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. Today marks the third day of the Republican Government Shutdown. It could be over in hours if the Republicans would just take “yes” for an answer. Yesterday afternoon, over 100 Members of Congress and others who backed what we were doing, were on the steps of the Capitol and spoke out to Speaker Boehner, telling him to allow a vote on the – clean CR means nothing to the American people – allow a vote to keep government open.
On two separate occasions yesterday on the floor, we proposed motions to keep government open by accepting the Senate bill. I remind you that what the Senate bill contains is the number $986 [billion] that the House Republicans proposed. And on both occasions, every Democrat voted to keep government open, swallowing the $986 [billion], even though it is a figure that we would have mostly opposed, but not when the issue is, are you going to shut government down. Last night, following a meeting at the White House, Leader Reid and I proposed, again, to the Speaker to accept his number of $986 [billion] and asked him to bring up a vote.
One by one, Republican Members are willing to say they are willing to reopen government by voting for this $986 [billion] number. Now, really, enough of them have spoken that if the Speaker brought the bill to the floor, it would pass, strongly supported by the Democrats with enough Republican votes, be sent to the President, be law of the land, [and] government would be opened in a matter of hours.
Instead, the Republicans are taking the piecemeal approach on funding our government that has nothing more than – it's really a gimmick and we are not buying their gimmick. They can't cherry pick their way out of their own manufactured crisis. These games have to stop. This is not just about this particular – when you cherry pick and the rest on an appropriations bill, now, as an appropriator, in Congress you get forged as an appropriator if that's where you have served. You can't cherry pick because the legislation has oneness. On the Labor-HHS bill, for example, we call it “lamb eat lamb.” There is nothing that you would want to cut in order to pay for something else. There is a oneness to it. So, if you pick out one piece of it and say: “This is what we're going to support,” you are upsetting the balance that is in the bill. So this is, I'm speaking to you now as an appropriator, this is really an irresponsible approach.
I'm concerned now that the Republicans are trying to buy time in order to tie the shutdown of government to defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States of America. And that would be cataclysmic. It would be dangerous to our economy. I was so proud of the President last night because he was very clear about not negotiating on the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
What I suggested last night: two things. One, let's just take it off the table. Democratic President, Republican Congress; Democratic Congress, Republican President. Let's take it off the table. Surely people have talked in the context of fiscal responsibility about suggestions they may have, but we have never defaulted on the full faith and credit of the United States of America. Let's take that off the table. And of course, this is all about the Affordable Care Act that they want to overturn, defund, prolong, whatever it is. And the fact is, is that they have no connection to each other, and they should not be connected.
But in addition to saying, let's take the full faith and credit of the United States of America off the table as a threat, as a threat, as leverage, or anything else, let's also remind each other that any bill that is passed in Congress can be revisited. Another bill can pass. You can amend or whatever. If we all thought that every bill that was passed would be forever be the law, you can always improve, you can always have a debate, but you shouldn't. You must not do it as a threat to the full faith and credit or whether you will keep government open or not. I can only think that they don't have confidence in their ideas that they would think they have to go to these extremes to have anybody listen to them.
In addition to the cataclysmic effect not lifting the debt ceiling will have on our economy, on global markets, and the rest, it is always important to note what it means to the kitchen table discussion that America's families have. It will raise interest rates on credit cards, mortgages, student loans, you name it. It would also, as I've said to you before, have a negative impact on the 401(k)s.
Don't just take that from me. The Treasury Department this morning issued a report that warned that the dire consequences of taking us to the brink and perhaps over the brink: our credit markets could freeze; value of the dollar could plummet; interest rates could skyrocket, making it harder for families to get home loans and also for businesses to invest, spend, and hire, in addition to what I said earlier.
In 2011, Americans saw the impact of the last debt limit crisis: lower consumer confidence, falling stock markets, slowing growth. And that was just a discussion of it, just a discussion of it that we had our credit rating downgraded. In 2013, this is a self-inflicted wound that we should avoid. I've referenced this lately because it is that time of the year. Five years ago today, President Bush signed the TARP legislation. For Members of Congress, this was an extraordinarily difficult vote. As I've said to you before, we saw it as a meltdown of our financial institutions that was because of the policies, the failed economic policies of the Bush Administration. President Bush, his administration, [and] his Secretary of Treasury came to us with their suggested solution. We amended it, but we didn't like it. And yet it was the Democrats who saved the day and supported President Bush on this. Republicans to this day have not produced the 100 votes they promised for that bill.
That's what we are here for. We have our differences, we have our discussions, but this is about the United States of America, the greatest country that ever existed in the history of the world. The least our Republican colleagues could do is vote to keep government open, as we supported President Bush when our economy was in such danger.
