Contact: Nadeam Elshami/Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616
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 morning. Here we are, probably our last coming together for a press availability before we leave for the Easter-Passover break. As we gather here this morning, the President will shortly be making a statement about energy at the White House as the United States Senate is debating legislation on how we stop tax breaks for Big Oil and use those resources for renewable energy so we can take ourselves [out] of the situation that we are held hostage by, an international price of oil. This is an issue that, as many of you may remember, is very important to me. As the Speaker, I instituted a Select Committee on the subject of energy independence, and I'm excited about the fact that the President and the Senate are moving forward with this. And it's something that we will support them all the way. It's really important to stop the subsidies, use the money for renewables, and that will help us down the road. Immediately we have to stop the Wall Street speculation, which is cornering the market on oil and adding, experts say, almost 20 percent – 17, 18, 20 percent to the price at the pump. We have to stop those same Wall Street speculators from trying to sue against the Dodd-Frank provisions that stops them from cornering the market. And the other point is the Republicans here, the handmaidens of Big Oil in the Congress, are trying to stop the funding of the commission that regulates derivatives and speculators. So that's on the subject of energy.
As you know, today we are debating the budget. Simply said: the Republican budget breaks the Medicare guarantee; makes seniors pay more, $6,000 more, to get less in benefits, while they give over $300,000 [in] tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country. It just isn't fair. It is a job loser, and it must be – hopefully it won't even have the votes on the Republican side to pass, but it may.
On the other hand, our Democratic budget is a statement of national values, about the education of our children; the economic security of their families; the creation of jobs; the retirement security of our seniors; supporting Medicare, and, again, doing so in a fiscally sound way. It's important to note, I mentioned Medicare, $6,000 more for seniors, $300,000 [in] tax breaks for the wealthy. But also, if you're a young person, in terms of higher education, 400,000 young people will be deprived of access to Pell Grants, and another 9-plus million people will have their benefit curtailed under the Republican bill. At the same time, the Republican bill does nothing to address the fact that on July 1st, the interest on student loans will double, double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. The House Democratic budget, under Mr. Van Hollen's leadership, addresses this and keeps it at 3.4 percent.
So if you're a student, if you're a senior, if you are a member of a family, this budget should not be a statement that reflects your values. It does not. That budget – now, talking about what else is on the floor today, transportation, the Republican budget – think of this, we all recognize that the transportation bill is one of the biggest job creators. We all recognize that over time it has always been bipartisan in its approach. That's because localities have worked together in a regional way to put forth projects that can compete and, again, create jobs, build the infrastructure of America, promote commerce, and the quality of life. In the budget [House Republicans] cut it from $90 billion to $46 billion. As miserable as the Republican bill is, H.R. 7, it doesn't even get funded by the Republican budget. Maybe that's a good thing. But apparently they don't have the votes for their own transportation bill, which the Secretary of Transportation has said has been a job loser, bad for public safety. And so it is a bad bill to begin with, and they won't even place the idea of, well, let's come together about some transportation bill, and adequately fund it. What they're doing today is, again, trying to kick the can down the road with a 90-day extension. These extensions are bad. They lose jobs. And the departments of state transportation, state departments of transportation, for job losses from this kick the can down the road extension, 41,000 jobs in North Carolina. That's the most. They have big things going on there. Illinois, 4,500; Maryland, 4,000; Nevada, 4,000; Michigan, 3,500. The list goes on and on. And the problem is that there is no confidence, no certainty when they kick the can down the road. The state, the private sector, and the rest, cannot go down that path.
So, of course, there is a big difference between passing the Senate bill, the bipartisan Senate bill, and the House H.R. 7. There are many more jobs, 2-million jobs, in the Senate bill, whereas the House bill is a job loser. But separate and apart from that, just addressing kicking the can down the road, that's a job loser as well. And again, it affects small business. It costs the taxpayers more; the on again, off again with the project, putting it down into the future where it will cost more as well. So it is a bad idea. We've asked them to pass something that can go to conference, and then an extension covers the time you go to conference, and that should be a matter of weeks, and then it's over. But apparently they don't have the votes to do that, and so we are at their mercy.
In any event, whether it's energy and the need for us to address the price at the pump, on that issue, no one has asked me what I support. I support releasing or stopping oil going into the [Strategic Petroleum Reserve]. I am pleased to see in the paper this morning, that because of the conversations that the Administration is having internationally, the price of crude is already coming down. And part of the oil issue, too, is when you say you are going to stop the Wall Street speculation, and perhaps you are going to release, or not put oil in the [Strategic Petroleum Reserve], that puts the speculators at unease about their speculation. So, all of these things are connected, but they have one thing in common: the economic security of America, keeping America number one, whether it is adequately funding education, whether it is reducing our deficit in a fair way, not by giving hundreds of millions – excuse me, hundreds of thousands of dollars individually to higher income people in our country – to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and then asking seniors to pay more.
Q: Madam Leader, I'm wondering, you called the GOP budget a job loser?
Leader Pelosi. Yes.
Q: But yesterday there was a bipartisan bill that only 38 Representatives voted for. I'm wondering how that is not a job loser.
