Pelosi Floor Speech on Budget Control Act of 2011
Contact: Nadeam Elshami/Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this evening on the Budget Control Act of 2011, the deal reached to avoid an unprecedented default. Below are the Leader’s remarks.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding and, every chance I get, I want to salute him for his tremendous leadership as the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, for the work he did with Mr. Clyburn in the bipartisan talks as they strove to have what the American people want: a balanced, bipartisan, fair agreement to lift the debt ceiling and take America forward. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
“What did happen, and it brings to mind the existential question: ‘Why are we here?’ And I would divide, as we say in legislation, I would divide that question into: ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘Why are we here today?’
“We are here because all of us in this body care about our country, have decided that public service is a noble pursuit and that we have come here to make the future better for future generations. That is what our founding fathers visualized for America, that every generation would take responsibility to make the future better for the next.
“That’s why, Mr. Speaker, our founders, in addition to writing our founding documents, the Declaration, the great Declaration, which embodies fairness in it, and equality, and then the Constitution. They declared independence. They fought the greatest naval power in the world. They won. They wrote the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, making us the free-est, greatest nation in the world, founded on a principle of respect that all people are created equal. That had never been done in the history of the world.
“And when they did that, they, as I have told you before because I love it so much, they also created the great seal of the United States. And that great seal of the United States has on it: ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum’—a new order for the centuries, for the ages, forever. So confident were our founders in their idea about one generational responsibility, one to the next, that they were confident that our country—that what they were putting forth would exist for the ages, for the ages. That was the challenge they gave us. That is the responsibility that we have.
“And for a couple of hundred years or more, that has always been the case. Every generation has always believed that it would make the future better for the next, for their children, for their grandchildren. We are here today because we believe that, and we believe that the public policy that we put forth, the legislation we put forth should result in public policy that makes the future better for our children and our grandchildren, that we are committed to their education, the economic security of our families, the dignified retirement of our seniors—including my being a senior—and also the safety and security of the neighborhood and of our country, and that we would do it in a fiscally sound way that did not give our kids any bills, public or personal.
“And so if we believe all of that, and that’s why we are here in Congress, it’s hard to believe that we are putting our best foot forward with the legislation that comes before us today. I’m not happy with it, but I’m proud of some of the accomplishments contained in it. And that’s why I am voting for it.
“That takes me to the second question: ‘Why are we here today?’ Why are we here today, within 24 hours of our nation going into default, after months of conversation about how we would address lifting the debt ceiling, not to have future spending but to pay our past obligations? And I won’t go into it again, how we got here. But I will say that time is one of the most important commodities any of us had, the most precious, the most finite. And during that period of time, when our country could have been more productive, more optimistic, more confident in the tradition of our founders—instead a cloud of debt placed on it because of the delay, the delay, the delay in lifting the debt ceiling.
“As my distinguished colleague, Mr. Van Hollen, said, this has never happened before—never, never tied the hands of a president of the United States. We never placed any doubt in the public markets as to whether this would happen. We never had people around the boardroom tables all wondering if we even knew what are the consequences of our inaction.
“But I’m concerned about the boardroom table. I’m more concerned also about the kitchen table because this delay and uncertainty has a tremendous impact on America’s families as they sit around the table and talk about how they are going to make ends meet. How are they going to pay their bills? Is Social Security going to be intact for them? Will their checks arrive this week or next week, whenever they’re due? Is Medicare and Medicaid something that they can count on?
“Well, after months and months and months to reach an agreement that could have been reached a long time ago—it’s not so great it took so long to achieve. It could have been accomplished months ago, and at least have the merit of instilling confidence earlier, sooner rather than at the latest possible moment. So we must make sure that we are—as we say, ‘Why are we here today?’—that we are not here some other day to go through these motions.
“And that’s another reason why I’m supporting this bill, because the President was successful in impressing upon the Congress that we needed the full time, the 18 months so that we can have the Americans’ kitchen table, people sitting around that table and sitting around the boardroom table, would all know that you can rely on the United States of America to meet its obligations. Okay?
“Another reason to support this bill, even though there are plenty reasons not to, is that it stops cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This is the most important assignment given to the Democratic leadership going to the table: make sure there are no cuts in benefits in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That was achieved.
“Another issue of importance to us is that as we protect and defend our country, we also measure our strength in the health, education and well-being of the American people. And so we have a 50-50 split between our expenditures for defense and our expenditures for strength defined in other ways for our country.
“So these are some reasons, while those who may have the luxury of not wanting to vote for the bill, I feel a responsibility to do so. We cannot, because of certain objections in the bill—and one of the main ones is that there is not one red cent coming from America’s wealthiest families and most successful people. And God bless them for their success, and I know that they are willing to do more. But not one red cent coming to help reduce the deficit, while we are willing to cut Title 1 education for the poorest children in America. And that’s too bad for those children. It’s terrible for our country.
“So, again, make a list of things in the bill that we do not like and things that are not in the bill like revenue, but I urge my colleagues to think about our seniors and to think about the 18 months and what that means in terms of confidence in our society, and what it means also to have the 50-50 in terms of defining the strength of America.
“We cannot, despite our reluctance to vote for this bill for some of us, allow America’s seniors and veterans who are depending on receiving their check from the government or their security over time. We cannot allow our seniors and veterans to be caught in the collateral damage of the assault on the middle class that is being waged in this Congress. This is one manifestation of making it harder for the future for the great middle class, which is—and those who aspire to it—which is the backbone of our democracy.
“So if we’re going to honor the vows of our founders and carry on the great legacy and tradition of their optimism, their determination, their hope for the future that we would last for ages, that we would last for ages as a democracy, not an ever-broadening disparity of income and equity in our country that undermines that democracy.
“So please, my colleagues, if you’re on the fence about this, I certainly am and have been—even though I worked very hard to support the President in preserving what I said about no cuts in Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, about this 18 months and about the 50-50 split. Please think of what could happen if we defaulted. Please, please, please come down in favor of, again, preventing the collateral damage from reaching our seniors and our veterans. I urge you to consider voting yes, but I completely respect the hesitation that Members have about this.
“And again, I want to commend our distinguished colleague, Mr. Van Hollen, Mr. Clyburn, the President of the United States, and really those who tried to work in a bipartisan way to accomplish something.
“Now I hear that our Republican colleagues have said they got 98 percent of what they want in the bill. I hope that their votes will reflect that.”