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Pelosi to Mayors: 'Let Us Work Together to Create Strong Cities, Strong Families, For a Strong America'

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke this morning at U.S. Conference of Mayors' opening plenary session.  She discussed crucial issues facing our nation's cities, including energy independence, homeland security and public safety, and community development initiatives.  Below are Pelosi's remarks:


'Good morning. I want to commend you for your great work Mr. Mayor, and look forward to continuing to work with you in your capacity as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

'I always look forward to visiting with you all, whether it was as we did earlier this month when the executive committee came to the Speaker's office with your 10-point program - and how proud we are of it - strong cities, strong families, and a strong America. You say it very well.

'I'd also like to join you in saluting the leadership of Dearborn Mayor Michael Guido and offer my condolences to his wife Kari. What a great leader. I understand you had a wonderful tribute to him. I wanted to add my words of comfort to his family and friends.

'I also offer words of congratulations for the new mayor of Washington, Mayor Adrian Fenty, and thank you for your hospitality in this great city.

'You know we have 35 mayors from California here, including Ron Dellums, my former colleague, and the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, head of your poverty initiative.

'I was particularly proud to have Mayor Martin O'Malley become governor of Maryland, and then to have a woman become mayor of Baltimore, Mayor Dixon.

'I was very pleased in the president's speech last night that he made overtures of working in a bipartisan way. We simply have to do this. The American people expect it. The American people deserve it. We can reach better solutions if we do that. They want us to bring a new direction; they want us to work together to do that.

'And one place that we can do that as the president mentioned last night is in the area of energy independence, which is number one in your 10-point program. It's an important issue for our environment. It's an important energy issue. It's an issue that almost has a religious tone to it. And that's why I thank you for what you're doing.

'We talk about global warming but the solutions are very local. Your best practices, which the executive committee has given me, really serve me as models as we go forward. As Mayor Patrick Hays of North Little Rock, Arkansas said to me, 'I drive a hybrid car, and I do so for my granddaughter.' I thought that was a very eloquent statement of our responsibility to our future generations, whether it's in our public policy or in our personal behavior.

'For America to be strong and for America's children to be healthy and to be globally competitive, we must rid the nation of our dependence on foreign oil and big oil, and take bold measures to achieve energy independence, which can be done within 10 years.

'We will be following your lead in many instances, some of the best and most innovative ideas for energy independence come from the cities. Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston made Boston the first city in America to retrofit the entire bus fleet with pollution control equipment, resulting in 90 percent lower tail pipe emissions.

'In Dayton Ohio, Mayor Rhine McLin has led the charge to change every one of the city's stop lights from incandescent lights to LED fixtures that use 88 percent less electricity.

'And Mayor Martin Chavez of Albuquerque has installed solar pool heating in all of the city's swimming pools.

'I know that every single one of you has best practices of your own to share.  I have referred your proposal for 'Energy and Environmental Block Grants' to the committees of jurisdiction, and we will be relying on your expertise to help create an energy independent America.

'As it says in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship.  To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' This is as local as your neighborhoods, as global as this planet which is God's creation.

'As global warming threatens the world, with implications to our health, to our food supply, and the survival of many species, we have to take visionary action. We have to guide that. 

'In his State of the Union address last night, the President highlighted this and pledged to address this critical issue. We look forward to working with him.

'In the Congress, I had announced that I am creating a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. I have asked former Kansas City Mayor, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, to be my liaison to the cities on this issue. Having served as a mayor, he understands your challenges. He's an advocate for cities and towns within Congress. He's also a reverend, so he identifies with the evangelical movement within our country that has embraced the global warming issue.  

'As you say in your 10-point plan, 'Mayors know that better schools make better cities.'  For strong cities, we must fund No Child Left Behind so that we can encourage math and reading education, taught by the most qualified and effective teachers. 

