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. What happens to all of these pictures? Do you ever wonder?
Good morning, everyone. One week ago, 16 days into the government shutdown, and just hours before default on the full faith and credit of the United States, all House Democrats voted to re-open government and to restore stability to our economy. In just a few months' time, we are scheduled to face yet another economic cliff that, if breached, would result in the loss of 800,000 American jobs – jobs is the most important subject we should be talking about – the loss of 800,000 American jobs, devastating cuts to education, medical research, and our national security.
It is clear that Americans cannot afford another Republican Government Shutdown, and cannot afford Republican budget priorities that will cost jobs and even put more of a burden on the middle class.
Democrats stand ready to work with Speaker Boehner to find solutions that will create jobs, expand the economy, and strengthen the middle class, while reducing the deficit in a balanced and responsible way. We are prepared to go to the negotiating table to work with Republicans to achieve real economic growth – investments in infrastructure, for example – and responsible deficit reduction, but not on the backs of our seniors, our students, and the middle class.
We all know that we must reduce the deficit, yet the Republican budget gives another round of tax cuts to millionaires, increasing the deficit. Democrats believe that that priority is backwards. We oppose replacing automatic spending cuts and cuts to Medicare beneficiaries, while giving additional tax cuts to millionaires.
As we begin debating the budget, House Democrats have committed to replacing the most damaging of the automatic spending cuts – I would call them mindless spending cuts – by cutting spending on wasteful special interest subsidies. You know what that is? A tax loophole is really an expenditure, so we want to close tax loopholes that allow corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share.
It is my hope, and I hope that it would be one that we would all agree to, and the leadership of this Congress, that the budget conference could be finished by Thanksgiving. Why do we have to wait until January? By Thanksgiving, in order to give certainty to consumers. We want to restore consumers' confidence during the holiday season, stability to our markets, and economic security to the American people before the holiday season.
December is an important month. Some businesses make 70 percent – do 70 percent of their business during December depending on consumer confidence. And of course, a confidence in the markets at year’s end is very important, too.
So, I hope that we could do it. It's just a decision. We know what the equities are that have to be balanced. We want to reduce the deficit. We want to replace the sequester. We want to do so in a way that is fair to the middle class, that creates jobs, and by building infrastructure of our country. This is the stuff on the negotiating table, and we are happy to be going to that table.
We are not happy about the loss of some of our revered leaders in the Congress. Last week we lost our Former Speaker, Tom Foley. Mr. Hoyer and I had the privilege of visiting him two days before his passing. We thank his wife Heather for that privilege and extend our condolences to her.
And our current Member, my Chairman on Appropriations, our Chairman on Appropriations, Chairman Bill Young, really on the floor right up until the time that he took too ill to come to the floor, really a matter of weeks or days, leaving us on the very same day, last Friday. A number of us will be part of the delegation that pays our final respects to him. We'll always be honoring him because he was a great man.
We also lost Major Owens, I think it was the night before last, a former Member, a recent former Member of Congress. So it tells us all that we have been blessed with some great leadership, that time is important, and we have to use it for the benefit of the American people.
With that, I will be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Madam Leader, perhaps I should know better than to ask this question, but with the Caucus meeting and briefing you just had, was there any hint from anyone in your Caucus that perhaps the individual mandate, because of the website issues, perhaps the individual mandate should be delayed?
Leader Pelosi. That was not part of the question and answer session. It was mostly about – actually, I was very encouraged by the question and answer session because while, of course, the situation right now is unacceptable, it's unfortunate, but we did not work very hard, and many of us did not dedicate our public service to a website. It was to an initiative of affordable, quality health care to all Americans as a right, not a privilege. And that is what this initiative is all about. The fact that the website has, I think, beyond glitches, but whatever you want to call them, is disappointing. But it does not take away from the fact that we are on a path. And fortunately, we started early enough.
So, the nature of the questions is largely – let's talk about what people are getting now. They are signing up. They know that they're going to have something pretty soon, and certainly hopefully by December 15th, where you have to start to sign up, that this will be in place. But it was more positive than that. No, no one got up and made that suggestion.
Now, I did go out for my morning share of potassium for a moment, and while I was getting that banana, somebody may have asked that question, but I think I would have known about that.
Q: Is the Caucus – are you open to the idea that there may come some point when, if it isn't fixed, that perhaps it should be extended?
Leader Pelosi. I think that we should be able to go forward. I'm more optimistic than that. I have faith in technology, and while there are glitches, there are solutions as well. So, I'm optimistic that we'll be able to go forward on schedule. I know that wasn't a subject of our conversation this morning.
Q: Leader Pelosi, I just wanted to follow up on that question, because maybe you didn't hear it this morning, but Senator Shaheen, a Democrat, wrote a letter to the President asking about the problems. And she said the exchanges are riddled with problems, and she was concerned that people may try and fail and then not come back to enroll in healthcare insurance, and suggests that the Administration extend the enrollment period.
Leader Pelosi. I don't support that, perhaps experiences in her state. She's acting from that experience. In Covered California, we're moving along, the largest state in the Union, rolling along in a very positive way on it. So I think we should try to fix what we have, move forward with the deadline we have, respectful of her experience, maybe in her suggestions, but not supportive of it.
