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 everyone. Thank you for being here, even though we're a few hours past our regularly scheduled meeting. And of course, I'm always sensitive to time.
And the clock is ticking on this Republican Congress, with little to show for it, 169 days since the start of the 113th Congress, 89 days, 89 days tomorrow, 90 days, 3 months since the Senate passed a budget bill. And still no jobs bill and no budget agreement.
Today, Democrats are taking the following action: under the leadership of Congressman Chris Van Hollen, our Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, a discharge petition was filed calling on the Speaker to appoint budget conferees. Next week, Democrats in the House will appoint conferees to go to the negotiating table and to reach an agreement. We call upon the Speaker to join us in that.
This is a step that is long overdue, 90 days overdue by tomorrow. Ranking Member Van Hollen has long called for an open and fair debate on our priorities and solutions, and has proposed a budget that replaces the devastating cuts of the sequester, promotes growth and creates jobs, invests in infrastructure and innovation, expands our economy and strengthens the middle class, and responsibly reduces the deficit.
Congressman Van Hollen has been our leader on budget issues in the Democratic Caucus, always promoting a budget that is a statement of our national values and advances the causes of fairness, equality, and opportunity, while reducing the deficit.
I'm pleased to yield to the distinguished gentleman from Maryland, our Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, Congressman Chris Van Hollen.
Mr. Van Hollen. Thank you, Leader Pelosi.
Leader Pelosi and President Obama have been calling for some time now for the House of Representatives to get working on legislation that will help boost economic growth. We know the economy has been improving, but we also know that it can improve much faster if Congress would do its work. We're seeing about two percent economic growth. But because of things that Congress has done, like the sequester, we are slowing down economic growth in this country.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office says that economic growth this year will be one third, a full one third less because of the sequester, which is why we have proposed a budget, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and the President of the United States have proposed budgets that would replace that sequester with mechanisms to achieve the same amount of long term deficit reduction, but without the drag on the economy, without having to lose 750,000 American jobs just this calendar year alone.
We're also seeing other impacts from the sequester. The Fort Bragg School System at the military base there just reported that the kids of our service men and women are going to miss five days of school this fall because the teachers at the school on that base are going to be furloughed. That is a disgrace in this country.
On the nondefense part of the budget, at places like the National Institutes of Health, 700 very promising research proposals that could help find cures and treatments to diseases that plague every American family are not going to be funded. These are proposals that have merit and have been found to be promising and they're not going to be funded because of the across the board cuts at NIH.
So, you have very disruptive impacts in different parts of the economy. And, overall, you're seeing a big drag on the economy, which is why we have said we have got to remove the uncertainty and get on with passing a Federal budget. And as Leader Pelosi pointed out, the Senate passed a budget 89 days ago. Eighty nine days ago. I think everybody in this room remembers that for the last three years Republicans have been asking for the Senate to pass a budget. Well, they have. And now, Speaker Boehner refuses to take the next step, which is go to a conference committee, even though the budget law states that you're supposed to have had a conference committee complete action by April 15th.
So, this House is grossly in violation of existing budget law. Even Senator McCain said that the Republican position on this issue was, quote: "insane," and, quote: "incomprehensible." And he is not alone. Other Republican Senators have said the same thing.
So, yesterday in the Budget Committee, during a markup, the Democrats once again asked that we go to conference. We proposed an amendment to legislation to go to conference. We were denied an opportunity to vote on that. And today, under the leadership of Leader Pelosi, we filed a discharge petition on a piece of legislation calling upon the Speaker to immediately go to conference so that we can complete action on a federal budget and deal with these issues with respect to the economy and jobs.
And within a very short period of time, we filed it at nine o'clock today, we have 175 signatures. So that's, as all of you who follow these issues know, that's a huge amount of signatures in a short period of time. And we're calling upon our Republican colleagues who have said publicly that they want to complete action on a budget to join us in putting their signatures where their voices are and making sure that we go on to conference to get the job done.
And I'll just end with this. We heard for months, we heard for years this mantra of “no budget, no pay,” right? That's what Republicans said: “No budget, no pay” And yet, not only are they grossly in violation of the budget law right now, but they're still getting paid.
And so we just want to call upon them to do what they said they wanted to do, get a budget, so really, we can work on these issues that are really important to the economy and to accelerating economic growth right now. And there is no reason to wait another day.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Ranking Member Van Hollen. Congratulations on your great leadership day in and day out, but especially congratulations today, 175 people to sign up on the discharge petition.
