You are here

Pelosi Remarks at National Association of Counties Annual Legislative Conference

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the National Association of Counties annual legislative conference.  Below are the Leader's remarks:

“Good morning!  Thank you, Commissioner Rodgers, your President of the National Association of Counties, for your generous introduction.  Before I came down here, Chris said to me: ‘You know, because of the snow we’re not going to have everybody here’ and then I heard him talking about the late night that he had last night.  So, between avoiding – staying to fight the snow and having a late night last night, I see where we would lose – people would be out, and school would be closed.  This is a hard life, a hard life.  I guess that we’ll see what will happen tomorrow, when they say that Washington will be paralyzed by snow.  We’ll see how that goes.  But I am here to pay my respects to you, to congratulate the Executive Committee at NACo on another successful annual legislative conference.  It’s always a pleasure to see so many county leadership from California, are any of them left, any Californians?  Thank you for traveling such a long distance to be here and for going the distance every day for the people you serve.  That applies to all of you. 

“Now, I was reviewing with some of your leadership before I came out, some of the themes of past NACo conferences in recent years and it is interesting how fresh, how wise you have been in choosing the themes.  Every time I come here to these conferences, in a spirit of partnership, without that partnership between the federal, state, local governments, none of us could effectively carry out our duties.  So, now [inaudible].  Three years ago, our partnership focused on how to find solutions in tough times – little did we know – how to work together to maintain critical county investments that strengthen our economy and create jobs.  Sound familiar, sound necessary?  Last year, our partnership focused on how to protect county interests in a changing fiscal era – that was your theme – remembering that county interests are national interests and tough choices at the county level impact people everywhere.

“This year, the message: ‘Why Counties Matter.’  And, as partners to you, we know, behind the scenes and on the ground, counties matter to the health, safety, and economic security of our families and our communities.  Large or small, rural or urban – whether it’s Los Angeles County – which we discussed, always reminds us that they are the largest – Los Angeles County with ten million residents or Loving, Texas – Loving County, Texas, [with] sixty-two.  Sixty-two, not sixty-two hundred, not sixty-two thousand – sixty-two.  Counties matter to all Americans in a very personal way.  Counties matter to every parent who takes their child to get a flu shot or visits a family member in a nursing home.  Counties matter to anyone who drives on our roads and bridges.  What is it – that counties have forty percent of all that.  Counties matter to us in our public transit to work, who use our airports year-round.  Counties matter when disaster strikes and emergencies arise.  Counties matter in every facet of our lives – from picking up recycling, to maintaining libraries, to operating elections and community colleges.   Counties matter to women.   As we mark, March is Women’s History Month, we salute the women of NACo.  We salute the women of NACo for their work to empower more women in county leadership.  Counties matter to our veterans, who need jobs and services when they return, and hasn’t God blessed us with their service?  So, thank you for your service to them.  Counties matter when it matters most: the creation of jobs, the safety of our neighborhoods, the health of our families, and the education of our children.

“Because counties matter, we know you must, we must listen to your concerns and address your challenges.  We are hearing your voices in the halls of Congress; I know some of you have already made the trek to Capitol Hill.  Some maybe are going to tomorrow, depending on if they’re all snowed in.  But we do hear your voices, and I’m proud to say that eight of our new House Democrats are former county leaders, your former colleagues: Congressman Ami Bera of California; Congressman Eric Swalwell of California; Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Honolulu, Hawaii; Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan; Congressman Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey; Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham of New Mexico; Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Montgomery County, Ohio; Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.  We’re very proud of them.  They are fresh from their roles as leaders in the counties, fresh voices for you in the Congress of the United States.  These Members are bringing the innovation the ideas of counties to the table.  These leaders are our fresh, new reinvigoration of Congress straight from the counties. 

