Contact: Nadeam Elshami/Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats held a press conference to highlight Democratic accomplishments for young adults today, the anniversary of the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act. Historic health reform allows young people to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. The law also made the largest investment in college aid in our nation’s history—lowering the cost of student loans, expanding Pell Grants, and saving taxpayers billions of dollars and making loans more efficient, reliable, and stable for students. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. As our guests come in, I'm proud to be joining them as we celebrate in the week of the one year anniversary of the signing of the historic health care bill, which also contained important other legislation relating to education and to our young adults.
I'm pleased to be here with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, Congressman Rob Andrews of New Jersey, Congressman Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, Isbah Rajah, Ana Teresa Bagatella, and David Corgan. They are our very special guests that Members of Congress are pleased to welcome, as we welcome each and every one of you.
One year ago, Congress made history for our country and progress for the American people when we passed the Affordable Heath Care bill. In doing so, we ensured that young people will be able to stay on their parents' policy until they are 26 years old. That appears to be one of the most popular elements of the bill, especially among parents. We don't want young people to have to forgo health insurance while they pursue their dreams.
So today is about the future. It's about young people who own that future and what this legislation means to them; first of all, that they can stay on their parents' policy. Already young people across the country are taking advantage of health care reform. It is estimated that 1.2 million young adults will have health insurance through their parents' plans.
For young people, and indeed all Americans, we eliminated lifetime caps on health care and ended the days when insurance companies can drop you or rescind your policy because you get sick. And soon millions of young adults and other Americans without job based insurance will have access to affordable coverage through health exchanges. That's about the health care part of it.
I'm so pleased that Mr. Clyburn and Mr. Hinojosa are with us, and Mr. Andrews, because they fought very hard for the education piece in the bill, as did George Miller. In passing the Affordable Care Act, benefits for healthy young adults, we talked about that, and all Americans, we made the largest, largest investment in college higher education aid in our nation's history.
The legislation helped to make college more affordable and helps more students by eliminating taxpayer subsidies for banks and investing those dollars directly in students and in parents, making federal loans more affordable, increasing the maximum Pell Grant awards, investing in community colleges, HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions. And on all of those scores, Mr. Hinojosa, Mr. Miller and Mr. Rob Andrews and our Assistant Leader Mr. Clyburn played a decisive role.
It is for young people throughout our country, for their dreams, their hopes and ambitions, that we passed this legislation. It is for young people that—Isbah and Ana Teresa and David—that we will always protect health care reform and our legislative educational agenda.
And now I'm pleased to introduce the distinguished Whip of the House, Democratic Whip of the House, Mr. Hoyer.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. Thank you very much. I'm the warm-up act for Isbah Rajah that I'm going to introduce in just a minute. One year ago, as our Leader has said, Democrats took bold action to pass the Affordable Care Act and the education reconciliation bill, all of which are important to all of you sitting before me and standing behind me.
Today these laws are putting patients, not insurance companies, back in charge of their health care. And American families and students are now benefiting from new protections and greater freedoms, which the Leader has talked about.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against children and young people with preexisting conditions, a protection that extends to all Americans by 2014, a protection critically important to so many people with an illness that otherwise would preclude them from having insurance. And young people can stay on their parents' insurance policy until they are 26. Particularly in an environment that exists today where it is so tough to get a job right out of college, that is a critical protection that young people now have and their families.
If Republicans, however, had their way they would repeal these new patients' rights and put insurance companies back in control. And thanks to the education reconciliation bill—we want to thank George Miller, Rob Andrews, Ruben Hinojosa and others on that committee—we helped ease the tuition burden for students by strengthening the Pell Grant program, by investing in community colleges, supporting Historically Black Colleges, and helping student borrowers manage their student loan debt.
Now, that may sound repetitive because that is what the Leader said, but we want you to understand those benefits, because if you don't understand what we did, some of the misinformation that is about in the land may occur to you as being correct. It is not.
