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. We have a very special guest today, our Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, a frequent visitor to our meetings, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Again, the Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, the one who represents what our budget should be, the values of our country so beautifully in Congress.
Today marks the tenth day of the Republican Government Shutdown. If I appear shivery, it’s because I came in from the rain, out there this morning listening to workers talk about how they want to open government to go back to work. It's very clear, one person has the key to open government, and that is the Speaker of the House. We have said if he opens that door, we can give him 200 votes to open government and fund government. We have said we want him to open that door, open government so that we can go to the budget table and also surrender our prerogatives as a minority to clear the way for that discussion. We want the Speaker to use that key.
Although we were getting soaked and wet, it was nothing compared to how drenched the American people were from these policies, whether it is – well, you know the list of concerns, whether it is our veterans, our children on Head Start, and the rest. The list goes on and on.
So we have offered 13, the House Democratic Members have offered 13 different motions on the House floor, 13 opportunities for the Republicans to open government, agreeing to their number, the Republican number. Each time the Republican leadership has rejected its own number. So this Saturday, Members of Congress can now, under the rules, start signing our discharge petition to force a vote on a clean continuing resolution to open government. All House Democrats have reaffirmed their support. Thirty House Republicans say they want an up or down vote on this. We think the end could be in sight. It could happen in the next five minutes though if one person, the Speaker of the House, would bring the bill to the floor. He has the key.
With all that is going on now, we don't know because we haven't been told. And the Rules Committee has not met, but there is some talk of an extension, of the ability to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks. We don't know the terms that go with it. What we hear are ominous, but let's see what it is. Give it a chance if it has any value.
I think a six week lifting of the debt ceiling is not the right way to go. I think we should go at least one year so that there is some certainty in the markets, and that every six weeks people don't have to wonder if the United States of America is going to stand by its full faith and credit. But nonetheless, let's see what they have to offer.
As you know, if we would default, credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, [and] interest rates could skyrocket. And then again for individuals, your 401(k)s would go down, your interest payments on your car, your mortgage, student loans, whatever, small business loans, all of that would rise. It's not anything we should even be getting close to, but nonetheless we are. So, we hope that what the Republicans will offer is responsible so that we can hopefully get to a place to follow the lead that the Senate has taken to take this debt ceiling lifted until December of next year.
Really, it is really sad, you know. We were out there in the rain, and people were speaking from their heart – the workers, Members of Congress, House and Senate, all of us, in solidarity for one thing: open government. And then let's talk about how we go forward. And the Republicans seem to be taking themselves down a path where, as they say on the plane, your nearest exit is behind you. We have given them an opportunity over and over again to come to the floor on their terms. We wish they would take ‘yes’ for an answer.
With that, I want to yield to our distinguished Ranking Member on Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen for any comments he may have about statements that other Republicans have made on the budget issue.
Mr. Van Hollen?
Mr. Van Hollen. Thank you, Leader Pelosi.
Just to start by emphasizing a couple things. There's absolutely no excuse for one more day of a government shutdown. This is something that Republican Senator Burr of North Carolina described a little while back as the dumbest idea he ever heard of. It's something that Senator McCain said was irrational. And yet what we are seeing is the continuation of implementation of the dumbest idea that Republicans ever heard of.
And so, it's time to lift that. I mean, it's time to lift it today, and as the Leader said, the Speaker of the House has it in his power to do that simply by holding a vote. Republicans and Democrats together could open the government now.
Number two, why would you generate increasing and continuing uncertainty in the economy by saying the United States of America is only going to pay its bills on time for six weeks? Why wouldn't you want to make sure you send the signal of certainty and say the United States will pay its bills on time for at least a year? That seems to be a pretty straightforward, simple proposition. Instead, what we are hearing is “let's continue to hold over the economy,” all this uncertainty.
And third, we’re very pleased to hear that Republicans in the House finally want to have a conversation and negotiations on the budget. As all of you who have been here many times before know, we have tried since March to have a negotiation on the budget. March is when the House passed its budget. March is when the Senate passed its budget. The law requires that you have a conference committee meet to iron out the differences by April 15th, but the Speaker of the House refused to appoint budget negotiators. Three times he refused. Twenty times Senate Republicans blocked the effort to appoint budget negotiators. Instead, they wanted to run out the clock, take the country to the edge of the cliff, and try to get through threats of government shutdown and defaulting on our debt what you couldn't get through a normal compromise negotiation.