And what does that mean? That means that House Democrats, 175 in just a matter of a few hours, signed on to go to conference, to go to the table in a bipartisan way, with a fair and open process to debate the issue. It isn't a discharge petition about any particular issue, it's a vote for bipartisanship, for transparency, for getting results and getting the job done so we can get on with growth and creating jobs and reducing the deficit in a way that reflects our country's values and addresses the needs for our future. It's a pretty remarkable thing, 175, and I know more will come as we come back next week, just in time for us to appoint conferees and [we] hope that the Speaker will join us.
Mind you that from the beginning of this year, earlier on this year, and we have had this conversation before the Senate passed its bill, the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate said in a room with the President and the four leaders gathered, with the Vice President, what they wanted was regular order. Pass a bill in the House, pass a bill in the Senate, go to the conference table. When the Senate passed its bill, three months from tomorrow, they reneged.
So really, the American people want results. They want solutions. They want us to get on with making jobs. And as I mentioned – what is it – 169 days this Congress has been in session, not one jobs bill. Instead, they come up with frivolous legislation, nuisance amendments, and they can't even pass their priorities on the floor.
With that, we'd be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q: Ms. Pelosi, the GOP whip team just put out a statement saying that you guys had promised them 40 votes, and that you, yourself, are the reason why the farm bill went down today. Did you promise them those 40 votes and pull it back?
Leader Pelosi. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. First of all, they lost 62 of their own Members. Let me just say I use the word results. That's what the American people expect. And when I talk to volunteers in my days as chair of the party, or in the course of my career in the Congress, I always say to people: “You should be professional.” You have to do what you say you're going to do to the best of your ability and you have to take responsibility.
What is happening on the floor today was a demonstration of major amateur hour. They didn't get results and they put the blame on somebody else. Just interesting because you know I love numbers and I love counting votes, 62 Republicans voted no on the bill today. Sixty-two Republicans. There is almost no way to offset that.
But it's also important to note, what is it,  Republicans voted for a killer amendment, which was the Southerland amendment, which made further cuts in nutrition and food stamps. [Sixty-one] Republicans voted for that who voted no on the bill.
In other words, why would you put an amendment there that's going to lose Democratic votes, that is going to make the bill worse, when the people, you've lost 62 votes on final passage,  of them needed the Southerland bill to cut further and they didn't stick with the leadership on final passage. Isn't that remarkable? Isn't that remarkable? So, what was the purpose of the Southerland bill? To throw the weight around of those who wanted to take more food out of the mouths of babies?
And they had another poison pill of their own making, the Speaker's dedication to the dairy processors over the dairy farmers, and they lost votes when they prevailed on that. So, they put two seeds of their own destruction in the bill, the Southerland bill, which evidently did not get them any votes – they lost  votes that voted for the Southerland bill and the dairy piece.
So, you know, but it's always interesting to me when people blame other people for their own failures. If we ever came to you when we had the majority and said: “We didn't pass a bill because we didn't get enough Republican votes.” Well, you know, that's really – it's silly, it's sad, it's juvenile, it's unprofessional. It's amateur hour.
Anything else? Anyone else on the subject of the budget?
Mr. Van Hollen. Let me just add to this, because you probably can, too. Let me just put it plainly: if Leader Pelosi was Speaker Pelosi this would never happen.
Leader Pelosi. It never did.
Mr. Van Hollen. Because Speaker Pelosi knew how to govern. She understood that getting things done is the art of compromise. It's the art of bringing people together. And it is pathetic that the Republican whip team would be trying to point fingers at others when what you see is their latest inability and failure to govern. Simple as that. Last time we passed a farm bill it was under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, who brought people together, made the necessary compromises to get the job done.
Leader Pelosi. And thank you for that. And I'd remind you we had to overcome – override two Presidential vetoes in order to pass a bill. It wasn't a simple majority tooting the horn of the House Democrats. But, I never had any conversation with them about numbers of votes. And they knew that if they lost more than 40 or 50 votes it was not a good thing for them.
Let me just say on that, I want to go back to what I said originally. This discharge petition is a discharge petition to go to the table to compromise, to negotiate, to respect other people's views, and to do so in an open way that respects our values, grows our economy, creates jobs, and reduces the deficit. And that's the beauty of it. Let's go to the table and have a discussion.
