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 afternoon. This was rescheduled because of the President's statement this morning, which I think was quite an excellent one. I take such pride in our President. And I take pride in my House Democrats, who last night voted 100 percent to open government and to end the default of our full faith and credit.
Last night, after America had endured 16 days of a shutdown, the bill came to the floor at 9:20 p.m. The rule was dispensed with, debate began and was over by 9:56 p.m. The vote was taken, the bill was sent to the President.
In less than 45 minutes, actually less than 40 minutes, government was open. This could have happened three weeks ago. Three weeks ago I said to the Speaker: “We'll give you the votes. Please don't shut down the government, take up the Senate bill. We'll give you the votes to pass it.”
Over and over again, on October 2nd, on the steps of the Capitol, 200 Members signed, not only was it my commitment for 200, we had the signatures of 200 Members, 100 percent of the House Democratic Caucus, that we would support the Republican number – a number we didn't like, a number which the Republican Chairman of the Appropriations Committee said does not help us meet the needs of the American people. But in order to avoid a shut down of government we're willing to accept.
Later in that day at the White House, I made the commitment. We made it publicly on the steps of the Capitol, in writing to the Speaker, in front of the President of the United States, but they said no. We kept saying take ‘yes’ for an answer. Over and over again on the floor of the House we kept bringing up the motion to accept the Senate number; over and over again Republicans said ‘no.’
Now, the Senate number, I remind you, is the House Republican number. They offered it to Senator Reid. Senator Reid accepted it, knowing it was a bad number, but again a path to negotiations. The President accepted the number. The House Democrats accepted the Republican House number. The only people not accepting the Republican House number were the Republican House Members.
Why do I go back to that? Because 16 days, for 16 days the government was closed down. Whatever that means to families who were affected, we have gone over that over and over again, workers furloughed, disrespect for our Federal workforce, many of whom are veterans. Many of them, a large number of the Federal workforce are veterans.
I don't know whether the Republican Members of the conference don't know or don't care about the consequences of their actions. I have to assume they do care. So now I hope that they will know. Don't take it from me. Standard & Poor's says to date the shutdown has shaved at least 0.6 percent off annualized fourth quarter 2013 GDP growth, or taken, in other words, $24 billion out of the economy.
Was their temper tantrum worth $24 billion? I don't think so. Perhaps they didn't know how costly it would be. Who knew the exact figure? It took Standard & Poor's to tell us the exact figure. But we knew it was at a cost, in addition to the cost to the families, the working families, and all of those who depend. I was just meeting with someone who was telling me that they got a direction in their state not to process any food stamp cards for children in that particular state. This was the other day. Now the shutdown is over and hopefully that will go forward. But people were not going to be able to eat. They were not going to be able to eat. It was that fundamental.
So again, on September 30th, we agreed to accept their number. On October 2nd, we offered it. On October 5th we had an unprecedented offer to forego our rights to any motions, the prerogative of the minority in the House, we would forego that right in order to remove their fear of their Members having to vote on something on the floor. But it took 16 days for the Speaker to finally take ‘yes’ for an answer.
This is irresponsible. No, this is reckless. This is reckless. And then to see last night when 62 percent of the House Republican voted against their own number, voted against opening up government, and voted against ending the default of our full faith and credit. What was squandered in that period of time is not only quantitatively measured in terms of it slowed our GDP growth, as I said, jeopardized our credit rating and eroded consumer and investor confidence. It also diminished confidence in governance. Did they know what this irresponsibility would cost? I don't know.
But I am very pleased that we showed such unity to vote to reopen the government, to end the conversation about, to avoid the default. And all of the American people have said it is time to stop this and start governing. They may not like government, the Republicans, but they are here to govern and to legislate, which means you have to make compromises and choose, instead of going from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.
All Democrats, I am so proud of them, all of them, 100 percent of the Democrats voted on that resolution. Not that they accepted the number, and as I said last night, not on the merits of this legislation. The number is too low to meet the needs of the American people and the time for lifting the debt ceiling for ending default is too short. But nonetheless, it is a path. And while it has little in terms of merit, it gives a great deal. I believe, in terms of hope, that we can go to the table and have this negotiation about what a budget should be for our country.
And I am very pleased that we have our team, our Assistant Leader, Jim Clyburn; our Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen; and the Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey – representing the values of our country with the charge from our Caucus to grow the economy, to create jobs, and to reduce the deficit in a responsible way as we go forward.
