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. Today, happily, finally, the budget conference committee will meet. After 220 days of obstruction and delay and 16 days of a government shutdown – hallelujah – finally House and Senate Democrats and Republicans are going to the table.
It has long been clear that the Republicans' reckless and irresponsible agenda is a luxury the American people can no longer afford. The shutdown costs, as we referenced before, according to Standard & Poor’s, $24 billion to our economy. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, next year's across the board sequester cuts can result in a loss of 800,000 jobs. The Ryan Republican budget proposal cuts Medicare benefits by giving another tax break to millionaires.
These manufactured crises and backward priorities weaken our economy, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, and put a greater burden on America's middle class. It all comes down to the middle class. It's time to invest in and not undermine our people.
The American people expect both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to work towards reasonable solutions and address America's top priorities that serve our country's best interests. We Democrats are committed to reaching across the aisle to find common sense solutions, but the Republicans must be willing to compromise too, and drop their refusal to consider cutting wasteful tax loopholes and not bringing revenue to the table.
We Democrats have committed to creating jobs, expanding the economy, reducing the deficit, while we end the sequester. We are committed to replacing the most damaging of the automatic cuts by cutting spending on wasteful special interest subsidies, closing tax loopholes so we ensure corporations and the wealthy are paying their fair share.
I believe we should be able to reach a budget agreement by Thanksgiving. I think this is really important for our economy. I hope today's open hearing is a first of many of the airings of the budget debate. That transparency is essential to a fair agreement.
As we look ahead to the remaining last weeks of this session and of this year, the time is now to pass comprehensive immigration reform. This week two House Republicans joined 187 Members in cosponsoring H.R. 15, our immigration legislation, that reflects our core bipartisan values: protect our borders, protect our workforce, reunite families, and create an earned pathway to citizenship. We have 189 cosponsors, 187 Democrats, two Republicans. However, 28 Republicans have publicly expressed support for a path to citizenship. If Speaker Boehner can find the will to schedule a vote, we can pass comprehensive immigration reform and make it the law of the land.
While healthcare.gov may be making the headlines, Americans across the country are sharing stories of how the Affordable Care Act is transforming the lives of millions of Americans. One hundred and five million Americans have received free lifesaving preventive services. More than 100 million Americans no longer have lifetime limits on coverage. Seventeen million children can no longer be denied health care because of their preexisting medical condition. Soon, being a woman will no longer be a preexisting medical condition, in a matter of weeks.
Whether it is a senior who is saving hundreds of dollars on her prescription drugs or a young woman from my district, Amy Zok, who is no longer denied coverage because of her preexisting heart condition – I'm very excited about her personal situation. The Affordable Care Act is making affordable quality health care a reality and a right, for her and for every American.
Certainly, the glitches with the healthcare website are unacceptable and must be fixed as soon as possible, but this is certainly not the first time a government initiative has rolled out with glitches. Let's take a look at a few of the headlines from President Bush's Medicare Part D program. Orlando Sentinel: "Glitches Jam Medicare Drug Plan." "Millions of Prescriptions Filled in the First Week." "Confusion." "Computer crash."
This one I like: "HHS Works to Fix Drug Plan Woes. Widespread Difficulties with New Medicare Benefit Reported." Wall Street Journal: "Glitches Mar Launch of Medicare Drug Program." USA Today: "Medicare Mess Portends Badly for New Drug Plan." NPR: "Problems Plague Rollout of New Medicare Drug Plan." The New York Times: "Drug Plan Maze: Directions Needed." And one of my personal favorites is from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin paper. It is not on here, but it says: "Medicare Part D: Not Ready for Prime Time."
Now, when all of that that was happening, and you see some of these – this is November 16, 2005. That is January. Some of the other headlines are from March. This went on for months, and at the time the Republicans said things like: “When you have a new program, these things happen.” They were very patient with it all.
You probably have those. Here's one, [Congressman] Tim Murphy, who the other day had a hearing. He chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He had a hearing last Thursday on this subject. But in April 2006, months later, he said: "Any time something is new, there are going to be some glitches." That would be, like, four months after the rollout of the plan.
[Congressman] Joe Barton, he said: "The new benefit and its implementation are hardly perfect. I would hope we can work together to find out what is wrong with the program, and we can make some changes to fix it." That would be March of 2006, after the rollout the previous year.
[Senator] Chuck Grassley, he said in February of 2006: "I'm not trying to make speeches or minimize the difficulties some are having. Those problems need to be fixed, and fixed fast. Opponents of this new benefit will complain and fight it no matter what happens."
