Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Q: How is the birthday going so far?
Leader Pelosi. Great. Well, it's even going to be better when we have this wonderful vote in a few minutes. What [better] way to celebrate a birthday than with a wish coming true that we could work together to get the job done for the American people. I was just listening to the Speaker's speech on the floor, and it was very encouraging to hear.
Since 2003, Congress has spent nearly $170 billion in short term SGR patches. People don't understand the short term patches are more expensive than addressing the issue in a macro way. We are transferring Medicare away from a volume based system toward one that rewards value. This is really important. This is what the Affordable Care Act was all about, value, not volume; performance, not procedures; quality, not quantity, of procedures.
And, again, if it makes people healthier, that's the most important thing, but it also lowers costs. And because of the Affordable Care Act and the lowering of the increase of costs of health care, we are able to afford this legislation. Of course, we are happy about Children's Health Insurance Program. We always want more, but we are pleased to extend it for two more years, expand the community health centers funding.
I think you know some of the particulars of the bill. But it's a really good bill. It is going to have a good strong vote. And it is going to be very soon. So I'll be brief in my comments.
This has been a really interesting week. Yesterday we heard a magnificent presentation from the President of Afghanistan. So remarkable. He gave us hope. And, hopefully, we can work together to help Afghanistan achieve its goals. What was especially pleasing to so many of us who have worked on this issue for a very long time – you know how long, since the start – it was actually a very long time.
I, in 1979 and 1980, was outside the Soviet – it was Soviet then – consulate, carrying flags, "Soviets out of Afghanistan." Our Soviet Embassy has been the site of many First Amendment demonstrations over time. And, at that time, it was, as you know, a very big concern to the American people that the Soviets had invaded. But, in any event, since 9/11 especially, our official responsibilities toward U.S. Afghan policy. But what we loved was about a third of the speech was about women in Afghanistan. And, as we say here, when women succeed, America succeeds. It was clear that the President believes that, when women succeed, Afghanistan succeeds. And that is common ground for us to work together.
And while we come together and salute the bipartisanship that went into the SGR, this week we also had a big division, and that was on the budget. The Republican budget has many reasons to oppose it. It's a terrible budget in many respects. But what is most bothersome to me is what it does to our young people. It is so damaging because it undermines the magnificent potential of young people in our country. It ends higher education tax credits, cuts the student loan program, increasing their costs, increases student loan debt, freezes maximum Pell Grants.
Imagine, Pell Grants for those kids who are right on the margin as to whether they can go to school or not – freezes Pell Grant funding for 10 years. It is a big cut, eliminating $89 billion for Pell Grant increases that Congress has already enacted and paid for. And it overall cuts student loan aid by more than $220 billion. The GOP budget overall cuts current policy support for student loan aid by more than, again, $220 billion over 10 years. Empowering students to finance their student loans at lower rates is a very empowering, empowering, initiative.
And that's what we announced here. Some of you were here with Mr. Courtney introducing legislation, the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing bill, that addresses the crisis of student loan debt weighing on the lives right now of so many entrepreneurial young Americans. And that student loan – we want entrepreneurship. We want to encourage it.
But having the anvil of student loans weigh you down is one barrier to young people following their passion and their pursuits, even if that means starting a small business, even if that means starting a small family. It's just not a good thing for the dynamic of a society and an economy. And, again, I could talk all day – and you probably think I will – about what is wrong with the Republican budget. But that one is so demoralizing.
I am very proud of the work of Chris Van Hollen, our Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, for the contrast that he has made in terms of jobs. 2.9 million jobs will be lost because of the cuts in the Republican budget. And these are cuts in investments. These are cuts in investment. And I will close this point by saying nothing brings more money to the Treasury than the education of the American people: early childhood, K through 12, higher-ed, post grad, lifetime learning. That's where the revenue comes into the public treasury, enabling us, in turn, to provide the services that we need to grow our economy.
Nothing does more for innovation than the education of the American people. Innovation begins in the classroom. So if you want to reduce the deficit, educate. If you want to innovate, educate. If you want to have a society where people can pursue their passion and their aspirations, educate. When we eliminate the disparity in education, we will go a long way to eliminating the disparity in opportunity. Opportunity, that's what America is all about.
With that, I am pleased to take any questions before we vote.
Q: Madam Leader, on SGR, it's kind of an unusual situation where you and the Democratic Leader in the Senate are not together necessarily on an issue you are usually together on, abortion and health care. How do you explain that? And what do you expect to happen on that side?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I hope that we have a big strong vote here today and that will encourage the Senate to take up the bill as soon as possible so that our work will be done before the deadline, March 31st.
We really don't have a difference of opinion. We would like to get rid of the Hyde Amendment. But the Hyde Amendment has been part of community health centers legislation since 1979, since the Hyde amendment existed.
But the difference is not necessarily the language only. It's the vehicle it's on. And what happened in the Senate is they put that language on a vehicle which codified Hyde. Over here we just called back to language that is in the Affordable Care Act, that is in our appropriations bills every year. As soon as we can get enough votes to get rid of the Hyde language each year, that would be a good thing.