Leader Pelosi. I do not get your point.
Q: That bill was bipartisan. It was people from both sides of the aisle, and it included, you know, a lot of what both sides wanted. And I'm wondering…
Leader Pelosi. You are talking about what was a caricature of Simpson-Bowles? Is that the one you are talking about?
Q: If you may, yes.
Leader Pelosi. Well, they advertised it as Simpson-Bowles, but they changed the spending and revenue provisions in it. And so it did not receive [the] support on either side of the aisle because it wasn't a good idea.
We think our House Democratic budget is a statement of national values, does reduce the deficit, while investing in the future through education and the rest, and respecting our responsibilities to the American people, including our seniors.
That bill did not have support because it wasn't what it was advertised to be. Quite frankly, the day or two before, I would have probably told you I would be supporting the bill when it was presented to our Caucus as an option. But then, when we saw what the particulars of it were, that's why I didn't vote for it. I can't answer for what others did. We didn't have a campaign against it. People just voted the way they voted.
Q: Madam Leader, have you had any conversations, or what have the conversations been, between you and the White House, or colleagues, about what to do about health care if parts, significant parts – individual mandate or other parts of the health care law are struck down by the Supreme Court?
Leader Pelosi. I think you know I'm pretty confident about the merits of the case. And I was very – I didn't go there myself. I did not see the proceedings. I wish there were television cameras in the Supreme Court – in case any of you have that question, I will anticipate it, so that we can all see the arguments and the back and forth of it. But I'm a supporter of judicial review, honor the Constitution in that regard. That's why we wrote our bill in a way that was constitutional. So, I still feel pretty confident about it. And if, and when – this game is not over. March Madness, what happens if your team doesn't win? Well, wait a minute, let's have a game. And I have confidence in our Solicitor General and his arguments. From what I can see from the transcripts, I don't know that anybody – well, Mr. Conyers was pretty confident yesterday, but then again he went to the Court.
I was pleased to send a number of Members, representative of our Caucus, and they were all impressed by our democracy and how the system works, and then the substance. We will see what the decision is. But it was – they were inspired. It was lovely to see the reaction. People were so grateful to have the opportunity to go there.
Q: Madam Leader, you talked about the Senate bill that will close tax loopholes for oil companies. There is a bipartisan report done by the Congressional Research Service that that cost to oil companies would actually be passed on to consumers. Why support a bill that could actually raise gas prices when gas prices are already so high?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think you speak to the bankruptcy of decency in the whole system. We have oil companies, the Big Five, I'm not talking about all oil companies, I'm talking about the Big Five, making tens of billions of dollars a quarter in profits. Record breaking. Historic. Why do they need an incentive to drill? And I have had Republicans say to me: ‘you want to reduce the budget by $38 billion by eliminating the tax break subsidies for Big Oil? You could save that much by taking the money out of Pell Grants.’ It is a different value system here as to how you do a budget.
And so, I think that keeping America number one is very important. Honoring the – rewarding an industry that makes billions of dollars a quarter, the five companies that are making billions of dollars a quarter, and saying if you don't, they will misbehave and pass it on to the consumer is totally irresponsible on their part. It does not argue for giving them a reward, in my view.
Q: Madam Leader, what did you think of Bobby Rush's move yesterday on the floor?
Leader Pelosi. The hoodie? Didn't I talk about that yesterday? Remember the pant suits and all of that? I think that Bobby Rush deserves a great deal of credit for the courage he had, to go to the floor in a hoodie, knowing that he would be told he was out of order, and he quickly left the floor. He wasn't contentious about it, but he made his point. He called attention to a situation in our country that needs to be addressed in a way that a man in a suit and tie might not be able to do.
Q: Madam Leader, can I follow up on that question? Yesterday you didn't seem concerned about the dress code, and you said it had changed since you have been here. One of your colleagues, Mr. Cleaver, is writing a letter to the Speaker asking him to enforce the dress code across the board evenly. Do you think it is currently being enforced evenly across the board?
Leader Pelosi. I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it, to tell you the truth. I mean, I really don't. I do think that respecting – any one of us will tell you that the biggest honor we can ever have in the Congress is to represent our districts, to do so with dignity, and that includes how we come to the floor. Sometimes, Members are just coming in off the plane, or something like that, and they run to make a vote, and they may vote in the back of the room without a suit. But as I said yesterday, I'm more concerned about what they say on the floor, and the policies that they put forth that are relevant to the lives of the American people. This, I think, falls into the fairly irrelevant.
But all of us have a responsibility to serve with dignity. And, yes, if you're going to enforce it, enforce it, but don't be selective about it. I still wonder why women can't wear hats on the floor.
Q: Madam Leader, do you think – following up again, do you think that Congress should hold public hearings on the whole situation of Sanford, [Florida] and Trayvon Martin?
Leader Pelosi. I think that – are we talking about Trayvon Martin?
Leader Pelosi. We all supported an investigation; that is taking place. I think that's an issue in the justice system, and if that doesn't seem to be working, then consider some other options. But I'm pleased that the investigation is going forward.
Q: Madam Leader, so just to be clear, are you urging your Members to vote against the 90-day extension?