“The across-the-board cuts – and I want to just talk about all of it for a moment – with the across-the-board cuts known as the sequester now four days old, counties matter more because counties bear the brunt of these debilitating cuts.  NACo has understood the stakes of the sequester battle from the start.  Last October, you made your stance clear to the bipartisan leadership of Congress.  You called the sequester, and accurately so, quote: [an] ‘irresponsible way to reduce the nation’s deficit.’  You demanded that we return to the negotiating table, consider all options to end this crisis, and seek a balanced solution, with responsible cuts and revenues.  You reminded us how the sequester affects jobs rebuilding our infrastructure, in energy efficiency, rural development, and transportation.  You put our national debate in local terms.

“Democrats heard from you.  We agreed with you then, and we still do today.  This is mindless, this is mindless, what is happening.   Working with counties, we must stop this sequester and end this crisis without further delay [inaudible].  People want to know, what is the definition of sequestration?  What is the meaning?  What does it do?  What is the root of the word?  Okay, sequestration, whatever definition that you give to it, sequestration equals unemployment, with at least 750,000 Americans receiving a pink slip in the coming months.  Sequestration equals fewer services, fewer resources, fewer investments in jobs and economic growth.  The – one of my colleagues, who is a Latin scholar, says that it comes from the word ‘sequest,’ adverb,  that means to have, essentially, to hold hostage, hold hostage, and that’s what they’re doing, holding hostage the growth of our economy. 

“Sequestration will hurt counties like mine, and counties like yours.  Consider the impact in my home county of San Francisco.  The sequester means cuts of more than $25 million dollars in our city and county’s basic public services – from housing to transportation, from energy to education, from public safety to public health.  I don’t need to tell you, you know this firsthand, but our personal experience is one that makes a real difference in the lives of our people, as with all Americans.  As you all know, sequestration means – you know what it means for your counties.  All of you know how these cuts will impact people’s lives on a daily basis.  All of you recognize this isn’t about Democratic politics or Republican politics; it’s about the strength of our country.

“That’s why Democrats have echoed NACo’s call to put a fair plan on the table to create jobs, grow our economy, reduce our deficit in a balanced way.  We know we have to [do] cuts; we’ve already agreed to $1.2 trillion in cuts in the Budget Control Act.  Think of it, coming into this time and these months, $1.2 trillion in cuts, and that’s on top of $400 billion of other, other cuts in other measures taken in the last Congress.  So we said: ‘Ok, we need cuts.  We recognize that.’  These cuts are taking a toll because they are cutting into some of our investments in the future.  But we need to reduce spending, we need revenue, and that is what the rub is.  Where is the revenue?  And we know, of course, that we need to address the entitlements – mandatory spending that we have, which is sizeable, but does not cut benefits to our beneficiaries, but does prolong the life of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in a fiscally sound way.

“So, I wanted to talk about cutting spending.  What is the spending?  Ok, well you know what the investments are, how you use your resources, hopefully it creates more benefits, whatever federal contribution there is to it.  If you cut education, you are not reducing the deficit.  If you cut education – education, the education of the American people earns more money for the federal Treasury than any other initiative you can name, and not only that, it’s about innovation.  It’s about keeping America on the top.  Innovation is the biggest [job creator] than the cuts are.  We cut our investments in science – how are we going to be number one, if we are cutting our investments in science?  How do we attract businesses to our cities, as well as keep them here, if we are going to be mediocre when it comes to sciences instead of number one?   We must be number one; we intend to be number one.  So let us not think that cutting investments in education, sciences, STEM and the rest, is in any way helping our deficit. 

“We cut our investments in infrastructure, infrastructure.   We have three trillion – a couple trillion dollars, at least, deficit in infrastructure spending in our country.  This is the best investment, after education, and they don’t believe it.  This is a great investment because it enables commerce to flow, to take people to and from work, and from home to school.  We can’t turn a blind eye to the very important point – and leadership in broadband is essential to our commercial success if you’re just thinking in terms of dollars.  In addition to that, it helps people reach their fulfillment, but let’s just put that aside for a moment and just talk about what the return on the investment is.  So some of these cuts are foolish, they’re foolish, they’re mindless cuts no one wants on our kids, slashed in this sequester, on top of the cuts that were made to the, in the Budget Control Act.  We are cutting our investments in the National Institutes of Health, a place that has the Biblical power to cure, to keep us preeminent in the world, again, in science, but also in health.  It just doesn’t make any sense, especially, we have too many cuts, on students, research – what’s obsolete, what is no longer a priority.

