special interest friends.  That's what they call a jobs program, with giveaways to corporations and the wealthy that got us into this fiscal situation in the first place. 

That approach of tax breaks to high end and special interests won't help Americans being left out in the cold, suffering from being cut off from a lifeline of unemployment benefits, many millions who have worked hard, again, played by the rules and lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  Republicans are again choosing to leave these families out in the cold. 

Economists agree that unemployment benefits remain one of the best ways to reduce the deficit, to inject – this money is spent immediately.  It's absolutely necessary, and it's spent on necessities immediately, injecting demand into the economy and creating jobs.  For every dollar spent on unemployment benefits returns $1.52 to the economy.  And failure to extend UI will result in the loss of 240,000 jobs over the next year. 

So again, it is not just about meeting the needs of people, which is an important responsibility we have.  When it comes to the economy, it is very important to have this stimulus.  Actually, food stamps and unemployment benefits, while we would like to create many more jobs to reduce the need for them, as it turns out, they are the fastest way to inject demand into the economy. 

Later today, House Republicans are going to have an opportunity to show the American people that their priorities – whether they will act to create jobs, restore a critical lifeline for hard working Americans searching for a job, or insist on the ransom for the rich.  Democrats will be offering a motion to have the House consider the same extension of emergency unemployment insurance that has advanced with bipartisan support in the Senate. 

So here we have in this short period, the end of December, the beginning of January, the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and all that brings to America's families, and a rejection of an extension of unemployment benefits and all that that means to America's working families. 

You know, I love temporal markers, and I always put things in time.  Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's declaration of “unconditional War on Poverty.”  The initiatives born from the War on Poverty, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and the permanent food stamp program have lifted millions of Americans out of poverty and onto ladders of opportunity.  But today, too many Americans still, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, “live on the outskirts of hope.” 

Struggling under stagnant wages, widening income inequality, and a growing deficit of opportunity, poverty, unemployment, and income inequality.  These are not just economic issues, they are moral ones.  In a week when the House Republicans are demanding giveaways for big corporations and wealthy before they will help those struggling to find a decent job.  It's clear some people need reminding of that.  During the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, we look back and see great victories in that war that still need winning.  It's time to act now.  It's time to win the War on Poverty. 

It's disappointing that the House Republicans are continuing their obsession with the Affordable Care Act in this new year instead of working with the Democrats to strengthen our economy and create jobs.  As I said earlier, more than nine million Americans have found newfound health security in 2014 thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and millions more stand to gain from quality affordable coverage, the coverage it provides. 

With that I would be pleased to take any questions.

***

Q:  Madam Leader, you had an event yesterday with a lot of groups who were advocating this…   

Leader Pelosi.  Yes.

Q:  …unemployment extension here, and, of course, one of – I think the pastor, Reverend Livingston, he talked about the process.  He said, people who were hurting don't get the, don't get the process.  My question is this: when it comes to the unemployment part, though, the Republicans are demanding these offsets, right?  You have been through many negotiations over the years here.  If that – even though that is not what you want, and even though that's what Harry Reid doesn't want, why not say: “Okay, we are not going to get anything if we don't give a partial vote here, we don't give something to have something partly covered or fully covered in this political climate?” 

Leader Pelosi.  The unemployment insurance benefit situation has always been considered an emergency.  I think one time we did pay-fors, but three times during the Bush Administration – three times, the unemployment insurance benefits were passed with no offsets. 

The fact is also that the Republicans are not just asking for payfors.  They keep moving the goal posts, and we want job creation, a euphemism for tax breaks for the rich, and we want to end regulation, clean air, clean water, you name it.  They want to simplify life for those who would exploit.  So it's not just about the monetary offset. 

And the fact is what would be useful is for us to be able to pass the three-month extension and then talk about the larger issue of what we do for the next year.  And in that case, you might be talking about an array of issues in relationship to unemployment insurance.  The Republicans have resisted.  What we had in our budget was short-term job creation, building the infrastructure of America, longer term early childhood learning, which is really an important part of the economic growth of our country.  They've rejected all of that, and they just want to go back to the same policies that produced the deficits that we have now. 

