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. In just four days, the American people will see the Affordable Care Act come into effect. On October 1st, the health insurance marketplaces will open for enrollment offering Americans, American families, more competition, more choices, and most importantly, affordable, quality health care.
A new study out this week shows that 95 percent of uninsured Americans will see insurance premiums that cost much less than expected. The average American consumer will be able to choose from 53 different plans offered by insurance companies they know and, hopefully, can trust. Premiums are even lower for workers, are even lower for workers and families who qualify for the tax credits. An openly competitive marketplace is just one way millions of Americans are seeing lower costs and higher coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
Nearly 13, just think, nearly 13 million Americans received $1.1 billion in rebates from insurance companies last summer. That's because in our bill, we had the medical loss ratio that said insurance companies must spend their money insuring people and not on advertising, CEO pay, and the rest. And 6.3 million seniors have already saved $6.1 billion on prescription drugs medication. That's because we closed, are closing the donut hole. And 105 million Americans have received lifesaving preventive health care services for free. You all know, being young adults yourselves that, well, you don't need to, but for those who need to be on their parent's policy, they can do so until they're 26. That's already in effect. There are children, children are already not subjected to discrimination because of preexisting medical conditions.
So much is already in effect, but so much more will happen January 1st and people can begin enrolling on October 1st. That's transformational. [It’s] about life, a healthier life, liberty, freedom, the liberty to pursue your happiness, whether you want to be a photographer, a writer, start your business, be self-employed, [and] change jobs. You're not job locked. You can follow your passion, not your policy, be job locked by your policy. It's entrepreneurial. As the President said yesterday, and is one, I think, great speech on the subject, it's entrepreneurial, it frees people up to go, again, start their own businesses and not stay where they are because of health insurance.
So, it's pretty – I think it's very exciting. I mean, can you imagine being there when Social Security first came into effect? Or Medicare when it became the law of the land and people began to enjoy the benefits of the legislation? We've had ideas, compromises made. It translated into legislation that has become public policy that will improve the lives of the American people. Very exciting!
On the other hand, in a matter of days, four days until the enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, and in just three days we will see the question as to whether our government will be shutdown. We must do everything we can to avoid that. But over and over again we find ourselves in the same question: why are we at the brink again? That's the question we are asking and people ask us as I travel throughout the country. Just to put it in context chronologically, you know, I love temporal markers: Where we are today? How did we get here?
On March 1st, you will recall, the President called the four leaders to the oval office to talk about how we would proceed with a legislative agenda that included the budget. The Republican leadership, Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell said that they wanted to proceed under the regular order. That was their mantra. For those outside the Beltway, the regular order means you pass a bill in the House; you pass a bill in the Senate; you send it to conference to negotiate, to reconcile your differences. Of course, we've always been for regular order, so we welcomed that. We welcomed back the era of conference committees because I think that transparency is good for the process and for the American people.
So, the regular order was going to be. House passed its bill. The Senate passed its bill. And that was the end of the call for regular order. After the House passed its bill, you remember – you remember, right? That the Republicans were saying, “no budget, no pay,” as far as the Senate was concerned. “When are they going to pass their bill?” It wasn't only a matter of weeks, but nonetheless, both Houses passed their legislation, and then we said: “Ok, regular order, we now go to negotiate at the conference table.” And for around six months, nearly six months, the Republicans have refused to negotiate. They have refused to negotiate. And they say that the President was a ‘no.’ The President was following the path of the regular order that they suggested.
So by doing that, by turning their backs on what they said they wanted – and we certainly do, too, want regular order – the Republicans sowed the seeds of this dangerous, partisan path we find ourselves on today. It's impossible for Democrats to negotiate with House Republicans when they can't even negotiate with themselves. Instead of legislating responsibly, they want to live dangerously, and that's not good for the American people.
