Washington D.C. - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held a press availability this afternoon in the Capitol. Below is a transcript of the press availability.
Leader Pelosi. Hello everyone. Good afternoon. Our regularly scheduled Thursday press availability will be held on Friday because of votes and meetings at the White House, but I did want to come out to talk to you about that meeting.
As the President has indicated, it was a very constructive and productive meeting. Our goal is to have a balanced, bipartisan agreement to reduce the deficit without doing harm to the economy. To that end, I came to that table as the Leader of the House Democrats, a very special group, a group that is--50 percent of our Members are, 100 Members, over 50 percent of our Caucus, are either women or minorities. And over 50 percent of that number are women. Women understand the impact of any changes in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in a very clear way.
I have said, and I continue to say, and I said at the table, that although I want to try to agree to contribute to achieving a big, how does the President reference it? Does he call it a grand bargain? However the President represents it, I want him to have the room to do that and offer full cooperation to do that.
I also want to have full clarity about where House Democrats stand. We do not support cuts in benefits for Social Security and Medicare. Any discussion of Medicare or Social Security should be on its own table. I have said that before. When we take a look at Social Security, then look at it on its own table, but do not consider Social Security a piggy bank for giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country. We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors, women and people with disabilities.
We are going to, as the President has also indicated, I understand we will be meeting again on Sunday. Between now and then, there will be staff work and Member conversations to take us closer to a balanced, bipartisan agreement on how we reduce the deficit and help the economy grow.
Let me say this one further comment: the debate on the budget is a traditionally controversial measure. It is different value systems that we bring to the table, different priorities, and so it is of its nature partisan. It should not be partisan as to whether we will honor the full faith and credit of the United States government, so it's unfortunate that these two issues have come together in this way. I think it's very important that we remove all doubt in anyone's mind that we will not default on past debt. This isn't about leaving room for future spending. That's not what this is about. It's about paying past debt.
With that, I'd be pleased to take questions.
Q: What is your understanding right now of what the goal is? $4 trillion? $2 trillion? What would you be willing to accept when it comes to entitlement?
Leader Pelosi. One of the points that I made at the meeting--and I don't like to talk about what happens at a President's meeting, except I can talk about what I brought to the table. I thought it would be really important for us to define our terms. What is the baseline? Is it January 2011? Is that the baseline? What is the length of time? Is it 10 years or is it 12 years? If there is a some kind of a cap on discretionary spending, are there firewalls between domestic versus defense spending so that we don't run into a situation where there are no defense cuts and they are all domestic discretionary? And questions, as you described, what is the total amount? And I think that is up to the President to say. But we really do have to have a definition of our terms so that we know when we have reached success and not moved the goal post.
Q: Speaking of defining terms, ma'am, you said that Social Security should not be on the table, any mention of benefits. Does using Consumer Price Index to calculate benefits, does that qualify in defining your terms under the rubric of a benefit change? Would that be acceptable to talk about?
Leader Pelosi. We did not get in to that level of detail at the meeting, so that isn't a place where we went to. But what I've said is, if there is a table that Social Security is on, it's on its own table, and any savings should be plowed back into making Social Security stronger. And the same applies to Medicare as well.
Q: [Inaudible] final compromise is going to have to garner a lot of Democratic support. If there are any changes to Medicare benefits, Social Security benefits, could that compromise, garner Democratic support?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: So there are some changes are applicable?
Leader Pelosi. No, you said that could the changes compromise the vote. I said yes.
Q: Oh, they would compromise the vote.
Leader Pelosi. We have been very clear. Democrats are not supporting--House Democrats are not supporting any cuts in benefits for Social Security for Medicare. And we are concerned about the transferring of responsibility from Medicaid to the states. We want to make sure that people--the need doesn't go away. The need doesn't go away. So these are three areas of concern for us.
Q: Is there concern within the Caucus about the White House going out in front and offering things in negotiations without another consultation?
Leader Pelosi. I don't know that the White House did that. In other words, I know what we've read in the paper and the rest. As far as our meeting is concerned, I think that I can legitimately report to our Caucus that their views have been heard and very strongly so. If the President were doing this by executive order, what would the bill look like? Would it look the same as if it has to get 218 votes here? I don't think--I think the President wants a bipartisan bill, and I think that the Democrats stand ready to help with that grand bargain but we want to do so without hurting our seniors and people with disabilities.
Q: Did you tell the President that Democrats won't support any package with Medicare or Social Security saving, benefit savings?
Leader Pelosi. That wasn't the nature of the conversation. The nature of the conversation is: What is the playing field that we are on? What is the length of time? Some of the standards I talked about before. Do we want to think big? Yes, I think we all want to think big about how we can reduce the deficit and never have ourselves placed in situation like this again. That's why I'm saying this is about past debt. It's not about making room for future spending. But we didn't get in to that level of conversation.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Speaker Boehner said that he thought that there was a 50-50 chance that we would see if there is a big deal in the next 48 hours. Do you think it is that likely? And is it that likely to come together…
Leader Pelosi. Well I am glad to hear that he said that.
Q: What do you think?
Leader Pelosi. I certainly hope so…[Inaudible.]