As a matter of fact, we didn't fight it. We fought it – we thought it was not a good bill because it was a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry. However, once it was the law, we served our constituents by facilitating their enrollment in Medicare Part D, contrary to what you see with this. So there is a little, shall we say, inconsistency in what the Republicans are saying on all of this.
Q: Madam Leader, Leader Reid in the other body mentioned in the next couple of weeks he is going to try to bring up ENDA. I know this passed in the House in 2007. I think there were 10 Republicans who are still in the House who voted for it. Why do you think there would be any chance if it moved to this body – they think they might be within striking distance of 60 next door – why would they have any ability to move it here when they can't even pass a farm bill? Why would they be interested in trying to move ENDA in this body in this political circumstance?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I believe a lot has changed since 2007 on this subject. We have seen – as we know, in 2010, we repealed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military. The Supreme Court has overturned the so-called euphemistically named Defense of Marriage Act. Thank God they overturned that and its name. And just generally, the public awareness and acceptance of ending discrimination in any way.
Some people think ENDA is ending discrimination in the workplace. Isn't that a given in our country? Apparently not. And that's why we have to pass the bill.
So I would hope that the public attitude, which I attribute to the community's activism, outside mobilization, and just family awareness and respect for people to end discrimination, increases its prospects for now. And, it will be interesting to see if in the Republican Party they want to see a continuation of discrimination in the workplace for people because of their gender identity.
We had a problem with the Violence Against Women Act. They didn't want to bring that to the floor. We made it too hot to handle in the public. It had to come to the floor. Even so, a majority of the Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act. But nonetheless, it came to the floor. I hope we could have a similar situation with this.
Q: Do you think you could use the model that was used for VAWA to make this ENDA bill “too hot to handle,” as you put it?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I would think it would be "once burned, twice learned," and that they would, shall we say, save some time by taking it right to our committee and to the floor. It's really important. Our country – ending discrimination is what we are all about as Americans, and we should not have discrimination in the workplace because of gender identity.
Q: Madam Leader, on immigration reform, the move of the two Republicans, what is your read on that? Is this a positive? Are we going to see something this year or next year? What are you hoping for on the Republican side according to this?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you really would have to ask the Republicans. However, what is the number? Twenty-four of them have spoken out and said that they would be – 28 Republicans have publicly expressed support for a path to citizenship? So, we have 187 Democrats on the bill. There are more who will go on the bill, or who will vote for the bill even if they don't cosponsor it. So 28 takes us clearly to where we need – much more than we need to pass the bill.
The Senate bill is a bill that had strong bipartisan support in the United States Senate. The bill that we have the 189 cosponsors on is a bipartisan bill. One of the things that I said to our Members is: “If it isn't bipartisan, we really cannot put it in our bill.” So part one of the bill is what passed the Senate; part two is a substitute for the amendment on the floor in the Senate. We had the McCaul language versus the Corker language in the Senate, but the McCaul language came out of Mr. McCaul's Republican Homeland Security Committee with a strong bipartisan vote.
So we think that what we are proposing captures the bipartisanship that it must have, that it secures our borders, protects our workers, unites our families, and has a path to citizenship.
If the Speaker wants to take up some other bill, we just want to make progress. That's why I say: “Let's have the will to bring something to the floor that does not do harm.” It may not do as well as we would like to see, but as long as it doesn't do harm, then that would take us to conference. We could have this over and signed by the new year, which would be a very good thing for our country.
Q: But are you optimistic?
Leader Pelosi. I am always optimistic, yes. This week we had the BBBs: the Bible, we had evangelicals, the religious community was weighing in on Capitol Hill; the business community in large numbers weighing in, largely with Republican Members because that is where we need to get more cosponsors or just votes; and the badges, the law enforcement community. The Bible, the business, the badges, all of them coming in saying, we really needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But this has been going on for a while in the districts of the Members, the outside mobilization to take it to a place before we have to make it too hot to handle. The public has already spoken on this issue. The fact is the eloquent vote of 70 percent of the Hispanic community voting Democratic in the last election was a clear signal, an epiphany for some on the Senate side to pass the bill. Let's hope that we can have many more than 28 to support a bill.
But all we want is a chance to vote on the floor. If this bill were brought to the floor, or a bill that is positive goes in a forward direction, while it might not meet every standard that we have in our bill, but takes us to the conference table in a positive way, we would be very enthusiastic about that. So as I said to the Speaker: “However you want to do it, let's just do it.” Let's just do it.
Q: I want to ask you about the budget conference, because you mentioned it in your opening remarks.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: There is a report this morning in the Wall Street Journal that the President, that he would be open to a deal to get rid of some of the sequester cuts without new revenue.