And now, with only three days left, Republicans are threatening a shutdown that will hurt our economy, threaten jobs throughout the job creation, leave our families with less security and our country with less certainty, and our economy with less stability. This is the most irresponsible way to negotiate a budget. It isn't negotiating, especially when Democrats have been ready and willing to work with Republicans to pass a responsible, balanced, bipartisan bill.
You know that, I told you, and you've seen him here, our Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen has proposed presenting a budget that would end the devastating across the board sequester cut, reduce the deficit in a responsible way, [and] keep the government open and working for the American people. We have asked over, and over, and over again for a vote on that budget, and the Republicans don't bring it to the floor because it made so much sense. If the American people saw the alternative that it is, I think that clarity of the distinction would be made.
And what Mr. Van Hollen is suggesting is in keeping with what the Chairman of the Republican's Appropriations Committee, the Chairman, Chairman Rogers. He said: “The House, Senate and White House must come together as soon as possible on a comprehensive compromise that repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic top line discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible and attainable way,” Chairman Hal Rogers, Chairman of the Republican Appropriations Committee. The committee has always been a bipartisan committee, but even their Chairman is proposing a path that we fully subscribe to. The number is too low for government to function in a responsible way for the American people and it isn't anything that the Republican majority in the House seems inclined to follow.
If that were not enough, if that were not enough, the House Republicans’ astonishing disregard for the stability of our economy goes well beyond their threats to shut down government's basic services for the American people. They are holding the entire economy hostage, and their Tea Party ransom demands come at a significant cost to our economic security. If they succeed, you can expect higher interest rates for your mortgage, your car payment, your credit cards, your student loans; higher interest rates on your business loans that used to pay employees and expand your business, the loans that grow your business; and significant blows to your 401(k) – we've been through this again – when the stock market reacts.
House Democrats agree with the President: the full faith and credit of the United States of America is nonnegotiable. You can have any conversation you want, but threats and willingness to default – mere discussion of it lowered our credit rating two years ago. The ideology of the Republicans is a luxury the American people cannot afford, especially when it comes to putting in doubt the full faith and credit of the United States of America. That is why House Democrats and the leadership of Deputy [Democratic] Whip Peter Welch, as you saw him profess this week, are calling for a clean increase in our debt limit. One hundred eighty-six Democrats have signed on to prevent another GOP-manufactured crisis. Regular order. Oh, never mind. Uncertainty within their own conference. We don't even know what we're going to vote for from one minute to next because I don't think they know what we're going to be voting on from one minute to the next and the threat to the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
It is beneath the dignity of the first branch of government, the legislative branch. We have a responsibility to come here, to represent our districts, to advocate for our point of view, and to come to terms with what compromise will work for the American people. Any questions?
Q: Have you had any conversations with Speaker Boehner? And do you have any plans to?
Leader Pelosi. I speak with, I see the Speaker and speak with him about this. And he, I mean, I have a great deal of respect for him, for the office he holds. He's my friend. I have not received any – I'm just trying to think, I don't know. I mean, I speak to him if I see him, or we speak by phone with an intentional. You know. I mean, in other words, we've had a number of conversations. And I just say, you know: “Don't expect us to be helpful when it comes to the debt ceiling because we don't think that's negotiable.” But let's see what…
Q: What about the CR, though?
Leader Pelosi. Let's see what we can do, working together, for the CR, but the path that they're on is one that just gets farther and farther away from any – but you know what, let's just see what they send. I don't know. And in all fairness, I don't like – I'm not, again, I respect the Speaker; I respect his role and I respect the confidentiality of our conversation, only to say we stand ready to help on one, but not to take down the full faith and credit of the United States of America. I don't know that they even know what they're doing. So, it's impossible to say how we might react to something that they don't even know yet what they're going to suggest.
Q: Democrats have done a very good job of holding fast and being disciplined on such things as the Farm bill and other things, not helping them out. I guess, I suppose. Is this a different scenario?
Leader Pelosi. It's not about helping them out. It's about standing up for the American people.
Q: But the Democrats have been very disciplined…
Leader Pelosi. Right.