The education reconciliation cuts out the middleman in student lending, enabling us to save taxpayers money, reduces the deficit by at least $10 billion over 10 years, and invests more than $35 billion in the Pell Grant program. For each of you, yes, but more importantly to make sure that our country is competitive globally, that we educate our young people to the extent of their capacity and their willingness so that they will be active participants in making sure we “Make it in America.” The Leader was wondering whether I was going to get that in.
Leader Pelosi. No, I wasn't.
Whip Hoyer. You knew I would, right?
Pell Grants are critical in our future, and that will help us remain competitive in the global economy, as I said. The Republicans are trying to repeal that.
Taken together, these two laws, these two laws alone, are major steps forward for young people in this country, and therefore for this country as a whole. We owe it to students like Isbah Rajah, who you will hear from next, not to let Republicans roll back what has been accomplished.
Isbah has been denied coverage twice for lupus and can now stay on her father's plan. I am so pleased that she is here. I am sure she applied to the University of Maryland because, of course, everybody wants to go to the University of Maryland, but she is at the University of Texas. She is a Longhorn, and we are so pleased to have here her to share her story with all of us.
Isbah Rajah. Thank you so much.
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Isbah Rajah, and I would like to thank Leader Pelosi and Congressman Hoyer and all the Representatives here for allowing me to share my story on a national level.
I am 21 years old and a student at the University of Texas in Austin, and I have seen firsthand how health care and the new law can affect the lives of young people. I hope to share this story on behalf of the many students in this nation that may have similar problems.
When I was 18 years old, I started to have symptoms of fatigue, making it hard to concentrate or complete my schoolwork. In the same year my father transferred jobs, and we now had to find private insurance coverage. However, when my parents tried to sign me up, the new insurance company denied me coverage based on my history of fatigue. I was left with no options, so I limited my visits to the doctor and hoped that my health wouldn't get worse. I was left uninsured.
A year later I began losing weight uncontrollably. An entire constellation of symptoms sprang up. I visited the rheumatologist, who diagnosed me with lupus. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can result in joint pain, hair loss, loss of appetite and much worse if untreated.
At the time my father transferred jobs where he would be provided health insurance from his company. Unfortunately the insurer again denied me coverage for my pre-existing condition. I was appalled. My parents, who already paid for my college education, would now have to cover all of my medical bills as well.
In order to reduce costs, I bought generic drugs instead of the prescription brand I was supposed to take, and I limited my visits to the doctor as much as possible. The stress of living with a serious medical condition, being a student, and worrying about finances was an experience that I hope to never face again.
Fortunately, we kept fighting, and my father's employer coverage eventually did cover me. And thanks to the new health care law, my coverage won't terminate when I graduate. I will be able to maintain my insurance up to the age of 26, even as I pursue my career. That means I can visit my specialist whenever I need to without paying outrageous medical bills. I can get regular blood tests to make sure that my lupus hasn't progressed to my organs, and I can buy brand name prescriptions without financially straining my parents. And if I had to leave my father's plan, or he changes jobs again, I know that an insurance company will no longer be able to deny me because of my pre-existing condition.
My 15 year old sister, who was diagnosed with celiac disease, can also not be denied coverage because of her pre-existing condition.
The new law has not only given me the freedom to stay covered, but has also freed me and my family from the fear that an insurer could drop me at any moment or limit me to go without treatment.
Having seen the impact of the new law, I have become an advocate for health care reform within my community. I have participated in local events discussing my story, and I have worked with Young Invincibles to raise awareness about health care reform at the UT campus. We even distributed flyers about a new graduation tool kit to help students like me find out how to get coverage even after school. I hope that I can provide a voice for other people all over this nation who have been denied coverage by insurance companies and have also gained so much from this new health care law.
Thank you so much.
Congressman Rob Andrews. And thank you so much for that inspirational story so beautifully told.
The story of the law that President Obama signed a year ago is the story of a family whose mother worked three jobs to pay the rent and the grocery bill and other bills for her children. And that mother's dream in life was not just for her own ability to provide for her family, but for the ability of her children to get an education. It's the story of a young woman in that family who was empowered to get that education when President Obama signed that law.