So, that's where we are now. And we look forward to working with our colleagues to open the government today, pay our bills on time, and negotiate on the budget.
And the last point I would make, and Leader Pelosi knows this well because she has been leading our Caucus in establishing the priorities and values in our budget, there are big differences between these budgets, and it's important to recognize what they are. The Republican budget would reduce the deficit primarily by squeezing commitments to be made to our seniors in Medicare. They undermine important investments in our economy, whether it's in our kids’ education, or scientific research, or infrastructure. They would provide a windfall tax break to the wealthiest Americans by dropping the top rate down to 25 percent.
The Democratic budget accelerates job growth today through greater investments, replaces the sequester, which the Congressional Budget Office says will result in 800,000 fewer jobs by this time next year; and takes a balanced approach to long term deficit reduction, meaning a combination of targeted cuts, but also closing tax breaks. So we welcome the opportunity to have that conversation and that negotiation.
Leader Pelosi. It's very similar to what happened in the '90s, because it was about tax breaks at the high end at the expense of Medicare and education at that time, if you remember. Medicare, Medicare, education, and environment.
I just want to make this one point. We haven't seen anything. The Speaker went out and said some things to the press. We don't know what the particulars are of his bill. We have heard that Members of his Conference have said, we will only extend the debt ceiling for six weeks, but we insist that government be shut down as well. Well, we don't know what that is. That's just what some of you tell us came out of their caucus.
We don't know about Paul Ryan's offer to accept our offer, if that means we will open government and go to the table. Why should the government and the American people be held hostage while we have a debate that could take a while? We have serious matters to discuss. And you know, if that means we want to do it in six weeks because that is the length of the CR, should government be shut down for all of that time? That would be very, very wrong and very, very destructive.
So, let's see what it is and take it one step at a time. And I hope it's something that we can support, but until we see what it is. We don't know what that is.
Q: Madam Leader, are you saying that you – I know you haven't seen the details, but are you saying that just in general you would not support a six-week increase in the debt ceiling unless you had a guarantee the government would reopen first?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I would like to know, you know, what is it that they're thinking? Why would they keep government closed during that time? But I'm not saying anything. I'm saying until we see what they have to offer, I can't tell you whether we support it or not.
Chris, do you want to speak to that?
Mr. Van Hollen. Well again, there's no reason to keep the government shutdown. I mean, I think even Republicans, most of them, have forgotten why they shut down the government to begin with, right? The funding level for the government during this short period of time is at the sequester levels that Republicans insisted on. All of you know that, right? I mean, the Speaker admitted on national television on Sunday that he had reached an agreement with the Democratic Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid. And the agreement was that we would reluctantly accept for a short period of time the lower funding levels in exchange for them not adding extraneous provisions like Obamacare. That was the agreement. And then [Senator] Ted Cruz, you know, called up the House Members and the Speaker decided to, you know, listen to them instead of the American people.
So, there is no reason that we should have the government shutdown a single additional day. The House has already agreed that we are going to make sure we pay for all those Federal employees. Why does it make sense, how does it make sense to say we're going to pay Federal employees to stay at home? It makes no sense at all. Let's get them back to work for the American people.
Leader Pelosi. And this is very serious. There is the issue of a shutdown of government now on the tenth day and the full faith and credit of the United States of America. So, we're not dismissing anything out of hand, but we have to see what it is, and what is it that gets the votes in the Republican Caucus to extend the debt ceiling, lifting the debt ceiling, at what cost to opening up government or keeping it shut down?
So we just wait and see, optimistic, hopeful, open, but until we see it, [meeting] don't know what it is. And I don't know if they know what it is because they have postponed a Rules Committee. It was supposed to be 11 o'clock this morning right after their meeting. Now, it is later today, could even be 7 o'clock in the evening. So we just haven't seen anything. And for all the things that they are saying publicly, we haven't had even the courtesy of them saying, this is sort of what we are looking at, and we will let you know what the end product looks like from our perspective when we have it. So, we haven't seen any of that.
But again, there's a lot at stake here. And the markets are watching what we do not only on lifting the debt ceiling, which is critically important, but also how deal with our fiscal situation in Congress.
Q: Do you think the fact that you guys haven't seen the proposal is this Boehner saying he's not trying to reach out for your votes?
Leader Pelosi. We don't know. They may not know what it is. They may not know what it is, in all fairness to them. They may not know what it is yet themselves.