These unemployment insurance had been paid into.  So again, at the end of the day, we want to have the extension of the benefits.  We haven't seen anything come forward from the Republicans as to payfors where they would say: “We would support this bill if you had this pay-for.”  Yesterday, they proposed one that would take the low income tax credit away from poor children from immigrant families.  I don't think that's a place that we can go.  And this is all happening within the context of why are we not moving to raise the minimum wage, extend these benefits?  Why are we talking about Republicans who have put forth a proposal to cut $40 billion from food stamps?  And by the way, 97 percent of the Republican Conference voted for that – 15, not 15 percent, 15 Members on the Republican side voted against that.  Ninety-seven percent of them voted to cut $40 billion. 

So we have a values-debate here as to what are our budget resources, what is the statement of our values, and why is it that these people have to pay – in terms of our responsibility to the American people – that they are practically paying twice because you pay into unemployment insurance, and now take it out of something else that benefits working families in order to pay for it?  Let's see what they have to say.  What is their suggestion beyond “keep moving the goal post?” 

Yes, sir?

Q:  A quick question.  The Farm Bill compromise that's emerging, multiple sources says it cuts about $9 billion in food stamps.  Is that something that you can support? 

Leader Pelosi.  I would like to see the bill.  It was imminent, any minute we were going to see it, and now it's pushed back.  So I look forward to seeing it, and how they arrive at that figure, and what the timetable is on it.  I think it's very important that we get a Farm Bill.  I've been very concerned about the food stamp and nutrition cuts that are in the bill.  But as you know, it's been closely held, and we very much want a Farm Bill and hope that the formulation that is in there is one that can be acceptable.

Q:  Ms. Pelosi, the Republicans are working on a set of principles that they say that they want to guide them on immigration.  So far House Republicans have been reticent to take up the Senate's immigration bill.  Do you see Republicans actually moving?  Do you see the House actually moving on immigration reform in a serious way in 2014? 

Leader Pelosi.  I hope so.  I hope so.  And the Speaker said he wants to do it in a piecemeal fashion.  That's okay with me, depending on what the piecemeal is – if it's something that advances us to a conference table for us to come forth with comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, whatever path he wants to create.  We've had our principles for as long as we have existed here: protect our borders, secure our borders; protect our workers; unite our families; and have a path to citizenship in order to unleash all of the talent that is there in our immigrant population to meet the needs of farmers, and high tech, and tourism, and our economy.  And that's why we have the three Bs:  the Bible (the religious community); the badges (the law enforcement community); and the business community, supporting an effort for comprehensive immigration reform.  I think it's long overdue to have the principles, but hopefully if that's a path that they are going to accelerate, it's about time. 

But, as the Speaker says, as I say, I know the power of the Speaker.  I know that if he wants to bring something to the floor that is legitimate, that is credible, and that has real validity in terms of moving us toward a conference, I'm sure that people will be as accommodating as possible to go forward.  Because we really do have to pass this legislation. 

It's one of those items where 70 percent of the American people support comprehensive immigration reform.  Seventy percent of the American people support passing minimum wage.  A large number of the American people support extending unemployment benefits.  Over 70 percent of the American people support background checks for gun violence prevention.  And the public sentiment really has to weigh in to catch up with that so that we can move forward in a bipartisan way, in a compromise.  The Senate bill is a compromise already. 

And we've put forth on the House Democratic side a bill that does have bipartisan support, and one of its criteria that I required was that whatever was in the bill had already had bipartisan support.  So a piece of it was the Senate bill that came out of Committee, which passed in a bipartisan way, and the other piece of it is a part that came out of the House Committee of Homeland Security, which came out unanimously.  Therefore, it has bipartisan support. 

So we have a bipartisan bill already, each element of it already voted on with bipartisan support and with bipartisan cosponsorship.  We think that's a good place to go as well.  But let's see what they have to offer.  We really have to try to work very hard to find common ground to have comprehensive immigration reform.  I'm optimistic because the American people want this.

Q:  Ms. Pelosi?

Leader Pelosi.  Yes. 

Q:  There are three Obamacare bills on the floor, and some Democrats have indicated they might be able to support them.  How strongly are you pushing Members to vote against them, and does it start to become a sign of weakening supporting if more Democrats start to?

