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, everyone. It's pretty exciting that we have a Pope, habemus papam. As a San Franciscan, I'm particularly happy at the name that the Pope has chosen, Francis. Yesterday, I wasn't sure whether the name was for St. Francis of Assisi, who is the patron saint of San Francisco, or for St. Francis Xavier. St. Francis of Assisi cared for all of God's creation. St. Francis Xavier did too as he promulgated the faith in Asia, a Jesuit priest. Today, it appears that St. Francis of Assisi is the namesake of our new Pope. It's pretty exciting. In our city, the song of St. Francis is our anthem: “Let us be instruments of God's peace. Where there is darkness, may we bring light; despair, may we bring hope; hatred, may we bring love to forgive so that we can be forgiven."
So, it's pretty exciting, pretty thrilling, to have Francis – I guess they don't say the first. Not until they have a second one of these days. But anyway, it's very exciting. I'm just so thrilled.
You're always looking for signs, but when the bird was on the – did you see this? That there was a bird, a seagull on the chimney for like 40 minutes before the white smoke came – not immediately, the bird flew away and then later the white smoke came. But since St. Francis has always been surrounded by birds we're reading a great deal into the symbolism of that.
While all that joyous activity was happening in Rome and celebrated throughout the world, last night here in Washington the Republicans passed a budget along party lines that is nothing more than the Romney‑Ryan policies that were rejected by the American people in the last election. The Republicans say it's their “path to prosperity.” I would say prosperity for whom? Because by and large it is a path to pain: pain for the middle class, pain for working families and children, pain for America's seniors.
Republican [Paul] Ryan's proposal will lose two million jobs next year alone, stall our nation's recovery by decreasing economic growth by 1.7 percent, and likely cost, if indeed they do balance in ten years, which is very hard to do without the middle class pitching in, at least $2,000 by some estimates.
It's a study in contradictions. It's a hoax. We've moved into the category of hoax, an exercise in contradictions: repealing the Affordable Care Act while using the lost savings in revenues to balance their budget; claiming to protect Medicare while ending the Medicare guarantee in ten years for future seniors; pretending to balance [the] books without a balanced plan for deficit reduction.
Budgets are a statement of our values. A federal budget should be a statement of our national values. What is important to us as a country? The character of our country calls for us to make decisions in a budget that strengthens that character and our country. Our Democratic budget that Mr. Chris Van Hollen is taking a lead on, our Ranking Member from Maryland, will make a clear distinction vis‑a‑vis what is proposed by our Republican colleagues.
One of the big differences between the two budgets is jobs. It's about values and our different view of our national values, that's for sure. It's about figures and how they add up. But again, the values and what it means to the American people, that's really what is important. And one of these bills creates jobs, the other loses jobs.
Tomorrow, again, Chris will present a budget that cuts spending responsibly, increases revenue fairly, strengthens the middle class, and creates growth with jobs through infrastructure funding, innovation, energy, and manufacturing initiatives.
Today, as you know, we will meet with President Obama. We look forward to that meeting to lay out our shared vision of economic growth in a balanced approach to deficit reduction. We need to reduce the deficit. We all agree on that.
Democrats for decades have been saying pay‑as‑you‑go. Republicans repealed that aspect because they didn't want to pay for their tax expenditures, which are as much in spending as any other spending in the budget.
So, it's again recognizing that budgets are not just about numbers. And their numbers really don't add up in a good way for America's great middle class. Budgets are about the impact that they have on the American people. We look forward to continuing that debate.
I'm very proud of our Members. They understand that knowledge of the budget and what it contains are really the fundamentals of what we come here to debate. And this isn't just about what we pass one day or another. The decisions made in these budgets and what that means in the legislative process – Appropriations, Ways and Means, et cetera – the impact of these budget decisions today will be felt for decades, maybe a generation of impact.
So it's really an important debate. We are going to make a clear distinction. There's so much to talk about. We'll have to prioritize about the worst among many, many very bad provisions of the Ryan budget.
So with that I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Yesterday, the President, according to people I talked to, told Republicans he's prepared to take some heat in his own party negotiating the changes to entitlements. Are you concerned about what he's contemplating, and how much heat are you prepared to give him to protect your vision of entitlement?
