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.
How do you explain to the American people that today Congress will go into an August recess, and after more than six months in this Congress, this Republican Congress, we still have no jobs bill, we have no budget bill, and we have the threat of shutting down government and not raising the debt ceiling without repealing the Affordable Care Act?
This was a do-nothing Congress, and now it has gone to something worse. It's an aimless Congress that is falling into chaos. It's a make-matters-worse Congress. We should not leave until we address the challenges that we face. As soon as we arrive back here in September, where we will have eight or nine legislative days only in September, we will be faced with the deadline of the end of the fiscal year. How can we explain to the American people why we are leaving here now not having done our work?
This week, the Republicans pulled the plug on the appropriations bill on the floor proposed by the committee. Work that was proposed by the committee, they pulled that bill. I know why they pulled it. It was because it was such a bad bill, they probably didn't want the world to see just how bad it was, in contrast to the very positive transportation bill that received bipartisan support in the committee on the Senate side. And now, as you see, Republicans in the Senate have come out to make sure that that bill doesn't see the light of day, a transportation bill.
The initiatives they are talking about to the farm bill, $40 billion in cuts, that probably ensures that there will not be a farm bill, which would be most unfortunate. They have pulled the interior appropriations bill. This is chaotic. This is not a professional approach to getting the job done, to getting solutions and resolving issues for the American people.
Now, what does it mean to you if we do not honor the full faith and credit of the United States of America? Well, three things it could mean to you are: that your 401(k) retirement account will be very adversely affected, just the threat, just the discussion of not raising the debt limit had the impact of lowering our credit rating two years ago; it means that homeowners will be affected, their interest rates will be affected; and it means credit card debt will be affected as well. This, again, directly relates to the financial well-being of the American people. And why? Because an aimless, chaotic, make-matters-worse Congress cannot get its act together.
The President has offered a compromise. He has offered to lower the corporate rate in return to get some investments and job creation in our country, which in turn will inject demand into the economy and help reduce the deficit. Even with the President going that far to meet the Republicans' priorities, they have rejected that. They just do not want to work in a bipartisan way, which is the only way that we can get this budget issue resolved.
So our Members really, especially our new Members, they can't even understand why we came here, and when I say "new," because they expected we would have a jobs bill. They haven't seen what we have seen in the past two and a half years. They expected we would have a budget bill, a budget bill.
So, here we are, and it is unfortunate, but I wish that we could stay. Our Members are prepared to stay and work and work. The American people are working. We should be working for them. We spend a good deal of time addressing the Members about dressing in a way that meets the standards and dignity of the House. How about if we, instead of paying attention to how Members dress, how this Congress addresses the needs of the American people with job creation, deficit reduction and growth?
With that I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, ma'am? And I understand this is your last day with us.
Q: It is.
Leader Pelosi. Well, congratulations to you. As you know, I usually call on you first because you're always there. But congratulations, Jill, and good luck to you as you go forward.
Q: Thank you very much. I am wondering if you have been briefed on the reason why embassies are going to be closed this Sunday, and now there is a worldwide travel alert through the entire month of August. What is your understanding of the threat, have you been briefed, and should Americans be overly concerned about security right now?
Leader Pelosi. The leadership of the House has been briefed on the subject. My staff was at that briefing, and they briefed me as to what the basis of it is. Yes, we have been briefed. And now that it is in the public domain that the embassies will be closed, and there is a travel alert for Americans traveling abroad, there is some understanding of the seriousness of the threat.
Q: Madam Leader, on the – we understand that there is going to be an announcement sometime soon by the Office of Personal Management on how to handle congressional employees in these healthcare exchanges. Have you been briefed on that, number one? And number two, do you have any sense of how that might work? There has been this special case of how certain staff would be covered under the healthcare law.
Leader Pelosi. Members of Congress – the big question about this is, will Members of Congress be in the exchanges? Yes, Members of Congress will be in the exchanges and their staffs must enroll in health marketplaces as the Affordable Care Act requires. As we continue our work to ensure the smooth implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we look forward to the start of enrollment in October. It was important for us to get this information before we left for August, because October 1st is right around the corner.
With this landmark bill in place, we will be holding insurance companies accountable, we will be enhancing patients' rights, putting money back in the pockets of consumers with the medical loss ratio, and reducing the cost and strengthening the economic and financial and health security of working families.
