Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today. The Leader was joined by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, House Democratic Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, Congressman Steve Israel, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Below is a transcript of their remarks, followed by the question and answer session:
Leader Pelosi. Good morning. I have invited some special guests to our weekly. And because of the press of business, Mr. Hoyer is only going to be with us at the start, and so I want him to start.
Whip Hoyer. Thank you very much, Leader Pelosi.
Many of you have heard me say, but you know as well, there are eight legislative days left in 2013, according to the Republicans' majority schedule. Two of those days, of course, are days in which we come in at 6:30 p.m., so that there is not much time to do the work of the American people.
However, Republicans seem content to let the clock run out on replacing the irrational sequester with a balanced agreement – a sequester that will hurt our country, will hurt our economy, and will put at risk our national security. We have to prevent a second year of the sequester from taking effect in January.
Even Republican appropriators, who sent a letter to the budget conferees on Monday, are saying we need to take action now. All 12 Republican chairs of the Appropriations Subcommittees said that. And they said this: "The failure to reach a budget deal to allow appropriators to assemble funding for 2014 will reopen the specter of another government shutdown."
If the Republicans are going to be a responsible leadership party, they will prevent that, and they will provide for adequate funding for the government of the United States of America. “The current sequester and the upcoming second sequester in January would result in more indiscriminate, across the board reductions that could have, in my opinion would have, negative consequences on critically important Federal programs, especially our national defense.” That quote was from the Republican chairs.
"The American people," they went on to say, "deserve a detailed budget blueprint that makes rational and intelligent choices on funding by their elected representatives." And then they added this: "not by meat axe." Now, that is the Ryan budget.
I was an appropriator for many years, as was Leader Pelosi.
Leader Pelosi. And Mr. Clyburn.
Mr. Hoyer. And Mr. Clyburn.
Leader Pelosi. And Mr. Israel.
Mr. Hoyer. A lot of us come out of the Appropriations Committee and understand the obligations and responsibilities of that committee to the American people – not to a party, not to Democrats or Republicans, but to the American people. Congress must act to spur job creation by ending uncertainty and passing Make It in America bills, as well. There is no time to waste: only six days and two partial days left to do our work.
I have urged my colleagues, as I know the Leader has: We will not vote to adjourn until such time as we have addressed the critically important issues on our agenda. Among those is the budget in conference, the unemployment insurance, the Farm Bill, the SGR, tax extenders. And yes, we ought to deal with comprehensive immigration reform and ending discrimination in the workplace, as well. Our Caucus is determined that we will stay and do the work of the American people.
And I thank the Leader for allowing me to go first. And I will allow you to answer questions.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you, Mr. Whip.
Thank you for joining us this morning because this is the last time we will see you before the Thanksgiving break, and I wanted all of our colleagues to have something to say about concerns we have about leaving now.
Mr. Hoyer very clearly pointed out that time is wasting. The clock is ticking, time's wasting, and this is the Republican agenda for 2014. Do you think that is funny? An agenda that is nothing and a timetable that is never? Does that work for you? Well, it doesn't work for the American people.
We need to have a budget as soon as we possibly can. We don't have to drift into next year. We need a budget as soon as we can so that we can create jobs, grow the economy, and reduce the deficit. And as we reduce the deficit, we can fill that page with initiatives that do just that. Our colleagues will speak more fully about them.
But Mr. Van Hollen represents us so well as the Ranking Member on the Budget Committee and on the conference from the House Democrat side. And what our approach is – and you have heard it over and over again, and he will reiterate it – is to create jobs by building infrastructure, in the long term by investing in early childhood education, by making sure that we have unemployment insurance in what we are doing right now because a million people will be cut off by the end of this year, and to get rid of the sequestration.
Mr. Becerra will be talking about immigration. It is a very important bill. I proudly wear the pin of the fasters in the Mall who are saying: “Act fast, act fast.” They are fasting, hoping that we will act fast to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will have a big boost in terms of dollars to the economy: $150 billion in one year to the Federal budget and over $900 billion over 10 years.