Leader Pelosi. I don't know how much heat the President is – I just don't know what he said. I wasn't in the room. But let us just say that our debate about the budget is to put initiatives on the table and see how they work for the American people. Do they live up to the promise that the initiative makes to the American people? Are they the best and most fiscally sound way to get that done? If what you're talking about is mandatory spending, that would be in a bill. As I've said, if the goal is to strengthen Social Security, if the goal is to strengthen Medicare, if the goal is to recognize the importance of Medicaid and how we make all of these initiatives fiscally sound while honoring our promises to America's seniors and the American people, then we're ready to have that debate. And I'm sure that we are on the same page with the President in that regard.
Q: There's some nervousness from Democrats that the President has already gone too far in what he said he's going to do on entitlements that change CPI, at one point even hoping to raise the Medicare eligibility age. Is there something that you can say to other Members in the meeting today that would make Members more comfortable?
Leader Pelosi. Why don't we just hear what the President has to say and how he prioritizes the issues he wants to discuss. But raising the age is just, as I said before, trophy taking. It's just a scalp. We had testimony yesterday from the Kaiser Family Foundation that said it cost money to raise the age. As I said to you, what do these initiatives accomplish except a slap in the face to somebody to say you shouldn't be getting this entitlement? The fact is that these people are not going to be holding their breath between 65 and 67. Their health needs will not go away. Their opportunity for prevention and wellness that are contained in the Affordable Care Act, which are already benefits that seniors are enjoying, would go away. So what is the point? Is the point to take a trophy? Is the point to make seniors less healthy? It doesn't save money.
In terms of chained CPI, I've said let's take a look at that. There are elements in our party, Rob Greenstein and the rest, who have said that you can do this without hurting the poor and the very elderly. And so let's see what that is. There are others who are objecting to it, plain and simple.
I would have to say if we can demonstrate that it doesn't hurt the poor and the very elderly, then let's take a look at it because compared to what, compared to what? Compared to Republicans saying Medicare should whither on the vine? Social Security has no place in a free society? These are their words, these are their words.
So how we can go forward without hurting beneficiaries? Now, let me just take this to a different place. We have already addressed the issue of Medicare in the Affordable Care Act. By the projections that are out there, we already have a savings of $1 trillion because of decisions that were made in the Affordable Care Act. We took $700 billion, as you well know, the Republicans misrepresented in the campaigns. But what that was, was to reduce the rate of increase in our reimbursements to providers and to use that money to increase benefits for seniors, close the doughnut hole, have these wellness check‑ups free of charge to encourage seniors to come in and get that done.
What the Republicans did, they said: ‘oh, terrible, they're cutting Medicare.’ No. Reduced the cost of Medicare, but poured the savings back into Medicare for beneficiaries. The Republicans took that same money to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country. They campaigned against the savings and then used that money to give tax cuts to the wealthiest in one of their other manifestations of their budget.
So we've already gone down that path. As you see, largely because of the Affordable Care Act, the projections for the increased cost in Medicare is now .4 percent, which is lowering the rate of increase for Medicaid – zero increase. And, quite frankly, any boast that Congressman Ryan has about balancing his budget, which I think is a cruel and brutal budget, some of the ways he gets to balance are to be using a baseline that recognizes that the Affordable Care Act reduced the cost of Medicare increases. We understand, we care about Medicare. We created it, we are there to protect it for our seniors. It is a pillar of health security for America's families, for our seniors in particular, but for other people with disabilities who depend on Medicare and Medicaid, and the same thing with Social Security.
So, again, what's your point? To those who would say we should raise the age, we should do this or that, what's your point? Does it accomplish its goal, and at what cost in terms of the good health of America?
Q: If you have faith in the Affordable Care Act and the exchanges, what would be the shame of raising the Medicare eligibility age and strengthening the exchanges for the 65 to 67 year olds? They still would have access to subsidized insurance.
Leader Pelosi. But you would agree that there's no savings?
Q: I probably would.
Leader Pelosi. So that's the whole point; there are no savings. So again, we are talking about people who want to raise the age and abolish the Affordable Care Act. So let's understand what our value system is here in terms of the good health of America, not just the good health care, but the good health of America.
