Transcript of Media Availability with House Democratic Leaders After the 113th Congress Democratic Organizational Meeting

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, and House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley held a media availability following the organizational meeting of the House Democratic Caucus for the 113th Congress.  Below is a transcript of the media availability:

Chairman Becerra.  Well first, welcome to everyone who’s here.  We have great news.  We have just finished a wonderful, a spectacular Caucus meeting where we had an opportunity to elect the Democratic leadership of the House for the 113th Congress.  And with the enthusiasm of our colleagues in the room, we move forward with the nomination and selection of our Leader, Nancy Pelosi, our Whip, Steny Hoyer, our [Assistant Democratic Leader], Jim Clyburn, our new Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, Joe Crowley from New York, and our Ranking Member who returns to Budget, Chris Van Hollen, and as we say in Spanish, su servidor – your servant, Xavier Becerra, as the Chairman of the Democratic Caucus for the 113th Congress.

It is clear that Democrats are ready to work.  The enthusiasm we see from all of these returning Members, and especially from these incoming, newly-elected Democrats, is one where, as the President would say: “we’re fired up and ready to go.”  We believe that we can get, not only the business of the people done in the coming Congress, but we believe that in this lame-duck session much can be accomplished if we work for a fair and balanced plan, we can get there.  Indeed, many of us as Democrats believe our Republican colleagues in the House should put on the floor the Senate-passed bill that would protect all middle-income tax payers from any increase in their taxes, that passed in the Senate on a bipartisan basis and it’s sitting in the House.  We say let’s put it forward and let’s make sure that nothing is done to damage the economic recovery, especially for our middle class.

So, we are ready to work.  We have the enthusiasm of over 200 Democrats here in the House of Representatives.  And it is with great pleasure that I now ask our Leader, who was unanimously elected to serve as our Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi.

Leader Pelosi.  Thank you very much Chairman Becerra.  Congratulations to you.  I wish you much success and congratulations to Joe Crowley, our new Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.  It’s an honor to serve with Steny Hoyer, Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, and I’m so pleased that we’re also joined by the newly-elected Ranking Member on the Budget Committee.

The Budget Committee; that is the center of attention right now.  President Obama has said that he has pen in hand and he’s prepared to sign the middle-income tax cut.  It has passed the Senate.  It has the support of the Democrats in the House and it is only held up by the Republicans in the House.  I think it’s really important for the American people to know what that obstacle is, but let’s hope that that obstacle can be removed so we can go forward with a big, bold and balanced agreement to end this fiscal crisis, to stop from going any closer to the cliff.  It can be done.  Democrats, we know that in order to reduce the deficit, the best thing we can do is create jobs.  Create jobs and economic growth: in order to do that we know that we have to prioritize our investments.  And we have gone on record to make cuts of over one trillion dollars.  But there has to be more revenue in order for us to inspire confidence in the markets, to inspire confidence in consumers, to create jobs, to grow the economy.

So, we hope that we can work in a bipartisan way with our colleagues.  They keep saying: “where are the cuts?”  Over a trillion dollars we have agreed to.  And more to be done when we go into a new Congress in terms of tax fairness and reform, as well as addressing some entitlement issues to make them stronger.  So we just think that because it must be done, let’s just sit down and get it done.  It’s only a decision.  Let’s pray that our Republican friends will join us in that decision.

Now, it is my privilege to, once again, newly-elected House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to speak to all of you.  Thank you.

Whip Hoyer.  Thank you very much Madam Leader.  I want to congratulate the Leader for her reelection, all my other colleagues with whom I’ve served, congratulate them.  And congratulate Joe Crowley for his election as Vice Chair of our Democratic Caucus.  He will be a very strong, able addition to the leadership of this House.

Some years ago, in September of 2008, our country faced a fiscal crisis.  The then-Bush Administration then asked then-leaders, Democratic leaders to respond.  And we did.  And we stabilized the economy and started getting out of the deepest recession that we have seen.  We are now confronted with another challenge.  Chris Van Hollen will be speaking a little more broadly about that.  The Democratic Caucus and the Democratic Leadership that was just elected is ready to cooperate with our Republican colleagues and work with the President of the United States to meet this challenge as well.  It is critical that we do so.  And I am convinced that we can do so in a bipartisan way if we are committed to reasoning together, talking with one another.  Yes, compromising.  Compromising is necessary in the democratic process.  But if we come together, we will meet this challenge and we will make this session, not a lame duck Congress, but a flying duck Congress that gets to the levels that the American people expect.  Of cooperation and of success.  If we do so, we could focus on creating the jobs and opportunities that our people need so that they can make it in America.

