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 afternoon. I love temporal markers, as you know, or you may recall. Tomorrow marks the 100th day of the 113th Congress, and I believe for the first 100 days the Republicans deserve an F. F for failing America's families. No jobs, obstruction, manufactured crises. Consider the Republican report card: no jobs. The Democratic budget begins with an initiative on growth with jobs. Obstruction. The Republicans have been blocking debate on Democratic proposals. Perhaps some of you were at the press conference yesterday when Mr. Hoyer once again advanced the “Make It In America” initiative with specific legislative proposals, many of them made by our newest Members of Congress, those of our freshman class. Our initiative, “Make It In America,” creates jobs by strengthening our manufacturing base, investing in innovation, and bringing jobs home, and having solutions for small businesses and the middle class.
Yesterday was also Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day. And today Members are lining up to sign the discharge petition for the pay equity act. We know that paychecks – this is officially called the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who has been relentless on this issue, from Lilly Ledbetter to every initiative for fair pay for women. We all believe as she does, she lead us to, when women are paid fairly, our economy and our nation prosper. Paycheck Fairness Act. Members are lined up there now to sign the discharge petition. This year is the 50th anniversary of when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. So we want to see how far we have come, how much farther we have to go.
Also, today we are seeing fuller information about the President's budget. It is a balanced approach to create jobs and responsibly reduce the deficit. It is a compromise measure. As with all compromise measures, there are some things in there that everybody doesn't love, but it is a budget for job creation, infrastructure, surface transportation, and other jobs initiatives. It is about young people, education and training, early childhood through lifetime learning. Nothing brings more money to the federal Treasury than the education of the American people, from early childhood education to lifetime learning, and everything in between, K through 12, higher ed, postgrad, lifetime learning, and that's what this bill, this budget is about.
As I said, education and training from early childhood to lifetime learning; ensures that all four year olds have access to quality preschool; fully funds Pell Grants; supports state efforts to tackle college costs; and reorganizes STEM initiatives to make this all more effective. It lifts the sequester. It eliminates SGR, SGR being the – by eliminating SGR we are protecting seniors' access to doctors on Medicare, seniors on Medicare. This is a very important issue for our seniors.
The Republican budget by contrast continues to destroy jobs, stalls our economic recovery, and ends the Medicare guarantee. We're calling upon Speaker Boehner to appoint conferees. The House and the Senate have passed budgets. Let's go to conference. Let's do it in a very transparent way so that the public can see the choices that are there. Americans want us to work together to solve problems. This is a way that we can do that. We can lift the sequester, find common ground, grow jobs, grow the economy, and build a strong, thriving middle class. The path is there, but we need to appoint conferees in order not to obstruct that path to economic growth.
The good news today is that the Senate, in a strong bipartisan vote, 68 to 31, voted to move forward on gun violence prevention legislation, everything from background checks, as you know, gun trafficking, and proposals for school safety. So that's all a good thing. It is about guns and budgets. Guns and budgets. You don't know this, but when many of us were in college, it was guns and butter. Now it's guns and budget, and that's what is in front of us now.
With that, I am pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you just mentioned the gun legislation. Newtown is kind of being used as the reason why action needs to be taken now. Can you explain how the legislation being discussed now in the Senate would have prevented Newtown?
Leader Pelosi. Well, when you say Newtown, it's important to note that about 4,000 people have died by gun violence since Newtown. Newtown, no question about it, just tore at the hearts of the American people and challenged our conscience to do everything in our power to prevent gun violence. The legislation that is moving forward in the Senate – and hopefully we will have something similar, we will have something similar in the House – is about background checks, which I think would have been very important; ending the gun trafficking, keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't, the straw purchases, all of that; and initiatives for school safety. And I think if you just want to focus on one thing, initiatives for school safety might have protected those children a lot better. How can we ever not act [on] the killing of 20 little children around six years old each? And so we want to prevent similar situations, or any gun violence in our country, by having responsible, responsible background checks, with responsible gun ownership, and the precautions taken to prevent it from happening again.