Now what I would hope would happen, because we said: “do they know, do they care?” Let's assume they care. As an appropriator, I have been forged as an appropriator in the Congress of the United States, and you have to, working in a bipartisan way, much of the time you are in agreement. But where you have your disagreement, we always said: “let's stipulate to a number. Let's stipulate to a set of facts.” And what seems to be missing now in their conference is a respect for facts. It's like a data free zone. They don't know about this, who said that? They are in a data free zone.
All of the decisions that we make in appropriations and in terms of our budget should be evidence-based. What is it that we get for this? What is it that is not working? But based on evidence, documented evidence, as to what works. We had an expression in appropriations: the plural of anecdote is not data. “Oh, I heard of that.” You heard about that? “I heard about something else.” But let's get to facts.
So when we go to this table, we have a golden opportunity to have evidence based, data supported information, intelligence, for us to be able to make decisions. For example, I think most economists would agree that the single most important way to reduce the deficit – no, let me say it another way. Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than the education of the American people, early childhood, K-12, higher education, and lifetime learning for our workforce. Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than education.
So when our colleagues say they want to cut education, for example, Pell Grants, for one, they say we can cut Pell Grants. They are not only doing a disservice to those people, their aspirations, the competitiveness of our country, but they are increasing the deficit. It's a false economy.
So again, let us see what we get our money's worth for the taxpayer. We should subject every dollar spent, taxpayer dollar spent, to the harshest scrutiny. Is it working for the purpose it is sent there? And as many of us who have been part of initiatives on an agenda that helps lift people up, we want that to work. We want that to work. So we are as critical, put as sharp an eye as anyone on that.
So it has to be about data, it has to be about science. Science. Science. If we had four words to describe which dominate that table for our domestic agenda, for our national agenda, it would be science, science, science, and science. Science. That means knowledge, data, evidence, about the air we breathe, the water we drink, evidence about how we grow our economy through innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, and that's about investments in science and technology.
It's about the health of our country, investments in the life sciences, the National Institutes of Health, the biblical power to cure. Science is an answer to our prayers, but for some reason some in their conference think that it is one or the other, science or faith. No. No. And science to defend our country with the best technology possible.
So when we say we are not going to invest in education and we are going to reduce our investments or slow the rate of growth of the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health, we are doing a grave disservice to our country. So in every way, evidence, science, data, let's know what we are talking about. And again, I harken back to not that long ago when we would be negotiating with the Republicans, with President Bush in the White House, and we would all say, we can proceed down this path if we all stipulate to a number.
Did they know about this number? Probably not because if they knew about it they would certainly care about it. Are they in denial? Are they blind? Are they just ignoring the facts? We'll find out. But we owe it to the American people to put all of that aside and to do what is best.
And so again, our Founders had such a vision for our country. We owe it to the vision of our Founders, the sacrifice of our troops, the aspirations of our children to just go into that room in a knowledge-based way about what the decisions are, and not to be driven by an anti-government ideology that says: “Whatever it is, I don't like it because I am here to limit government.” Well, we don't want any more government than we need, but some of those limitations on government are limitations on the aspirations of the American people and they don't reduce the deficit.
So again, we look forward to going to that table. But I think it is important for people to know what the terms are as we go forward. And the one thing that might be a minor benefit, not worth the trouble, but nonetheless a benefit from what has happened, is there is a sharpened awareness of the fact that this will take place at a table, that hopefully there will be a bright light shone on it so that people can see what the difference is.
We believe that the budget the House Democrats have put forth, and the Senate Democrats and the President, is a values based budget about the future of our country in terms of investments in innovation and education, sensibly reducing the deficit, as we create jobs for all Americans who want to work hard, play by the rules, and achieve the American dream.
With that, I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Leader Pelosi, the enrollment in the Affordable Care Act started the same day as the shutdown. And so far, there has been a lot of glitches. People haven’t had an easy time enrolling. I wonder what do you think about the rollout so far? And what you think is a reasonable amount of time for the Administration to fix those?
Leader Pelosi. I thank you for your question because we are so excited about the Affordable Care Act. It’s no coincidence that they want to shut down government so they can slow down the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps we should have chosen a different day for the rollout so that they didn’t exploit it for that. But after a while, I think they forgot why they shutdown government because the reasons changed as we went along.