Q: Yesterday, Speaker Boehner stood there after meeting with the President and thanked him for coming. Then he went through a long list of items that they still have wide disagreement on. That was the sentiment from most House Republicans who were leaving. Do you think this so‑called charm defense is going to have any impact on the relationship between Obama and the Republicans?
Leader Pelosi. You really have to ask them. But I don't think there's anything wrong with having disagreements. We come from two different approaches as to say, for example, the role of government. We don't want any more government than we need, but we respect the public role and public‑private partnerships and putting a referee on the field, a referee whether to monitor clean air, clean water, food safety, a cop on the beat for the protection of our neighborhood. And by and large, the approach that Republicans take is that they are there to shrink the role of government to a point where – really it recalls to mind the statement of President Washington who cautioned against a party, a political party at war with its own government.
So if you don't believe in government, then bless their hearts, they act upon their beliefs. And so all the legislation that we have, including this SKILLS Act coming up, clean air, clean water, food safety, fairness in terms of the workplace, and the rights of working families should be heard. And the list goes on and on; clean air, clean water, food safety, public safety, public education, they want to abolish the Department of Education, public transportation, public housing, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. So if you have a fundamental difference as to the public role, again that shouldn't be any bigger than it needs to be, but the public role, then why should you even pay taxes, because we want to diminish government.
This is a bigger difference than I have seen in a long – well, I've never seen anything quite like it. I don't think anybody has seen anything quite like it. And that's why when they say we're going to have a sequester, the Republicans say, “home run, shut down government, make my day, because they don't believe in the public role. And we believe that from the founding of our country public‑private partnerships and the entrepreneurial spirit that, that relationship engenders is a very important part of the success of our country. So they say there are disagreements. Yeah, there are.
Q: Many Republicans left that meeting yesterday with President Obama with the take away that President Obama said it was just a matter of time before they approved the Keystone pipeline. Would you disagree with the decision to approve the Keystone pipeline if they ended up doing that here in the next couple of months?
Leader Pelosi. I thought what he said was it was just a matter of time before they made a decision about the Keystone pipeline, is that correct? Did he announce his decision yesterday?
Q: I thought he said fairly quickly a decision?
Leader Pelosi. A decision, but he didn't say approved. There's a difference.
Q: Would you disagree with a decision to approve it?
Leader Pelosi. Well, here's the thing. I awakened this morning to an interview by somebody – well, I didn't awaken to it, but it was on this morning a station, and I don't know how it got onto my radio, but nonetheless – I don't know, but it must have been during the night I did something with the dial. But anyway, they were interviewing somebody from the American Petroleum Institute. And he said: “oh, this is going to be great, tens of thousands of jobs.” Well, that's not true. Energy in our country. You know this is all for export.
So whatever you think about it – and I want to see what the report is from the State Department on it and see what people are saying about it. The oil is for export. There aren't that many jobs connected with it. If people believe that there are, let's just see what the report is. And that's what I've said; I want to see the report.
But what I heard on the radio this morning was so distorted in terms of what it was, I thought: “why can't we just have a discussion on the facts?” On the facts. Tens of thousands of jobs; simply not true.
Q: The State Department last quarter said that the environmental impact would be almost negligible. Considering that that report is already out, would you disagree with the idea of approving the pipeline?
Leader Pelosi. I met with some legislators from Canada the other day and I said: “you have two coasts,” actually three if you go north, “why aren't you taking this oil out through your own country?” Well, because the Canadians don't want the pipeline in their own country, but they want their own oil to be reaching export markets.
So, I think this is a – I haven't spent a lot of time on this issue because people in our Caucus are on different sides of it and I don't intend to make a pronouncement about it today because I just haven't studied the thing. But since the President has said that a decision is imminent, I'll see what that is. But it just is amazing to me that they can say tens of thousands of jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The oil is for export and the jobs are nowhere near that.
Would that it were, did the report say tens of thousands of jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Probably didn’t. It probably didn't.
Q: It did not, yeah.
[Reporter shakes head]
Leader Pelosi. It did not, yeah. I thought not.
