Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference Unveiling A Better Deal to Rebuild America
|Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined House Democratic Leaders to unveil their bold, comprehensive infrastructure plan A Better Deal to Rebuild America. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
Leader Pelosi. Thank you, Congresswoman Esty for your kind remarks, more importantly, for your deep knowledge on this subject and your leadership on it. I’m very honored to stand here with my colleagues who have worked so hard on this issue over time and, now, as part of A Better Deal.
When we announced the Better Deal with the Senate, with [Senator] Chuck Schumer and others, we went to Virginia and we talked about infrastructure being part of it. Today, under the three co-chairs of [the Democratic Policy & Communications Committee] who developed the Better Deal, Congressman David Cicilline, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, working with the committees of jurisdiction, we have a comprehensive proposal that is transformational for America in what it proposes.
What is so exciting about it is it directly addresses the needs of the American people as it thinks very big, today, as we go forward. The President talks a big act but then he proposes a small bill, a small act of Congress, so we have to make sure that we take this message of greatness to the American people.
Now, across the country, when people take surveys about what bothers them, you know what looms large? Traffic. Traffic: it’s a quality of life issue. Arrive to pick up your children at school – it can take a half an hour, 45 minutes. This doesn’t have to be. As has been said, the American Society of Civil Engineers defined our deficit in infrastructure in trillions of dollars. So when the President proposes a 200 billion dollar plan over ten years, 20 billion dollars a year, what could he be thinking?
Mr. [Congressman Peter] De Fazio, our Ranking Member on Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, mentioned President Eisenhower. When President Eisenhower proposed the Interstate Highway Act, it was a national defense issue connecting America. As a matter of fact, Al Gore’s father was an author of the bill in the Senate at the time.
In any case, this is about our national security, it’s about job creation: 16 million jobs will spring from this proposal. It’s about quality of life for American people: the time they spend in their cars, air pollution from people being in their cars. Mass transit opportunities that will get them out of their cars but even when they have to be in their cars, have them go place to place in a much more reasonable and expeditious time.
It’s about commerce, moving product to market, especially if it’s perishable, time means everything in that regard. It is about issues that relate to being a part of the economy of the future.
Another health issue: clean air, clean water. Some of our water systems are over a hundred years old, made of brick and wood. Have a drink of water from that! This is essential, the need is well-documented by the [American Society of Civil Engineers]. The proposals in the way past, before they were obstructionists to President Obama, it’s always been bipartisan, there has always been a bipartisan way about this.
So it fits comfortably in our bigger picture of a Better Deal: build, build, build. Build the infrastructure of America all over the country in a smart way, build it in a way that is about the future in a way that conserves energy and keeping us competitive internationally as we develop the technologies to do that.
It’s about build, build, build. When you build all over, you bring personnel to build or you draw upon the community to build, but nonetheless, those people need services, so build the human infrastructure while you do this. That’s the school system and the rest but invest in the talent you need to do all of this. And the third build is build democracy – protect our democracy – and goes to that fact that you cannot – the Republicans have a proposal they have put forth that is about the private sector sapping the resources. We’re going to give them a break for building something that they will then charge tolls for – American people pay twice? We are not going there. So taking the private profit motive out. Public-private partnerships we are open to but not when the goal of the bill is to transfer dollars to the private sector, rejecting a plan to truly invest.
This is something that will bring revenue back to the Treasury: invest, create jobs, pay taxes, increase what comes into the Treasury and reduce the deficit. So I thank our co-chairs of our [Democratic Policy & Communications Committee] as well as all of our committees of jurisdiction. This is very thoughtful, very specific, bipartisan and transparent as well.
So we look forward to this debate but what a disappointment, what the President put forth. I would characterize it as something that privatizes our roads, air traffic control and infrastructure, creates more costly tolls for commuters, and places the burden on state and city’s budgets which is a problem but also is not smart in terms of wanting to have a national proposal where we are connected – which was the intention of President Eisenhower when he said it was a national security issue for us to be nationally connected.