“We should subject every federal dollar to our scrutiny, as you have to with your budgets.  You have to prioritize: ‘to govern is to choose,’ as President Kennedy said.  So you have to make choices.  But why then, when we talk about spending – expenditures, cutting expenditures – why aren’t we taking the same harsh scrutiny of tax expenditures?  When we give tax breaks to special interests, that is called a tax expenditure.  So let’s put those expenditures on the table, too.  Before we give another tax break to Big Oil, let’s make sure we have not at the expense of little children in Head Start or seniors on Meals on Wheels.  But those are choices that we are going to make.  These tax expenditures – our budget is $3.5 trillion, tax expenditures equal how much each year – $1.1 trillion, and many of them benefit the middle class.  We don’t want to touch them; that includes deductions for interest, mortgage, and the like.  But hundreds of billions of them are special interest tax giveaways and they do not – and all they do is increase somebody else’s own money.  You get tax cuts, tax expenditures – how about this one – tax expenditures to companies sending jobs overseas.  Do you think we could do without that one, you think we could do without that one?

“So, this is why we say to our Republican colleague: ‘you have to put tax revenue on the table, you have got to address the expenditures.’  Then they say: ‘well, we’re willing to close loopholes, but only to lower the rates.’  I say to that: ‘you know, I’ll lower the rates, too, if we can do that.  But aren’t we supposed to be lowering the deficit, and how come we are lowering the deficits on the backs of the middle class, seniors, and children – our future – instead of omitting some of these loopholes?’  So, this is the debate that we have come into as recently as Friday; they told me: ‘we’re only interested in closing loopholes to lower rates.’  That means corporate rates, and I’m also taking a look at that, but how about when they – ok, Bernanke, Chairman Bernanke, he said in his testimony last week, one day in front of the Senate, another day in front the House, that [sequestration] is going to slow our growth, our economic growth.  It’s going to cost us 750,000 jobs, just the sequester, not counting all the other cuts, and it will not decrease the deficit.  And isn’t that what this discussion is all about – decreasing the deficit?  We all want to reduce the debt; it’s immoral, it’s so big, it’s just unfortunate that many of these people only saw this reality now.  These deficit hawks were an endangered species when most of this debt was being amassed through 2001 [to] 2009.  But anyway, that was then, this is now.  What we have to go forward, and it’s really important for the American people to know that all of these – whether it’s the ‘cliff,’ the sequester, or it’s the shutdown of government – all of these could be avoided with a deal in a responsible way, worthy of the American people.  Worthy of the people we serve, if we put everything on the table, and not just say: ‘we put up $600 million’ – well kicking and screaming because of the election – ‘$600 billion in revenue by ending the tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent in our country.’  Ok, but we put $1.6 trillion, so we need a little more equity, a little more balance there, and that is the rub.

“So, we want to protect – but I need to say this, our [blueprint] says: ‘make cuts to reduce the deficit,’ and we hold to that Buffett Rule, so you know what our party’s about.  What we’re saying is that people can take whatever deductions they want, those who make a million dollars a year – people do, which is surprising to me, they make a million dollars a year, and many people do – they can take deductions, but they cannot take deductions that bring them below thirty percent, and that is called the Buffett Rule.  Buffett saying that he can’t, doesn’t want to pay a lower rate than his secretary.  Anyway, just a little flavor for what’s going on here, and some of the challenge, because it’s one thing to say this is how we would tax, but let’s go to the table and reform, and simplify, and make fairer the tax code.  But please don’t let us have to hold our children hostage to sequester, our children and kids, and our seniors on Meals on Wheels,  the education, our national security, every subject that you can name, affected by the  sequester in order to protect tax giveaways for special interests in our country, and that is the subject that we’re going through.