Just to go back in history, since it's my birthday, and I went back to 1980 with Afghanistan, I will go back to 1980 again. I was in Italy, representing President Carter as part of – I was chair of the California Democratic Party. I really wasn't a senior person. But Mario Cuomo, Geraldine Ferraro, Mario Biaggi, Silvio Conte, that kind of level of Members of Congress were part of this trip I was invited to be on.
And we went there at the invitation of the President to bring the sympathy of the American people at the time of the Italian earthquake. And when we were in the restaurant in the hotel in Rome, somebody said – this is 1980 – "There's Henry Hyde over there at the bar." And, for me, in 1980 – the Hyde Amendment came in 1979 – I was like, "Oh, my goodness. How can we be in the same place? How can we be in the same place?"
So my concern about the Hyde Amendment goes back a very long way. And I saw people talking to him, and I thought, "Well, I guess that's the way it is. They're talking to him." Of course, we served together, and he had other things to recommend him. But, to me, it was very scary just seeing Henry Hyde there so soon after he had put forth the Hyde Amendment.
So I understand the concerns that people have about it. I also know that it has been voted on just about every year since 1979. There is nothing new in this legislation about it. It's not to be confused with what happened on the Senate side, which was language was attached in a way that would codify, make it law. And that is something we are all against.
So I have a great working relationship with the Democratic Leader. I think he is a reflection of his Caucus. And, hopefully, having said all that everyone has said, we'll have a good strong vote over there today. I don't know if it will be today. Maybe tomorrow.
Q: On that point, Madam Leader, were you worried at all that your bill that you crafted with John Boehner could fall victim to Harry Reid and the Democratic Senate? I mean, that would have been some bad PR. Were you worried about that at all?
Leader Pelosi. No. Congress worked its will. We were working our will in the House. We had carefully – you probably didn't hear my statement on the floor because you were probably gathering to be here on time.
But I was just saying what a tribute this was to the staff, the staff of the Congressional Budget Office, the staff of Leg Counsel, the staff of CMS, the staff of HHS, the staff of Democrats and Republicans, the Speaker's office, our office, the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Ways and Means Committee. This was a very densely worked upon project, and it took a lot of work. And every time somebody would change a word the CBO would have to rescore, Leg Counsel would have to weigh in.
So this was a very professional – when I say that, in a very objective, clear cut, "What can we do to remove this fight every year from the calendar in a way that is transformative, that will lower costs for Medicare, but also continue to serve even the lowest income seniors in our country in a way that they have access to their doctors and, at the same time, help low income children with the SCHIP initiative, as well as community health centers" And the list goes on with some other good things that are in there.
I never had any doubt about what it would mean in the House. What happens in the Senate, well, that's another body.
Q: Madam Leader, we understand that former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., is being released today and may be coming back to Washington maybe to spend the rest of his time in perhaps a halfway house. That is not completely clear. Have you had any contact with him? Did you visit with him at all in Selma when he was incarcerated in Alabama?
Leader Pelosi. Some Members did. I saw his father last week at an event, and he told me that his release was imminent. I wish his family well. I pray for them. And I hope that the beautiful, lovely children will be able to thrive, now that their father is home.
Q: We saw sort of two different examples of fiscal matters being handled in the House this week, a divided Republican Party that required some maneuvering to get the budget passed, this deal on SGR with you and Boehner. What do you think this says about the appropriations process? Is it going to be a long, drawn out fight? Do you think that you see Speaker Boehner coming to you and working with you to get your Members on board for appropriations bills?
Leader Pelosi. Well, let's harken back to last year. Last year, in December, when we had the omnibus, there were 11 bills that went through that had been crafted in a bipartisan way, and there was really not much question about them.
It was just the 12th bill, the Homeland Security bill, that created the problem because of the insistence of many in the Republican [Conference] that they were going to shut down government in terms of Homeland Security because of their disagreement with the President on his executive orders on immigration. They were wrong. That's done. We worked together in a bipartisan way to get that done, as you know, about two weeks ago.
So what has just transpired in this past year is – I won't say a model, because I hope we don't have an omnibus, but I hoped that we could pass the bills individually – but, in any case, a reflection of the fact that there was bipartisan agreement, hard work done on these bills by – now, I'm an appropriator, and Steny is an appropriator. Mr. Clyburn is an appropriator. So we understand that on that Committee there really is an attitude of bipartisanship. We know what our responsibility is. We see the urgency of the needs of the American people. How do we get this done?
The only times there become problems are when riders enter the picture that aren't appropriations, but are policy matters that disrupt. And that's really what happened on – something similar to that happened on the Homeland Security. So I have reason to think by recent past performance that, as long as we keep the riders out of the picture on appropriations, Members can come together.
One wrinkle of it will be, though, this is a very, very damaging budget that the Republicans passed. And there has to be – the appropriators have to have some say in what the allocation is and what the allocations are in each individual appropriations bill. More on the subject than you want to know because I am an appropriator.