Leader Pelosi. I didn't hear him say that. I mean, where did they reference that?
Q: In a discussion with Senate Republicans, Senator Corker said that.
Leader Pelosi. So you are quoting a Republican quoting the President?
Q: This was White House officials telling the Wall Street Journal about this discussion.
Leader Pelosi. Well, our position is that we are going to the table in order to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, create jobs, end the sequester, and revenue needs to be on the table.
Q: So you would not accept anything without…
Leader Pelosi. Our position is the Senate Democratic position. When you go to the conference, you have a bill that passes the House, a bill that passes the Senate. The bill that passed the Senate is the House Democratic position. And you can't just take a piece here, a piece there; it has to be comprehensive. And if they're not going to have revenue, who's going to pay? Granny on Medicare? That's not something that we can accept. No.
Q: Madame Leader? Yesterday, your colleague, [Whip] Steny Hoyer, said that while – you know, I should say, Republicans have made a lot of hay out of, you know, “Democrats promised no one would ever lose their health care plans” and, you know, with all these cancellations. Mr. Hoyer said: “We don’t – no one was lying or misleading the American people, but maybe we could have been more precise. Maybe we could have had a caveat that you wouldn’t lose your plan if it met certain minimum standards,” and sort of suggested that maybe there was something lost in translation with the messaging and the rhetoric surrounding the lead up to passage and the unrolling of the law. Do you think that Democrats and the Administration could have been clearer about what the expectations were?
Leader Pelosi. You spent a good deal of time on what was said yesterday. Let me just speak from my own perspective here. The fact is, and it’s important to note this, and as I’m sure many of your colleagues know the Secretary [Sebelius] is testifying, at this time, before the Energy and Commerce Committee on this subject. It was going to be about glitches, but now they’ve moved on to this. It’s important to put this in this perspective: over 75 percent of the American people get their health insurance through their employer, through Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veterans Administration. Only about five percent of Americans get insurance on the individual insurance market. That means: if you’re self-employed and you go to the individual market to buy – and perhaps some of you here do that – you go to buy on the market.
The President said: “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” And if you had that plan when the President said that in 2010, you can keep your plan. Now, if you didn’t have a plan then, now you have to enroll. If you got a plan since then, then you would get a conversion letter because there’s a very important intervention here. It’s called the Patient’s Bill of Rights. And while you might have liked your old plan, what you’re going to get under the new plan is that it does not discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions, does not deny you a key benefit like maternity – well you wouldn’t need that, well maybe for your family – mental health, or prescription drug coverage. And it cannot drop you when you are sick. These are part of the Patient’s Bill of Rights, which is a vast improvement over other plans.
But however, if you were on a plan in 2010, the President said: “If you’re in a plan, and you like the plan, you can keep your plan.” You can. If you’ve enrolled since then, you get a conversion letter. If you’d rather stick with your plan, you stick with your plan. If you don’t, you must have continuous coverage. So you have to enroll. And so, that is what is happening now.
Now there are those who will misrepresent, mischaracterize, and the rest. This is a vast improvement for the people who purchase individually. Frequently, people who purchase individually are purchasing between jobs. Or, some of them might be permanently self-employed. But all of them who have signed up since 2010 have the opportunity to convert to a plan that contains the Patient’s Bill of Rights. And, some of the confusion is springing from how some of the insurance companies are characterizing this. But this is something that is very much a part of the Affordable Care Act: to improve benefits, to make it more affordable and more accessible to many more people.
And on the subject of the Affordable Care Act, I just want to say, every chance I get, how proud we are of it. It was a heavy lift to pass. I, myself, would have preferred some more payroll or public option, but this is a compromise. This is a compromise. But it does many of the things that we would have done under a public option. So, we have a plan that is named “affordable.” That is a very important word: “affordable.” Because no matter what people say about whether they like their plan or not, their plan was not going to be their plan – everybody’s premiums were going up. The rapid rate of increase in prescription drugs and health care and the rest of it were making premiums go up, were adding to the deficit and the rest. If we had no other reason, if we had no other reason to pass the Affordable Care Act than the fact that the costs were unsustainable – unsustainable to individuals, unsustainable to families, unsustainable to businesses, small and large, really a competitiveness issue for our global competitors, our companies that are competing globally, unsustainable for local, state and national government budgets.
It had to be made affordable and it has been. And the rate of growth for the – what was it, Medicaid? Was it zero percent that was just released the other day? This is quite remarkable. So anyway, affordability, quality increased, challenged in the courts, upheld by the courts, implemented over this past year with many of the features of the Patient’s Bill of Rights. I went into some of them already. And, now we’re coming upon the full implementation, I’m disappointed about the glitches, but, as you see, it happens. And now, we have to make sure it is corrected as quickly as possible.
