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. As some of you know, earlier today the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate was meeting in the Speaker's office. As I said to some of you coming out, I thought it was constructive and productive that we came together, that we listened to each other, and I think that candor saves time so I think that in that respect we have made some progress in understanding where we all are as we go forward with the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling. I think I referenced it as more than one manifestation of the budget debate.
Without going into what we discussed at the meeting, beyond that, I want to say that Democratic principles have always been clear. We are focused on creating jobs, growing the economy to create jobs. Any approach to a continuing resolution or a debt ceiling lift has to be about creating jobs. We are prepared to find common ground to keep the government open and not default on the debt, and that is really important to job creation. And Democrats know that we have to get rid of sequester because it will cost, according to the CBO, as low as 900,000 jobs, a high of 1.6 million jobs this time next year. We will say it is around one million jobs, take the lower side of it. That is a job loss that not only our country cannot afford, but America's families cannot afford.
Here we are out of session before lunch on Thursday because yesterday Republican leaders were forced to pull from consideration their continuing resolution. That would be the resolution to keep government open. We already know that House Republicans want to defund the Affordable Care Act and continue their very destructive sequester, again costing one million jobs just this next year.
But I think it is important to note, knowing the job killer, you know what they are trying to do, what it would do, but here are some other things. Their [continuing resolution] proposal would wreak havoc on Medicare. It is really important to note this because I don't think much has been said about it. No longer will we be able to provide services to millions of seniors. It just won't work, what they are doing just won't work. The fraud work to end fraud in the Medicare system would stop and the increased payment for primary [Medicare], primary care physicians would end. And that is really important. If we are going to provide services to people on [Medicare], we have to have primary physicians who will do so and the increased payments for them would end.
So, this is nasty. It has tentacles that affect in a negative way many aspects of American life. Now, Americans face the prospect of another Republican manufactured crisis to shut down the government. What is interesting to note is the proposals that the Republicans are putting forward are not proposals, continuing resolutions, to keep government open. They are proposals to shut down government. They know that. They know that what they are proposing is not going to pass the Senate or be signed by the President. So why don't we just save time and be constructive?
I respect the fact that they have the democratic [House] majority. We all respect that the President has the signature, that the Senate has a Democratic majority but requires 60 votes, so everybody has to respect the role that everyone plays in this. But the most important thing we have to know and consider is that we are here to do a job for the American people and just because you are an anti-government ideologue who has landed in Congress doesn't mean that you should be shutting down government.
We have a Democratic alternative, we have tried seven times now, we will try an eighth time to have it considered, and that is what you heard proposed by our Ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen on the Budget Committee. It replaces the destructive sequester, it creates jobs and accelerates economic growth, investing in infrastructure and “Make It In America” and reduces the deficit in a balanced way.
Just think again, getting back to the sequester, up to 1.6 million fewer jobs by this time next year; thousands, tens of thousands of kids forced out of Head Start; seniors kicked out of Meals on Wheels to the tune of millions of Meals on Wheels; and investments slashed in research and technology. What is it – about six billion slashed from the National Institutes of Health? That is devastating.
So, we are asking for a vote for our positive agenda, balanced, job creating, “Make It In America,” [and] reduce the deficit. We are hoping that we have that opportunity. Instead of getting us a chance to do that, [today] for the 41st time, the Republicans voted to defund or undermine the Affordable Care Act.
So in any event, just on the timing, my understanding is that the Republican leader has said that Members should be prepared to be in the week after next. Mind you, we just came in a few days ago. We are already out of session by noon on Thursday. We come in next week and we are scheduled to be out the following week, which is the week before the end of the fiscal year.
Again I am calling upon the Republican leadership to keep the House in session so that we can get our work done. And that is not just the work about the [continuing resolution] and the rest, it is work about immigration. We have to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It is about a farm bill. We need to pass a farm bill for the American consumer, for America's farmers and for all of those who depend on the nutrition programs that are contained in it. The path that they are taking by slashing 50 percent of the nutrition program, well, it speaks for itself in terms of how mean spirited it is. However, that is their path, perhaps their path, if it passes, to the conference table. So, they will be getting to the conference table on that even at the price of 50 percent of the nutrition program.
I bring up these other subjects because we are working on all of these subjects and have been. The issue of the moment, of course, is Syria. I am very proud of the President and I think on Tuesday night he laid out in very clear terms how the Assad regime’s [use] of chemical weapons impacts our national security, why the United States must lead the world in holding the regime responsible for gassing more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.
One thing is clear, undeniable: The President's credible threat of military action has brought parties to the table to seek a viable diplomatic solution. It is a tribute, I think, to the strength of the President and his strong leadership, that he was willing to make the strike and strong enough to say “no” to the strike if there is a viable diplomatic solution. We all hope for that solution in the crisis. The President rightly keeps the threat of military action on the table.