Q: Just to follow up on that, the other suggestion she made was if people can't enroll because of technical problems, that they shouldn't be penalized with the tax.
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know what? I haven't seen the full array of what she is proposing, but we have a common sense initiative going forward, and what we want to do is fix it and go forward with it, not make policies that are predicated on it not working. While, as I say, respectful of the experience she may be having, I think that we should just go forward with it.
Q: Because of the issues, and the amount of money, and the amount of time that went into this website, and you say beyond glitches that this website has experienced, should somebody be held accountable for all these issues that has gone into this website?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think somebody should fix it. And again, I am a big believer, coming from where I do, in California, I have great confidence in technology and its ability to bring fresh eyes to the subject and fix it so that we can go forward. Just fix it. Just fix it.
Q: So no accountability? I mean, there is no…
Leader Pelosi. There certainly is accountability internally in terms of what decisions were made on all of this. But I think that our focus and energy should be used to fix it because the American people are depending on it, and it's going to be a beautiful thing in their lives to have that freedom of – I keep talking about healthier life, liberty, the freedom to pursue their happiness, not chained to a policy, but able to follow their passion. And that is how I see this. Fix it. Fix the technology. And let's not get too bogged down in what happens if they are not able to fix it, because as I say, I believe in technology.
Q: Madam Leader?
Leader Pelosi. Yes, sir.
Q: As important as the Affordable Care Act is in your mind and in Democrats’ minds, you know, the most important domestic achievement of President Obama's first term and probably his Presidency, you talked over and over about how important it is for tens of millions of people.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Politically important, vital, a generation in the making.
Leader Pelosi. I don't know if I ever said it was politically important.
Q: Well, I'm saying it's politically important to the President.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, ok. You prefaced it by “you said,” and I thought you were talking about me.
Q: Isn't it – hasn't it been mind boggling to you that they didn't get this right, that there are so many websites out in the world, many of them probably originate in your district…
Leader Pelosi. That's right, yes.
Q: …Or your part of the world where the functionality of a website is the business. If the website fails, the business fails. People know how to do this thing. Doesn't it boggle your mind that they didn't get this right? Doesn't it make you kind of mad?
Leader Pelosi. What boggles my mind is that we are talking about a budget that's going to give tax cuts to the wealthy while we try to balance the budget, that we are going to cut $40 billion out of food stamps that will give additional tax breaks to millionaires. A recent report had 17 States, where the majority of the children were below the poverty line and qualified for food stamps, and yet in Congress we are cutting that. That is what really boggles my mind.
In terms of technology and the ability to fix it, some of the challenge that they had was – originally was – that there were about 20 million people, originally 19 million, who were visiting, and that exacerbated problems that already were there. In other words, if they hadn't had so many visitors, it might have phased in differently. So, I am not just blaming it on volume. I am just saying volume exacerbated some underlying problems that might have been smoothed over without that big onslaught.
So again, when you talk about boggling the mind, of being surprised and things like that, I have a different standard for what is mind boggling to me. And it's about how to explain to the American people what's happening in Washington, D.C. – that the majority in the House of Representatives would vote to shut down government, causing $24 billion in cost to our economy, let alone furloughing hundreds of thousands of people. I find that mind boggling.
I find it mind boggling that we would put in doubt the full faith and credit of the United States of America. It's so stunning. It's really hard to even explain to somebody that that would be.
So, that's what I put in the category of mind boggling. It’s unfortunate and disappointing, get it right. Fix it. Thank heavens we have three months before – at least two and a half months – three months before we get into the signing up time where people are required to sign up to work this out. So that's what I think about that.
Q: Ms. Pelosi, you remember 2010, Members lost their jobs?
Leader Pelosi. I don't remember recognizing you. There were some people with hands up here. Do you all agree that he should have the next question after you came right up front? We have two questions, then yours and yours, ok?
Q: Can I ask it first?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: So the last few months, we've heard Republicans repeatedly, especially since the business mandate was delayed in July, that said that this law was not ready for prime time. And then the Administration was doing these simulations that showed that the website could crash with just a few thousand people logging on. Was it unwise to proceed with the rollout on time when they did? Or should they just recognize that maybe it wasn't ready at that point?
Leader Pelosi. Well, as I mentioned to you, I'm a big believer in technology and science, but I am not an expert at it. So I don't know what was incidental, or what was systemic, and what the challenges were that they saw to begin with. But I will not have this be something that undermines what this initiative is for the American people.
There is, as I am sure, as informed as you all are, a proposal. If you haven't seen it, the Center for American Progress can make available to you their report on the sabotage effort that is being done by the other side to undermine the Affordable Care Act. Well you know, the usual suspects are funding what this is, and there are some offices in the Capitol who are not giving information to their constituents about how they could avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act.
Now, we never did that as much as we did not like their prescription drug bill, which was a total giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry and added enormously to our deficit. We never said to constituents: “We are not going to show you how you can sign up for this.” That would be one.