But again, it's a tall order, and there will be other aspects of ending violence in our communities that relate to mental health issues and the rest. But we must, we must reduce the number of guns in the hands of people who would use them in the way that they shouldn't.
Q: Leader Pelosi, President Obama's budget that he released yesterday includes hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare as well as chained CPI, which are two things that have angered a lot of the most liberal Members of your Caucus. Representative Takano even protested at the White House he was so upset about these types of cuts.
As Leader of the House Democratic Caucus, where do you stand on chained CPI and those billions in cuts to Medicare the President proposed?
Leader Pelosi. As soon as this press conference is over – well, depending on how long it takes – at 3 o'clock, House Democrats will be meeting, hearing from experts on the subject of chained CPI, and we will be hearing in subsequent meetings from the White House on other aspects of their budget. But the chained CPI issue, as you know, is one that has caused a great deal of discussion, and we will be hearing from two versions of – one opposing chained CPI, the other saying, if properly done, protecting the very poor and the elderly, there might be a way to go forward.
I myself believe that whatever we talk about in terms of prolonging the life of Social Security should be considered in its own place. Whatever we are doing, it is about our extending the life and the strength of Social Security. It's not about balancing the budget. And so that's some of the concerns that some of the Members have, why is this in this bill?
I salute the President for his budget. I think it's great. It focuses on jobs. It focuses on the future. It offers some compromises, and it insists on revenue. It remains to be seen if our Republican colleagues want to go forward in a balanced way, or if they just want to have it their own way. But we really do have to know what we are talking about when we make statements about cuts in Medicare and what is that, and what is the impact of chained CPI. What I do know is that what is in the President's budget is that for the lowest income seniors and people with disabilities, they would not be affected. Means-tested, veterans pensions, as well as the Montgomery, Sonny Montgomery GI bill, active duty or the post GI '11 bill benefits, they won't be affected. The supplemental nutrition program, SNAP, food stamps, and child nutrition programs will not be affected. Pell Grants will not be affected.
And so it goes on and on to that effect. But again, it has to be weighed against compared to what and how else can we reach balance.
I think coming out of this meeting, we will be better equipped to really know the impact is of chained CPI, the pros and cons of it. But I think there is more of an interest in viewing it, if at all, just in terms of Social Security stability, rather than balancing the budget.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Senator Mike Lee talked about the universal background checks [they] could actually lead to a federal registry on guns. Is that an unfounded concern on his part?
Leader Pelosi. I don't see any – it is certainly not so in the Senate bill. And the principles that we have put forward on the House side, which you have probably seen, we don't have a gun registry there.
Q: Is that something that you would perhaps, though, fight against or for, or might not as far as…
Leader Pelosi. Well, we want to have a bill that is the boldest common denominator that we can pass that reduces gun violence in our country, and we are waiting to see where the Senate moves. They'll have many amendments. I don't know if that will be one be of them.
I hope that when it comes to the House, we can have a vote. The American people deserve a vote. The American people want a vote. In overwhelming numbers – some of the things that are in the Senate bill are supported in overwhelming numbers, to repeat the phrase. So we'll see. But there is nothing, to get to your first point, that said this will lead to that. No, not necessarily.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Speaker Boehner just said on guns that he would think before we add more rules and regulations, our law enforcement personnel and DOJ should enforce the current law, which they are not doing. Do you have a reaction to that statement?
Leader Pelosi. It saddens me, because obviously we should enforce the laws that we have. There's no question about that. Many of us have said that over and over again. The most recent Supreme Court decision on guns recognizes that there is a role to be played to regulate – if that is the word – guns. They had a decision relating to the District of Columbia.
But that is not enough. That is not enough. I don't know how we can show our faces to these families or even look ourselves in the mirror, if we don't take something more serious.
As I've said to you over and over, any one of us as Members of Congress, Democrat or Republican, anybody, would stand in front of an assault on our children to protect them, to protect them from any attack. We should have the political courage to stand out there to protect them from gun violence as well. And more needs to be done in a reasoned way, where we can reach, as I say, the boldest common denominator consensus and start there and go from there.