We, of course, must pursue every avenue available to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. That is a pillar of our national security and our military, as the use of force is something that we do as a last resort. So in that spirit, I commend the President for protecting us.
With that, I will be pleased to take any questions.
Q: Madam Leader, on that, I wonder what you have made of Vladimir Putin's op-ed in The New York Times basically saying the opposite of that, that the use of force would be horrific, arguing that the rebels, not the Syrian regime, the Assad regime, used chemical weapons and so forth. It really was effectively a slap in the face of the President.
Leader Pelosi. Well, it is what it is. I mean, Vladimir Putin is not in a strong constitutional democracy where people have their say so he comes here and has his say, but it has to have some fidelity to fact.
Q: But is it frustrating that he is our negotiating partner now?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know what? It is who it is. It is who it is. I mean, Assad is a part of the negotiation, too, and he is, I think, clearly a monster who would gas children in his own country that he wants to preside over.
But let me say this about the Putin thing. He has made several points in there, and I think it is interesting. I guess a lobbyist gets him that big space in The New York Times, but when he talks about “he doesn't want the United Nations to turn into another League of Nations and not be effective,” I thought that was interesting, because one of the reasons the United Nations has not been effective, say for example in Syria, is because of the fear of a Russian veto. Even initiatives that others have tried to propose that would, say, condemn the use of chemical weapons, they have not been willing to sign on to.
So, part of the strength of the U.N. is the fact that it has a strong Security Council. Part of the lack of success is that Russia and China too frequently use that veto power. But what I have found interesting was the closing. He says when we pray to God he judges us all. I don't know exactly what his words are, but he says that we are all God's children. I think that is great. I hope it applies to gays and lesbians in Russia as well.
And another point I would make is that while he has a right to his opinion on these subjects, of course I totally disagree with him when he disagrees with the President. America is an exceptional country.
Q: Ms. Pelosi, there is a new report out saying the CIA will be arming the opposition out in Syria with lethal armaments out there, and that being said, with the recent anniversary of the Benghazi attacks, you being part of the "Super Eight" here in Congress, were you ever briefed by the Administration regarding the fact that there was a CIA annex out in Benghazi and did they ever brief you as to what was going on over in that particular annex?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you have a lot of questions there. First of all you started off about arming the Syrians, is that correct? So on that subject, that is an old story. That is a very old story that has nothing to do with the current debate and balance in terms of being new to that. I can't tell you what I was briefed on in terms of…
Q: Did you know that a CIA annex did exist in Benghazi and did the White House brief you about that or no?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I am not going to answer that question. I have been to Libya. I was in Tripoli. I did not go to Benghazi, but had some idea of what was going on there.
Q: So you knew that the CIA annex was there?
Leader Pelosi. I am not confirming or denying anything to you on that score.
Q: On the budget, on the meeting today, it sounds as though you guys kept some more of a broad discussion rather than specifics. A, is that the case? And B, was there any agreement to meet again or to set up a process to try and figure out the debt ceiling since you guys know it is coming?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think – I know you heard me when I said I wouldn't be talking any more about the meeting, but I understand the reason you are pressing the question.
What is next is what the Republicans will come up with. Clearly, they had to pull their proposal that was supposed to come to the floor this week, which was some combination of defunding or undermining the Affordable Care Act, plus what I find to be is an unacceptable number, inconsistent with the Budget Control Act, which was a bipartisan agreement that they would put forth. But as bad as all of that was, it wasn't bad enough for those in the Republican conference so they have to go make matters worse, and when they bring that forward we will see what it is and make a judgment as to how to go forward.
But I think you will see a strong – if it looks anything like they were considering now, a strong negative part on the part of the Democrats. But that doesn't mean there isn't a place where we could come together and find common ground. If they have 218 votes – no, if it gets bad enough that they can get all of their votes, then that is one thing. It doesn't look like a path to signature though.
Q: Do you expect that there will be another of this meeting?
Leader Pelosi. I certainly hope so. I certainly hope so. I think we are efficient when we speak to each other. There is a recognition that we are all busy, that we speak for our respective caucuses and there is no arguing that. In other words, you may not like what each of us has to say, but it is what is the reflection of our caucus, and that again moves us forward, saving time and certain courses of action that it is not worth pursuing.
Q: Leader Pelosi, in your opening remarks you talked about how you want to replace the sequester. Do you actually want to replace it with other spending cuts and revenues, or do you want to just cancel it completely? What sort of package do you think the bipartisan group could come up with?
Leader Pelosi. We have had it; as I said for seven times now. We are going to try an eighth time to have it proposed and we can get you the particulars; probably they’re online. But as I mentioned, [Congressman] Chris Van Hollen, whom I have had here on more than one occasion to talk about the budget. It creates a job proposal. Yes, it would have cuts. Some of them relate to the farm bill, some of them relate to special interests, the special tax break for Big Oil that are part of the current situation. It reduces the deficit in a balanced way.