Q: …in sharing that.
Leader Pelosi. Right.
Q: Is this a different moment in the CR fight? You said you are willing to help them out. Are Members allowed to? Do you think it will come to that? And will you allow your Democratic Members to sort of bail them out of this?
Leader Pelosi. It isn't a question of “allow.” Members will vote the way Members will vote. But nobody can say what will happen until we see what they're going to propose. We had hoped that the Republicans in the Senate, that the tail would not be wagging the dog there to the point that they couldn't bring up the bill last night, but the tail did wag the dog and so the bill won't come to the floor for another couple of hours. Probably an hour and a half. Then, we'll see after that how the Republicans will react to that. And people make judgments. Again, nobody can tell you how they're going to vote unless they know what it is they're voting on.
But I do think that they'll get – I don't think they'll get any support. Well, you see 186 Members signed the letter, and many more who don't sign letters are there on the debt limit. So that, again, is nonnegotiable. The other, we'll see. We'll just see.
Q: Do you think a shutdown is more likely now than you did a few days ago?
Leader Pelosi. I hope not, no. I'm always optimistic. I'm always optimistic. Every day is a new day. You think what could, you know, what path could be taken? I mean, look: this leadership on the Republican side has brought bills to the floor, have not had the majority of the majority there. Fewer than 40 of them voted for Sandy aid, for example. Fewer than 40.
Q: Forty nine.
Leader Pelosi. Huh?
Q: Forty nine.
Leader Pelosi. On one amendment, but on the powerful amendment that really matters. But so fewer than 50, ok, on any Sandy Aid. Fewer than 50. So, you know, that's like 20 percent, what, of their conference? Twenty-five, 20 percent of their conference voted for Sandy aid. Not anywhere near 51 percent.
A majority of them, in a strong way, voted against the Violence Against Women Act. And yet, because we made the issue too hot to handle, they had to bring it to the floor 600 days after its authority expired and 90 days after Sandy. I mean, very late and overdue. But nonetheless, they all largely voted against both of those measures. You know the fiscal cliff vote, another budget bill, and what happened there.
But in any case, it appears that there is a solution. It's bipartisan and everybody had their say [and] made their point. And again, beyond that, they are a luxury the country cannot afford.
Q: Madam Leader, how important is it for House Democrats to have even just a short term CR be above sequestration level? And do you think, if it comes to it, a shutdown would make a debt ceiling fight less likely as many folks are starting to…
Leader Pelosi. I just can't buy into a government shutdown. You know, again, as I say, I wouldn't be able to sustain the energy level, the intellectual challenges all the time if I thought we are on the path that it looks like we are on. But how do we get off it?
So, let's hope that sanity will reign, that what the Senate turns over, everyone will have had a chance to make his or her point, and then we can make progress for the American people. We would love to see split the difference on what we all agree to in the Budget Control Act in a bipartisan way. The $1.57 [trillion] figure versus the $988 [billion]. Let's split the difference at one point, what, 17, something like that? Mr. Hoyer would like to see that happen, as would I. And he would like to see that we eliminate sequestration altogether. We'd like to go to a place like that, but I don't know if Republicans are likely to compromise.
Q: But do you think it's important even for say one month or two months to hold out on that? I mean, there is some debate as to that's…
Leader Pelosi. Hold out on what?
Q: Hold out in having a budget level above sequestration even in the short term.
Leader Pelosi. Well, we'll see what the Senate sends back to us, and we don't have, you know, we're talking about a matter of hours. We're talking about a matter of hours. And what we'd love to see, of course, is the Senate send the bill back. They've made their point. They may feel confident about the progress they made on the fighting, the fight on, you know, their reaching their goal of putting your medical decisions in the hands of insurance companies, back into the hands of insurance companies because that's what this is all about. And now, let's go forward.