I look forward to working, not only with the Democratic Leaders, but with our Republican colleagues as well, to do what America wants us to do: get this country on a fiscally sustainable, credible path.  So that we can grow [our] economy, get jobs, and preserve opportunity for all our people.

And now I am pleased to yield to someone who has done that all of his life and reelected unanimously as our Assistant Leader, who has been my friend for some 50 years, and who will continue to be a strong voice, not only on behalf of middle class Americans, but as he said today in his acceptance speech, on behalf of all of those who strive for the opportunities America has promised them and reach the middle class.  And yes, the heights that their talents and their efforts will allow them to do so, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, our Assistant Leader.

Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Steny, thank you for your friendship and thank you so much for your leadership.  And I want to thank our Leader, who I have been very, very privileged to serve with and who I’ve admired for many, many years for her tremendous leadership to this Caucus.  I look forward to working with Chair Becerra and Vice Chair Crowley.  I know that working with Ranking Member on Budget, we are going to get to where we need to be in this great country of ours.  I believe that all of us are well aware that all of the issues that we are discussing today were fully vetted in this campaign that we – national campaign – we just had.  And the American people acted on that on November 6th.  And what were the results?  Our President was reelected by more than three million popular votes.  Democrats, holding fast to our agenda, went before the American people and Democrats in the Congress, all 435 Members of the House of Representatives running again – 201 Democrats were elected.  However, we got somewhere between 500,000 and a million more votes than Republicans did.

So, I believe that these issues have been acted on by the American people in a way that indicates that they approve of what the President is doing and the proposals we have let out.  As Steny said, I have always said: “if the distance between me and an opponent, on any issues, are five steps, I don’t mind taking three of them.”  And I would hope that our Republican colleagues will honor the work put forth by Senate Democrats when they sent their budget, a plan over here that has not been acted on.  As the Leader said: “we have voted.”  Democrats have voted for over a trillion dollars in cuts.  We demonstrated our willingness to do what needs to be done and to compromise on these issues.  I would hope that we can get a like movement from the other side of the aisle.

And with that, I’d like to introduce him as our Vice Chair and present just an outstanding guy who has no problems being seen when he walks into a room.  Mr. gentleman, Joe Crowley.

Vice Chairman Crowley.  Thank you all.  Thank you Jim, very much for that warm introduction.  I want to thank – just to speak for a moment as a boy from Woodside, Queens.  I want to tell you what an honor it is for me personally to serve in this Caucus, with this leadership, with Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, Xavier Becerra as our Chair, and certainly with Chris Van Hollen, he’s done such an outstanding job on the Budget Committee.  And to represent in this leadership, our Caucus, and their dreams, their goals and aspirations, not for themselves but for the American people.  And their desire, as it is the American people’s desire to get our country and to keep our country moving in the right direction, to help this economy to continue to grow, and to create jobs for Americans who desperately want them and need them.  And to work hard, that’s what they sent us here to do, and that’s my intention to do as the Vice Chair of this Caucus to work hard on behalf of this Caucus, and the American people.

And with that, I will give you the man with the know all, the know all on the budget issue, our great friend Chris Van Hollen.

Mr. Van Hollen.  Thank you Joe.  Well, let me start by joining our colleagues, Joe, in congratulating you on becoming the Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus.  A great day and we look forward to working with you.  To Xavier Becerra congratulations on being elected the Chairman and it’s a great privilege to be here with Leader Pelosi and our other colleagues as we confront the major issues and challenges that this country is facing today.

