Washington, D.C. - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats held a press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center ahead of the 46th anniversary of Medicare becoming law. Below are the Leader's opening remarks and a transcript of the question and answer session:
Leader Pelosi's Opening Remarks:
“Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us today. We are very honored to have very special guests, Brenda Kelley-Nelum from Woodbridge Virginia, she is a beneficiary of Medicare, but she has made such an enormous contribution, and she will tell you about that. And our other very important person is Sam Burnett. He is a Medicare beneficiary and a caregiver. He is from Toledo, Ohio, but he was raised in Baltimore, Maryland--so I had to tell you that. [Laughter.]
“We are also joined by many of our Members of Congress, three who are spearheading this conversation this afternoon, Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California is a Co-Chair of the Seniors Task Force. She will be joined by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who is on the floor right now but she will be with us in a moment, and Congressman Chaka Fattah who is with us right there from Philadelphia. Thank you, Chaka, for your leadership.
“This Saturday…our nation will mark the 46th anniversary of Medicare. [Applause.]
“When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill on July 30, 1965, he said--and I love this statement, so I am going to read it--‘No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that [seniors] have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years. No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents...'
“For the last 46 years--that's when the bill was signed--it has been the responsibility of elected officials to preserve and strengthen that promise.
“Today we come together to stand strong for that promise. We come together to stand strong for Medicare. [Applause.]
“Over the years, we have celebrated the anniversary, but today, we come together not only to observe the anniversary but also to protect Medicare. Republicans are determined to balance the budget on the backs of seniors.
“Last week, in the House, a vote was taken on a Republican plan, which we call ‘Cut, Cap and End Medicare.' It would end the Medicare guarantee, forcing seniors to pay at least $6,000 more for health care while protecting tax breaks for Big Oil, for special interests, corporations that send jobs overseas. That simply just isn't right--seniors pay more, oil companies get subsidies.
“This week, we will vote on the latest Republican bill, proposed by Speaker Boehner, that will: end Medicare, cut Medicaid benefits, and jeopardize Social Security; protect the top 2 percent of Americans at the expense of 98 percent of the American people. That's just not right. They want to pass a short-term deal against defaulting that would lead to a credit downgrade, higher interest rates, and a tax hike on every American--because that's exactly what an increase in interest rates would be on credit cards, home mortgages, car payments, you name it. And then, it would end in 6 months, so we would immediately start this discussion again. It's just not right.
“On the other hand, Senator Reid, the Leader in the United States Senate of the Democrats put forward the responsible plan to reduce the deficit that protects the middle class, and Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid beneficiaries. It also includes many proposals already proposed by the Republicans. They just won't take yes for an answer. If we don't come to a conclusion soon, Democrats in the House are saying, we must pass a clean debt ceiling bill while continuing our discussions, as we know we must to reduce the deficit.
“The time is long overdue for this debate to end, for us to get to work to address America's number one priority: the creation of jobs, the creation of jobs, the creation of jobs. [Applause.]
“Let us come together for a balanced, bipartisan solution, which reduces the deficit, protects the middle class and Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid beneficiaries that does not impede our economic recovery and the creation of jobs. Let us come together, again, to create jobs.
“So thank you all for being with us today. I am honored by the presence of each and every one of you. We are especially honored by the presence of Brenda Kelley-Nelum. She has been honored and recognized in the Oval Office. She'll tell you why. We're awfully glad she's here. Please welcome Brenda. Thank you.”
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Question and Answer Session:
Q: [Inaudible Question on Congressman Wu.]
Leader Pelosi. That has--he has resigned. That's it. I said at the time that I pray for him and his family. Obviously, they have issues to address, and I wish him well.
Q: What about changes in Medicare for future generations? Some Members want that to happen as part of the deficit reduction deal. Do you agree that you can make some changes to the program for future retirees?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let me say this, we all agree that we need to reduce the deficit because that's important for us to do. But as we do so, we want to make sure we have the right priorities. We don't think a right priority is to make seniors pay more for Medicare for fewer benefits while we give tax cuts to Big Oil. We don't think it's right for us to eliminate seniors' access to Medicaid, which helps them in nursing homes, while we give tax breaks to corporations that send jobs overseas. And when it comes to the next generation, we don't think it's right to make kids pay more for their college loans while we give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country. [Applause.]
Having said that, in our Affordable Care Act, we did address the issue of how we can reduce cost in Medicare to strengthen the program, to make it solvent for a longer period of time. What we're talking about is how we can reduce cost. One way we can reduce cost is to stop paying pharmaceutical companies nearly $100 billion more than we need to do and say that it's about instead we want to reduce benefits.
So of course, we subject every initiative that involves so many people and so much money to the scrutiny as to where we can have savings, but those savings do not begin by increasing the cost and lowering the benefits to our seniors.
Q: Are you comfortable with the Reid joint Congressional committee to look into entitlements in deficit reduction?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I would like to see it have revenue in it because I think that's a really important part of the deficit reduction. [Applause.]
But I commend Leader Reid, because he has created a path. Let me just say that over 30 times we have lifted the debt ceiling since President Reagan was president, over 30 times. Not one time did we subject a president to this burden of saying, ‘We won't lift it unless we reduce the deficit.' Of course, we will reduce the deficit, but it should not be connected. And the idea that we could jeopardize, whether the sending out Social Security checks or military checks or that our credit rating would be affected by this is appalling.
But I commend Senator Reid for trying to find a path. I commend the President for his patience, for his respect for every view, on Democratic or Republican view, giving it time, consideration, trying to make it work. I wish the same respect for his time was--and the responsibility that we all have was there.
So I would like to see what that proposal is about the committee to include revenue as well because if you just make cuts, you pretty soon will be cutting benefits. There's just no way that you can cut $3 trillion in domestic spending, especially when they don't want to have a firewall between domestic and defense. So you know, we have some ways to do it that it would work, that would work, that would truly reduce the deficit, enable us to grow our economy, create jobs, educate our children, honor the values of our country: a dignified retirement for our seniors, the education of our children, the creation of jobs, the security of our country, while we reduce the deficit in a values-based way.
With that, I am going to have to go vote. But I thank you all for coming. Are we all set to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? [Applause.] We're together on that, aren't we? [Applause.]
Thank you all very much for being here. Thank you. [Applause.]