So, through the law in the coming months, because of the law, in the coming months Americans will have expanded choices and more affordable health care, and Members of Congress and their staffs will be enrolled.
Q: If I can follow up briefly, what would it, there was concern about a so-called “brain drain” here on Capitol Hill if there wasn't some sort of…
Leader Pelosi. You mean if the staff left?
Q: You said it. I didn't. There would be a “brain drain” on the staff. Can you describe what the concern was and how that would have worked had there been this, you know, these people who don't make that much money, they work in staff assistant positions?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think it is self-evident that it’s part of their compensation here is that they would have health care, and now health insurance, and now they will under the Affordable Care Act through the exchanges.
You described the situation and this resolves it.
Q: Do you agree with that assessment, there would have been a problem with people departing?
Leader Pelosi. Well, staff did tell me that there would be a problem, and maybe it's a good opportunity for us to pay tribute to the staff and all that they mean to the workings of Congress. They are a tremendous intellectual resource, people who could, shall we say, be better compensated financially outside. Happily they enjoy the psychic rewards of public service, at least for a while.
But I think the main target of that piece of the legislation was Members of Congress, and the collateral damage was to staff. Now, that doubt has been removed. Members of Congress, of course, have always been in the exchanges, and now – there was a differentiation on staff, if you were leadership staff, or if you were personal staff, and that is what we are waiting to see, the actual final language, because we haven't seen that. But that is what we are working on now.
Q: Madam Leader, the Speaker said that there is going to be ample time in September to deal with these fiscal issues that are still left on the plate. Congress is not blowing past any deadlines by leaving today. They typically go on a five or six week recess every August through Labor Day. What is different about it this time? And why?
Leader Pelosi. Well, what's different about it this time, well, this time and two years ago, last year and the year before, is that the Republicans have not done their work leading up to the break. That's what's different about it. It's one thing to leave having a plan in place to address the problem or to have addressed it. And usually what you try to do, whether you're studying for an exam in school, or you're leaving, the semester is coming to an end and you have your papers in, you get your work done in a timely fashion.
If their work that they want to get done is nothing, then they're right on schedule. But if they want to resolve the issue, we should be here working. And, by the way, we should have been doing much more up until now. But they have rejected every overture that the President has made in a bipartisan way to talk, to agree to their lowering the corporate rate.
Now, let me just say this: when we're talking about the budget and we're talking about the economy, we're talking about confidence. Confidence is a very important value to the economy, to the American people, and that confidence is something we should be sustaining and strengthening rather than questioning and undermining.
So what, nine days in September? Oh, we have – beautifully and respectfully so – we have Yom Kippur and we have Rosh Hashanah. But then after those holidays are all finished, we have a week off because we just came in for eight days. So you know, even with the time off for those holidays, which we respect, they take another week over and above that, leave the 24th of September, a full week before the end of the – now time, you know, I always have temporal markers. Where are we? We are over six months, now it's seven months since they took control of the House once again. In that period of time, maybe it is almost four months since the Senate has passed a budget bill. They said in the beginning of the term: “We want regular order; we passed a budget bill, but the Senate hasn't.” Well, the Senate did four months ago and now they have said they don't want to go to the table. Why wouldn't they want to go to the table? They don't want to go to the table because they don't want the public to see the contrast in values that are in those budgets. But that is a luxury our country cannot afford and it takes its toll in the confidence that people have.
So, if they think nine days in September is enough time to resolve all of the differences, which they can't even resolve the difference to bring an appropriations bill to the floor, I think they're very wrong. I think they're aimless; I think they're chaotic; and I think they're making matters worse for the American people when we should be resolving this and coming to terms. That's what we were sent here to do. Find your common ground, stand your ground if you can't, but don't say: “Nothing is our agenda.” Does nothing work for you, American people? “Never is our timetable.” Does never work for you? Well, if you are looking for work, or you have any economic security, nothing and never do not work for you, and therefore it doesn't work for Democrats in the Congress.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you mentioned that there's only nine days in September. You've also said before that if immigration reform doesn't happen by the end of this year, that it would be tough to do in an election year. Are you concerned at all that time is running out, considering how much effort is going to be dedicated to these fiscal fights, for immigration reform to pass out of the House this year?