With that, I’m sure my colleagues will be happy to answer any questions you may have on that subject.
Q: Madam Leader, did you get any commitment from Speaker Ryan along the lines of what you were speaking about yesterday? If not, will you vote against the bill and whip against it?
Leader Pelosi. Excuse me, I’m happy to get to that, but on this subject here. Because this is very important to our economy, our environment, our economy when we talk about broadband and the rest of that because so many times people see this as the path for jobs for the 21st century.
Q: Considering that the budget deal has money for transportation, can you talk about that in the context of this?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I can but this is a very major proposal of our Caucus and, again, I’m happy to answer those questions and I will more fully. We have tremendous intellectual resources who have worked on these issues, we’ve seen brief presentations, we can make them longer, you know that –
Congressman DeFazio. May I just address the budget question, there’s an ostensible $20 billion for infrastructure writ large which, in Trump-world, means virtually anything — remember they counted the Keystone XL pipeline as part of their trillion dollars – saying, ‘Well, we approved it and it’s going to go forward.’ Probably, as much as we can tell, a small fraction of that ten billion would go into transportation infrastructure.
Just look at one major project, the Gateway project in New York. That’s about a quarter of what the federal share would need to be. Or CREATE in Chicago, the largest freight bottleneck in the United States of America – that’s an insignificant amount of money.
We need a major federal commitment that is sustained, not a little bit of money. I mean, yeah – it’s big money for two years – I mean not big, you know, it’s some additional money for two years. It’s nowhere near what we need.
Congressman Blumenauer. And it’s predicated on cutting other transportation investments. It’s not a net gain.
Leader Pelosi. Any other questions about the subject that we’re talking about here? Yes?
Q: We talked a little about the subject of green infrastructure part of it but is there a role – I’m just thinking the way that Republicans got on board with this budget deal is the military stuff. Is there a role in playing up the national security implication to this? What does the Pentagon think about these issues, especially on the green energy stuff? Is this something they’re willing to put their chips down and say, ‘This is something we need’?
Congressman Blumenauer. The Defense Department has been on the forefront of it. They have any number of studies that they’ve analyzed. Our military leaders think that climate change is national threat and they’re looking at their facilities that are at risk. They want to invest in alternative energy because that protects their flexibility in the field.
We spent billions of dollars in the Middle East transporting fossil fuels in trucks that might as well have bullseyes on them. So the Department Defense, in Republican and Democratic Administrations, has been on top of it. What hasn’t happened here is that the Administration has not embraced the need and followed through on the opportunities.
Congressman Pallone. Can I just mention one thing to follow up on what Earl said? We on Energy and Commerce Committee have been trying to have hearings on climate change, sea level rise – they won’t do it, right? No hearings, no discussion of it whatsoever. So, we had a Minority hearing which was our right, and I figured, let’s go down to Annapolis because I had heard at the Naval Academy they were having problems with sea level rise.
I called up the Superintendent, I told him this is a partisan hearing, there won’t be any Republicans. I fully expect him to say, ‘no way Congressman.’ He said, ‘please come down!’ We went down there, he had the hearing in this room that looks out on where all the flooding was.
It was not even a stormy day. It was a bright beautiful day and you could see all the flooding at Annapolis and he testified because he is so concerned that this is affecting the military. So what Earl says is just the reality.
Congressman Cicilline. Yeah and I would just add one thing, it was included in the National Defense Authorization bill. the challenges that climate change presents to the military. So, there was recognition of that but there has to be a commitment to do that.
Leader Pelosi. If I just may say, when I was Speaker I established – my flagship issue was climate and energy. Under President Bush’s leadership, in a bipartisan way, we passed the biggest energy bill in the history of our country in 2007. He wanted nuclear, I wanted renewables, we came to an agreement.
