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. Early this week our country lost a great patriot, Senator Frank Lautenberg, whose life embodied the American Dream, and he worked very hard in public service and in the private sector to help all Americans achieve the American Dream.
This coming Monday, we will mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act. Earlier today we had an event with families, women, leaders, advocates coming together to observe that 50th anniversary to celebrate President Kennedy's words that President Kennedy said, it was unconscionable – an “unconscionable practice” that women would be paid less for doing the same job as men, and that Equal Pay Act was “a first step.”
I said this morning, for those of you who were there, that it was personal for me because in the room there weren't many people who were even alive at that time, but I was, and I had pictures with President Kennedy around the same time. So, again, it was a personal as well as official joy to me to be celebrating this.
Fifty years, though, and we still do not have pay equity. We acknowledge the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which was the first bill that President Obama signed, but that as President Kennedy said, the Equal Pay Act was the “first step.” Our next step is the Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, championed by her, and this is really important because women, as we know now, make up over 50 percent of the workforce. Over 40 percent of the families have women as the top breadwinner in their families.
To continue to advance economic security for America's women, we will keep working to enhance the health and well-being of America's families. For that reason, Democrats are proud to be advancing the Affordable Care Act provisions to build a healthier nation. We are working with our constituents, with small businesses, families, advocacy groups, with state and local officials to implement the bill, the law. Progress is already being made. The Kaiser Family Foundation study shows that the Affordable Care Act already, just this past year, one year saved consumers $2.1 billion, much of it in lower premium costs.
In California, new health insurance marketplace announcements are very encouraging. There will be 13 options for California consumers. Small businesses are receiving rebates from Blue Shield and Anthem Blue Cross, who spent too much on administrative costs. So already we are seeing results.
Elsewhere, roughly 90 percent of those – I am very proud of California, of course – elsewhere, roughly 90 percent of those projected to enroll in 2014 will have about five options to choose from, an average of five options to choose from, more insurance choices in the workplace. One out of every four insurance companies offering coverage next year will be in HHS-run marketplaces are newly entering the market. They are new competitors and therefore increasing competition, which will lower prices.
There is more to come as we approach – in a few weeks, we will be observing the one year anniversary, on June 28th, the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Again, every day Democrats are working with their tool-kits, with their constituents, with their small businesses to make sure that they are aware of what the enrollment period is. More importantly, what it means to them. If you are a child under 18 already, you have no discrimination against you because you have a preexisting medical condition. Imagine that. There are no lifetime limits or annual limits on the coverage that you can receive.
Being a woman is no longer a preexisting medical condition. Seniors are already benefiting from wellness, free wellness exams and lower prescription drug costs. Students, young people can stay on their parents’ policies now until they are 26 years old. So, already there are tremendous advantages, more to come, and we want all Americans to have the full benefit of it.
It will be – it is so exciting because it is about wellness, it is about prevention, it is about technology, taking us to a different healthy place. It is about entrepreneurship. Already people are talking about not waiting until January to start a new business to be a photographer, to be a writer, to be self-employed, to start a business, to change jobs. No longer job locked. No longer job locked, but really following your passion, your talent, your aspirations, honoring the vows of our Founders of life, a healthier life, liberty, the liberty to pursue your happiness. So, we are very excited and proud of it and look forward to many more people enjoying the benefits of it.
Here we are again, you know – I love temporal markers – this morning, next week, next Monday, this afternoon. Now today, 155 days since the start of the Congress, no jobs bill coming from the House of Representatives, not one jobs bill. This is what the American people want us to do, to come here to get results, to be problem solvers, to create jobs, reduce the deficit, to provide opportunity for people. One hundred fifty five days, no job bill coming to the floor. Seventy five days since the Senate passed a budget. Remember that? Remember before the Senate passed a budget and the Republicans said: “we want regular order; we want to pass a bill in the House. They should pass a bill in the Senate, then we can go to the budget table in open view for the public to see the discussion of priorities in the budget.”
Seventy five days since the Senate passed a budget. Still obstacles in the Senate to naming conferees. So, you can't – without conferees you can't go to the table. But doesn't it occur to you that a party that has advocated for regular order, which is music to our ears because we support, Democrats support regular order, the minute the Senate passed the budget, they decided they didn't want regular order anymore.
