Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference Today

December 5, 2014
Press Release
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today.  Below is a transcript of the press conference.  

Leader Pelosi.  Good morning, everyone.

All across our country communities are demonstrating their grief over the deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and, of course, Michael Brown.  For the most part, these demonstrations have been peaceful.  Most currently they have been peaceful.  It is our hope that they will remain so.  But the voices that are speaking out will be heard.  Of course, our thoughts, our prayers, our hopes are with the families.  And we take our lead from their guidance for peaceful demonstrations as well.

I support President Obama's recent call for measures to increase trust between law enforcement and communities and Attorney General Holder's call for a federal investigation.  It's very sad.  All lives matter.  When I see the sign saying that "All lives matter," it should be a given.  Let's hope that it is.

Today we have some good news with the jobs report: 321,000 jobs created in November.  This is the seventh consecutive month of private sector job creation.  In 2009, in October, unemployment hit 10 percent.  It is now under 6 percent, 5.8 percent.  Average monthly job creation this year, including today's number, 241,000 jobs created.  You recall that, when the President took office, in terms of the impact of the Bush policies and the great recession, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month.  Now we are gaining over 240,000 jobs a month.  More jobs created in 11 months of this year than in any full calendar year since the late 1990s.  We have to do more.  We have to do more.

Also, some good news on the Affordable Care Act, which is, of course, a main concern of mine.  In terms of quality, patient safety improved from 2010 to 2013 in the following way:  1.3 million fewer hospital acquired conditions.  This is an important part of the legislation, to stop infections and hospital conditions that made people worse.  It resulted in saving 50,000 lives.  Not only were people saved from the infection, but improving the conditions saved 50,000 lives and saved $12 billion in healthcare cost because of the fact that those funds were not needed because of the intervention for quality.

Also, in terms of healthcare cost growth, you heard me say over and over again that, if there were no other reason to have passed the Affordable Care Act, the unsustainability of cost demanded that we do it – cost to an individual, cost to a family, cost to a small business, cost to America, cost to local, state, and federal government.

The rising costs were totally unsustainable.  So we're pleased to note that one important figure that has come out is there is an only two percent increase in benchmark civil healthcare plans.  As I said, the rising cost in premiums – and people never knew what their premiums were going to be in the next year and how significant they would be –  an average of two percent increase for benchmark civil healthcare plan, which is the benchmark that we use.

Another figure in 2013, national health spending grew by 3.6 percent, which is the lowest annual increase since the statistics began to be collected in 1960 – 3.6 percent.  This has, of course, a big impact on reducing our deficit.  2011, 2012, 2013 are the three lowest years of growth in real per capital national health expenditures on record.  So in terms of quality of care, in terms of cost to the individual and to the federal government, the news is very good.

Yesterday we had really a disastrous bill on the floor of the House, the Yoho immigration legislation.  Even the [U.S. Conference of Catholic] Bishops, which usually is supportive of much of what the Republicans do, had urged a strong “no” vote on the legislation.  And I took the occasion to quote President Reagan, which I could do again if you wish me to, about the importance when he, in 1984 in the lead up to the passage of the immigration bill that would follow, he said: "We're going to have compassion and legalize those who came here some time ago and have legitimately put down roots and are living as legal residents in our country, though illegal.  Even though illegal, we're going to make them legal."

His quotes are beautiful, and I could read them to you for a long time.  A complete contradiction of what the Republicans put on the floor yesterday.

I don't know if it will rear its ugly head again on the “CRomnibus,” the so called hybrid bill that the Republicans may be putting forth.  We have extended the hand – as I've told some of you yesterday – the hand of friendship once again to the Speaker to say: "Let us help as we did to open up government or to keep it from being shut down, as we did to lift the debt ceiling, as we did to implement the Ryan-Murray budget for continuing resolution last year."

We haven't heard back.  We haven't seen the bill.  But there are some very destructive riders in it that would be unacceptable to us and, I think, unacceptable to the American people.  Whatever you think of them, they have no place on an appropriations bill when it comes to lowering standards for school lunches for our children, when it comes to lowering standards for clean water for our communities.

Why bring these up on an appropriations bill?  Have a debate.  Well, I'll answer the question.  Why bring them up on the appropriations bill is because they can't take the light of day to have this debate in full view of the world.  And it shows a big distinction in who cares about the nutrition of our children, the clean water for our families.

It also has – these are really earmarks for industry.  That's what they are.  And they have – workplace standards would be lowered, making the workplace less safe for our workers.  Again, whatever you may think of them, let's debate it outside an appropriations bill.  You're not supposed to legislate on an appropriations bill.  So we're eager to see what the bill will be.  We look forward to finding common ground.

It's really important that the Republicans not be frivolous once again about shutting down government, but they know that, in order to have a bill pass, they either have to have all the votes – if they want ours, we can't support what they're doing on the bill – and they need a presidential signature.