Leader Pelosi.  Absolutely not.  First of all, it's called the Affordable Care Act.  That's what you are referencing.  They are going after the Affordable Care Act.  What it is saying: “Let's do everything we can to take away health coverage from nine million Americans who already have it and prevent many more millions of Americans from having it.”  So I would be against them. 

One of them is kind of silly.  You know, it talks about “within two days, if there is any leak or breach of security, you have to inform the person.”  Well, there is no personal information, health information, in the system because there's no preexisting condition provision.  You don't have to know their health condition because they're going to get health insurance anyway. 

So, frankly, I'm going to vote “no” on that.  I'm not particularly concerned about who votes “yes” or “no” on that.  It's sort of an egregious kind of thing.  The other one is more problematic in that it's not going to go anyplace.  But it's a way to say, “we're going to pile so much work on you that you're never going to be able to get your job done.  We're just going to make all of these requirements, and you're never going to be able to get your job done.” 

And by the way, it is completely out of keeping with what the requirements are for Medicare.   So if they want to extend some of this burden, if they really believe in that burden, they have got to apply it to a lot of things in public policy, including Medicare, which would be a major obstacle to implementation – the costs involved in just attending to their nuisance request. 

So I would say “no” to the first one, and “heck no” to the second one.  But it's not a big deal, and it has nothing to do with any weakening of support.  If anything, it gives us an opportunity to say once again, “they are coming after you, Affordable Care Act, millions of people.”  They would like to reverse that.

Q:  Ms. Pelosi, I know you are fairly busy, so New Jersey/New York bridge issues don't take up too much of your time, but do you have any comment on this latest scandal engulfing Governor Chris Christie, who many feel is the best nominee for the GOP in 2016?

Leader Pelosi.  Actually, I'm concerned about the transportation to the Super Bowl when San Francisco 49ers win the next two games and go from the west coast to the east coast.  You probably were noticing that I have an extraordinary amount of bling, which is uncharacteristic of me. 

[Laughter]

We have got the two stadiums, the old stadium, new stadium, Joe Montana's shirt, helmet, the rest of it here for that. 

I wouldn't think of getting involved in that discussion except to say that the outrage that the Governor demonstrated this morning – whenever it was – was certainly justified.  But I don't know that much about it.  You are right.  It is not part of my responsibility.  But I do know that if it were a Democratic Governor, I can just imagine what Chris Christie would be doing in other circumstances.  Can't you?  Can't you just see it?  Can you just see what he'd be doing?  And a little ethnicity involved in some of the emails.  Very interesting.  That's all I know. 

Yes, ma'am.

Q:  Leader Pelosi, as you know, there have been a string of House retirements in the last few weeks.  And a lot of these retirements on both sides involve moderates.  I am just wondering if you think the political system for electing House Members now is stacked against moderates, and if that puts regaining the House out of your reach?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I certainly hope not in terms of moderates on both sides of the aisle.  We feel very confident.  We think 2014 is going to be a great year for these reasons:  One is that the issues that I mentioned –whether it's immigration, raising the minimum wage, background checks, all the rest of that – are the priorities the American people want to see us act upon.  And so that's what our debate will be about.  And hopefully we can resolve, because we are not going away.  You know, we're going to continue the immigration debate.  We're going to continue the background check debate.  We're going to continue the minimum wage debate.  This will go on, and hopefully because of public sentiment enough Republicans will come on board to pass the legislation.  That's what we're here to do is to get the job done.  If not, it has to be clear as to why these things did not pass.  So my first preference would be that they pass, and that the election doesn't matter as much.  But if they don't, clearly, the differentiation will be made. 

Our chairman, Steve Israel, has done a remarkable job.  Yesterday they announced that we raised $15 million more than we did 2 years ago in the off year, and that's quite remarkable.  More important than that are the candidates we have been able to recruit who are first-rate, and ready for the fight, and understand that change has to happen in Washington, D.C., and they are prepared to come here to represent their district, the American people, in a nonpartisan, bipartisan way to get the job done – similar to what it was when many of us came to Congress in the first place. 