Leader Pelosi. Yes. Well, they can do whatever they want, but I do think that it is irresponsible, and it's not, you know, it costs jobs. It's almost a dereliction of duty not to have done this bill before. What is going to happen after we come back? What miracle is going to happen? What enlightenment is going to come upon us that they will finally be able to pass a bill? They should just pass the Senate bill.
Let's go back to December, when we had the payroll tax. The Senate Democrats and Republicans supported it. The President supported it. The House Democrats supported it. It was only the Republicans, painting themselves in the extreme, who opposed it, opposed it, opposed it until it became too hot to handle. They are doing the exact same thing. Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Inhofe, could we go to a fuller array of opinion in the Senate? Cosponsors of this legislation. Bipartisan. Seventy-four Members voted for it. One was absent for a funeral, so it could have been 75. Three-quarters of the Senate, voting for this legislation, the President willing to sign, House Democrats ready to support, and yet the Republicans in the [House] not wanting to even bring it up.
We have asked to have a vote on it. Some Members want to have a vote on it. Our Ranking Member, Mr. Rahall, asked to have it made in order as a substitute. We didn't ask just to say: ‘let's have a vote on whether we could have a vote.’ A vote on whether we could have a vote? And, of course, we can bring it up as a previous question issue, but that is procedural, and not a substantive.
So, Members will do what they do. I think, I myself will be voting no, and just think we should discourage – especially when there is no real prospect for success. They have their own bill. Pass your own bill. Horrible as it is, at least it takes us to conference. Can't do that? Let's pass the Senate bill. We can work together in a bipartisan way to pass the Senate bill.
Mr. Hastert, when he was Speaker, he said he had to have a majority of the majority to bring a bill to the floor. There was that half, the Members plus one, on their side, to bring it to the floor, and we could work in a bipartisan way. Now, either they can't get a majority of the majority, or they are insisting on 218. In any case, whatever they come up with won't be signed, or approved, by the Senate, or signed by the President.
So let's just get it done for the American people. Time. Time is important. And it's about time we pass this very important jobs bill. And I don't know, again, what miracle can happen. I'm a big believer in prayer, and I engage in it, but I don't use it for legislation. But maybe that's what we need to do, to pray for something good to happen over Passover and Easter.
But left to their own devices, we have seen nothing but kicking the can down the road, and they have even suggested they might kick it again. And every day that they kick the can, more jobs are lost, the cost to the taxpayer goes up, and small businesses suffer for lack of getting, being a part of these projects that will go forward.
Q: Leader Pelosi, on the Erskine Bowles-Alan Simpson question, to piggyback off of that, what does it say about the current state of American politics that the most bipartisan plan, the plan that puts most pain on both sides, could only get 38 votes in the House of Representatives?
Leader Pelosi. Well, do you know what is in the bill? Do you know what is in the bill? Because it is really important. Because if you are making a judgment about it, as to what was in Simpson-Bowles, then, as I said, I felt fully ready to vote for that myself. But it wasn't even a controversial bill, but it is not what that is. And the swings of tens of billions of dollars means something, in terms of the lives of the American people. So, I don't think that that's a measure of anything.
I think the measure is that the Republicans will vote for a bill that cuts the Medicare benefit, that makes seniors pay more to get less, but gives $300,000 to the wealthiest in our country. Isn't that astounding? Don't you just feel like taking to the streets and saying: “you are getting ripped off in there?” That really should be the focus of our attention.
And again, they did the same thing with the President's bill. They said this is the President's budget, except it was a caricature of the President's budget, so we voted against it. They said this was Simpson-Bowles, except it was a caricature of Simpson-Bowles, so we voted against it. I think, when we had our briefing with our Caucus members, people felt pretty ready to vote for it until we saw it in print.
But keep your eye on what is happening here, and that is, we have a shift of resources, once again, from the middle class to the wealthy. This may be – my Members do not like me saying that – but it sucks up the money from the middle class – in the eight years of the Bush Administration, to the advantage of the wealthy, and now they are going one better by even giving more tax breaks to the high end. It does nothing to reduce the deficit, nothing to create jobs, nothing about fairness; doesn't invest in the education of our children, and weakens Medicare right now, weakens Medicare right now, and in a few years, eliminates the guarantee altogether.
It also eliminates the Affordable Care Act provisions that are in effect now. That means that $3.2 billion are saved by about 5 million seniors, by trying to close the donut hole, that would be gone. It means that the annual wellness checkup without a copay, that would be gone. It means the 2.5 million students who are on their parents' policy until age 26, that would be gone. That means that every child, to the tune of millions of kids in our country, with a preexisting medical condition, asthma, diabetes, birth defects, you name it, they cannot be discriminated against because of preexisting medical conditions, that would be gone because of what they have done.
Do you want me to tell you some more things?
This is absolutely so irresponsible, so out of touch with the needs of the American people and their kitchen table concerns that they have. But it is a big day for Big Oil, and wealthy people, and the rest of that, and that's who they are here to serve.
And with that I'm going to go to the floor to speak against the extension of the transportation bill.
Thank you all.