So we look forward to – now, they talk a lot about transparency, but we still haven't seen the bill.  It's supposed to be posted by Monday evening.  Hopefully, we will see it before then so that we can find our common ground on the bill.

Any questions?



Q:  So lay out for us, though, what you – you talk about these riders.  Lay out: is it, you know, not funding for the entire year?  Is it, you know, cutting off DHS in March or February?  Is it DC marijuana?  Is it – what are all these things that are…   

Leader Pelosi.  Well, we don't know.

Q:  …unacceptable or Democrats can't provide? 

Leader Pelosi.  Well, let's say – obviously, it's going to be a compromise.  But I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule.

We have all agreed on the top line number.  So that's not for debate.  But how that money is divided up is interesting to see.   And we, of course, want more money to go into research at the National Institutes of Health because that is the physical power to cure and a good investment, job creating and the rest.

The issues that relate to the nature of the bill, well, let's just see what form it takes.  Just a couple of days ago it was going to be until March.  Now it was February.  And I don't know where the timing is on that now.  That's really a national security issue.  To have a short term CR – continuing resolutions, when it comes to our national security, is not a responsible thing to do.  But, again, let's look at the full package.

I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying these are an array of concerns that we have: clean air, food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation.  And, as I said yesterday, I have confidence in our Ranking Member, Nita Lowey, in the negotiations.  She brings the values of our Caucus to table.  But, you know, we really even shouldn't be talking about many of these things because they don't belong on an appropriations bill.  The structure of the bill, well, remains to be seen.

Let's see what they – I think that they have a sense of responsibility about our national security, and, hopefully, a short term extension will not be as harmful as it could be, but we don't know because we have not seen the language.

Q:  But do you feel like you have most of the cards on this at this point? 

Leader Pelosi.  It's not a question of that.  They have the majority.  They have the votes.  If they have 218 votes to go forward with this, so be it.  If they keep making it worse in order to get 218 votes, that's a disservice to our country.

And I remind you that: whether it was stopping them from closing government, which we didn't succeed at, but gave them the votes to keep government open, we gave them the votes to open up Government.  They didn't have the votes.  We gave them the votes to support the Ryan-Murray continuing resolution figure.  They didn't have the votes.  We gave them the votes to lift the debt ceiling.  Only 28 Republicans voted to honor the full faith and credit of the United States of America earlier this year.

So, you know, we stand ready.  Even in opening up government, we did not like the bill.  It was their bill.  But it was more important to open up government.  So, again, we have stood ready to support initiatives that weren't pleasant.  I'm not saying honoring the full faith and credit – that one we proudly did.  It's hard, though, because when over 200 Republicans vote not to lift the debt ceiling, to undermine the full faith and credit of the United States of America, to have an impact on our credit rating and then go out and use it as a campaign issue, it makes it really more of an issue of courage on the part of our Members.

So we stand ready to accept something that may not be what we had written, but we're not the majority.  And that's what I keep reminding my Members.  Let us find our common ground and let's do it soon because this uncertainty is not a good thing for the American people or for the business community.  We talked about that yesterday with TRIA.  Just get that done.  Just get it done.

Yes, sir.

Q:  So to follow up, some of your Members are urging that there be a re-assessment of the strategy of going along with bills that are hard to swallow, but are necessary to keep the government open, and argue that the Democratic minority should let the Republicans carry the bill and take the consequences if it's, obviously, not too dire, in your view.

What do you say to Members who argue that, by going along with these things, Democrats are making it harder to differentiate themselves and weakening their position long term?

Leader Pelosi.  Well, as it relates to shutting down government, call us responsible, you know, and they are irresponsible.  That shouldn't even be something that is in the mix.  Not honoring the full faith and credit of the United States of America, that shouldn't even be something that is in the mix.

Let's debate the issues and the priorities.  I don't know that our Members would say we should let them shut down government again – I don't know; they haven't told me that.  Because everybody knows that it's harmful to our economy and it's harmful to our veterans; it's harmful to everything that we have a responsibility to the American people to do.  So we've got to try to find our common ground.

We did not like the 988 number that they came up with last year.  I tell you all the time: they wouldn't go for 1058.  That's the number we're operating under now.  Last year they said they wouldn't go past 988.  Our Members railed against it.  ‘How could it be?’

Their own chairman said the 988 would not enable us to honor our responsibilities to the American people –Chairman Rogers said that, the Republican chairman.  And then Harry Reid said, "We'll accept it."  The President of the United States said, "We'll accept it."  House Democrats said, "We'll accept the 988 in order to avoid shutting down government."

And I said to the Speaker, Speaker Boehner, "We have the votes for you.  All you need are 20 votes and you don't have to shut down government."

The only people who did not accept the Republican House budget number were the Republican House Members.  So they shut down government for 17 days.  When it came time to open up government again, overwhelmingly they voted to keep it shut down and it required Democratic votes – I don't have the numbers here.  It required a massive number of Democratic votes to open up government.  But that was our responsibility, even though we didn't like the number.