Q: Madam Leader, back to the SGR for a second, how frequently have you been in discussions with Leader Reid? And is there any indication that he and the Senate Democrats who have been critical of the bill are softening that position and can pass something this week?
Leader Pelosi. I probably won't answer that question. I talk to Harry Reid quite a bit about a variety of subjects, and in the course of a conversation on one subject maybe another subject will come into it: By the way, this is what we are doing on this or that – not by the way – "a new development has occurred" or something. But I speak to him quite regularly, and have great admiration for him.
And I just have confidence that the quality of what we have done, what has been crafted in the House, is really a good bipartisan initiative. And, hopefully, that will – with the equities that have to be weighed over there, that they will come down in support of it.
Q: Are you concerned that, given the uncertainty of whether the Senate can act this week on that bill, given the fatigue that might set in because of vote-a-rama, that they will not do it? Are you sorry that there's not going to be a patch being offered here?
Leader Pelosi. When you say the vote-a-rama, you mean on the budget?
Q: In the Senate. Right.
Leader Pelosi. Yeah. On the budget.
Well, this bill shouldn't take a long time to take up. So, again, without going into what I think the various options are on the Senate side, I think it's possible for us to be able to get this done this week. You hear various versions of the story, but no need for me to give them any currency. You just have to speak to Senator McConnell.
Q: And the patch? I mean, do you think it's unfortunate that the House is not doing one?
Leader Pelosi. No. We are confident. This is a good product. I believe that this will move, not because anybody has told me it will, but just because of the quality of the package, how well crafted it is. And there are many things in here that I haven't mentioned that have support in the Senate as well.
Q: Madam Leader…
Leader Pelosi. And congratulations to you for not only your length of service, but the quality of your service.
Q: Well, thank you very much.
Leader Pelosi. You're welcome.
Q: I hope you're able to attend the little thing we're going to have later.
Leader Pelosi. I am looking forward to it.
Q: Your colleagues, too. Word on that later.
Leader Pelosi. I hope you all attend.
Q: Thank you. A lot of room. The more, the merrier.
The tragedy that has befallen the people who were on that ill-fated plane crash – the plane that crashed in France. I know not much is known but as a leader here, as a person who’s concerned about airline safety, we now know that one of the pilots locked the door, kept everybody out – the passengers and the other pilot – and apparently deliberately crashed the plane. Do you have any concerns about air safety now having learned what we’re learning from this crash, or general comments on this issue?
Leader Pelosi. It’s really hard to address this issue from a policy standpoint when it has such strong personal ramifications and consequences for the families involved. I was thinking this morning: a life is a life, but the fact that they were so young – that those students were so young and that there were so many of them on board – and there were babies on board, somehow made the tragedy greater.
For a long time, many of us have questioned whether or not there should be something between the passengers and the cockpit – not just the way it is now, but something more. And we’ve talked about it, and what the expense would be and is it worth it, or is it just something that isn’t necessary but might make you feel better but isn’t really going to make a difference? What’s sad about this is: even if we had a gate that you had to go through and the rest, it would not have prevented this as far as we know.
I don’t know what the certainty is of the announcements that have been made. I hope and pray that they would not be true, that this would be a deliberate act, because that makes it even more of a tragedy, although it doesn’t bring anybody back if it’s not so much of a tragedy. But I do think it does bring up the subject again. This is highly unusual if this is, in fact, true that it would be a pilot. But on the other hand, it also speaks to the vulnerability of the cockpit or how important the security of the cockpit is if there were such a barrier between passengers and the galley and the cockpit – however they would do it. There are better and more strategic minds in terms of safety of the cockpit. But I do think that that deserves attention again. It would not have prevented this because if in fact that is the case – but it just comes back to, for us in the season of Lent, a sorrowful time anyway. The only response is a tearful one to what happened. And you just thank God. When people think about what their exposure is getting on the plane, anything can happen. You don’t think it’s going to be happening at the hands of the pilot. I hope that’s not the case.
But whatever the case is, our thoughts and prayers are with the families, with the school children who went to school with the young people who were returning from that trip from Barcelona. Imagine the excitement for a trip to go to Spain and return having enjoyed that experience and have it end this way. You know, as a parent, I just can’t even identify with the grief that those parents must have. I’m a grandparent to children that age.
Q: Thank you.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you all very much. Oh. Have a happy Easter, Passover, whatever you're observing. And see you in a couple of weeks.
Q: Same to you.
Leader Pelosi. You didn't ask me what I wanted for my birthday.
Q: Not the Giants again.
Leader Pelosi. Well, we are on the every other year plan, but we might accelerate that. 2010, 2012, 2014. But I still want my pool table. I still don't have a pool table.
Q: That is a long time wish.
Leader Pelosi. I know. And it's not just a pool table. It is the question of where do you put the pool table. So that is the ongoing debate. I think the dining room is a perfect place. Thank you all.
Q: Happy birthday.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you.