Leader Pelosi. I'll answer that if you tell us about your glasses.
Q: They're Google glasses.
Leader Pelosi. I see that. But I mean, what are we doing with them right now? Are we filming all of this?
Q: This is being filmed, but it's also being filmed by those cameras as well.
Leader Pelosi. No, that is good. Are you telling your mom and your family what you're going to eat for lunch as soon as you look down at your lunch?
Q: No. My mom made me lunch, so she knows what's in it.
Leader Pelosi. But will you eat it?
Here's the thing. What's different about the budget and the immigration bill is the budget has a – the fiscal year ends on September 30th. A new year begins October 1st and we have to have a solution before the fiscal year runs out. The calendar year relates more to the immigration bill. I still feel very confident that, because the public sentiment being what it is about a rare opportunity to get something done on immigration, that we will find a bipartisan path to pass a bill that the President will sign, that will be comprehensive immigration reform with a path to legalization and citizenship, secure our borders, protect our workers, have a path to legalization, [and] have initiatives that promote American ingenuity and entrepreneurship with the H1B visas and the rest.
So it's comprehensive. It contains a great deal. With the BBB, the badges, our law enforcement folks; B, the business people in a bipartisan way; and the Bible, the evangelicals and faith-based organizations working on this over the break, we're – I don't want to say optimistic, but I think we're on a positive path to getting something done there.
I'm sorry that we haven't seen more acceptance of what the bipartisan group in the House of Representatives has put together, but maybe that is imminent. I don't know. But I do know that they worked very hard over a number of years to put together a bipartisan bill. And it would be great if the House could have its own bill, one that is thought out, again, in a bipartisan way, a compromise, don't love everything in it, but that is okay, poison pills, not lethal, something we can live with, and to go forward with that. And that was what we had hoped would happen. It hasn't yet. I don't think it will happen before we leave today.
But, I do think that as the American people weigh in during the break, BBB and beyond, that maybe the picture will look different about a timetable and an agenda come September.
Q: Madam Leader…
Leader Pelosi. We have a vote in just a minute, our last vote, because we have to go home by noon on Friday because we have nothing to do.
Q: Madam Leader, how confident are you that we're going to have a farm bill by the end of September?
Leader Pelosi. Not.
Leader Pelosi. Not confident, unfortunately. Again, regular order on the budget. We passed a budget, the Senate passes a budget, then we can go to conference. The Senate passed a budget; it didn't happen.
Regular order in terms of committee. The committee worked in a bipartisan way to produce a farm bill that had some very serious cuts, but enough Democrats voted for it to make it bipartisan in order to bring it to the floor in a bipartisan way, with the anticipation and the statement of the Speaker that they would respect the work of the committee. And you see what has happened since then. Either no food stamps – now the rumor is they're going to cut $40 billion from food stamps. Well, our Ranking Member, Mr. Peterson who always works in a bipartisan way, he has said that means that we probably won't have a farm bill if they stick to that.
Let us just go to the table. They passed their farm bill with no funds for it. Now to go back, and I think even with that bill, as horrible as it was, at least it is a pass to the conference table. But to put their Members on record as supporting $40 billion in cuts really makes the path back a harder one for a farm bill.
Q: Even if they go to conference, you know, I guess the question still is, you know, what comes back from on the table?
Leader Pelosi. Well, what comes back would have to have a strong bipartisan vote. And can they produce any votes on their side that doesn't cut – think about the children of America in everything that we do, whether it is the budget or whatever it is? On a farm bill, how many millions of children are affected by having the food stamps cut and the nutrition programs, seniors, Meals on Wheels, families affected very drastically on this? And there will be cuts in the food stamp program, the nutrition program. We know that. There's some already on the Senate side.
But to go to $40 billion is to say: “We do not share the values of those who think that America should not be a country where one in four children in America goes to sleep hungry.” And that's really what their statement is. That's in furtherance of that serious problem.
Well, have a good August. I suppose if we're gone, you're gone. You never know when we might come back, ever hopeful.
Let’s all thank Jill and for her professionalism and for being with us.
Jill Jackson: It's been an honor to cover Congress.
Leader Pelosi. You make us feel that way. So thank you, and good luck to you in what you're doing next.
Thank you all very much.