And what is the price that the American people pay? Sequestration is still in effect. Competition of ideas, a debate of ideas about how to create jobs, grow the economy, invest in the infrastructure, and strengthen the competitiveness of America, again reduce the deficit and go forward to make progress. It really is choosing partisanship over progress. We think it should be the reverse: let's go to the table, make progress, end partisanship.
Just before I came down, as you know, the House Republicans voted to pass an extreme immigration amendment on the floor – the King amendment. It would forbid the President from giving relief to the DREAMers, the young children who are here in America, brought here by their parents who are all American kids, English speaking, this is their country, this is where their patriotism lies. They did not make the decision to come here undocumented, but they are here.
It was a pretty thrilling thing when the President gave that relief to DREAMers. The King amendment, if enacted – well, it has passed the floor here – would require the President to strip the DREAMers of protection from deportation, even those who have undergone background checks already, and have already been granted deferred action. Nearly half a million DREAMers have applied for deferred action under the President's initiative. To date, nearly 300,000 of them have been approved for deferred action, and today, the Republicans in the House passed an amendment that would undo all of that.
It is wrong. It is not worthy of who we are. Immigration is the lifeblood of America, the constant reinvigoration of our country. People coming here who aspire to the American Dream, consistent with the American dream, who bring their hopes, their determination, their optimism for a better future for their family, bringing with them also the values that all Americans share, the spirit of family and faith and community, a work ethic, and an aspiration to education which helps them achieve the American Dream.
And what are the Republicans doing? Cutting the legislation, passing legislation that snuffs – tries to snuff out that dream vote.
On the plus side, on the happier side, I am pleased with the work that our bipartisan committee has done moving the process forward on trying to find a bipartisan bill that can pass in the House of Representatives. Again, it is a compromise, and they seem to be making progress. They are going to put it in written form now so we can make judgments about its viability, but they have done really a good job, and I salute them for that. With that, I will be pleased to take any questions you may have. Yes, ma'am?
Q: We learned this morning that the NSA has been obtaining widespread records from Verizon on phone calls. I wanted to get your thoughts. Are you concerned about that program? Do you think it needs other changes? And were you aware of it before this news report?
Leader Pelosi. I am asking you first because you did come this morning to our women's [event].
This is very serious. What has been – the fact that it is in the paper is concerning, disconcerting to me. The fact that it is happening is something that was done with approval of a FISA court. Having said that, I do believe that we come to the place where we always have to make the judgment about how we balance our security and our liberty. This bill is consistent with the PATRIOT Act, but the PATRIOT Act also has in it a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, and I think this thing in the paper yesterday was it, or was it today? Track message and the source are soon parted. It has been in the news anyway for the last 24 hours, but I think calls into – brings to the forefront the need for us to strengthen and use the Privacy and Civil Rights Board that was put forth by the PATRIOT Act.
I do believe it also calls for very strong congressional oversight, because the bill passed, it is what it is, so the Administration is obeying the law, but the fact is, we want more oversight for any President, and I think that a place to look also is the Privacy and Civil Rights Board. That was one of the things that way back when, many of us insisted be in the PATRIOT Act. Yes, ma'am?
Q: Just to follow up on that question, you voted against the most recent PATRIOT Act bill, and one of your colleagues, Bennie Thompson was saying that this was evidence that that law gave too broad of authority, essentially a dragnet. Do you agree with that, that this is too broad and that – should Congress do something about it?
Leader Pelosi. Well, going way back to when it first came forward, we had concerns about what was in the PATRIOT Act. But, one – the provision that those provisions would be sun-setted and that we would revisit them, and that moved the bill forward, and also that it had a Privacy and Civil Rights Board that we wanted to be strong and be used. By the time the bill came back again the last time, I don't know if you would call it a sunset or if it was – the horizon was so far away that it made it unacceptable.
So, again, we have to protect the American people. We have to protect their liberty as well as their security. I think that – I stand by what I said before, let's use the Privacy and Civil Rights Board, let's use congressional oversight as we go forward, and that is my answer on that.
Leader Pelosi. Yes?
Q: Since you were talking about the DREAM Act and immigration earlier with the King amendment, the Gang of Eight has become the Gang of Seven in the past 24 hours here as well.
Leader Pelosi. Right.