I’m very proud of my state of California where it’s going great. Most of the states that have their state-run exchanges, it’s going positively well. There’s no question that what’s happened – excuse me, thank you – with the system for the national plan is something that has to be improved. They were overwhelmed by the traffic. Ok. But now, let’s see how long it’s going to take to have that be fixed. But that’s about the technology, about the benefits, about the liberation of the people to life, a healthier life, liberty, and freedom to choose their happiness. That all remains.
I hope that we would have some answers soon and that the answer will be: “Ok, we found the glitch,” or whatever it is. “It’s been corrected and here is a demonstration as to how people,” when they approach it now, “will be received.” So again, I hope that will be soon.
Q: Once people started to read the bill and look through it, there has been some criticism about things that were included that had not been talked about – different appropriations from small things.
Leader Pelosi. What are we talking about now? The Affordable Care Act?
Q: Last night’s bill.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, last night’s bill. I didn’t know.
Q: Sorry. And so, there has been criticism about things that were added in appropriations, everything from the death benefit to the Lautenberg family to the Kentucky laws. Was this crisis really the right time to add things that didn’t have anything to do with re-opening the government?
Leader Pelosi. Well, my Members have some of the same questions, not certainly on the death benefit to the Lautenberg family. But, when you have a CR, it is an appropriation. And this, yes, would be the normal place for them to do something like that. Now, we in the House, are always suspicious of the Senate when they want to go first and what are they doing over there. But I think, the questions I ask because my Members were asking those questions, as an appropriator, I understand when you have a continuing resolution it is all of the appropriations for the preceding year and this was consistent with what would be in a continuing resolution.
Q: But people who look at it, though, and say: is this the right thing to do add things when…
Leader Pelosi. I don’t know that they would add that. I think it’s just a continuation of what went before. Whatever it was, it was not enough to say we’re not going to open up government because there’s something that – what did they say? Senator McConnell put in about a road or something. I don’t know what that was.
Q: The dam.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, the dam. Apparently that is something that has been an ongoing project for many years and this was a continuation of that. But I’m not here to defend what that is. I’m here to say that – I didn’t like the number. So forget about incidental appropriations. I didn’t even like the $986 [billion]. I don’t like the timetable until February.
So, I have bigger problems than what that one appropriation might have been in the bill. But nonetheless, none of it was a reason not to open government and remove all doubt that we were going to honor the full faith and credit of the United States.
Q: But Madam Leader, to that end though, you cite your history on this, on the Appropriations Committee. An anomaly, by definition, is not an appropriation. This is an authorization to have that put in to a bill that is an appropriation. Is there a…
Leader Pelosi. You know what, what difference does it make? Why are we talking about this? We’re talking about a bill that – as I last night, I’m not asking anybody to vote for this bill on the merits. Let’s focus on the fact that $986 [billion] is not a figure that enables government to work for the American people. Let us focus on the fact that February is not an appropriate extension of the full faith and credit of the United States. It should be at least one year, so if you want to have an objection to the bill there are bigger things to object to.
But the fact is that we had to open government. The ways of the Senate on these issues is something that I have my own, shall we say, on-going concerns about. So, when we were going to have the bill first I thought: “Good, it’ll be just the bill.” When the Senate takes it up, the Senate is the Senate. You have to talk to them about what’s in the bill and what its purpose was. But what I said on the floor, I’m not pinning a rose on this bill. But I am giving it a vote because we have to open government and we didn’t have to close government because we made this offer of a number that we know is inadequate but at least takes us to the table.
Q: I think the context for my question, just to button this up, if I may, there is a certain public frustration and cynicism about how Congress has been operating, and so when they see things that are added in it can add to that. Would you have a message to people?
Leader Pelosi. Well the fact is, is that I think you have to take that up with the Senate. That is not how the House works. That is how the Senate works. You will have to take it up with them.
But the cynicism is not about that. The cynicism is about the fact that government was closed for 16 days, that the full faith and credit of the United States of America was in doubt. And why? Because of anti-government ideologues in the Republican Conference…tail wagging the dog. And everything described it. Oh, it is just a few. It is 30 some. It was 62 percent of their conference voted to keep government shut down. A full 62 percent of their conference voted to default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
I think many more people are aware of that than they are aware of the particular of that. I don't think any of that should be in the bill. I don't know how it got in there. In fact, I displayed my own dismay at it – only learned of it because I was saying: “what is holding up the bill, why are we not voting on the bill?” And they said: “Well, they were dealing with some of these things.” I said: “Well, what are some of these things?” So that is how I found out about it myself.