It's the young woman who is now at Indiana University. She is a Hoosier now in Bloomington. She is a young woman who is going to be the next entrepreneur that helps to solve a major problem in this country. This young lady is interested in focusing on fitness education—I don't know why she came here; everyone here is so fit—but focusing on fitness education and help deal with the problem of obesity in our country. She will not succeed if this law is repealed, because if this law is repealed, it will repeal the largest investment in college scholarships in this country's history. We will not let that happen.
We will say this, Ana, to you: The opponents of this law may distort this law, the opponents of this law may abuse this law, but the opponents of this law will never repeal this law because of the story of that family.
So to tell that story is Ana Teresa Bagatella, a sophomore at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Ana, welcome to Washington.
Ana Teresa Bagatella. Thank you, Congressman Andrews.
Hi, everyone. My name is Ana Teresa Bagatella, and I am a first generation college student at Indiana University in Bloomington. I am currently a sophomore. I am also a student leader with my campus student PIRG chapter. I am studying to become a fitness director, and I am much closer to graduating and reaching this goal thanks to the recently passed legislation, including the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Growing up I worked hard to make sure that I had a chance to attend college. My mom raised my brother, my sister and me on her own, working two, sometimes three, jobs at a time just to make ends meet. Since she worked so much during my high school career, I was the one in charge of all the housework and all the cleaning and making sure that everything was done. And I was also responsible for my little sister, making sure she got her homework done. And all the while doing that, I worked so hard in high school to ensure that I would be able to have a chance to extend my education to university.
Attending college was a big decision, and it was made possible because of the financial aid provided to me through the Pell Grant. Now, after graduation I want to become a fitness director and help combat obesity and the diseases that are caused from it as it is a huge problem in America today. In order to make it through college, I have to work 12 hours a week, which may not seem like a lot, but to a college student that is a lot of time away from your studies. And I have already taken out $6,500 in loans, and I am only a sophomore.
Between working and taking out loans, it is still not enough to pay for everything, so I rely on the Pell Grant to make up the rest of the cost. I achieved $1,400 in Pell Grants each year, an amount that would have been eliminated, but thanks to the passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility, I still have the Pell Grant today.
I have heard there was a proposal to cut the Pell Grant as early as next year. If aid from my Pell Grant is cut, I may lose access to my award altogether, and if this happens, I will face some very hard decisions including dropping out of school altogether.
I want to thank Leader Pelosi and every Member of Congress that has worked to get this bill passed, making sure that I and many others can stay in school and be with you a year later. Thank you, Leader Pelosi, for giving me a chance to be the first member of my family to graduate from college.
Congressman Ruben Hinojosa. Thank you, Leader Pelosi and my esteemed colleagues. Never in the history of our great country has there been a more historic piece of legislation signed into law that directly affects the well being of our low income and middle class families and their future as the Health Care Reconciliation and Higher Education Act.
Every year our nation's community colleges and minority serving institutions, including HSIs, HBCUs, tribally-controlled universities and other Minority Serving Institutions provide millions of low income, minority, first generation college students with the opportunity to fulfill their dream of a college education. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act was signed into law as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
Let me say that this historic legislation will build the capacity of community colleges, bolster STEM education at MSIs, and increase the representation of minorities in STEM fields all over this country over the next 10 years. Above all, these landmark investments will support students in acquiring the 21st century skills needed to access family sustaining jobs and thrive in our global economy.
Democrats in Congress and President Obama have made more affordable and more accessible for millions of students. I also want to thank Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan for his tireless dedication. We will continue our fight for our students and our low income and middle class families. They are the backbone of our country, and they are our future.
I want to introduce a young man by the name of David Corgan, a first generation student from Minnesota who is attending a community college through a maximum Pell Grant award. He comes from a single parent home and started working right after his high school graduation. But David knew he needed to find a stable and better job if he wanted to start a family.
David represents one of millions of our students who are eager, eager to earn a college degree and join the workforce of America. It would be a sin to take that dream away. Let's all fight to keep this program going, and please help me welcome David Corgan.
David Corgan. Hello, everyone, and good afternoon. My name is David Corgan. I'm a 35 year old first generation college student attending Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids. I'm a student leader with the Minnesota State College Student Association.