Q: President Obama said this week that we don't have an immediate debt crisis and that it's going to be in a sustainable place for the next ten years. Do you agree with his statement this week?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I believe that we're on a path to reduce the deficit. And I would say that – count me as one who would say I want us to be on a path to balance the budget in a number of decades. You can't do it in one decade, not after what we have been through. President Clinton, coming out of his Administration, we were on a path of serious deficit and debt reduction. After the explosion of the debt in the Bush years and the downturn in our economy and the meltdown of our financial institutions and the loss of revenue that, that engendered, we're at a place where the deficit is much bigger, and in ten years you can't do it without hurting the middle class. But in terms of a path to balance, hopefully the surplus, that's what I would like to see.
I really don't like to comment on things that I'm hearing in isolation. I don't know how the President said that or in what context. But I do think that – it might interest you to know, and some of you may have heard me say this so forgive me, but again you hear things from us more than one time.
In 1982, we had a midterm convention in Philadelphia, the Democrats had a midterm convention in Philadelphia. Congressman George Miller of California, as you know, he had a resolution before the convention to have pay‑as‑you‑go be the law of the land; pay‑as‑you‑go. It won in the convention and it became a proposal that we were putting forward as a policy of the Democratic party; pay‑as‑you‑go, so that we're not increasing the deficit.
Increasing the deficit and the debt service that goes with it is no service to the American people. It's an opportunity cost for other investments, an opportunity cost in other investments we want to make in education, innovation and the future growth of our country with jobs. So it was really on point.
It wasn't until President Clinton became President that, that became the order of the day, pay‑as‑you‑go. And on a path with the Clinton budget economic agenda that we passed in 1993, many Members lost their seats because they voted for it because it did raise taxes, we got on a path of pay‑as‑you‑go deficit reduction. When he left office, four or five of his final budgets, last budgets, were in surplus or in balance. We were on a path of $5.6 trillion in debt reduction.
That turned around in almost two years when President Bush came in. Tax breaks were at the high end that didn't provide jobs, two unpaid for wars which would add to the deficit, a prescription drug bill that was a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry, big, big deficit. And so a swing of almost $5.6 trillion, $11 trillion swing from five in the positive to 5.6 [the other] way.
And so it is important to reduce the deficit. It is important for us to have a balanced approach to bring us to balance. You don't have any idea what is out there in terms of protecting our country or [the] global economic challenges we may face. But to be on a path I think is a really important thing. I can't comment on the context of what the President said, but I'm just telling you about that.
And since I mention that, one of the other places where there's big savings in terms of Medicare, and the President has in his bill, about $140 billion in how pharmaceutical companies – the issue of taking it out of how we pay for pharmaceutical drugs, $140 billion. That's a huge amount of money. It's something we've always fought for, House Democrats have always fought for. We have not prevailed. Some of it was in the Affordable Care Act, maybe half that. But there was much more left on the table that could come from cutting the cost of pharmaceutical drugs in Medicare.
So there are plenty of places. One more thing. In a week or so, the Institute of Medicine will issue its report on what we called for in the Affordable Care Act, really related to value, not volume, another way to save money in the Medicare program. You heard a lot of the debate about quality not quantity, performance not procedures, quality not quantity, to make sure that providers understood that readmissions and care that was not adequate to the task from the get‑go added to the cost.
In our country, in my district in San Francisco, reimbursement is very low, performance is very high. It's just the reverse in many parts of the country. And this report will address some of these regional disparities and that will bring down the cost as well.
So we have the blueprint in our Affordable Care Act for reducing the Medicare cost, not reducing benefits, not breaking the guarantee, as the Ryan budget puts forth in ten years. So there are big differences.
But it's important for people to know that this pay‑as‑you‑go, this sensitivity to the impact of a deficit and a growing debt and interest on the payment on that debt has on our options and choices that we can make in a budget. And to protect Medicare and what it means to America's seniors and their families and those who depend on Medicare and Medicaid, that's near and dear to our hearts, more importantly to our heads, and we have most of that in the Affordable Care Act already. Should we look at more? Always. We always should subject any dollar that we spend of the taxpayer dollars to make sure that the taxpayer, as well as the beneficiary, are getting what the intended purpose was.
Thank you all very much.