So everything that we are talking about helps to reduce the deficit, whether it is immigration reform, whether it is passing a farm bill, which has the SNAP program. For every dollar that is spent on the SNAP program, more money comes back to the Treasury. For every dollar that is spent on unemployment insurance, more money comes back to the Treasury. The immigration bill helps to reduce the deficit.
So we are talking about investments that will reduce the deficit. And to have a sequestration number as a budget deficit is a false economy, because it cuts the very investments, like infrastructure, like biomedical research, that will grow the economy.
With that, I am pleased yield to our budget representative because he will give us a framework as to how he sees that, and then go to my other colleagues. But I do so with the greatest appreciation for the work that Mr. Van Hollen is doing as our Ranking Member on the Budget Committee.
Mr. Van Hollen?
Mr. Van Hollen. Thank you, Madam Leader.
You know, a little while ago, some of our colleagues coined the expression, "No budget, no pay." Well, as we gather here today, we have no budget. And we would hope that those same individuals would certainly adopt the proposition, "no budget, no vacation." We should not be adjourning as a Congress in mid-December until we have completed work on the budget.
I am going to, you know, read a little sentence here. "The failure to reach a budget deal to allow appropriators to assemble funding for fiscal year 2014 will open the specter of another government shutdown." That is a little plagiarism from the same letter that Mr. Hoyer referred to. This is from the Republican Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the Chairmen of the Republican Subcommittees.
What you see in this letter is Republicans recognizing that if we don't get our work done, a lot of their colleagues may be pushing for another government shutdown on January 15. So they shut down the government in October, and there is a real prospect that if we don't get the budget done by mid-December, we will see a repeat of that.
Which is why we have put forward our priorities in these budget negotiations. And they are very simple.
Number one, we want to focus on getting jobs and the economy moving again. We want to focus on jobs now and jobs in the future. So we propose a major additional investment in our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our highways, the infrastructure, also, of the 21st century to help put people back to work and meet a lot of unmet needs in this country – create more jobs and meet national priorities. We also believe we should invest now in early education for our kids, and that is a national priority.
Second, we should replace the sequester. Because if you keep it in place for another year, the Congressional Budget Office tells us we will have 800,000 fewer jobs by this time next year.
And finally, we believe that we have to renew the unemployment compensation because millions of Americans who had jobs, who lost jobs through no fault of their own, and who are still looking for work and have been unable to find it will be cut off from the security they can provide to their families, which by the way, not only helps them, but also helps people in their community. And our colleagues will be talking more about the infrastructure investment and also the unemployment compensation piece, as well.
I just want to say a couple more words about sequester replacement. As I indicated, it will create job loss in the coming year if we don't do anything about it. Next year, you will see $20 billion in additional cuts to defense spending relative to this year. So I would hope we would all be motivated to come together before December 15th to come up with a budget agreement to deal with those issues.
We have tried seven times this year, Democrats in the House, to get a vote on our proposal to replace the sequester for the fiscal year we are in right now. And just like we didn't get a vote on October 1st to prevent a government shutdown, we haven't been even given the opportunity to vote on our proposal to replace the sequester, which would do two things.
It would reduce these really excessive agriculture subsidies that had been going to millionaire agricultural interests, and it would eliminate a lot of special interest tax breaks. And that would help us put more into education and prevent job loss this year. So we believe we need a budget negotiation. We have to get it done before December 13th. And it should include the elements that I just talked about. And of course, immigration, of course, is another way to supercharge our economy now and would also help pay for a lot of these things. And of course, Mr. Becerra is going to be talking about that.
So thank you, Madam Leader.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you, Mr. Van Hollen.
Mr. Clyburn. Thank you, Madam Leader.
I am pleased to join with the Ranking Member on the Budget in trying to reach some common ground with our Republican colleagues on a budget that will remove the tremendous cloud that is now hanging over the American people.
Last Saturday was a very pleasant day in South Carolina, and my wife and I decided to just take a leisurely drive, along with one of our daughters, through the rural part of my district. At our second stop, a young lady asked me whether or not the letter she had just received about unemployment insurance was actually going to be a fact – that whether or not, come next month, she would in fact lose her unemployment insurance because she had not been able to find a job.