But you need 60 votes in the Senate. The Senate is another place. I think your question should be directed to them because this was nothing that we were consulted about or anything. It just became part of the bill.
Q: Moving forward, how does Congress prevent another one of these sort of crisis? How much confidence do you have in the Budget Conference Committee to be able to produce an actual workable solution?
Leader Pelosi. I think if it is a transparent negotiation, I have more hope than if they say: “Well, we are meeting ourselves and then one day we will have one open meeting,” or hearing “and then we will come back and meet ourselves.” Senator Sessions and Congressman Paul Ryan did not vote for the bill last night. They did not vote for this bill that takes us to the table. They did not vote for that. So, I think it will be interesting to see what that means, what is to be inferred from that.
But I think you are the answer to that question. The more transparency, the better the outcome. The more the public is aware. As I keep saying to you, President Abraham Lincoln said: “Public sentiment is everything.” The more the public is aware of what is happening there, instead of finding out when the bill is coming over at the 11th or 12th hour practically.
And I don't know if these things are a big deal, but they are not the issue. The issue is: how do you work together knowing that you are not going to have it all your own way? But how do you go there to influence the decision based on values, respect for what comes out of it? Because what comes out of it has to be again, sold, for lack of a better word, to the caucuses to vote for it. So it has to have merit. The bill last night, in my view, didn't have merit substantively. It had merit as a path to go to that table.
But if that table is closed down, if you are excluded from that, if there isn't live coverage, then it is hard to see how a product can come out of it that we can present to our Members to say it was an honest debate. This is how it came down, and this is how we have to go forward.
And you know what is contingent upon it, of course, is reopening government in January and lifting the debt ceiling in February. So this isn't just an isolated conversation.
Q: There are a number of Members in the House and Senate that have pledged to return the money that they earned throughout the shutdown to the Treasury. This morning Congressman Frank LoBiondo from New Jersey cut a check for over $5,100 to the Treasury. I am wondering if you have any intention of writing a check for a charity or putting it back to the Treasury towards the debt or anything for the money that you earned during the shutdown?
Leader Pelosi. I am a regular contributor to charity. So I could pretend that I am giving this money to charity when I was going to do it anyway. But I don't intend to do that, no. I don't intend to cut a check to the Federal Government.
Q: Madam Leader, if the Healthcare.gov web site still isn't working in November or even December, will there be a need to consider delaying parts of it or all of it?
Leader Pelosi. No. No. It has nothing to do with the programmatic part of it. It is about technology.
Q: Is there a concern that there could be a death spiral if there isn't a good enough insurance pool?
Leader Pelosi. No. No, I don't think so. No, I don't think so.
Q: How soon should these Federal workers expect this back pay?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don't know what the process is. I would hope as soon as possible.
Q: The bill said as soon as possible, but there has been a little ambiguity today about what that means. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Leader Pelosi. As soon as possible. Sooner than that. Sooner than that. Because you know what? As with many of you know, they have mortgages to pay, they have their contribution to tuition, and some of them do it on a monthly basis. They have a life, thank God. And again, out of 2.1 million federal employees, 800,000 of them furloughed without pay. Now they will be compensated. But I don't know if any of you, most people are paycheck to paycheck. And a large number of that, of the 2.1 million, 600,000 are veterans, many of them disabled veterans. Of the 800,000, a large number are veterans and some disabled veterans.
So when they are talking about veterans and all the rest and they put this meager little bill on the floor, which is so much less than we had all voted for in a bipartisan way, and saying they are helping veterans, but we are furloughing you, we are taking away your paycheck. You will get it back as soon as possible, whenever that is, that is how we are helping veterans.
So I would hope that it would be as soon as possible because people, we all know, I mean, everybody knows they need their paychecks. They work. And as soon as possible for another way. One of the things I hope that comes out of this is, as people see what the impact of the shutdown has been, it may not affect everybody in the same way, in the same timetable. But it has affected a lot of people, many of whom don't have strong voices to be heard in Washington, D.C.
But these workers, they make sure the Social Security checks are out, they help our veterans. As I mentioned earlier in terms of food stamps for our children, the courts, the IRS, all of the things that have government function now curtailed. Not everybody was furloughed, but curtailed.
So again, we thank our federal workers for what they have done. I am sad about the fact that they had to be furloughed and have this uncertainty in their lives on top of all the other uncertainty in our economy. Again, I thank them for their service, and I hope as soon as possible means as soon as possible.
Thank you all very much.