At that time, this Select Committee that we established that [now-Senator] Ed Markey chaired, it was bipartisan – the Republicans were all in denial, but nonetheless it was a bipartisan Committee – took many hearings and documented for the record the testimony of generals and people in national security on this issue in 2007, 2008, 2009. So, this is not a new issue.
The Department of Defense is one of the biggest users of energy in our government, in fact, probably in the world, right? They have testified to the use of renewals and all the rest in terms of cost. In addition to degradation of the environment with the strict commitment to fossil fuels. This is – what we’re saying here is, we can document what the Department of Defense is telling us in terms of rising sea levels but what climate change would do in terms of drought, migration, all kinds of other issues that would fuel the flame of discontent and despair and that provoke hostilities.
But putting that aside for a moment, just to say that there is no question: as we build for the future we have to do so in a way that protects the environment, creates jobs, protects the environment and keeps us safe. The safety of our infrastructure. The vitality of commerce. The quality of life.
All of it is so important and you cannot go into a multi-hundred-billion-dollar infrastructure plan without saying we have to do this with the enhanced knowledge that we have, with better opportunities that we know of, to do so in a way that gets the best result for the American people. And by the way, cheaper, get more for your money.
Going back to the budget, and I thank you for being on point here. And I thank you for being on point. Anyone else want to be on point and be complimented for it?
Don’t tell anyone I told you this. The only reason they put that infrastructure piece in there is if you follow the conversation around here is they were hoping to get – what do they call them around here? – the Freedom Caucus. Whatever euphemism they’re using for “crush the little guy.”
It is to get them to vote for it because, if you heard them, they’ve said, well maybe if the domestic spending is on infrastructure. So, you’ve got the code word that they’re going to have something on infrastructure.
We have designated – and I don’t know how much of this is public yet – but how some of it will be spent is reflected in some of what you heard here about, clean water, safe drinking water for example, issues about broadband and some of the initiatives we can do right up front.
But what we’re talking about here is a much bigger approach to it all. So, that is not any reason to say this is about infrastructure. It was really a diversionary tactic. Because you know why they want to divert the attention? This agreement which I fought for – many of the things that are there – and I think it’s a good bill. It’s unfortunate that it’s taking place in an insulting way to those of us who are trying to protect the values of our country. But in this bill it will cost a minimum – add to the debt $250 billion dollars – a quarter of a trillion dollars added to the debt. They didn’t mind having $1.5 trillion added to the debt which would create no jobs, but they do resist any investments that do create jobs because they go under the category of domestic spending which they are always against, they are very resistant to.
So, as they tried to get their votes by increasing the defense money, we all believe in a strong national defense, we aren’t fighting that number, but we were saying, according to that agreement we all have to rise together. So, there’s parity in the increases. We won’t ever reach the defense budget because they started in a different place, but parity in the increases. That was successful, many of our priorities are in the bill. I have an unease with it and hope that the Speaker will man up and decide that we in the House can also have what [Senator] Mitch McConnell guaranteed in the Senate, a vote on the floor. The fact is that was just sort of like so we can say to him on the Floor it is about infrastructure. It is not about infrastructure, it is about trying to get some votes from that Caucus, and it is a much smaller piece of it than they wanted to do in the meantime.
Because we honored our commitment, opioids, Congresswoman Esty has been chanting, opioids, veterans, National Institutes of Health, issues of higher education and child care. Separate from that is the disaster resistance piece, which does not come up under the caps but nonetheless is a part of the negotiation. Issues that are related to the health provisions which again, do not come under the caps but are part of a different agenda because they are pay-fors. So it is, I am pleased with the product, I am not pleased with the process.
Q: Will you vote for it?
Leader Pelosi. No, I will not.
Q: Well you’re going to take back your compliment, what did your speech accomplish yesterday?
Leader Pelosi. I did not go out there to be there eight hours, but when I asked Members for their statements from their DREAMers, we were flooded with them. And what it accomplished was, it again reminded the American people what our commitment is to our values.