I have been talking for a long, long time about the wealth gap that is growing in our country, how middle income people are being squeezed out of the employment picture and into unemployment insurance. I have talked with our authorities on this subject, and they tell me that unemployment is a direct contributor to our budget deficit. And the issue that is affecting this about as bad as anything else is the absence of a livable wage among working men and women.
The Senate is poised to take up an increase in the minimum wage when they return the second week of December. I believe that there are more than 190 signatures calling for the House to do something similar, to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
That is something that we ought to do, and we ought to do it right away. I think it will incentivize the working men and women, people who go to work every day and work very hard and find themselves still unable to eke out a living. It is time for us to take steps toward a livable wage for all working men and women, and the first step to that, it would seem to me, would be to increase the minimum wage.
Even $10.10 an hour will not get us to a livable wage level, but it will start us on that journey. And I would hope that the House of Representatives will follow suit and bring a minimum wage bill to the floor. And let's restore some security, let's give some hope to working men and women as we move forward. We are about to approach the most important and impactful season on the American economy. If people are not comfortable, they are not going to be able to enjoy the holidays. They are not going to be able to do the kind of shopping that so many of our constituents are dependent upon in order to have a good bottom line in their businesses if they don't feel some security in their lives. And the best way to do that, it would seem to me, is to say to working men and women that, ‘We feel your pain, and we will address that pain by increasing the minimum wage.’
And with that, I would like to yield to the chair of our caucus, Mr. Becerra.
Mr. Becerra. Thank you, Jim.
I think the Speaker made a – I mean, the Leader, soon Speaker – our Leader made a very important point. We were addressed this morning at our Whip meeting by five Americans who are fasting, in some cases some fasting for over nine days. And, as the Leader said, their message was: ‘Act fast.’
They know what we know. There is no reason why we should leave in December and not have completed our work. And so the message should be to our colleagues, who have a do nothing agenda: ‘Act now.’
We can act now. We know we can do a number of things that will help us create more jobs, that will help us grow our economy, that will help us build up, not tear down, the middle class. And we can do something for this budget conference that will help us reduce our deficits. And those fasters know it very well. It is: pass a fix to our broken immigration system.
Because everyone, including our Congressional Budget Office, our fiscal nonpartisan referee, has told us: “You do immigration reform, you reduce the deficit at the Federal level by close to a trillion dollars; you do immigration reform, you help the budget conferees come up with about $150 billion worth of reductions in deficit by including immigration reform in your fiscal conversations. You do comprehensive immigration reform, and you create thousands of new jobs in America.”
And so they asked us to act fast. We believe our Republican colleagues should hear the message: let's act now. It is good for the economy, it is good for America for us to do this. And at some point, our colleagues will recognize either they are going to get elected and do things for our country before their party or we are going to continue to stagnate.
It is time for us to act. We in Congress have to match what the Senate did, we have to match what the President is doing, and we have to match what the private sector has been doing for quite some time. Two hundred thousand jobs created last month with the help of the administration.
We must act. And so it is time for the House of Representatives to pull its own weight and get things done. Rather than shut down, let's build up America's middle class, let's build up our working men and women, let's build up an opportunity for us to have an immigration system that works. It is time for us to act now.
And with that, let me yield to our Vice Chairman of the Caucus, Joe Crowley.
Mr. Crowley. Thank you, Chairman Becerra. Like the leader and like Chairman Becerra, I, too, wear a button to remind me of those five individuals on the Mall today who are fasting for immigration reform. Maybe it is the Irish American in me that makes me very sensitive to the issues of hunger – whether it is the $40 billion that my Republican colleagues want to cut from food stamps or whether it is the fact that there are five individuals who are on our Mall today fasting for comprehensive immigration reform.
As one of the leaders of their movement said this morning, human beings hunger for more than just food, they hunger for justice. And what we need is a just and comprehensive immigration bill to pass. But also, my Republican colleagues are looking, possibly, for some ideas. Maybe that is why they have this blank agenda. Maybe they are looking for some ideas. Well, I know of 2.1 million people who may have a suggestion. That is how many Americans who will lose unemployment insurance if this Congress does not act to extend this critical lifeline for them and for their families.