We are ready to reach across the aisle. This is a big concession for us to go to the $986 [billion]. A big concession. You've heard our distinguished Whip, Mr. Hoyer, rail against it. [Congresswoman] Rosa DeLauro, a significant leader on the Appropriations Committee, railing against it. And yet in order to keep government open, we would extend the hand of friendship to our colleagues and say, “Ok, we will keep government open; we will accept your number and let's go to the table for discussion.”
So, it is awful in terms of our government being closed, but now we are in the third day of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a dream come true for many people in our country that they can fully realize the promise of our Founders of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – healthier life, liberty to pursue their happiness.
It is interesting, and I'm excited that in the first two days in the federal government-run health insurance marketplaces. That means don't count California, don't count New York, don't count places that have state-run exchanges marketplaces. In the federal government-run health insurance marketplaces, seven million people visited healthcare.gov. More than 295,000 people called the Health Care Hotline, and 167,000 Web chats requested on healthcare.gov. This is in two days excluding California, New York, and some other states that have their own exchanges.
The overwhelming and ongoing response makes it clear that no matter how hard some try to stop it, the Affordable Health Care is up and running, and Americans will keep gaining access to affordable, quality health care. And we will continue to take pride in adding a pillar of economic and health security to our society. Social Security, Medicare, affordable health care, Affordable Care Act. We are very proud.
Too bad it was intentional Republicans wanted to shut down to dim the light on the Affordable Care Act. The fact is, that never dimmed our enthusiasm for something so important to the American people.
With that, I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Ms. Pelosi, you described a oneness for appropriations. Back in the mid '90s, President Clinton and the Congress were able to do things such as fund the D.C. government during a shutdown, have benefits for veterans during the shutdown. Why is there opposition from Democrats now as opposed to 1995?
Leader Pelosi. That was a different story. We were doing appropriations bills then. And if we go to the table and open up government, we can go to do appropriations bills. It wasn't a question of saying: “We are going to take this piece.” You have the Labor Health and Human Services bill. “We are just taking the National Institutes of Health.” We have the Veterans bill, which we passed in June with many more billions of dollars in the bill, and now they are taking a piece of it.
This piecemeal effect is, well, it's irresponsible and it's harmful. And we had passed already, before you went into the shutdown, some appropriation bills already in the middle '90s. But this is a different approach. It's totally unacceptable. And it's not going to get us to the table. A and B, well, I should say A: it is keeping government shut down.
Q: It's not going to get you to the table because Democrats are holding fast against it, but doesn't it make it more difficult to explain to the public? And aren't the optics sort of bad for Democrats and getting worse if Republicans keep passing these piecemeal approaches, and they keep getting passed? Are Members of your caucus getting nervous?
Leader Pelosi. No. And if Republicans want to think that, let them think that. We have to do the right thing, whatever the optics, whatever the right thing is, to open government and then have any discussion you want. You want to cut over $4 billion in veterans benefits as they did the other day? Then let's have that discussion and let's amend the appropriations bill to do that. I don't think that that's what the American people want.
But they don't want to go to the table because they don't want the public to see in its totality the disaster that their budget is. And that's why they're, as I say, “cherry picking.” We're not going to support that because it's wrong, and I salute [Senator] Harry Reid for holding his Caucus together, as we have held ours. But his is 100 percent. I think that's great. And I thank the President for his strength on this.
Q: Madam Leader, yesterday you began to circulate a letter calling for a clean CR. I was wondering if you were circulating that letter to Republicans as well as Democrats, and
Leader Pelosi. They are welcome to sign on.
Q: If Republicans have expressed interest in signing on?
Leader Pelosi. They're welcome to sign on, that's for sure. But you see, on the floor of the House, the Republicans said “no” to their own number. Every Democrat voted to open government by accepting the Republican number. And the Republicans said “no” to their own number.
But enough of them are coming forward now, you see one at a time coming forward, saying they want a clean CR. They haven't abandoned their leadership by voting with us on the floor, but I think that they are making their voices heard that they'd like to support the bill should it be brought to the floor.
Q: Madam Leader, can you explain how you were in that meeting with [Speaker] Boehner, [Senate Minority Leader] McConnell and President Obama and [Senate Majority Leader] Reid for almost an hour and a half and apparently made no progress? How is that even possible?
Leader Pelosi. I don't know how you are characterizing the meeting, but I did not see it as a meeting that did not make progress. I see it as a meeting where progress is made when you don't waste your time on skirting the issues. I think that we had great clarity with the President, and I'm always proud of him, as you know, but he was very clear about our Constitution, the role of Congress, the role of the President, and how we have to respect each person's responsibility. And we all believe that it is the responsibility of Congress to pay our bills, that's where the legislation comes from – and to pass legislation that would keep government open.
So, we had that clarity. I made the point, as I said earlier: Let's take the full faith and credit off the table. I'm not saying the Republicans agreed with that. I'm just saying I made that point. And also, if you want to debate the Affordable Care Act, debate it in the Congress, but not to say: “We're shutting down government unless you delay it for a year, or overturn it, or whatever else.”