Assistant Leader Clyburn said that our job is to fulfill America’s promise.  That’s the job of Democrats, that’s the job of Republicans, that should be the job of everybody in this Congress.  And the President and those of us in the Democratic Caucus have made clear, we have two really important priorities in getting there: one is to accelerate the economic recovery and help put more people back to work.  Now, we saw some promising numbers today, and the last thing we want to do is slide backwards.  We’ve got to move forward and that’s why President [Obama] has put forth a plan to accelerate economic growth, put more people back to work, invest in our country, invest in our future.  We also recognize that over the long term we’ve got to reduce our long term deficits.  That’s also important to long term economic growth.  And we have said that we need to do that in a balanced way.  We recognize we have to make some difficult cuts over that period of time, but we also need to have additional revenue.  As Leader Pelosi said, when we passed the Budget Control Act, we agreed to a trillion dollars plus in cuts over the next 10 years.  That was 100 percent in cuts.  Now, we’re saying we want to take the same kind of balanced approach that every bipartisan group has recommended.  A combination of cuts, but also revenue.  By asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more to reduce our deficit so that we don’t put the entire burden on seniors, on Medicare, cutting our kid’s education and cutting investments in the future.

And that’s exactly what the President has called for, that’s what we have called for, and that’s why we’ve asked Speaker Boehner to move forward immediately with the middle class tax cuts because it’s important to make sure that middle income families go out there and keep buying goods and services to help the economy.  And it’s really important that the economy not slide back.  But it’s also important that we make clear that we’re going to reduce our long term deficit and that does mean asking higher income earners simply to go back to the rates they were paying during the Clinton Administration.  So, we should take up that bill.  Tom Cole, part of the Republican Caucus, Tom Cole, a very distinguished Member of the Republican Caucus made that point the other day.  Let’s move forward where we agree and then continue to work on these other issues in the days and weeks ahead.

So, again, it’s great to be part of this team on behalf of a great Democratic Caucus.

Chairman Becerra.  This is the leadership team for the 113th Congress and we want to make sure we do acknowledge a member of our leadership team of the 112th Congress who will be an outgoing Member, the current Chairman of our Caucus, the gentleman from Connecticut, John Larson, who was not only rousingly acknowledged in our Caucus meeting, but who was acknowledged of having been someone who gave great service and provided great leadership to the Democrats in the 111th and the 112th Congress and so we wish to acknowledge our current Chairman John Larson for all of the work he has put in.

And with that we will now take some questions.


Q:  Leader Pelosi, after talking with the President last night and meeting with Secretary Geithner this morning, Speaker Boehner just came out and told reporters that “no substantive progress has been made” in reference to the talks.  He basically stated that they’re not serious about spending cuts.  You’ve been very optimistic, but this seems like a major slam.

Leader Pelosi.  Well, we don’t agree on a set of facts.  We are telling you here that we are not only saying that we support spending cuts, we have voted for over a trillion dollars.  In fact, in this very Congress, close to a trillion and a half dollars in spending cuts.  And so, we’re on the record as doing that.  It simply is not a fact that we are not supporting the cuts.  The President has said: “pass the middle income tax cut.”  Never have we seen a situation that is so high profile that people are so aware – because so much is at stake – of budget discussions here that practically mirror the budget discussions that people have around their kitchen tables.

This $2,000 that middle income families will receive with this tax cut, or continue to have, is something that makes a real difference to America’s working families.  And as the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Van Hollen said, they can then go out and buy things.  As Tom Cole said: “let’s give a Christmas present to the American people.”  And all we’re saying is: “we’re willing to make the cuts, we want to go back to the revenue rates under the Clinton era.”  Which were part of, and enabled the private sector to have historic economic growth, creating over 20 million jobs.  And we think jobs are central to our economic recovery.  Not only do they alleviate the need for social services, they inject demand into the economy and create jobs.  So, it’s about confidence for the consumer.  It’s about confidence for the markets.  It’s very, very important that we decide to honor our responsibilities to the American people.

So, the facts are different than as you presented.  I didn’t hear what he said, but if he said we have not been serious about cuts, we voted for them.  We know they’re necessary.  We want the middle income tax cut to be passed.  The President has pen in hand.  The Senate has voted on it.  Democrats in the House support it.  It only remains for the Republicans in the House to move the bill.  This is very similar to what happened on the payroll tax holiday, you recall?  The President was calling for it.  The Senate voted for it.  House Democrats wanted it, Republicans isolated themselves and painted themselves, really, into a corner, and then they had to come around.  I think they’ll come around.