Q: The hang up consistently with the House group has been health care reform. Have you talked to them about what they seem to have come to an agreement on? And how this will work, what is the acceptable threshold when it comes to the health care provisions in your Caucus?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all we have to see the bill in writing because the angels are in the details, shall we say? My hope for the bill was that current law would be observed and so that is, I think, how I – we’ll see when it is written down, but I believe that there is no subsidy under the Affordable Care Act. I said this to you all before – no subsidy in the Affordable Care Act and no benefit, no additional benefits to people who are undocumented, and I believe they also have that they do not fall under the mandate of the Affordable Care Act at the present time until they become legalized.
It is a compromise bill. I don't know that, that was the – you have to balance out a bill. As I said to you before, I had some concerns about E-Verify, but they had license to go in there and do the best they could do, understanding the values of our Caucus. Our Caucus had principles that we had put forth that had been out there for years, not for four years, for several years. Secure our borders, protect our workers, and by that, I mean also not exploiting workers coming into the country because that hurts our workers, family unification, and a path to legalization.
Of course among the other, within those were issues that related to H1B visas and the rest. So, the sentiments and the thinking and the hard work of our Caucus over the years, led by our Hispanic Caucus, were well known to our negotiators, and again, there was really strong interest on the part of all of us to have a House bill, to have a House bill, recognizing that to do that we had to have a compromise.
So, again, we had our principles set forth. The Affordable Care Act is clear: no subsidies are allowed for undocumented people in our country, and that would hold true under the Affordable Care – I mean, excuse me, under the comprehensive immigration reform. I do not, or let me say, I hope not, but I really do not think that the vote this morning on the King [amendment] is indicative of where the House will be on immigration. That may be just that one piece, and that is why it is important to have comprehensive immigration reform, so that you weigh the equities and on balance vote for a bill. So taken piece by piece, some of us may have objection to one piece or another, but advancing comprehensive immigration reform is a bigger equity than some of the individual pieces and I am pleased that they are going to the next step.
Q: Why is the King amendment and the result on that not indicative – I mean, some might interpret that as the first shot in the foray on immigration reform here in the House.
Leader Pelosi. Some might.
Q: So, why would that not be reflective?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I am just giving you my judgment.
Q: But why? Why do you think that is the case?
Leader Pelosi. Well, two of the people who voted for it are part of the negotiations of the immigration bill and they are part of that comprehensive immigration reform. And as I said, sometimes you may not support one thing or another, but as part of a compromise, well, that is a different story. So, if you take certain pieces out of either the House or the Senate proposal – right now I would call ours a proposal; the Senate's is looking more like a bill because they are farther along. You might not want to vote for one piece of it, but on balance, you would.
So, you really have to talk to Republicans, but ideally I am more optimistic and positive about what our prospects are, and you have to ask them what they think of it, but you asked my judgment.
Q: Madam Leader, on the Affordable Care Act, you mentioned the California health care premiums earlier today.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: The bill was often advertised by proponents as something that would lower health care premiums for everyone. But what we have seen is that some people, you know, 25 year olds, or 27 year olds purchasing health insurance, a typical person in that situation would actually see their health premiums going up by a large amount in some cases. What would you say to those people who are going to see their premiums go up?
Leader Pelosi. Well, some people don't have health insurance and they certainly will have their premiums go up because they don't have any health insurance now, so they don't have any premiums now. But for anyone that, that is a challenge, there are subsidies in the exchanges and it is also about what you get for the money. In other words, people will be getting no lifetime or annual limits on their coverage, no discrimination because of a preexisting medical condition.
It has a whole array of quality that is in the legislation, but if you don't have health insurance and you don't qualify for a subsidy and you are mandated to have health insurance, yes, you will have an increase. We are very sensitive to what it means for young people, especially young singles and there are policies that people can get. I don't remember saying that everybody in the country would have a lower premium because everybody in the country doesn't have health insurance, so how could it be lower? But the fact is the value of what you get for the cost that you pay is a reduction in cost to you and if you don't have insurance, you are going to pay something that you didn't pay before, but if you can't afford it, you can have a subsidy on a sliding scale within the exchange.
But for everybody it is going to be, again, a liberation, a freedom. When we dealt with the invincibles all along in all of this and they were strong advocates, the invincibles being young people who don't think they are ever going to be sick, all along their strong support for how we went forward so that they, again, could have the freedom to start a business, be entrepreneurial, do what they wanted to do in their lives, not constrained by the fear of being sick.
Now, some of the examples that we heard would be somebody who thought she was invincible getting diagnosed with breast cancer and now telling us that she is going to spend the next 20 years [paying] monthly payments on her credit card to pay off her medical bills at the time. So, will her premiums go – will a person like that hopefully not diagnosed yet, paying something in end up being better off? I think so. But you just see. I mean, be optimistic about it.