I mean, most people, don't you? In your work and all the rest, something happens; you make your attempt; it doesn't work; and how long do you just bang your head against the wall at the expense of our country? So, let's just see what they send. As I said to you yesterday and the day before and all the rest, it's really hard to talk about, speculate on where Members will be and how we will work together and build our consensus when we don't even know what the Republicans will send us.
You and then you.
Q: Madam, what is the functional effect in terms of getting an eventual agreement if what transpires over this weekend is a much shorter term CR that brings the whole process closer to the debt limit so that those things become a little more congealed, I'll say, closer together? What is the functional effect of that from where you sit if those become one big negotiation?
Leader Pelosi. Closer together. Well, in fact, they were closer together. They were on the same path. They were in tandem. And then the Republicans realized that they couldn't get their people to vote to raise the debt ceiling no matter how much baggage they attached to that engine. So look, the full faith and credit of the United States of America is not something that should be tied to closing down government. The closer it gets, the more unreasonable it gets [and] the more irresponsible it gets.
So, I would hope that the scenario described is not one that we come to, because it's two different subjects. It's two different subjects. Yes, they're all about budget, but one is the full faith and credit of the United States of America, and the other is a priorities debate on spending and saving and growth. They all should be about growth, and everything that the Republicans are talking about. Whether it's not lifting the debt ceiling, or making the cuts they want to make without making the investments that we should be making, it's all about slowing growth. And we'll lose a million jobs as it is with their $988 [billion], with that sequester number. We'll lose a million jobs. Some say 1.6 million. I'll be my usual conservative self and say one million on that subject, most defensible number.
So, this is about, this is silly. This is maybe – they didn't get some orientation on how serious the work is that we do here, and clearly, they are a manifestation of what President Washington cautioned against when he left office, which were political parties at war with their own government. And that is what we have wagging the dog; the tail wagging the dog of the Republican party now.
Q: Madam Leader?
Leader Pelosi. Chad?
Q: Last line of questions. Thank you. You've been into some of these legislative ‘cul-de-sacs’ before when we've had a crisis. Something has to be done by a time certain, but the other point that was made a moment ago, are you surprised that we are this late in the game and that there is not back and forth with the White House, back and forth meetings down at the White House, you and Speaker Boehner and Reid and McConnell going down, back channel talks between your Chiefs of Staff and the, you know, Chief of Staff on Boehner's side? I mean, none of that seems to be happening. That seems very strange at this point.
Leader Pelosi. Well, it's very strange, especially in light of the fact that in March. On March 1st in the Oval Office, the Republican leaders said they wanted regular order. And regular order is you pass the bill; we pass the bill; House passes a bill, Senate passes a bill; we go to the table. And seeing what happened there, we were very pleased because, as I said: “Regular order is what we come here to do.” It's in the Beltway way term, but it's fraught with meaning, until you abandon it, and then it becomes confusing to people.
Q: Why has this been abandoned?
Leader Pelosi. Because they won't go to conference. They will not go to conference. They will not negotiate. And typical of them, they say: “We won't go to conference to negotiate, to reconcile the difference between the House and Senate bills,” which are quite different. And then they say: “The President won't negotiate.” The President is always negotiating. And bravo for him for declaring that the full faith and credit of the United States is not negotiable, but everything else is the normal discussion that you have.
And so, I think you see what is happening here is they can't even come forward. What they say in the morning doesn't exist in the evening. As I say, they can't even negotiate with themselves, much less with anyone outside because there is not a talking point. You know, really, let's clear the air with this. We have a responsibility to pay our bills. A large part of the deficit that is being subjected to the debt limit increase was amassed during the Bush years. Find me, please, one statement that any of these people made about the deficit and its rapid growth under the Bush Administration. And the change from when President Clinton was President, four – depending on how you measure it – or five of his last budgets were in balance or in surplus.
President Bush comes in with his failed economic policies, grows the deficit, two unpaid for wars, a prescription drug bill that gives away the store to the pharmaceutical industry, and tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country who do not create jobs. We support the middle income tax cuts. We all do. But the high end does nothing except increase deficit.
