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. Pretty exciting day. The decision that was announced by the Supreme Court is a victory for America's families. It was a victory for America's families when we passed the Affordable Care Act and the President signed it into law. Since then, tens of millions of people in our country are already benefiting from the legislation. As you know, and as the President said so eloquently, children can no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, young people, children and students and young people can stay on their parents' policy until they are 26 years old. Seniors are paying less for prescription drugs and have access to free wellness and preventive visits. When the bill comes into effect, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing medical condition for women. It is about wellness, it is about prevention, it is about the health of America, not just the health care. It is pretty exciting.
Earlier this morning I met with our Caucus after the decision was announced. It was, as you know, no surprise to us. We knew that, we thought that we were on solid grounds in terms of interstate commerce, solid grounds in terms of the Constitution. It was just a question of what the vote would be. And with that confidence, we happily embraced the decision that came down. Now we can move forward to the full implementation of the law. When that happens for the American people, the best is yet to come.
I want to say a word about Senator Kennedy. I spoke to Vicki Kennedy this morning and to Patrick Kennedy before coming here, thanking them for the important role that he played, a lifetime of commitment to making health care a right, not a privilege, in our country. He called it ‘the great unfinished business of our country,' of our society. I knew that when he left us he would go to heaven and help pass the bill. And now I know he was busily at work until this decision came down, inspiring one way or another, and now he can rest in peace. His dream for America's families has become a reality.
I will be pleased to take any questions.
Q: Madam Leader, the President has said himself on numerous occasions that the individual mandate is not a tax. Do you think the individual mandate in the health care law is a tax?
Leader Pelosi. The court has upheld the legislation. I think, and I have to see the specific language, that they identified with how we wrote the bill in the House as part of the decision, their documentation for the decision. Call it what you will, it is a step forward for America's families. And you know what, take yes for an answer. This is a very good thing for the American people. What you are talking about here is Washington talk. What is happening out there is children, families with a child with a pre-existing medical condition, which means for a lifetime they will be discriminated against in terms of insurance, not anymore. Same thing when the bill is fully implemented. That is what is really important to people. Technical terms, that is for us here. What means something to the American people is what it does [for] them.
Q: Madam Leader, the Republicans have spoken today saying this decision raises the stakes for the election, it brings clarity and even an opportunity for them. Do you think that there are dangers for the Democrats and the President if the health care debate is reopened in this election for the second year, second Congressional election?
Leader Pelosi. I think we all have to take a step back and say why are we here? We are here to do a job for the American people. We are here to act upon our beliefs. And a belief that we have, many of us shared, is that health care is a right, not a privilege in our country. We believe that a health care bill needed to be passed so that families would not be pauperized because they had a diagnosis or an accident that heaped health care costs on them. We believe it is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that people can now pursue their aspirations, depending on their talents, and again their aspirations, without being job locked because a child has a pre-existing condition or a fear of a diagnosis. They can be a writer, they can start a business, they can be self employed, they can change jobs. This is about a responsibility to reduce the deficit. If there were no other reason to pass the health care reform act then because of costs, costs to individuals, costs to families, costs to businesses large and small, costs to our economy in terms of it being a competitiveness issue, and costs to federal, state, and local budgets, then we would have had to do this.
So, the politics be damned, this is about what we came to do. And any time we want to waste time seeing it through a prism of what does this mean in terms of the election we undermine our purpose in coming here and acting upon our beliefs. We are very, very excited about this day. It is historic. It ranks right up there when they passed Social Security and Medicare, and now being upheld by five justices of the Supreme Court.
To my right?
Q: Chief Justice John Roberts on the Medicaid expansion called it a gun to the head of states given that it was designed - that dictates had to comply unless, or face losing all of their federal Medicaid funding. Why was it designed that way? And do you think that…
Leader Pelosi. With all due respect to your characterization of it, and his, here is what it does. And we wrote this very carefully because, again, we wanted to have balance in the legislation, we wanted it to have legitimacy and be well received. And what it does is it says for three years states will receive 100 percent of their Medicaid funding for this bill without any matching funds. I don't think that is a gun to the head. I think that it is, I think that, again, further to that point, I think the House language has more clarity that we wrote in our original bill. And it addresses that concern. But 100 percent of the money without matching funds, and Medicaid is a matching, has matching elements to it, but not as far as expansion of Medicaid in this bill. I think that we are not bothered at all by the decision in regard to Medicaid. And we think that most Governors would probably accept 100 percent funding without matching funds.
Q: Are you going to - will you be walking out of the House Chamber today?