'When No Child Left Behind was initially conceived, it was to be a partnership.  Now it has become an unfunded mandate. We cannot allow that to continue. Our children's future depends upon it. 

'In order for our children to have a bright future, they must have a healthy start.  Today, more than 8 million American children are uninsured.  This year, through the State Children's Health Insurance Program, we have an opportunity to reduce the number of uninsured children by millions, and that is a priority for us. 

'We must also match every aspect of our current policies on health care for our children, education, and childcare against the wealth of new information produced by our leading scientists and scholars.

'Great strides have been made in understanding how children's brains are shaped and developed, how positive behaviors can be encouraged, and how investments in early childhood create success in later years.  We will ensure that our policies match the latest research and that families are given what they need to take advantage of these scientific advances. 

'To create the next generation of growth and jobs in your cities and across the country, America must remain globally competitive.  As I referenced last year, House Democrats will promote our Innovation Agenda: a Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America Number One. 

'In order to be competitive, America must first be safe.  The first order of business that we proceeded with in our first 100 hours was to pass the 9/11 Commission reforms.  But our work to keep our nation secure is far from over.

'I know it is a key point of your plan that we must do more to protect and support our first responders. We call them our first preventers, because that's what they are.

'Public safety and homeland security are all linked together right in your neighborhoods. We're making sure that we fund the initiatives for the first responders in terms of interoperability and communication and other needs.

'There is no more powerful force than the advocacy of an organized group of mayors.  You represent not only the people you serve, but you represent Members of Congress, and there's nothing more eloquent to a Member of Congress, than the voice of his or her home constituents, especially if they happen to be the mayor of a city or a town.

'When a broad coalition of Republican and Democratic mayors stormed Capitol Hill to defeat the effort to defeat the CDBG, your voices were heard. 

'You powerfully made the case that CDBG, one of the few remaining initiatives that gets direct federal funds to our cities, where you know how to make the best use of them.

'You succeeded, but we will have to continue the fight.  We can expect more attempts to cut community development and housing initiatives when the Administration sends the budget to Congress next month.

'But with Chairman Frank, housing is a top priority for the first time in 12 years.  We will be relying on your advocacy. We can do all the maneuvering you can think of in the Congress of the United States, but for us to make a real difference, to be relevant to the needs of America's families, to be relevant to the needs of our cities which are on the front line, we must work together and have an outside mobilization.

'Know your power, I cannot overestimate to you how important the impact that you have is. Have your priorities; bring them to Congress - because you are the voices that have the immediate impact on the lives of the people.

'Unfortunately, as you know, we are facing a difficult year of tough fiscal constraints.  The previous Congress left us a fiscal mess of trillion dollar deficits, and the failure to finish the appropriations process for fiscal year 2007.

'We are working hard to turn this all around, but we have promised no new deficit spending, pay-as-you-go. But there are plenty of places that we can go. We can go to the uncollected $300 billion in uncollected tax each year in our country.

'We must stay together in insisting that our priorities be funded, because our children's future depends on it.  

'I'd like to say a word now about Katrina. Last night, the President spoke about global warming and energy independence and we want to find ways to work together, with action and legislation and I'm confident that we can do so.

'But I really painfully say to you that I think it's impossible to talk about the state of the union and not talk about Katrina.

'Eighteen months since Katrina hit, and the response has not been appropriate. That goes without saying. We have begun our hard work with reviewing the response to Katrina beginning with hearings on housing and our House Democratic Caucus Katrina Task Force, which we hope to make bipartisan led by delegations from the region, is committed to find solutions to communities in the Gulf Coast.

'I was so moved by the President's words about AIDS in Africa. I visited the continent and have seen the horrible toll it takes. I've been to Darfur and I'm glad the President mentioned Darfur, because it is a challenge to the conscience of the country and the world to see what is happening to the people there. The President's commitment to ending debt in some of these countries, increasing trade to improve their economic condition is of course important. We must do that, but we must also tend to our needs at home. I think America can do that.