Did you ever hear any of these endangered species budget hawks saying, boo, hoo, woo, or anything else that hawks say at that time? They simply did not. And so, now President Obama comes in and the deficit is coming down at a very rapid rate, being half by, what, the end of this year of what it was when he became President. He said he would cut it in half in four years; it will be closer to five, largely because they have resisted his job creation initiative. But nonetheless, that's the path that we're on. And the deficit is coming down because of the slowing down of the rapid increase of medical costs to our economy. So, people are working on this. People care about the deficit.
When President Bush became President, in just a few years, he had the biggest fiscal swing in the history of our country, a path of $5.6 trillion to a surplus, to $5.6 trillion to deficit – $11 trillion plus change.
So, we all care about the deficit. And how we reduce it, is by growth; more revenue coming in because more people working, and better jobs, more opportunity. How we reduce it is to have more – let's take a look at our tax code and see where we can have savings then. Why should we be giving $38 billion in tax credits to Big Oil? So that, that's an incentive for them to drill and make a trillion dollars in profit, and then say: “We're going to cut education rather than eliminate Big Oil.” And that's part of their policy. And then we have to put everything to the scrutiny of this is work. As the money that with the investments they were making, are they, let's reevaluate our priorities, their effectiveness, and cut cost where we can. But that's what you go to the budget table to do, and that's where they refuse to go.
And why did they refuse to go? Because they're afraid of the contrast that the transparency of a conference committee will reveal. The differentiation between our statement of values about how we grow our economy, reduce our deficit, and make our future better, investing in the future versus the Republican budget, which voucherizes Medicare. I won't even go into the whole litany of bad things that it does.
So confusion is their friend, and they like the confusion rather than the clarity of going to conference. Because they took that step, after saying that's the path they wanted to go down, as soon as those first two steps were taken, they made an about-face – and one to take us on the path that is very harmful to growth and can have serious consequences for our economy. I hope it doesn't happen. We'll see.
To end on a happier note, because I think we're ending. You said last question, right, Chad? Okay.
How can I resist another chance to talk about Oracle Team USA for their extraordinary victory in the 34th America's cup, the oldest trophy in international sport. Once again, in San Francisco, the race made history with AC72s, the fastest catamarans the competition has ever seen. I wish you could have been there to see some of it. Perhaps you were. Nineteen races over 15 days. The longest time, the longest number of days on record, the most race days. The first-winner-take all final race, that it came down to the last race in 30 years. After trailing one to eight, after trailing one to eight, Oracle Team USA surged ahead to an unprecedented eight straight races to once again hold the America's cup high above their heads. It's a beautiful sight: “USA, USA!” We were there cheering them, but it wasn't on days when we made much of a difference, but huge crowds that amassed there as the races picked up, brought us to victory, and that was what was exciting about it.
I have to thank Larry Ellison for his vision to democratize the race. Nobody knows much about the America's Cup because I mean – people do, who follow it – but most Americans, because it was always at sea. You went out there open your yacht or your sailboat or whatever to see it. But anyone who could see San Francisco Bay could see the race. As I said, it went from white caps to blue collar and that was pretty exciting. Our mayor, Mayor Lee, our former mayor, Gavin Newsom, Mark Buell, all the people who worked locally to make it a success, we're very proud of all of them, and it's something pretty exciting going from eight to one to nine to eight, don't you think? One of the biggest comebacks in sports history. I know you're all interested in sports so…
Q: And your Giants did not come back this year, much like the U.S. team?
Leader Pelosi. Say what?
Q: I said your Giants did not come back, rally, miraculously like…
Leader Pelosi. We have an every other year program. Two of the past three and maybe three of the five.
Q: Niners won, though.
Leader Pelosi. Niners won last night. Oh, my God, thank God, at last. We had a hard time getting it here, though. At home, they said: “Just go to ABC; it's on ABC.” But not here, or CBS, I think. But it wasn't. It was not here. So in any event, more on sports, more on sports later.
Thank you all very much.