I want to thank Leader Pelosi for allowing me to share the story that so many nontraditional students are experiencing because of a bad economy. I am just 1 out of almost 5 million nontraditional students older than 23 counting on my Pell to graduate. The passage of this bill a year ago undoubtedly helps me stay in school.
I was raised my by amazing and hardworking mother after my father passed away when I was 3 years old. Growing up in a struggling household with only one income split between three jobs meant college always seemed like an impossible dream. I began working as a young boy with a paper route and kept it up all through high school. After high school I quickly rose to manager at a retail establishment, a position I held for several years. When the economy turned, retail was hit particularly hard, and I soon found myself without a job.
I began part-time work, caring for the disabled, but my girlfriend and I knew that we couldn't raise a family in that unstable position. We decided one of us would have to go back to school, and knowing that there would be a Pell Grant for me gave me the extra courage I needed to enroll in college. In the past 2 years, I have continued working over 25 hours a week to help pay for college while using my savings and taking out $8,000 in loans. It wasn't enough, and my $5,550 Pell Grant helps me to fill in the gap, keeping me in school. Currently I tutor in math and physics and will be transferring to the University of Minnesota to pursue my Ph.D.
The Pell Grant has made this impossible dream a reality and allowed me to drastically change my life for the better. This opportunity is all thanks to the recent legislation that passed increasing support for Pell Grants and the leadership of the 111th Congress. Now, counting pennies while waiting for the next financial aid disbursement may still be a reality, but that is because the Pell is not a free ride, but rather a crucial supplement that helps make tuition achievable.
Again, I want to think thank Leader Pelosi and every leader of Congress who voted to pass this bill 1 year ago so that I can be on my way to college graduation.
Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn. Let me just begin my thanking Leader Pelosi, Whip Hoyer, my colleagues Congressmen Andrews and Hinojosa. Thank you, David, Ana, and Isbah. Thank you all so much for your statements here today.
As I listened to David, I started counting. I represent seven community colleges. I represent 10 4-year institutions and 2 law schools. Six of those institutions are HBCUs. Two nights ago, three nights ago, I had dinner with the president of one of those institutions. She told me that 92 percent of her students receive Pell Grants, 92 percent.
Now, I looked at the numbers, $2 billion that we committed to community colleges, to HBCUs, to minority serving institutions, the largest single investment ever made in these institutions. We are here today to reinforce the action we took when we passed that law.
Education a lot of times gets overlooked, but I want to close my comments talking about the health care side of this with a little story. We passed this law late one Sunday evening. Two days later, Tuesday, I received an e mail from a mother from Florence, South Carolina. She said to me that she sat up Sunday night waiting for the vote, and she finally was able to go to sleep around midnight. She said she had not slept for 2 weeks because her 8 year old daughter, battling cancer, had used up all of her family's coverage for a lifetime, and they had received a letter from the insurance company saying there was no more coverage left for her and her husband and other children. She said to me: “Thank you. I was finally able to get a good night's sleep.”
That's what this law is all about, and anyone contemplating a repeal of this law seems to me not to have much heart about the future of these young people and others like them.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Leader Clyburn, for that very moving presentation, which, more eloquently than any reading off of provisions of the bill, spells out why this is important to America's families. No longer will that little girl be denied coverage because she has a preexisting condition. No longer will health insurance companies be able to put a cap on her or anyone else's coverage that they have. The list goes on.
You have heard about it very eloquently from our participants, our special guests, today, as well as hearing about the difference that the education piece of this bill makes in the education of our future, our young people.
We have a lot of young people gathered here from different organizations. I know that the Urban League Young Professionals are here. Others, please identify your groups. D.C. Student Alliance. MaryPIRG. Campus Progress. U.S.PIRG. Young Invincibles are here. Campus Network.
Thank you. Thank you all for coming.
David Corgan. I do have my backup from the Minnesota State University College Student Association, President Travis Johnson.
Leader Pelosi. Wonderful. Wonderful. And the U.S. Student Association. Lots of kids here. They are the future. It is your future. You must make sure that it is secure both health-wise and economically, and your being here today helps us make that case.