But again, this is written down. It has existed for a while and I will be pleased for my office to get you a copy of it because it does say we have to in a balanced way reduce spending. But you know, you have to make judgments, and when you make a judgment that you are going to, for example, throw kids out of Head Start, you are not saving any money because economists will tell you that nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investments in education, from the earliest childhood, K-12, higher education, and post grad and lifetime learning.
So, when these kids are thrown off of Head Start, it is not that they are only going to be three or four once. This is a missed opportunity for them. And we have a slogan in California. We say: “When children are learning, parents are earning.” When children are engaged in that way and learning, their parents can be earning. So when you cut off the funding for Head Start, not only are the kids deprived, their parents now do not have their option of kids learning at the same time and you lose the jobs of the people who have been teaching the children.
But again, it always amazes me how Republicans can say, “Oh, you don't have to,” as they have said to me, “you don't have to cut $38 billion in subsidies to Big Oil in order to reduce the deficit. You can save that same amount of money by cutting Pell Grants.” They are proud of that. I think it is a complete opposite set of values and therefore budget proposals.
But again, with stiff competition, with very stiff competition, this is one of the dumbest ideas that you could advance: cut education to reduce the deficit? No. Invest in education to grow the economy, to bring money to the Treasury.
I think one more question.
Q: It appears that the Republican leadership is whipping the Cantor nutrition bill that would cut food stamps by $40 billion. Are you going to be encouraging the Democrats to vote one way or the other on this?
Leader Pelosi. Absolutely. I don't even know that we have to encourage anybody to do anything. I think we had 100 percent vote when they came up with a smaller package even than that of cuts. So yes, we will most certainly. The momentum is really springing from our Members. I am very proud that Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, a Member of the Agriculture Committee, she is from Ohio, she is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, she will be managing our side of the bill for that and that means in opposition to the cuts.
Imagine that they would cut, and why? Why would we cut half the people, children, and seniors off of nutrition? Because they don't want to touch one hair on the head of the wealthiest people in America. It is just a bad idea.
Q: Leader Pelosi, I know you want to get rid of the sequester, but I am wondering for a short term CR whether you could support the levels that Speaker Boehner is talking about if they got rid of the defund Obamacare part?
Leader Pelosi. Well, we will see what they do. We will see what they do. It would have to be a very short time, and that is part of our discussion: what is the timing? Would there be an omnibus? Would there be minibuses that come next? You know, what comes next? So, I, myself, think that we have agreed. I am speaking for myself now, that we have agreed to the bipartisan Budget Control Act that called for $1.57 trillion. This proposal is a sequester proposal that is $988 [billion]. Even if we could split the difference it would ease the pain for a lot of people in our country and again reduce the impact on job creation.
The thought about sequester was that it is so cataclysmic, it is so unreasonable that no one would ever allow that to go forward. But even defense was not enough argument for the Republicans to say we are going to protect the tax advantages of the wealthy at the expense of our national security and that is why we are where we are.
So, we are concerned about the domestic cuts and we are concerned about the defense cuts. And I think that the American people don't really have a full idea about sequestration. Do any of you? Perhaps you do. But they do know that we shouldn't be shutting down government and they do know and we do think we have to make a case that says we have cut $1.57 [trillion]. That is big. We have cut over one trillion. We made those cuts. I don't want people to think, well, Republicans want to cut and we want to spend. No, we have agreed to over one trillion in cuts. Now, we are getting into the bones and those bones are important to the strength of our country.
So, it will be an interesting time because I would say to new Members, know the budget, just know it backward, forward and sideways. It should be a statement of values as a country as to what is important to us, how we allocate our resources. We have to do so in a balanced way. We must curb the deficit and we have to do so in a way that invests in the future and creates growth, as I say. So to cut education to reduce the deficit – first of all you are not accomplishing your goal, and second of all you are undermining the growth of our country.
I will just close with this thought: President Obama said when he became President that he was going to reduce the deficit by 50 percent in four years. Well, he did it in four years and four months. We have cut the deficit by 50 percent. So, the cuts are being made and as we go forward we have to continue to reduce the deficit, but we have to do so in a way that again doesn't wreak havoc on Medicare, doesn't undermine the education of our children, [and] doesn't destroy job creation as we go forward. And having said that, I look forward to working with my Republican colleagues to find a solution.
But if your goal is to shut down government, they are on that path. If you don't believe in government, then you would make proposals that would shut it down. We don't want any more government than we need, but we have to have the government that we do need, and that has been the fight in our country from the beginning. One fight is about security and liberty – not fight, but balance. You have to say another is about what is the role of government, no more than we need, but what we need for public private partnerships to grow our economy, to honor entrepreneurship, to get the job done for the American people, and honor life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because our founders saw it in a way.
Thank you all very much.