So, I always find that meetings are productive when the air is cleared, where people make very clear what they're willing to do, and I did not leave there thinking that there wasn't some possibility. Maybe I'm always optimistic. But we all have to do everything we can to try to find common ground to open government and, again, of course, lift the debt ceiling. And that's why our Members, if I had told you a week ago that we could help the Republicans pass the bill on the floor, I would be doing it with far fewer Democrats than I can now. But we've worked through this to say: “We must accept their number because so many people are out of work.”
Republicans make this big thing about how they support veterans while they are cutting billions of dollars in the amendment that they had on the floor. Do you know that almost 600,000 veterans are at work in the federal government. Many of them in intelligence, in defense, and really, across the board – 600,000 people of the 2.1 million person workforce. More than a quarter of the people who are now without work and pay are veterans. And we say we are supporting our veterans. Let's support them and their families, and where they are now, and where they are now.
So, I think that this piecemeal effect that you were asking about cut $6.2 billion from the Department of Veterans Affairs. So when you say ask: “Are your Members getting nervous?” No, they are not getting nervous about voting against something that cuts $6.2 million from Veterans Affairs. We just have to get the message out. And I am counting on you to do that.
You know, I think that we could stipulate to a certain set of facts on things that may have been hazy. And we have goodwill among us, and that is always useful. But I'm very proud of the President. So, I think it was a very useful meeting. And how long was it?
Q: Almost an hour and a half.
Leader Pelosi. Is that right? I didn't realize that.
Q: There is a bipartisan group working on a proposal that would include essentially a clean CR accompanied with repeal of the medical device tax with a pay for, not necessarily a tax, but accompanying it and both Democrats and Republicans earlier today supporting that. Do you think by changing it from a part of the CR to accompanying it, it wouldn't violate sort of the principles you guys have laid out, which is no changes to Obamacare in the CR? And is that something that you could possibly support?
Leader Pelosi. No. You left out one important ingredient. It is $986 [billion] for six months. That is really the more significant part of what their proposal is.
But I mean, I think it is really important for people to put their ideas on the table and to the extent that they have conversations in a bipartisan way. That is what we came here to do, and that is very wholesome. I don't think that we should – I think that, again, as I said before, if you want to have a discussion about the medical device tax or anything else over here, fine. But do not tie it to shutting down government. I mean, it just, it shouldn't be there.
But I have complete respect for the people who are trying very hard to find common ground because, just to get to your point about last night, all of these conversations, you learn from them, and they advance the cause. So, but my problem, first of all, I don't want to unravel the Affordable Care Act. If you want to take it up separately, but unraveling the Affordable Care Act in order not to shut down government, it is not going to happen.
But the $986 [billion] for six months is devastating to our country. When I say we'll be able to agree with the number, it was because it was for six weeks, not for six months. But I think that is all good that people are working together and, again, I have the highest regard for my colleagues who were engaged in that. I don't know who the Republicans are because I haven't gotten a report as to who was here.
Q: You have spoken, I think you've spoken several times about the full faith and credit and the budget ceiling coming here?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Even though, you know, these are two distinct issues, they are getting blended together probably because of the calendar and the direness of the situation here. But from a tactical standpoint, from an inside standpoint, doesn't it actually help solve both problems if they are melded together in some way? Because then you can say: “Look, we have to get the government open. We can't, you know, blow the debt ceiling. We have to solve both of these issues.” And that helps when you guys, the big four, do get in the room together.
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all, it isn't because of the calendar. It's intentional to bring these two things together. Why do you think we're doing this piecemeal, ridiculous exercise in futility on the floor of the House which is going nowhere? Because they are stalling for time so that they can jam up against the debt ceiling. I hope they prove me wrong. I hope the Speaker calls me and says: “We're going to the floor.” But it gives every appearance of getting dangerously close to the conversation on the debt ceiling.
But you had an element of truth in what you said about “wouldn't it be helpful.” My point is: Let's open government, have it open for six weeks at the $986 [billion] level, and go to the table and have the budget discussions immediately, because that chat will bring, could solve of the debt ceiling angst.
I think one of the things that is problematic in terms of our credit rating and the value of our dollar and all the rest of that is it's not just the credit rating, which is vital, it's also the uncertainty about the budget, having a budget. And if we show them that we're going to the table, we're having discussions on the budget, as we should have done six months ago, as the Republicans called for in regular order and then walked away from, if we can be having those discussions, it could take us to a place where there is more of a comfort level for some who have a discomfort level to raise the debt ceiling.
With that I am going to go back to work. Our Democrats are working very hard to keep government, get government to be open. I'm very proud of them. They are full of ideas, imagination, integrity and the rest. And that is what is so sad about this. The opportunity costs. The people working together in an entrepreneurial spirit and employing, engaging the talent of our new Members on both sides of the aisle to think in fresh ways about how we can get the job done for the American people.
Thank you. Bye-bye.