Q: Do you think that there's going to be any attempt to put something forward that would come to you for votes? Or do you expect any discussions of that nature about trying to find a bill that would…
Leader Pelosi. We hope so. You would have to ask them. You would have to ask them. And really, in the spirit of being available to them, I accepted the Speaker's invitation to come to his office yesterday morning, thinking that he might have a proposal to offer us at that time.
When we got there, it was one of two things. They had no proposal, or they just wanted to say: “See, we invited Democrats, but we don't have anything to talk about.” It was an interesting meeting, and hopefully at least we understood what neither of us was going to support, and hopefully that narrowed the field to where we could come to agreement.
But again, I don't know if they know. And as I've said, it's really hard to negotiate with people who are still negotiating among themselves as to what form this will take.
Q: Speaker Boehner did say on Sunday that taxes would not be involved in any kind of negotiations or deal that they were to come to on the debt ceiling. But is there anything that – so I mean, he has drawn that line in terms of what he feels should not be in the deal. Is there anything that you feel should not be in the deal or that you would not be willing to give up if this were to come into negotiation?
Mr. Van Hollen. Well you know, I'm glad you raised that. So, on national television the Speaker said: “Why can't we have a conversation? Why can't we have a negotiation?” And then in the same breath he said: “Well, we're not going to negotiate about closing one single tax break as part of reducing the deficit.” That's what he said. So, on the one hand they're pretending to be open about negotiations between the House Republican budget and the Democratic budgets, and on the one hand they are closing the door before the negotiation even starts.
We've said from the beginning we should look at both the House Republican budget and the Democratic budgets, and that's where the conversation is – between those two budgets. And we welcome that negotiation because, as I said earlier, we think it's totally inconsistent for Republicans to say on the one hand: “We have a serious long term deficit problem,” which we do. But we think it's inconsistent for them to say that and then say: “It's really bad, but we're not willing to close one single tax loophole to reduce the deficits and the debt.”
We want to make sure we don't burden our grandchildren with these debts, but apparently Republicans don't care enough about that to get rid of the subsidies for the Big Oil companies or any other tax breaks. So all we've said is we want a balanced approach to long-term deficit reduction because if you don't close some of the special interest tax breaks, it means you have to impose a really unfair burden on the whole rest of the country.
Leader Pelosi. And you know what? This is the discussion that is the work of Congress, to write a budget, to have the debate as to what the priorities are, to see what they are and how you make changes or how you pay for them. And so, this is a very legitimate thing. We look forward to it. Take it to the table, bring up what you want to bring up, but you can't possibly say that we are going to go to conference if you say the Senate budget, which is part of the conference – it passed the Senate – is off the table already. That's not going to conference.
But again, I'm exhilarated by the prospect of a public debate over the budget at the budget conference table that shows the contrasts and maybe finds the compromises which – the reconciliation on some point where we can find agreement on the most important thing in this, growth and job creation, that growth and job creation which our House budget and the Senate budget focus on.
So that growth, job creation, how do we make decisions and investments in education to keep America number one? How do we pay for this? How do we have something that is balanced? For example, when we were having this discussion two years ago at one of the meetings among the leadership Members at the White House, I said to them, we're looking for some billions of dollars in order to come to terms. Why don't we close the loophole that Mr. Van Hollen mentioned? Why don't we close the tax break for Big Oil, the top five Big Oil companies, who in the period of time of that tax break would make a profit, a profit, not an income – a profit of a trillion dollars, the biggest profit in the history of the world, and yet they needed a $38 billion incentive in order to make a trillion dollars. So when I said, “can we close that loophole, that tax break for Big Oil,” the response from the Republican leadership was: “Why would we do that when we can save $38 billion by cutting Pell grants?”
So, that is the values debate that we need to have. And so that's what we look forward to. And I really do believe if growth is the goal and job creation is the goal, that certain decisions will have to be made in common.
For example, nothing brings more money to the Treasury, none of these tax things or anything else, than investing in the education of the American people, early childhood, K-12, higher education, postgrad, lifetime learning. Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investing in education. So when you say we're going to cut education, you're not cutting the deficit, you're cutting the growth, and you're increasing the deficit.
Q: One part of the GOP proposal is limiting the Treasury Department's ability to take extraordinary measures potentially as a permanent change. Would that be a deal breaker for Democrats?