And so they just have to fix it. And you know, we can spend all the time we want about who knew what, when, and where, and isn't that too bad. But let's look forward and say: “Let's use the same technology that has done so many wonderful things in the social network,” et cetera, “to fix this and get on with it.”
You have the final question.
Q: Thank you very much. In 2010, a lot of your Members took a huge risk in supporting the law. It can be argued that the reason why you are Minority Leader is because of the law – and not still Speaker. Do you feel disappointed that after such a huge collective sacrifice by House Democrats, that this law, in its first three weeks, is nowhere near ready for prime time?
Leader Pelosi. No, no.
Q: Not at all?
Leader Pelosi. No. No, I don't. First of all, I don't even buy into the idea that we lost the election because of health care. One of the most damaging votes that our Members had to take was the TARP, $700 plus billion to bail out Wall Street, in the view of the public. We didn't see it that way. We saw it as rescuing our economy from a financial services meltdown. And it was necessary for us to do.
I'm glad you asked that question because it enables me to say that Democrats were the ones who saved the day with that vote, and people never really got over that. It really almost in some ways gave birth to the Tea Party, because they did not like what they viewed as a Wall Street bailout, and certainly the Occupy, who have a good more in common than they may know.
But that was really the vote that sort of soured people. They didn't like that vote at all, and they judged many other things in light of, well, bailing out the banks but not bailing out Main Street – recklessness on Wall Street causing joblessness on Main Street, all of that. Now, we did the responsible thing, what we had to do. But the Democrats produced 170 some votes in order to do that.
I think that was probably the toughest vote Members had to take, which was one that a few weeks before they didn't even realize they were going to have to take because White House did not reveal to us the extent of the problem or what they thought a solution was to it until September 18th in 2008. So there is that.
The Affordable Care Act, the decision, Members came here to do a job, not to keep a job. Whether it is a Member of Congress or Speaker of the House. What is so important about that compared to tens of millions of people having access to affordable care in our country, that we would be about a healthy nation, not just health care, but the health of America with prevention, technology, and innovation to make us healthier at lower costs, and with better quantity care?
So, that was our mission. We accomplished it. And we are proud of it. Is the implementation of it perfect in every way? Not yet. But the goal of it still is the same. We're still very, very proud of that, and not for one half a second, not a nanosecond, would I say that I'm disappointed about that.
I will say, though, I think since you brought up the subject, I just want to make this further point. I mentioned about the TARP, or the Democrats did the responsible thing. President Bush's failed economic policies which got us to where we were, a meltdown of our financial industry, no supervision, no regulation, no discipline. The walls come tumbling down and the same people who were “laissez, laissez, laissez faire” said: “no intervention.” We are not intervening with this package, which was the President's proposal, their own President's proposal.
So people say now: “Oh, the Tea Party has taken control of the party.” This predates the Tea Party being in Congress. They were not going to vote. We never did get the 100 votes they promised to pass the bill even though we took it up two times. So there is that anti-government ideology that exists in the Republican Party before the Tea Party came here.
Now, I know maybe you don't like numbers because you're into words and stuff, but 87, 87 Republicans voted last week to support the bill, which is their number. It wasn't our number. We didn't even like the bill, but we knew that we had to do it to open government. That means 144 Republicans voted to keep government shut down and default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America. Last week 144, over 60 percent of the Republicans – that is not 30 or 40 Tea Party, that's 100 more than that – voted to keep government shut down and to default. That is one.
Eighty seven, I saw that number on the board, and I thought, “Uh huh, that looks familiar.” Eighty seven is the number of Republicans who voted for Violence Against Women Act, meaning that over 60 percent of the Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act – 138, six absentees – voted against the Violence Against Women Act. So this is not 30 people. It's over 100 more than that.
Sandy aid. Sandy aid. What, 80 percent of the Republicans voted against Sandy aid, 80 percent? Most of the ones who voted for it were from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. That's not 30 or 40 Tea Party members. That's 80 percent of the Republican Conference. And only six – not six percent, six people – only six Republicans voted against cutting $40 billion out of food stamps. Six. Ninety-seven percent of the Republicans voted to cut $40 billion. That's not 30 or 40 Tea Partiers.
So, understand that this is the Republican Party. You know, I used to say: “Oh, the Tea Party has hijacked the name ‘Republican.’” No, they now dominate. It used to be the tail is wagging the dog, but if that's still the case, this dog's got a mighty big tail. And this is really what the public has to understand when we go to the table and seize the contrast between: we must reduce the deficit, we want to get rid of sequestration, we are not going to substitute spending cuts for mandatories so that benefits to our Medicare beneficiaries are cut.
But again, it's your job, you are the ambassadors, to make sure not that you are espousing a point of view, but that you're putting forth the facts. And the facts are what the public needs to know.
So far the Republicans have insisted on shutting down government and defaulting on the full faith and credit in a facts-free, data-free, evidence-free zone. But the facts are clear: $24 billion were lost to our economy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs we lost if we proceed with their budget proposal.
So, it'll be an interesting time. I hope, don't you, that it will all be over by Thanksgiving so that shoppers can have consumer confidence, the markets can be stable and have confidence, and we don't have to see so much of each other all the time, as pleasant an experience as that is.
Thank you all very much.