When Mr. Clyburn was talking about the call he received 2 days later, I was thinking about the call I received the next morning after this legislation passed. He has heard me tell this story a million times.
The President called and said: “Last night when the health care bill passed the House of Representatives, I was happier than I was the night I was elected President of the United States.” That's how important this legislation is.
I said: “I was pretty happy last night, too, Mr. President, but not happier than when you were elected President, because if you weren't elected President of the United States, without your leadership, your sticking with us on this bill, we would not have the victory that we have for the American people.”
We simply could not have done it without President Barack Obama, and we could not have done it without the help of so many of you.
With that, I would be pleased to take a couple of questions from the press. Any questions?
Q: One of the provisions in the continuing resolution, H.R. 1, is to repeal the health care law.
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: This is one of the riders everyone has an issue with. Have there been any conversations about which riders you would be willing to go forward with, any conversations about the health care rider specifically?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let's put it this way. The health care rider is not one that will be in any bill that will be sent to the President and that the President will sign. That is my view. Steny, do you want to speak to that?
Whip Hoyer. No, I think that's accurate.
Leader Pelosi. This bill will not be repealed. And they will try to go after different provisions of it, but as we had a previous meeting earlier before the 23rd of March with the American Diabetes Association, and the press asked: “What are you going to do to stop them from removing some of the provisions about lifetime limits, and nondiscrimination on the basis of preexisting conditions and the rest?” I said, well, we are going to fight them on that.
And the president of the American Diabetes Association stepped forward and said they are not going to repeal it because we are not going to let them repeal it, because we know what this means to America's families, and especially, I say, the 129 million Americans who are living with a preexisting medical condition.
We have to hear from the press because—from the press?
Q: Would you support the additional $19 billion in cuts that Senate Democrats are proposing?
Leader Pelosi. I haven't seen what those cuts are, but it's important to know what the cuts are before we can say we would agree to them. I don't think that they have been agreed to. That may be a figure.
Let me say that this isn't just about a dollar figure. This is not about dollars. This debate has to be about values, and if this bill that they have before—the bill that passed, H.R. 1, is a bill that cuts 6 million homebound seniors off of meals delivered to their homes. It cuts children out of Head Start and fires teachers who are teaching reading to children in disadvantaged areas.
There is no way to find common ground. What is the common ground? Three million seniors thrown off of Meals on Wheels? It's not about finding common ground on that. It's about taking it to a higher ground where the American people can say our values are to respect the dignity of our seniors, to educate our children, to create jobs, to create jobs, to create jobs as we reduce the deficit. So this will be a values debate.
Q: To follow up on that, have any of the leadership been privy to that $20 billion that we have heard floated by the White House and Senator Reid? Have any of y'all been in meetings or conversations about this?
Leader Pelosi. I'm not sure that those particulars have been developed yet. You will have to ask them. But the fact is is that depending on what the cuts are, then we can make a decision as to whether we can support it.
Whip Hoyer. I was going to say the same thing. I think the figures you hear are not necessarily filled in. They are sort of ballpark figures that are notional, and if we can reach these figures, could you do it? And as the Leader has said very correctly, this is about what they are going to do. They picked $100 billion out of the air, and they said they wanted to get that without any analysis, without any hearings, without any consideration of consequences.
What the Leader has said is absolutely correct. Numbers mean something when you get them down to impact on individuals. And that's what we are going to have to see before we can say anything in terms of support or opposition.
Q: Do you think a government shutdown is likely?
Whip Hoyer. I certainly hope not, and we are going to work hard not to have a government shutdown. Unfortunately we have a number of our tea party citizens who apparently are calling for a shutdown if we don't repeal the health care law, if we don't do some of the other riders that are included in there. And, in fact, they are coming to town tomorrow, and we will see whether they say that. I hope they don't. I hope they say to a democratically elected Congress: We hope you will reach a compromise to, yes, be fiscally responsible, but to take care of our citizens and to keep the government operating on behalf of our country.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you all very much.