Q: Madam Leader, I wanted to ask you what you thought about the NRA's power, and what is their status like these days? We saw that they weren't able to really have a strong effect with blocking today's procedural vote, but they have been successful in, you know, thwarting an assault weapons ban or a ban on capacity clips. And I am wondering kind of what you think about where they are.
Leader Pelosi. Well, we haven't seen the votes on that, or any amendments on the Senate floor yet. I believe that Senator Feinstein is determined to put forth an assault weapon ban, and others may be putting forth the high capacity magazine ban. It takes 60 votes to get an amendment heard, my understanding is. I thought we got through that today, but I guess every amendment needs a 60 vote threshold, so that will be difficult.
What do you mean by NRA? If you are talking about the membership of the NRA…
Q: But do you think that their power is diminished here on Capitol Hill?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don't – the members of the NRA, with whom many of us here are in agreement on many subjects, including the Second Amendment, respecting their rights as gun owners and hunters and the rest, many of the NRA members support background checks. You know the statistics. You have seen the polls. So the membership seems to be way ahead of the leadership of the NRA on these issues. It remains to be seen at the end of the day whether it can stand in the way of the vote to reduce gun violence in our country. I hope that they do not.
The Gun Owners of America, that's a whole other story. Their advocacy, their radical positions that they take may have an impact on the positions that the NRA takes. I'm not an expert on the dynamic of antigun safety leadership in the organization, but I respect the concerns that Members have about how they will be affected being gun owners, being hunters, using guns for recreational use. That's why I was pleased to appoint Mike Thompson to the head of our task force. He is a Vietnam war vet, a wounded Vietnam war vet, a person who has used assault weapons in combat and knows that they should be banned.
But nonetheless, is that a place where all of Congress can come to an agreement? I don't know. But he is certainly a gun owner and a hunter and brings that perspective to the table to lead our efforts to find common ground. We'll see what the impact is. I don't want to predict whether it is going to be successful, because I hope and pray that it is not. And as you've heard me say over and over, President Lincoln said: “public sentiment is everything.” And if the public, including members of the NRA, understand that more needs to be done, I think that we will be successful.
Q: Going back to the President's budget for just a minute?
Leader Pelosi. Yes?
Q: I think that something like more than 100 Members of your Caucus at this point have signed a letter saying that they won't vote for cuts to either Social Security or Medicare. We've heard a lot about how Republicans and their intransigence on taxes are blocking a deal, but do you think your Caucus actually supports this kind of balanced compromise that the President is pushing so hard for at this point?
Leader Pelosi. Well, again, I'll make a distinction here. When we talk about – I think everyone in our Caucus, and I would hope everyone in the Congress, but I do not really believe that it is true everyone in the Congress, because there are those who think that Social Security has no place in a free society. They have introduced legislation to privatize it and continue to do so. But let's just say most people in our country want to see Social Security sustained, strengthened, and its solvency extended.
Whatever the options that are available to do that, let's put that on this table called the Social Security table. It's on the table to prolong its life, to have the insurance that it is. It's an insurance policy. People have paid in; people will receive funds out. We have to face the demographic reality of many more baby boomers coming on line, and how do we again strengthen Social Security.
What our Members are concerned about is mixing that with the budget. There is no reason why we should say that we have got to slow the growth of Social Security benefits in order to reduce the deficit. No. We can reduce the deficit by having people in the high incomes pay their fair share. We can reduce the deficit by cutting spending, and that includes tax expenditures. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars unnecessarily, giving tax loophole subsidies and the rest to those who don't need them. There are some subjects, like deduction of interest on mortgages, that are legitimate tax expenditures, but not these others which are just tax avoidance on the part of some. So – and that is in the tens of hundreds of billions.
So, why are we talking about something over here in relationship to what we need to do now? The President, I believe, is just, has said to the Republicans, “okay, you want to see something in the area of Social Security and Medicare? These are only on the table if we are talking about serious revenue.” Only on the table if we are talking about serious revenue coming in, additional revenue.