And, in terms of this five percent, the fact is the President said: “If you like your plan you can keep your plan.” If they had a plan in 2010 they can keep their plan. They can still keep their plan, but if they want all of the benefits at a lower, more affordable cost than they would, they have options available to them. And for some of them, it may even involve a subsidy that depends on their income and their financial situation.
So, I’m thrilled about the overarching plan, this is life, a healthier life, liberty to pursue your happiness, as our Founders promised. And that just will be worked out and again there’s a lot of education that has to be done on something that is new. And I’m very pleased at the way that the polls are turning on the subject. You have to remember that 20 percent of the people who respond, that they’re not pleased with the Affordable Care Act don’t, think that it is progressive enough.
So if you take that into consideration, it’s the majority support the bill, the minority oppose it. And I think it’s really important to remember that, someone is single payer, someone is public option, and that’s not in there so they don’t support the bill. But they don’t, they don’t align themselves with those who don’t think that there should be any public role in providing affordable healthcare to all Americans.
One more question, then I have to go. We have Winston Churchill Ceremony. We are honoring him in the Capitol today.
Q: On the glitches issues, quite a few hearings now. Contractors were in last week, and they largely said: “It wasn't us; it was CMS.” That's where all the problems lie. And CMS was testifying yesterday and said largely: “It wasn't us; it was the contractor.” So based on what you've seen, who do you think botched this? What was the source of the problem? And should Congress hold them into account?
Leader Pelosi. It doesn't matter. What matters is that they get it fixed. But it is interesting that one of them, CGI, put out something that they informed the White House, not the White House, the HHS, or whoever they reported to. Four days after they said that, this memo was leaked. They testified – CGI – that “implementation has achieved all of its key milestones.” That is their words.
Now on something like this, I'm a big believer in fresh eyes. In other words, it's very important to have everybody take responsibility and be held accountable for their part in it. That is to say, not to assign blame, but to fix the problem. But I also like to bring in fresh eyes where there's no skin in the game that if I take responsibility for this piece of ‘why it didn't work,’ then somehow or other I'm vulnerable. Now, let somebody else make a determination as to how we have the technology serve us well, to do so in a way that enables people to sign up.
It isn't the only way to sign up, though, as you know. They can sign up by phone, and they can sign up at the community center, community health centers. And some of them can sign up online. Many more of them will be able to, hopefully by the end of November. And thank goodness we had a running start of three months before the full implementation, so there is time to work out the glitches.
Q: Who would the set of third eyes be?
Leader Pelosi. Well, there are people who are not associated with any of those particular companies or any company, who were just geniuses at this. Many of them are my constituents.
Q: And not associated with Congress?
Leader Pelosi. Not associated with?
Leader Pelosi. No, not associated with Congress. No. No, not associated with Congress.
But I do think – let me just leave you with this thought: we only have a few legislative days in this year. And we are going out today, and we are not even in next week, and we're trying to – it's just mind boggling, to use a phrase of some of your colleagues, that we're not here.
But hopefully this Budget Conference Committee will continue in a transparent way so we can have their agreement by September so that we can have the Appropriations Committee legislation in place, because that's the next step to this, the blueprint for that. And so that the confidence during the shopping holidays is not undermined, consumer confidence; market confidence is not undermined. Well, the market is soaring now. We don't want any message of confusion from Washington to deter any of that. And the fastest way to do it is with transparency where the choices are clear, and the decisions are tough, and everybody knows they have to compromise at the table. But the American people should know what those choices are.
It's about jobs, economic growth, reducing the deficit, and doing so in a way that is fair, fair to the middle class. That's what it all comes down to, the backbone of our democracy.
So now, I'm going to Statuary Hall – no, the Rotunda, where we are going to honor, unveil a bust of Winston Churchill. I probably won't say this there. Maybe I will. See if the spirit moves me. But Winston Churchill had something. He had an American mother. He had an American mother. What can I say? How wonderful is that? And you know, he is very famous for so many of the things he supposedly has said, wonderful phrases that are attributed to him.
So, one other thing he has in common with America is that he is like Yogi Berra. So many things that are attributed to Yogi Berra that Yogi Berra may or may not have said. But one of my best ones of Winston Churchill that I can't fully document. But he said it, when he was approached outside the House of Commons. Right now there is a big statue to him there. If you visit, you see it. But then he was a Member, and the statue wasn't there. But he was outside behind one of the other statues writing away, and a member came to ask him a question, and he said: “I can't talk to you now, I'm too busy preparing my spontaneous remarks.”
See you all. Thank you.