Unemployment insurance is not just good for Americans – America and its workers – it is good for our economy as well. Numerous nonpartisan economists have consistently found that unemployment benefits are one of the most effective ways to increase economic growth and increase employment in our nation. For every $1 spent on unemployment insurance, $1.64 is circulated back into our economy.
By cutting off extended unemployment benefits now, just before Christmas, it would cost our economy 310,000 jobs. The facts are clear: unemployment insurance strengthens our economy, and when our economy does better, more jobs are created, and more Americans are working. And that is exactly what out of work Americans want more than anything else right now. They want a job.
If my Republican colleagues want any ideas to grow our economy, they should look in the eyes of the millions of out of work Americans who are struggling to make ends meet today. But all Republicans can offer are blank stares to match their blank agenda.
And with that, my colleague and friend from New York, Mr. Israel.
Mr. Israel. Thank you, Joe. It is now public that House Republicans actually have a daily playbook to sabotage, to ambush, and to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And that playbook unmasks them for exactly who they are. They do not have a playbook to create jobs. They do not have a playbook to build infrastructure. They do not have a playbook to reform immigration. They don't even have a budget. They don't have a playbook to actually fix a broken healthcare system.
They have a playbook that will take us back to the days of a system that didn't work, that would lead hardworking people back into bankruptcy as a result of a loss of health care, that would give insurance companies unchecked power to deny care and drop coverage.
Well, we are going to relentlessly remind the American people that in this Congress there is one group, House Democrats, who want to fix and improve the Affordable Care Act, one group that wants to fix it, and another group that wants to repeal it and put the fix in for insurance companies. We are going to be relentless in reminding the American people about the difference between playbooks to sabotage and ambush the Affordable Care Act and playbooks to create jobs, build infrastructure, reform immigration, and pass budgets that strengthen the middle class.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you, my colleagues. You have heard about a number of subjects here this morning, but they all fall under one title: and that is growth – growth of the economy and how do we invest and reduce the deficit. Reducing the deficit is served by creating jobs and bringing in revenue. Reducing the deficit is served by passing immigration reform. Reducing the deficit is served by putting money in the pockets of the American people when they need unemployment insurance – insurance that they deserve, but as Mr. Crowley said – what did you say? One dollar and…
Mr. Crowley. Sixty-four cents.
Leader Pelosi. One dollar and sixty-four cents for every dollar spent. I thought it was $1.55, but the economists have upped that number again. And for every dollar spent on food stamps, $1.70 infused into our economy.
So, to say you want to cut in order to reduce the deficit, if you are making the wrong cuts, you are not reducing the deficit. In fact, you are growing the deficit. The same applies for investing in building the infrastructure of America – where the Society of Industrial Engineers say we get a ‘D’ in terms of the caliber of our infrastructure right now – and investing in early childhood education, the best investment that we can make.
So, we need to feed the children; we need to teach the children. We need to have them learning while their parents are earning – and earning a minimum wage that values work, that enables them to inject demand into the economy with the additional purchasing power they have. So it all comes back to one word, to “growth,” to create jobs, to reduce the deficit.
And as we have seen, if we had no other reason but money to pass the Affordable Care Act – because it was unaffordable. The costs of it were unsustainable to individuals, to families, to businesses small and large. There was a competitiveness issue globally for our businesses, and certainly unsustainable for government at every level, including the federal government, while the rate of inflation is the lowest in 50 years, according to the Council on Economic Advisors – the report they just put out yesterday, I just saw this morning.
So again, it is all about deficit reduction. Reduce the deficit, reduce the interest we pay on the deficit. But do so by creating jobs and growing the economy and not by just giving special tax breaks to special interests in our Tax Code. So we want to see tax reform be part of the agenda, as well.