Q:  Do you agree with the characterization that there’s been no substantive progress in talks, however?  And their point they’ve made on spending cuts is that, you know, is that it’s a $16 trillion deficit, so, while some cuts may have already been agreed to there needs to be more.

Leader Pelosi.  No, no.  A trillion and a half dollars in cuts is a lot of money.  I know, we’re in Washington, D.C., and we get used to big numbers.  But a trillion and a half dollars in cuts, you go beyond that you’re talking about hurting the growth of our infrastructure, the education of our people – the very pillars, the very pillars of our economic strength.  Not to mention the economic and health security of our seniors and the American people and their families.

I’m going to yield to my colleagues on this.  But I don’t think we should be dismissing a trillion and a half dollars.  And all we’re asking the Republicans to do is to let the high income tax cuts expire.  That’s $800 billion dollars.  So if you think a trillion and a half isn’t much, you must think $800 billion – you have to see it in that perspective.  But I’m going to yield to Steny on this score.

Whip Hoyer.  Well, I think the fact of the matter is, the Leader has said, each one of us have said, we are prepared to move forward to meet this problem and this challenge.  And we’re going to do it successfully.  But the fact of the matter is every group that has met, every group that has met on this, on a bipartisan basis has said: it needs to be a balanced program.  It needs to be revenues and it needs to be restraints in spending or cuts.  The Leader has pointed out that we’ve already voted for substantial cuts.  We’re now asking and urging, and agreeing with Tom Cole.  We have agreement.  The American public are hungry for seeing their Representatives agree.  We do agree.  Everybody, as I understand it, in the Congress, almost – 95, 98, 99, maybe 100 percent – agree to the fact that the middle class in America should not receive a tax increase.  The Senate has passed, in a bipartisan fashion, a bill which will preclude all of those middle class working Americans from getting any tax increase on January 1st.

Well, the first thing we ought to do is pass that bill.  Because we all agree on that.  There is not disagreement.  The second thing we ought to do is work – and we’re meeting with Secretary Geithner and Mr. Nabors today.  And the Republican leadership has met as well, we ought to agree to move forward in a balanced way.  And we’re prepared to do that.  Balance is the key.

Q:  This language though, from the Speaker, and I know you all weren’t there, was some of the most stark that we’ve heard from him.  Particularly, you know, we’ve been through a number of these crises – debt limit, government shutdown – before, I mean, you come with a degree of optimism here.  Doesn’t this concern you?  He’s saying that after  he walked out of the meeting with the Treasury Secretary.

Leader Pelosi.  It’s a tactic.  It’s a tactic.  But the facts are these: the American people expect and deserve us to honor our responsibility for them, to manage this issue in a way that does not harm our economic growth, that does create jobs, that is big, bold, and balanced in reducing the deficit.  We can do that.  In fact, you’ve heard them say that the President walked away from such an agreement last summer.  But the fact is that the President didn’t walk away from it.  They walked away from it.

But let’s go back to that place – if they think the President walked away, well let’s meet them at that place again.  That’s a good place to start, four trillion dollars in deficit reduction.  The President said “yes,” the Republicans took a hike, they can hike on back.  But the fact is: we are not serving the public will to issue any ultimatum, put any conditions, and the rest, unless they are in furtherance of job creation, deficit reduction, and fairness for the American people.

I just want to say, in associating myself with the remarks made by our new Chairman Becerra about retiring Chairman John Larson, one of the things that I have said is, quoting Walter Reuther: “the bread box and the ballot box cannot be separated.”  We are talking now about how we fight about the battle of the budget – how we have that debate, how we try to find common ground.  That’s really important.  But the politics of that debate are affected by the politics of elections.  And we must have electoral reform and that’s why I’ve issued the DARE: disclose, amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, reform, have campaign finance reform and enforce the law.  Let’s have voting, a national law that says that people have to be able to vote in one hour.

I have asked John Larson to chair a leadership task force to put together a legislative agenda that we can introduce in the first days of the new Congress.  So, I salute him for his service, look forward to continuing to work with him [on] something very important, very essential to strengthening our democracy – where we have a government of the many, not the government of the money.

Thank you all very much.  I look forward to seeing you, or I’ll see you tomorrow, but along the way.  Thank you.