'Katrina challenges the conscience of our country, it is one of those issues where but by the grace of God go all of us, whether it's an earthquake, or another hurricane, or drought, or fire, or flood, or whatever. In a time of disaster, the American people have had confidence in the social compact that the government will be there for them. A natural disaster hit, took a terrible toll, and a man-made disaster followed it, exacerbating that toll, and the toll continues to rise.

'2000 people died in Katrina. We cannot forget that. Nor can we forget to act upon compassion that we want to show, to make a difference in the lives of the people that were affected there.

'One of the aspects of the President's speech that I know was of concern to you, and I'd like to spend a moment on, was when he talked about health care. We all stood up together, in a bipartisan way, because he talked about the fact that we want everyone American to have quality health care, and we do.

'What I'm concerned about is the proposals that the President made. I've long been opposed to the association health plans and health savings accounts that the President has proposed in the past because I thought it skimmed the cream and didn't bring access to affordable health care to the millions of Americans that need it.

'Here are some of my concerns to the third aspect that the president mentioned, using the tax code to help people buy health insurance. On the one hand, the president's proposal looks like it is helping Americans get heath insurance, but by White House estimates, it only helps 1 or 2 million people, and there are over 46 million people that don't have health care, and the number has increased since the President has been in the White House.

'Two, I know this is of special interest to many of you, on one hand, it looks like they're trying to find funds to help poor people find health insurance, but one of the sources of those funds is cutting the funding for hospitals which serve the needs of poor people.

'So that doesn't seem to have any additionality to us, in fact, it's actually cutting some of these people loose to make them compete in the insurance market.

'On the one hand, it looks like a tax cut to some, to a few, but really, it has the effect for those people of diminishing their Social Security benefits later. And then to make matters worse, for those with good benefits now, because they have an employer based plan and belong to a union and have a plan that has been negotiated, those benefits would now be taxed as income. And if you have a plan that costs more than $7500 for one person that the employer pays for you, than you will be taxed for anything over that $7500. It's complicated. It gives us a place to begin a conversation, so that's good because the President recognized that we need to have quality health care for all Americans. He's made some proposals, but there are serious problems with them because it can be cutting people loose into the private market. We all support individual responsibility, but this plan is not really that helpful. It does not help that many people.

'Let's go to the table and discuss it and see if we can promote some better ideas that give health care to more people in our country. Don't do it at the expense of disproportionate share hospitals, or the social security benefits that these people will count on later.

'One of the biggest ethical issues facing our country right now is the war in Iraq. This war has cost us so much in precious blood of our soldiers; God bless them. We recognize their time, their sacrifice, their courage, their patriotism for what their willing to do in our country.

'The cost in reputation around the world has been enormous, hurting our ability to work with other countries to make other change. The cost to our budget is so staggering; it'll be a trillion dollars if the war ended today. And the cost of course to our military strength has moved many people, Republicans and Democrats alike, from the president's position.

'Whatever we do, our goals are to make people safer, to make the region stable, and to do so in a way that enhances our national security, not weakens our military, and to fight the war on terrorism wherever it is. You will see disagreement on this subject.

'In the meantime, understand that we have a situation where we give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country. I don't see why people making over $500,000 should get a tax cut without providing health care for the poorest children in our country.

'I think they deserve a break. And I don't know how you can say we're going to war but we're having no sacrifice, it's just taking us deeper and deeper into debt. And the opportunity cost with a tax cut at the high end and this war, is such that we need to make very difficult decisions in meeting the needs of the American people.

'Now the president said that we'll pay any price for freedom, and we will. But we have to weigh the value of the lives that we've put at risk for what purpose and what at what cost to other opportunity for our country.

'I want you to know that you have a friend in the Speaker's office.

'I have confidence in your leadership. I look forward to working with you. I give you my commitment to working with you for strong cities, strong families, and a strong America.  Thank you.'