Are they afraid of their own ideas? Perhaps they are. And they may have reason to because they don't even bring their own Members to the table behind them on their positions. But it is all about weaving a consensus, making compromises and the rest. And again, when we had the majority we passed that farm bill in a bipartisan way, overriding President Bush's veto. It's hard. But, you have to know what you're doing.
Q: Sticking with the farm bill, but with the budget element, if I may, I guess first of all, now that the path is unclear, the path forward is somewhat unclear. First, would you favor some sort of extension of existing policy like what was done last year? And B, what does this do in terms of, and this may be more of a question for Mr. Van Hollen, the aspect of SNAP cuts as part of a budget deal later in the year? Does this strengthen your hand going into those negotiations if there is uncertainty now about whether a farm bill can be done that would decouple them from budget talks?
Leader Pelosi. May I just, and then yield, because he will have the bulk of the response.
Let me say that we want to have a farm bill and we want to go to the table to negotiate that farm bill with the Senate bill that was passed a while back. It's a vastly improved bill, passed in a bipartisan way in the Senate. As you know, they need more than a majority, they need 60 votes to pass a bill there. So, right now we don't need anything in order to extend nutrition and all the rest of that because that does not require – that is not required in the passage of this bill at this time. So, from that standpoint, the nutrition program, SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Program, will continue.
But we do want a farm bill because we want to have in there the specialty crops, the fresh fruits and vegetables, the initiatives for food banks and the rest of that. But you can't just keep cutting and cutting and cutting the nutrition program and expect people to swallow that, because the comments, you're taking food out of the mouths of babies. Two million families would lose their food under the bill, much less under the Southerland amendment.
So, I would hope that we can have another bite at the apple so that there would be a place for a bill to pass the House to go forward. We had hoped that the bill would improve in the amendment process, or at the very least be a statement of rejection of these further cuts. But instead,  of their Members insisted on a further cut, and  of those people voted no on the bill. How do you figure?
I'd like to yield to Mr. Van Hollen.
Mr. Van Hollen. I mean, as the Leader said, there is a direct link between what happened today on the farm bill and the House Republicans’ refusal to go to conference on the budget. I mean, both represent a failure to govern. And that's because in both cases they've got extreme members of their caucus that absolutely refuse to compromise. When it came to the farm bill, they insisted on cutting even further food and nutrition benefits. When it comes to the budget, they also want to dramatically cut back on food and nutrition programs. They want to hit middle income taxpayers in order to protect tax breaks for the very wealthy. And that's what's preventing them from going to conference. Apparently, they don't want to have that conversation in the light of day before the American public.
With respect to the particular provisions: yes, in the Democratic budget and in the budget presented by the President we provide support for food and nutrition programs. We think that's very important. We also believe that you can get rid of some of the direct payments that go to a lot of agribusinesses, where there's an agreement on the Republican side and the Democratic side that those have outlived their usefulness. So we think we should continue to press forward with those in the context of the budget discussion.
Q: On immigration, if you don't mind answering one on that, it is going to take both votes from Democrats and Republicans to pass immigration reform. And with Republican House Members, do you think that they will work to delay immigration reform ahead of the 2014 primaries for Congress? And is there a chance of immigration reform passing before the Presidential campaign in 2016?
Leader Pelosi. Oh, I certainly hope so. We're thinking weeks and months, not even into next year. Very hopeful that we can have bipartisan support for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. There are seven Members of the House, eight of them had been working together for a number of years, now seven of them are going forward with a bipartisan proposal that is, I think, being written up into legislative language now. And as I have said here before, it has poison pills in it, but they're not lethal, and it is a compromise. And recognizing we all have to compromise, we're willing to go forward with that.
What the process is, how Congress works its will from here, the House in particular, you have heard different things from the Speaker about this rule or that rule or whatever. But we're just hopeful that the product is one that can attract the most votes in a very bipartisan way.
I think it's essential for us to pass a bill, and hopefully this year. It will be interesting to see what happens in the Senate in the next – by the end of next week, I think. Now, far be it from me to predict what happens in the Senate, but my understanding is that they will probably finish their bill by the end of next week. And then when we come back in July – right now we have the process going on in the House in the Judiciary Committee. It's pretty much along partisan lines, unfortunately. But there still is the bipartisan task force of seven proposal that I think has tremendous merit and could be part of a package that is put together here. I think we'll be long before the 2014 elections and the 2016 election. So, the House will pass something. It seems the Speaker says the House will pass something and we'll go to conference with the Senate bill.