Get a budget agreement. I am hopeful that we will be able to do it very soon so that the appropriators can finish their work by December 13th. I would hope that something would be announced before we leave, or certainly, before we come back. But it has to be something that, again, rids us of the sequester, invests in jobs long term and short term, honors our commitment on unemployment insurance, and again, creates jobs immediately by building the infrastructure of our country.
With that, I am sure my colleagues will be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, ma'am? I am going to start with you this time since you were last the last time.
Q: Thank you so much, Madam Speaker. I believe that President Obama said in the past days that he is willing to pass immigration reform bit by bit if it is in the same way as Republicans are…
Leader Pelosi. What we have always said on that score is that the Speaker is the Speaker, and any way he wants to bring the bill to the floor, in pieces or in big chunks or whatever it is, we just want to see legislation come to the floor so that Congress can act upon that legislation, the House can and send it to the conference table with the Senate, which has already passed immigration reform in a bipartisan way.
It is Important to note that we have 191 cosponsors – 3 Republicans, 188 Democrats – but there are many more Republicans who have said they would vote for the bill if it comes to the floor.
Mr. Becerra, did you want to say something? Ok, next question. Yes, sir?
Q: I know that you have expressed some optimism or hope that you get a budget deal in place soon…
Leader Pelosi. Soon, yes.
Q: But there seems to be growing momentum and talk about yet another short term CR to get you through at least the holidays.
Leader Pelosi. Yeah.
Q: I am wondering what your thoughts are on that, should a budget deal not be met in time.
Leader Pelosi. Well, Mr. Clyburn spoke very clearly to that. We have the Christmas season, the biggest time for consumer confidence to be high is really necessary. So we would hope that they could have something at least by the time we come back, by December 1st or 2nd, so that the appropriators can act upon it by December 13th.
Mr. Clyburn, did you want to say anything?
Mr. Clyburn. Well, the continuing resolution goes until January 15th. So that is in place. What we need, though, as the Leader has said, is to be able to come, find some commonality on some top line numbers in the budget so that the appropriators can get some work done before that time. And if we can get those top line numbers between now and the 13th of December, we believe – or we should do it by the 1st of December. Maybe the appropriators will have until the 13th to flesh all of that out.
So, I believe that we are still hopeful. And I am hearing conflicting reports as to whether or not there is movement that is positive, but our leader on this subject probably knows more than I do.
Mr. Van Hollen. No, Mr. Clyburn. You said it just right.
Look, the Republicans are chairing the budget conference right now, but they have not put any proposal on the table. We have had a proposal on the table to replace the sequester for fiscal year 2014, which we are in right now, since much earlier this year. We tried to get a vote on it seven times.
So if you are not going to give the people of this country the opportunity to have a vote on that issue, at least put your own plan on the table. Don't try and run out the clock and raise the specter of another government shutdown. You know, they tried that once; we hope that they won't try that again.
And the reason to get this done now and by early December is, yes, so that, you know, the appropriators can do their work. But it is also to send a clear message to the American people at a critical moment that we are not going to be rolling the dice again on a government shutdown just a few weeks later.
We know that is what Republicans did once. We just saw some proposals yesterday, actually, from some of the same folks who were the architects the government shutdown to once again try to demand changes in the Affordable Care Act as part of the continuing resolution, if that is what it comes to. And they are going after one of the parts of the Affordable Care Act that is working really well, which is to provide working people with lower incomes with coverage. And yet, they are once again threatening to use the appropriations process to change that and otherwise shut down the government.
Leader Pelosi. It is important to note that yesterday marked five weeks since the President signed, or is it today? Five weeks since the President signed the bill to open up government, five weeks, and we still haven't seen anything.
We could be well down the path of the top line coming from the Budget Committee, from the appropriators taking the time to do their work and removing all doubt in the public’s mind that we will get this done and that they are not going to run out the clock, as Mr. Van Hollen says, so that there are fewer options left in the decision making and, therefore, which would be harmful to the American people.
Q: I wanted to ask you, Congressman Trey Radel yesterday pled guilty to cocaine possession. Do you think he should step down? And what do you make of the comparison some Republicans are making to former Congressman Patrick Kennedy when he had pled guilty to driving under the influence?