It is a very, very exciting enterprise. And the other side has spent over four – did you see that report? Four-hundred million dollars mischaracterizing what is in the Affordable Care [Act] and still hasn't – it is about where it was all along in terms of favorable [or] unfavorable. But I do believe that the more people see what is in it for them, if you are a young person, if you are a woman, if you are a person with children, if you are a senior, and again, if you are a small business, what this means for small businesses. It is, it is a solution for the American people. It gets results for them, lowers costs.
If there were no other reason to do the Affordable Care Act, if everybody loved their insurance and loved his or her insurers, you would still have to do it because the cost of it was unsustainable to individuals, to families, to small businesses, to corporate America, to state, local, and federal government budgets, unsustainable. And now you see the bending of the curve in terms of cost to the Medicare system already extending the – for two more years, the length of Medicare. And we have to do more and the bill does do more. So, costs were a very important part of it, and the main reason to do it in addition to it being, as Senator Kennedy said: “the unfinished business of our society.” Health care is a right, not a privilege.
Q: Madam Leader, the Republican leaders plan to bring the House farm bill to the floor later this month?
Leader Pelosi. Yeah.
Q: That bill, as you know, cuts $20 billion over the next 10 years from the food stamp program. Will you and other Democrats support that legislation?
Leader Pelosi. Well, we see the value of a bill coming to the floor and the value of a bill going to conference. As with all these things, it is a giant kaleidoscope of who can support what and we would just like to see the bill come to the floor and to see the bill pass.
Yes? Did I not…
Q: I wanted to follow up on part of her question about…
Leader Pelosi. In a few minutes we have to go because we have the Frank Lautenberg, returning to the Capitol, lying in, as they say, ‘in repose in the Senate Chamber.’ Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that just lovely? Such a patriot. The last World War II veteran serving in the United States Senate. We still have Mr. Dingell, among others, and we will be celebrating him next year.
Q: Ralph Hall also.
Leader Pelosi. We have more, but I am just saying John Dingell because he will be observed – you didn't let me finish my sentence. Next week you will all be there, I am sure, when we observe his being the longest serving person ever in the history of the Congress. He just will in a few days and hours surpass Senator Byrd, and it is not just about the length of his service but the quality of his patriotism and leadership that we will be celebrating.
Q: I just want to follow up on one of the first questions about when did you first learn about that NSA story?
Leader Pelosi. I just learned about it when you learned about it. I guess, first on the scene – yeah. And my understanding is that the House was offered a briefing, but since we’re out of session, the Speaker said it would have to be next week and that’s when we’ll get our briefing – not now. Maybe we’ll get a briefing with the Speaker, with the Leadership, I don’t know.
But, we heard – was it – we heard the night before that it was going to break in the news or something like that, the next day, maybe it was in the morning that it was coming shortly, but about the same time everybody else did.
Q: The House Intel chair says that he knows that this has prevented a terrorist attack and this has thwarted attempts. Do you know that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, if I did, I wouldn’t be able to talk about it right here. But the fact is that whatever it is to protect the American people, we have to protect our liberty at the same time. And that’s why I keep coming back to that balance, which is very important to our Founders in how wise they were, and why I think congressional oversight as well as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board is really important.
I fought for that way back when – and if all of this is going to be in the public domain, it’s important for people to know what checks there are on any President in that regard. Okay? Does that work?
Q: Madam Leader, did you say we have a briefing coming up on the NSA?
Leader Pelosi. I said we didn’t have one. But, if there is one, it will be maybe next week. My understanding is that since we’re out, you know, then it will be problem. I don’t know if it will be next week, but it can’t be this week. So, we’re assuming that we will have a briefing next week on the subject.
Although, remember with all of this, this is this meta-net that is out there. It is not about data. It is only about context. People should – the public should understand that it is not about any information in those calls, it’s just about the connection. But all the more reason for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to be, shall we say – not that they would make the decision, but they can make judgments about it and maybe that oversight have us revisit oversight and revisions of the PATRIOT Act and the rest.
I would certainly hope that whatever we can do to prevent any acts of terrorism on the American people, we do in a way that does not expose sources and methods so I wouldn’t be going to that place. Okay?
Thank you all very much. I hope you all are getting ready for the one year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act in two and a half weeks. Thank you.