And then, as I said, the three Rs:  the recruiting of candidates, the raising of the resources, and, of course, the raising of the issues that are part of the debate.  So we feel pretty confident about it, and that confidence springs from, as I said, the caliber of the candidates that we have, and the support that we have at the grassroots level that has enabled us to attract candidates, resources, volunteers, and the rest. 

The two people on our side who announced their plans not to seek reelection are excellent Members of Congress.  Mike McIntyre – I smile when I say his name, because I think of Robert Burns and how we celebrate Robert Burns' birthday, a representative of the Scottish American community.  He is always bringing Scottsmen over here to celebrate and recognize the important contribution to America that was made there.  Mr. McIntyre has a beautiful family, very prayerful family, and I respect that personal decision that he made to start a new chapter in his life.  But he's a valued Member and it’s a loss to the Congress and to our country. 

Carolyn McCarthy, of course, she's like a sister to many of us here on both sides of the aisle, a real champion for the purpose for which she came to Congress, which was safety – protect and defend – springing from her own personal loss, using that grief as a strength to try to protect other people.  That is only one part of her service here, but it was her prime motivation.  And she has been and will continue to be an inspiration to us.  She has been a champion for the middle class, representing her district with great pride and dignity.  And we still have almost a year with both of them, but they will be sorely missed. 

And, you know, 10 months – as I said to the Members yesterday, on Tuesday – 10 months from today is the election.  Wednesday morning, we'll know what the results are.  We have to use every day, every week, one good day, one good week, one good month, one good quarter on top of another to take us to a place where the issues we care about prevail in the election – whether that's a Democratic majority, which I think we can do, or just to change an attitude on some of the Republicans. 

I see that they are taking lessons on how to speak to women and all that,  and now on how to talk about the unemployment insurance benefit.  So while they’re teaching themselves how to talk to women, they have a Subcommittee today that is passing legislation that seriously undermines any respect for women.  It’s a funny thing, because they are true to their nature.  Bless their hearts, they act upon their beliefs.  You can’t really teach them how to understand something.  When you have a Committee that is 100 percent male passing that legislation, denying a woman Member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the ability to testify on that legislation and how it impacts the District of Columbia, we think these lessons are not taking.  They’re not having the desired effect.  And then they're going to teach people how to talk about unemployment insurance when what they are doing is holding unemployment insurance hostage for the ransom of tax breaks for the wealthy and the rest.  How do you talk about that to people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, played by the rules, and are seriously looking for work? 

So they have a problem, and that differentiation is one we'll be sure to make clear in the election.  But we would hope in the meantime that in the political reality of it all that they would change their thinking.  And whatever they say, actions speak louder than words.  You care about these people?  Give them the unemployment insurance, which they deserve, which they have paid into, which will help our economy. 

One last question.

Q:  I'm sorry if you said this at the top, but could you tell us the genesis of the nine million Americans, because only two million have signed up.  I think 2.1 million.  That's the number they have given out so far on the Federal and State exchanges. 

Leader Pelosi.  Yes, I'm happy to do that.  The 9 million, which is even a bigger number as we speak, springs from the fact that 2.1 million are on the exchanges, 3.9 million used expansion of Medicaid, and three million young people are now on their parents' policies because of the Affordable Care Act.  And, of course, we want the number to grow of people on the exchanges.  And now that the system is up and running better, that will happen as well.  We're very proud in California.  We are just going blockbusters, through Covered California.  We think we're the best, but other states are boasting of their success as well.  The sad part of it is that millions of people live in states where the Governors had refused to accept the expanded Medicaid.  Because those people are denied coverage, and hopefully the Governors will see the light and give them that opportunity as well. 

The values of our Founders were life – a healthier life – and liberty to pursue your happiness.  You have heard me say it over and over:  You want to be a cameraman, a writer, be self-employed, start a business, change jobs, whatever it is, you can do so following your passion.  You’re not tied to a policy because of a preexisting condition in your family or for whatever other reasons.  So it is really a cause for celebration, a great way to start this new year, and I think that 2014 is going to be a great year for many reasons.  I'll look forward to working with all of you in the course of that time. 

Thank you very much.  Go Niners.  Thanks.