Leader Pelosi. Thank you for bringing up the contempt of Congress. I do have some things to say about that. It would be mischievous of me, you would think it was a matter of mischief if I said I don't think there is any coincidence that this is being taken up on the same day that the Supreme Court decision came down. It is just too much of a coincidence, especially when you think that the motion for contempt only was passed out of the committee one week ago. What the Republicans are doing with this motion on the floor today is contemptible. Even for them it is contemptible. The Constitution tells the branches of government that they should work together and try to resolve differences without gaining an upper hand or showing strength, words to that effect. And so there was an obligation on the part of the Congress, the House of Representatives, if it wanted to go forward with such a motion, to try to resolve it. Try to resolve it is not sending a bill to the floor of the House based upon a false premise - this is not a truth that is on the floor today - a false premise and asking for a vote tying it to guns so they make it - and politicizing it. You may recall that four and a half years ago we had a Motion of Contempt for two employees at the White House, Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers, because Josh was the keeper of the President's papers. For over 200 years - excuse me, 200 days we tried to get information from the White House. They stonewalled it. Nothing. But month in and month out, the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Conyers, and I and our leadership said: “keep trying, keep trying so we don't have to bring the contempt to the floor, because we want to exhaust every remedy.” But that is not what is being done here. This is something that makes a witch hunt look like a day at the beach. It is a railroading of a resolution. It is unsubstantiated by the facts, as I said, based on a false premise, coming to the floor of the House in a manner of less than two weeks, when we spent over 200 days trying to get word one from the Bush administration. And these people have gotten thousands and thousands of pages of documentation. That documentation is exculpatory of the Attorney General.
Q: Will you be walking off, though?
Leader Pelosi. I am just saying that there is an attitude in our Caucus that we should not honor the process that is coming to the floor. I myself intend to stay long enough to vote ‘no,' and I will see what the will of - many in our Caucus think that we should do a complete walk off. I honor the wish of my Caucus. But I want to be there long enough to make sure that the record is straight on what is going on there. Now, we are very honored by the work of Elijah Cummings, and we want to be there to support him on the floor. And I want to be able to speak firsthand about what is said on the floor following up on this. As I said to you before, this isn't about anything other than they are trying to undermine the chief legal officer of our country, the Attorney General. It is the first time in the history of America that a Cabinet officer has had a contempt of Congress resolution on the floor against him or against her. I believe, as I said from the start, this is their attempt to tie the hands of the Attorney General, to undermine his effectiveness and that of his department to address issues of voter suppression that are going on in our country. They have many other complaints. They don't like the fact that he is not moving forward to defend the DOMA Act, the constitutionality of the DOMA Act, which we believe is constitutional. So, again, it is about a lot of things. And that is why I say it is contemptible, because it mixes misrepresentations - in some circles they would call them lies, I don't like to use words like that - misrepresentations, politics, and misuse - an abuse of the power of the majority in the House on this subject. So, I will vote ‘no' as many times as I possibly can today on what they are doing. And I will make my decisions about, one way or another, but I support the walk off, whether my role is - whether I add more on the floor or on the walk off, I will make a judgment when that time comes.
Q: Madam Leader, what is your message to Republican House Members who already are scheduling a vote to repeal, to go forward with this idea of repealing the health care bill the week after the July 4th break? What is your message to them?
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all, I haven't seen their hearings. Have they had hearings on this legislation that they are just going to come back a few days after? You know, really, are they going to have a vote to say if you are a child and have a pre-existing medical condition and you can no longer be discriminated against, we are going to overturn that? If you are a senior and you are paying less for your prescription drugs and you are getting free preventive checkups and the rest, we are going to overturn that? If you are 26 years old and under and you are on your parents' policy, pull the plug on that as well?
They make their own decisions. I think that it clearly points out that even with a decision by the Supreme Court on a law passed by the Congress of the United States, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, they are still fighting a fight that they have always been and will continue to always be the handmaidens of the special interests in our country. They take a loyalty oath to not bring in revenue rather than honor, protect, and defend the Constitution. They fight for the health insurance industry over and over again at the cost to the taxpayer and consumers. So this is just more of the same, no surprise about it. It will be interesting to hear their argument. But if it is anything like what Mitt Romney said this morning, you can't have it both ways. He gets up there and says we won't be able to discriminate against you on a pre-existing condition. He is for overturning the bill, as the Supreme Court in dissent did, four in dissent said they would be for overturning the entire bill. He said he supports that. And yet, I don't know, maybe he is going to pay for it out of his own pocket, but he is going to cover the pre-existing condition costs of children who have pre-existing conditions. You cannot have it both ways. And I think this offers us an opportunity for clarity as to what the bill is actually about instead of being at the mercy of the $200 million negative campaign of misrepresentations, some would call them other things, that they put out there that created such a screen of confusion that it is very hard to talk about what the bill does. But now that we have a decision and they are talking about overturning it, we can say with clarity this is what the bill does, this is what they want to take away from you, this is how they want to increase your costs, and let the public decide.
Thank you all very much.