So far we haven't seen the response to that, but I'm certain it will be – I don't know, maybe the Speaker said something to you this morning – I mean, earlier this afternoon about that.
Q: If he delivered, would your side come around on the entitlement cuts?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let's see what they do. Let's see what they do. I mean, we respect the President. He chose to put it in the budget to give it that visibility. But it might have a more useful place to be discussed on its own table on Social Security where you can compare one thing or another, one option or another.
But we have to learn more about it. You know, I don't know about you, but do you feel comfortable talking about chained CPI? Do you know all of the ramifications of it, I mean, to the extent that you have an appreciation for what it does and what it does not do? And that's what we want Members to do. It will be a decision. It should not be an emotion.
And I myself, you know, I say you have to prove to us that this is worth it, because it affects many other things. It's not just about Social Security, the rate of increase of the Social Security benefit, which would slow down in some cases, or, if you are very poor, it might speed up. But it's about other parts of our economy that grow with the rate of inflation that would no longer do that. So if wages, for example, are rising to the rate of inflation, and benefits are growing at the CPI, then there's some answers we need for how fast one side of this grows versus the other.
And it has implications in the tax code as to whether somebody gets bumped into a higher bracket, from the 15 percent bracket to a 25 percent bracket, because of the way wages were measured versus other aspects of our personal accounting for the American people.
So it's an interesting time. I find it interesting. I love to learn, don't you? And we will see, and we will learn several things to learn what this actually does. We'll learn compared to what? And why should it even be considered in a budget when it could be considered someplace else on a separate table?
But again, I think everybody has the right to express themselves on this. I'm not making any judgment about the President putting it in, or our Members saying they want it to be taken out, and some have written to that effect, as you have mentioned.
But what I do want, and what we are finally getting today, and it was only because of scheduling of the experts that we wanted to come in, that it is today, but it coincides perfectly with the President's budget, that we will get some of the facts on it. And it may, it may strengthen people's position against it, it may add more people against it, but at least we will have more knowledge about what it is.
But I'll tell you, for a phrase that most people have never heard of before, most people have never heard in the general public, it really developed a life now, didn't it? Now let's see if we can get the facts on it. It'll be interesting to see.
And the fact is if the Republicans aren't going to come forth with any revenue, what's the discussion? It's a discussion for another day soon, where we talk about preserving Social Security and Medicare. It's an interesting time.
Today, we had a really beautiful ceremony with the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust, and it was in the rotunda. If you've never seen it, you should go next year, because they have the flags come in of all of the units that freed the people in Auschwitz, you know, many camps. And it was just stunningly beautiful to recognize those units and then also to see the survivors lighting the candles. I must say, I've been to every one since I've been here. This was my 25th because I came in June. My 25th time. And at the time I first came, I thought, “geez, good thing we're doing this because these Holocaust survivors are really getting on, and it's a good thing we're doing it.” Now it's 25 years later, and many of them are still there, very strong, lighting the candles and all the rest of it. But the most moving thing is to remember what they saw, and the description that is given of it, and how we must always remember.
So, the beginning there was no Holocaust Museum, when I was first coming to these, and now the Holocaust Museum is 20 years old, and they sort of sponsor it now. It's really quite magnificent. So mark your calendar for one year from now in April to be sure and go and see the patriotism of our troops, and the courage they had, and how great General Eisenhower, President Eisenhower, was at the time, and how he really wanted to be sure that people saw the facts of it so that it could never be denied, and it could never happen again.
A pretty eventful week: President's budget, the Paycheck Fairness Act, Equal Pay Day, the President's budget. F for 100 days for the Republicans, for their first 100 days. Next week, when I see you, I'm going to talk to you about why this is so damaging and how it's becoming entrenched if you don't put a stop to that. Job creation is so important. And not only job creation, but paying a decent wage to workers, and how over the past 25, 30 years, how the disparity in income has grown to such a huge amount as to undermine the middle class in our country. And what the Republicans are doing now just reinforces, reinforces all of that.
Our country is great. We can withstand a lot. We shouldn't have to have American working families put up with this. And that's what we'll be talking about next week. Thank you all very much.