Leader Pelosi. You know, I don't want to go to that place except to say I think that we would like to see some I feel sad for Congressman Radel and his family. And I am glad that he is seeking care, and that is what – Patrick Kennedy took the lead in passing the mental health parity legislation, which had important provisions regarding addiction in it. And that is really important, and that is well served by the Affordable Care Act.
But the inconsistency on the Republican side, to say we are going to cut $40 billion out of food stamps, and by the way, you should be drug tested before you can get food stamps, when people are voting to do that, are engaged in that activity.
Having said that though, I come back to the sadness I feel for his family. Patrick addressed his problem. He left Congress. I am not suggesting that Congressman Radel do that. That is a decision he and his family and the caucus have to make. But I think that if they want to compare themselves to Patrick Kennedy, they are setting a very high standard for themselves, because he used his personal challenges to make a difference in public policy in our country that makes a big difference, improving the lives of American people. That is a tough act to compare yourself to.
Mr. Clyburn. Madam Leader, may I?
Leader Pelosi. Yes, please.
Mr. Clyburn. I took to the floor to challenge that part of the agriculture bill dealing with drug testing because I feel very strongly that illnesses are illnesses and they ought to be treated that way. And I believe that it is disingenuous for our Republican colleagues to start looking for scapegoats and start doing these kinds of comparisons. Let's take a hard look, because that is not the only calamity that we have seen recently. We just saw a public official in Virginia who came close to losing his life because our mental health system failed his family.
I think that this ought to highlight for all of us the necessity to treat illnesses as illnesses and stop looking for scapegoats.
Leader Pelosi. Yeah. Do we have time for one more?
Q: Yeah. This is a budget related question. There has been some discussion in the conference about non-tax revenues being part of the mix, things like TSA user fees and revenue from the sale of communications spectrum, things like that. In the context of a smaller deal that deals with sequester for one or two years, is that something you can live with? Or do you guys absolutely have to have a tax loophole closing to make it work for you?
Mr. Van Hollen. Well look, you mentioned a couple of user fees that are in various budgets. We are just a little perplexed that our Republican colleagues think it is a better idea to raise TSA fees on the American public than close a tax loophole that actually creates incentives for American companies to move their profits to places like the Cayman Islands.
So obviously, we should look at various fees because we want to make sure fees are set at the levels of the service provided. But again, we do find it very strange that Republicans would want to take off the table the closure of tax breaks that protect special interests and very wealthy individuals while they want to look at the other fees that have a broader impact on the American public.
So, why they would focus on one to the exclusion of the other is a question people are going to have to ask themselves about priorities?
Leader Pelosi. Especially when, at that same time, they wanted seniors to pay more for their Medicare. So far, their budget is one of millionaires over Medicare. And we are on the side of the American people who have access to Medicare as a pillar of their economic and health security.
So hopefully, the budget will be driven by values. Hopefully, it will be evidence based. Hopefully, it will reflect the need for us to get to work, to create jobs, to reduce the deficit.
I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving.
Later this morning or later this afternoon, I guess. I don't know what time we will get out. But later this afternoon, we will be having a special order to observe the 50th anniversary, which is tomorrow, of the assassination of President Kennedy.
This is something that none of you were born at the time, but for those of us who witnessed it or were alive at the time will be speaking to and others who just were inspired by President Kennedy will be speaking to. But since we are out tomorrow, we are going to be very prayerful today and send our wishes.
I know the Kennedy family is more interested on focusing on the President's birthday or his inauguration day or his many other accomplishments, as was yesterday beautifully observed the 50th anniversary of his signing of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award and all that that implied of the value he placed on growing our economy, the education of our people, sports, the arts, and all the rest. But it has made a difference in our country, and he inspired many of us to be involved in politics. Much legislation sprang from his original agenda. But we will talk more about that this afternoon.
Just remembering always that President Kennedy said: “Children are our greater resource and our best hope for the future.” Hopefully, that will be the spirit of this budget, that we think in terms of our children, their families, and their future.
Thank you all.