“More than anything – because it’s hard, what we do, but that’s what’s going on.  That’s why we’ve called on our Republican colleagues to allow an up-or-down vote on our proposal – to put our country first, to protect the middle class, and to defend the interests of America’s counties.  That’s the responsible course of action.  Yet they prefer an irresponsible path – it’s hurtful to counties and the American people.  They prefer sequesters, not solutions, knowing that we have to compromise, but who gets elected and thinks: ‘I’m going to have it all my way.’  But their irresponsible approach means deficit reduction will happen on the backs of middle class families and seniors – of people who can least afford it.  It means deficit reduction will happen on the backs of women.  Women have already lost nearly twice as many jobs in the public sector, and that is since the recession ended because as you know, much of the hidden cuts have reduced funding in the public sector.  The effect of federal cuts have reduced funding of the public sector.  We cannot afford a sequester that leaves more women out of work.  We simply cannot afford it.  Nor can we achieve deficit reduction on the backs of counties, unless you join us, as you have, in the fight for a balanced approach.  As you showed us, you have led the way in the balanced approach.  Whether you’re a Democrat, or a Republican, Independent, or decline to state – we need you to contact your Republican representatives.  We need you to urge them to come back to the table to reach an agreement.  We need you to remind them how this sequester will affect your counties, your constituents, and why a balanced plan is the responsible path forward.

“Counties matter – yes, indeed – and counties can make the difference in this debate.  With the partnership of counties, we can replace these debilitating cuts and get our nation back on-track.  In the sequester debate and beyond, we all too often – would say the Republicans in Congress appear more interested in protecting loopholes and a broken system, than in solving problems.  We are calling upon them to close loopholes in our tax system, close the loopholes in our gun laws.  Where are these loopholes?  Look at all these loopholes.  We are calling on Republicans to fix a broken immigration system and fix a broken campaign finance system.  We are calling on Republicans to work across the aisle to strengthen our democracy and restore our confidence in our future.

“In the 113th Congress, the one we’re in, we must restore confidence in our economy and in a strong middle class, which is the backbone of our democracy.  So we have a moral imperative to create jobs, good-paying jobs here at home and in the prosperity of our people as we build infrastructure and as we reduce the deficit.  We must ensure that innovation rests at the heart of our success; that we remain first in science, technology, engineering and energy; and that we educate and prepare our young people for the opportunities of tomorrow.  And when we, as my colleague, Congressman Steny Hoyer – anyone from Maryland here?  Over there – almost as long a distance, certainly the shortest, but Steny always talks about ‘Make It In America.’  When we Make It In America, when we manufacture in America, all of America’s families can Make It In America.  So you must, again, restore confidence that we can have it.  We must restore the confidence of the American people in our democracy and our political process.  We must empower voters, removing obstacles to participation in our democracy for all Americans.  We must increase the level of civility and reduce the role of money in politics.  And I promise you this: when we do, we’ll elect more women, and more minorities, and more young people to office.  Not that we don’t respect the contribution of our, all of our colleagues, but just think of the beauty in things of all of those different views. 

“We must restore confidence in our, we are – as Americans, we are a nation of immigrants, we’re a nation of immigrants.  The American people make our country great.  So, we must pass comprehensive immigration reform,  recognize that our country was built, enriched, and strengthened by men, women, and children who share patriotism, our patriotism, and seek the American dream.  I must say that every immigrant who comes to America share our hopes, determination, and optimism, determination again to make the future better for their families, who are very American, well that’s the basis of America, taking responsibility for the next generation.  So any immigrant that comes in that spirit, makes America more American and the liberation of our responsibilities to the next generation.  And our liberation, our, again – therefore our democracy will be advanced by comprehensive immigration reform.