This is not about just the DREAMers, it is about the United States of America and who we are as a country. The response we had so tremendous and people will be calling in, I just imagine, flooded with it all. What it accomplished was to say, we have our beliefs and we are willing to fight for them, and we are willing to fight for them on the floor of the House. It was a simple question to the Speaker, why can’t we have a vote in the House of Representatives? I think the intensity to have that vote has increased. If you consider that a hostile question, I consider it a welcomed one because you said you might take back the compliment. No, I thank you for it.
Q: Do you think there might be a need for a 24 hour CR?
Leader Pelosi. Well the bill is not finished yet. Unless, since we came in here, as of last night. Well we did not have text last night and this morning when I was checking on some of the, I do not want to say unresolved, but unwritten down in the final form, that would probably just be now. It just depends on how long the Senate decides to go forward and if the Republicans have the votes.
Q: Can you say what you want to hear from the Speaker?
Leader Pelosi. Yes, I will tell you exactly. I will tell you exactly, because you probably did not, it was in with a lot of stuff said yesterday. Very specifically, it is the easiest thing that he can do. It is so easy and we have done it a number of times before. Bring everything to the floor. You want to bring Goodlatte to the floor, bring Goodlatte to the floor. We want the Hurd-Aguilar Bill brought to the floor, bring that to the floor. The Senate has a proposal, give the House a vote on that.
Anybody else who has something, let everybody vote what they believe. If I had been Queen of the Hill, ‘Queen of the Hill’ means the bill that gets the most votes is the one that prevails. Whether that goes to, say for example, the Senate bill would get a large number of votes, then it would go directly to the President. If it is the Hurd bill then that goes to more of a conference situation, but the Hurd bill is bipartisan, it recognizes our responsibilities to protect our borders, which we all agree.
But how do we do that and how do we decide how much money we spend in this? And I get back to the point, that is this is about a small piece of the comprehensive immigration bill. This is like CHIP versus health care. Health care and how we address health care in our country is the bigger picture. CHIP is about just the children. Immigration – big issue, DREAM Act – just the children.
Again, we can have something that is commensurate with a number of people who are protected in it, as far as our border is concerned, and leave the rest for another day. But build confidence and make this the first step to going to the other place. So, what we said to him, put everything on the Floor, Queen of the Hill. Just to remind of VAWA, 600 days the Republicans would not bring the bill, 600 days past the re-authorization date. Six hundred days, almost two years overlapping two Congresses. And so, what I suggested to the then-Speaker Boehner, the Republicans had a bill, they loved it.
Here is what it did, it said we are against violence against women, unless you happen to be a Native American woman, an LGBT woman or an immigrant woman. In which case you do not have the protections of this bill. What are we talking about? They consider that a Violence Against Women Act? Not so fast immigrants, Native Americans and LGBT women. We have the bill that passed the Senate in a bipartisan way, we want it to be brought back on to the floor. We said finally, Mr. Speaker, bring them back. Let the people who support this thing vote their alleged hearts out on how they want to curb protection for women, and let us have the vote on the Senate bill as well. We did that, the bipartisan Senate bill prevailed, went right to the President. We did that, they could do the same thing. This is about one of the easiest decisions the Speaker has to make.
Let the House work its will. Some on their side are wanting a guarantee on a vote of Goodlatte, give it to them. We want a guarantee of a vote on the issue. Let us have a debate and see where we go. But a bipartisan proposal is heard and it is bipartisan, it is unifying and it was done with great transparency. If the Senate comes up with something that they want to send over in a timely fashion then let’s consider that as well, see what that is and consider that as well. All we are saying is Queen of the Hill, put it all out there, let the House work its will.
But do not say to the House: we remove your dignity, an issue that is being discussed throughout the country that has been discussed in the Senate of the United States, but cannot be discussed in a legislative framework on the floor of the House of Representatives. We just cannot accept that. It has ramifications beyond this bill.
Q: So are you in working against the caps deal, or are you releasing your Members?
Leader Pelosi. No, I am just telling people why I am voting the way I am voting.