Now, I would be hopeful it could all happen in the month of July, but I think the Speaker said this year. And hopefully that's what it is. But I'm most optimistic about an immigration bill passing. We'll see what it is.
Yes, sir. You had a question?
Q: Yes, ma'am. Back to the farm bill quickly. If you do want this to go to conference, then why not rally the support of Democrats and move the process along, get it over to the Senate?
Leader Pelosi. Well, we all wanted to go to conference, but I'd remind you that the Republicans have the majority in Congress and it's their responsibility to send the bill. It is not conducive to getting votes to put $20 billion – I compare it to the Senate, it's about $20.5 billion in cuts in the House bill. By comparison, the Senate, bipartisan, Democratic and Republican supported bill in the Senate, has $4.5 billion. So, it's already over $15 billion difference in cuts and what that means to America's families.
In addition to that, they do other amendments that are harmful and make further cuts. Well, you know, if that's what they want, why did these  people who wanted additional cuts vote against the bill? That's a question you have to ask them. At some point you're talking about dollars and cents, and then you start talking about values. And this was really an assault on the values of the House Democrats.
Now, having said that, there could be a path where we can come back and have a bill. I think some Members, enough Members, were ready to support the bill that came out of committee, even though they didn't like it, as long as it didn't get worse on the floor. But that was the responsibility of the majority. It's not a responsibility of us to say discard what you have believed and worked for your whole life so that Republicans can use their votes to be more harmful to the American people.
Q: On the issue of student loans, Speaker Boehner said today that it was the fault of Senate Democrats that nothing has gotten done.
Leader Pelosi. Isn't this something? I mean, what is this? This is, I'm telling you, to be an amateur is to cast blame on everyone else, to not take responsibility for what you are responsible for. Doesn't that get a little tiresome for all of you when we're so used to – we don't even pay attention, but doesn't it get tiresome for you when they don't take responsibility for the job that we are sent here to do? So what did he say we didn't do now?
Q: The Senate hadn't passed a student loan bill, that that was the reason that loan rates could double in a week. Are you frustrated by a lack of progress in the Senate?
Leader Pelosi. I'm frustrated by a Republican bill that will more than double the rates for households. We just had a press conference, perhaps some of you were there, in the Gabe Zimmerman Room, it was in between votes, and we had students speak about what the difference in doubling the student loans would mean to them. And then on top of that having no cap, the Republican proposal has, which makes matters even worse than doubling. The difference of a thousand dollars may not seem like much to some people around here, but it makes all the difference in the world as to whether these students can stay in college, and again, for four years and whatever they want to do as far as graduate school is concerned.
So, it's a deal breaker. I mean, some kids will just not be able to go because they cannot assume that responsibility. So, it's very easy. All we have to do is support a bill that has, how many in the discharge petitions, 190 something? No, they have like 190 because they have been working on it for about a week now on the Joe Courtney legislation, which would keep the student rate loans 3.4 percent, the same as it is now.
We only have 11 days – and here we go with my temporal markers – 11 days until the student loans double. How often are we going to have to hear: “Well, the Senate didn't do this?” No, take action here. Then you have some standing to criticize what others haven't done. And the action that we need to take here is not to have a bill that will more than double the student loans, but one that will keep them at 3.4 instead of doubling to 6.8 or, as the Republicans have had on the floor, to go beyond that.
So with that, we're going to be appointing our conferees to go to the table to have transparency, bipartisanship, cooperation, building of consensus on a budget that reflects our values, grows our economy, creates jobs, reduces the deficit. You have to look at these names. I just can't get over the fact that  Republicans voted for an amendment that would sink the bill, that would sink the bill, and then voted against the bill, as if they needed it in order to vote for it. You know, it is a stunning thing. Why would you give people an amendment that's going to kill your bill and then go blame it on somebody else? [Sixty-one]. [Sixty-one].
Anyway, it's another day, another day in the unproductive life of the Republican Congress, where they bring bills to the floor that are going nowhere and they blame other people for their lack of success. As I say, another day in the amateur hour of the Republican Congress.