“We must restore confidence in our neighborhoods, the safety of our neighborhoods.  Two months ago, all Members of Congress took an oath to ‘protect and defend’ – you all do, all of us who serve the public take an oath to protect and defend our Constitution and the rights that are contained in our Constitution.  ‘To protect and defend’: whether in Congress or in our counties, that’s our first responsibility.  And we each must uphold this duty by keeping Americans safe in their homes, in their neighborhoods, and in their schools.  With the tragedy in Newtown still fresh in our memories, with gun crime striking the hearts of communities and counties every day, ensuring the safety of all Americans would be a meaningful tribute to the victims of gun violence.  For the strength of our democracy, for the confidence of our families, for the sake of our children, let us work together to prevent gun violence.  Let us work together to make our counties safer and our communities more secure.  Let us work together to protect and defend the American people. 

“I want to just ask you a personal question first on another subject, this is my pitch to you on a related, but another subject, and that’s the Affordable Care Act.  As you know, that in the months ahead there will be the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  It’s taking shape across the country.  I want to say about it, that it is something that I am very, very proud to be a part of, of passing it.  You may not know this because of all the noise that had gone on at the time of its passage, but it’s about innovation, it’s about wellness, it’s about invention, it’s about the health of Americans, not just the health care.  And so we looked at it as a real transformative piece of legislation, and now it will, we will see it firsthand, [it] will make a difference in the lives of people.  No longer will they be job locked because they have to stay where they are because they have a pre-existing condition, themselves or in their families.  They can reach their aspirations, their passion, their dreams, without worrying about, again, about job lock.  It’s about having that freedom in our economy, where people can do what they want and what they do best, rather than what they have to because of health care, to keep their health care.  So, we believe that there will be, there will be created four million jobs when implemented.  And part of the implementation means that 32 million Americans will need to sign up.  With all of the misrepresentations that have been put out there about it, it’s – we have that obstacle to overcome. 

“But I hope that if you have some questions about implementation, the White House, the Administration secretary, of course, is taking the lead on all this, but each one of your Members of Congress can help you as well, and you can help us, too.  I’ve been thinking that maybe we should have a contest to name it.  Yeah?  ‘Social Security,’ isn’t that a great name, somebody thought of it.  ‘Medicare,’ what a great name.  ‘Medicaid,’ a take on that; the ‘Affordable Care Act’ doesn’t really have the same [inaudible], but the affordability is very important because that’s about the accessibility.  Some call it Obamacare, some with affection, some not.  So, I think that we have to have a name that everybody joins in on it.  So, if you have any suggestions for the name, but more important than that, whatever that you want us to know about implementation from your standing point, this is going to make a really big difference, and it’s certainly going to bring jobs, as well as improving the health and wellness of our country.

“So, with NACo, we can and will restore confidence, restore the confidence of the American people.  You have it, as you all know; Congress does not.  But working together, whatever knocks we have to take for getting something done, we will.  And we do that recognizing that nearly all Americans live and work in a county.  Nearly all Americans benefit from county services.  Nearly all Americans’ lives are made better each day by their county governments.  That’s why counties matter.  That’s why we must work together, counties and Congress, to address this sequester fight, to move forward with an agenda to create jobs, expand our economic growth, and to make progress for the American people.  Thank you for your leadership, all of you.  With your leadership, we can get the job done.  With county-congressional partnership, we can achieve our goals, strengthen our middle class, and put people back to work.  With counties in the lead, we can serve the public, keep our communities safe and strong, keep our economy growing, and keep our nation moving forward. 

“That’s what I came to say to you today; to thank you and express my respect for what you do.  Our theme in all of this is reigniting the American dream.  Who does that more than you?  Together, we can strengthen and reignite the American Dream, building ladders of opportunity for anyone who wants to work hard, play by the rules, and take responsibility.  And, for NACo, and for Congress, we have work to do to achieve that.  Thank you, NACo, for your leadership and support.  Thank you for reminding us, over and over again, every day, why counties matter.  You do great work.  Thank you also for coming to Washington to make your voices heard.  Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you this morning.”