Leader Pelosi. Well again, we have to see the whole package, but it certainly isn't very smart. And I would think that the markets, Wall Street and anybody who pays attention to the full faith and credit and the confidence that springs from that, would say that competition always is one of their worst ideas.
Do you have something on that?
Mr. Van Hollen. No, they are presenting this as a clean short-term debt ceiling extension. Obviously it is not clean. They are not only making that change for six weeks, reportedly they may be making that change permanently. And I think before anybody considers that option, everyone should understand what the consequences are. That could be very risky for the country going forward if you don't take away an opportunity to use an emergency measure to prevent default. So, we will have to look at it.
Q: But you are not saying that is a deal breaker at all?
Mr. Van Hollen. We haven't even seen it.
Leader Pelosi. We haven't seen anything. We just hear these little drip, drip, drip.
Q: To get back to budgets, late last week you, Madam Leader, talked about not doing motions to instruct conferees. And now, we see this turnaround where they want to have an offer here to go to conference. I'm just curious: A, as to whether that offer from your side still stands; and B, does this throw the onus back on the Senate to get their motions to instruct conferees settled?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I can't even speak to the Senate. They have such completely different rules. But what I did say right here with the chart, it was twofold. I said we are here to offer the Speaker 200 votes to open government, 200 votes to pass that funding resolution to open government so that we can go to the budget table to negotiate. And to clear that path we would be willing. As you remember, I had the Speaker's words here about how he created his own regular order. But I said we would be willing, first time in history, for the minority to surrender our prerogative to instruct conferees. So fear no more, fear no more, Mr. Speaker that your Members might be voting for some of our initiatives. Fear no more that they might call into the public's attention some things that need to be brought to the public's attention. We are not going down that path.
But it was twofold: 200 votes to pass the CR to open government [and] pledge not to do motions to instruct to go to the conference table.
Q: The rank and file leaving the Republican Conference meeting today, it still seemed that they were pretty adamant that they want some sort of at least one year delay to link up with the employer mandate the individual mandate before they open government back up. Is that a deal breaker for you guys?
Leader Pelosi. Yes. It's not even a deal breaker.
Q: What about waiving the tax penalty?
Leader Pelosi. What are you saying?
Q: Waiving the tax penalty.
Leader Pelosi. Let me be really clear. As far as the Affordable Care Act is concerned, October 1st was a glorious day for our country, honoring the vows of our Founders for life, a healthier life, liberty, the freedom to pursue your happiness. Whether you want to be a writer, a cameraman, be self-employed, start your own business, change jobs, whatever you wanted to do, you could do without fear that if someone in your family had a preexisting condition or if you got sick. That you could pursue, follow your passion, and not be chained by a policy that was unfair to you. And so that is the course that we are on.
None of these suggestions is acceptable. Now, after we open government, and the plan is in place, any law that Congress makes, Congress can make another law, and so bring your ideas forward. But not with government shut down and before the plan is even in effect are they going to make changes.
Another thing I want to say, getting back to your question, on the debt ceiling – and I do support what Leader Reid is doing, and I salute him. He has been a champion for America's working families, and what he's trying to do on extending the debt ceiling for one year. What, 14 months or something like that? It’s really important because that's what he has to do.
But I don't even think this should be on the table. I think we should just say America will pay its bills. Our Constitution says that. And so why do we allow this? I mean, certainly in any discussion of the budget, you raise any issue you have got to raise in terms of your priority versus my priority, and how you pay for it, and is it too much or not? Does it meet the need that it is supposed to meet? And does it respect the taxpayers’ dollar that is spent on it? So, why do we even go through this? Why do we even go through this?
So I suggested – as I said to you before – to the leadership, let's just take that off the table. Let's recognize two things: full faith and credit in the United States will always be honored. So let's make a gentlemen's and ladies’ concern, a responsible citizens' agreement that this is off the table. And that also, on the other hand, when it comes to Affordable Care or something, let's recognize that any law that is passed, another law can be passed to amend it. So nobody can ever say that everything is always the way it will be.
We will see how it works, open to other suggestions. But not shutting down government unless you have your way before the bill is even implemented. That's a nonstarter. Quite frankly, it is an excuse because what they're trying to get to, you know, is Medicare and the rest of that under the guise of the Affordable Care Act. So be very careful about the facade that they put on this health issue, because what we are concerned about is where they go next on that subject.
That’s it. Thank you all.