And then that was until December.  And, in December, we had the vote on the Ryan-Murray number, more on the subject than most people care to know, and, at that time, they still did not have the votes for the Ryan-Murray number and we had to supply the votes.

So, you know, we have to be responsible in what we do.  And if the risk is to shut down government, we're just not going to be a party to that.  The ball is in their court.  They write the bill.  They have the votes.

And the responsibility to keep government open is theirs.  If the bill is anything that we can support, we will, but we are not going to be a party to shutting down Government.

Q:  Madam Leader, off the jobs numbers, what impact do you think the improving economy might have on policymaking next year?  And when do you think Republicans might acknowledge that the economy actually is on the mend right now? 

Leader Pelosi.  You'd have to ask them what they might acknowledge because I certainly do not speak for them.  But the fact is that the policies implemented by President Obama when he became President to take us out of the very deep ditch that the Republicans had driven us into are beginning to bear fruit.  They have been for a while and now more.

Right from the start, one week and one day after the President's inaugural address asking for swift, bold action now to create jobs, the House passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, and that was responsible for saving or creating 3.5 to 4 million jobs.

We proceeded then for an agenda that was to be job creation, including a budget.  However, we were able to do that with some Republican votes in the Senate, but you needed 60 votes.

But after that, any jobs bills that we sent over the Republicans rejected because – well, all kinds of things were going on in terms of the 60 votes.  There were only 60 votes in the Senate for about 6 months, and then that was gone.

So, anyway, putting that aside, I would hope that – to directly to your question, that the Republicans would see how we got to where we were in September 2008, when the Great Recession was announced – the financial meltdown of our financial institutions was announced – that they would understand that, in order for our economy to thrive, we cannot go back to the policies that got us into the deep ditch to begin with.

And that really is the political debate in a classic the electoral debate in our country.  I would hope it wouldn't be partisanly political.  But the electoral – that the public should understand what the choice is.

And I don't care if it is Democrats or Republicans, that they support people who will take us forward rather than back to the policies that contributed to the meltdown in 2008 and which contribute to the income disparity in our country.  It's the paycheck.  It's the paycheck.

And whatever the Republicans may think of the 47 percent, they are consumers.  And we are a consumer economy, and we have to have fairness in how we reward work and productivity.

And I would hope that they would recognize that without just saying, "These are the so called job creators.  The 1 percent gets so much of the benefit of our policies.  They create jobs.  Let it trickle down."  And as the Speaker said at the time when we were having this discussion, "They create jobs.  That's what we wanted to do."  "And, if they don't, so be it," he said.  "So be it."

Q:  In the 1997 budget agreement, the economy was booming, the deficit was falling, and you were able to get a balanced budget agreement that cut taxes and created the Children's Health Insurance program.

Are there win/wins out there to be had? 

Leader Pelosi.  I think so.  You have to remember that in the 1993 economic package that we passed on the floor, we did with great sacrifice to many Democratic Members of Congress who lost their seats because they voted to increase taxes at the high end.

But that was worth it.  We had to do it.  And it led to what you have described and 26 million new jobs created and the rest.  Very positive for our economy.

So it will take some courage to do what we need to do, but I do believe that there is enough common ground and common sense to go forward with initiatives that invest in education to keep America number one.  We can't have innovation without education.

That there would be an initiative to recognize that to have good paying jobs here in the United States, you can't reward companies with tax breaks to send jobs overseas.  You have to give tax breaks to keep good paying jobs here in the United States and invest in the growth, the infrastructure, rebuilding the infrastructure of our country.  That has never been partisan.  The infrastructure issue has never been a partisan issue until recently.  And the public understands that issue.

And, hopefully, in the clarity of prioritizing – because that's what we have to do – we can make that case to the public and return to a nonpartisan approach to how we build the infrastructure of America.

And as we grow the economy by rebuilding our infrastructure, Make It In America, as Mr. Hoyer would say, and recognizing the importance of education, that we would also go to a place that recognizes the value of work and does not have the bottom line of corporate America go big because of the exploitation of the worker in terms of their compensation.

So I do think that, in the past, we've had common ground on many of these issues.  President Bush signed our minimum wage bill.  As they say, infrastructure and transportation issues have never been partisan in the past.

Q:  It sounds like the Speaker – back on appropriations – is not going to let the Tea Party attach language to define President Obama’s immigration orders to the bill.  That’s a change from what happened with the shutdown.  Does it make you any more hopeful about how the Speaker may rule with a larger majority next year? 

Leader Pelosi.  Well, I hope so.  But understand that with the hybrid – the “CRomnibus” or whatever – was the hybrid bill undermining the President's position on immigration by just making it a short-term, a matter of weeks, a six-week Homeland Security bill.  Homeland Security bill is about intelligence, about border security; it's about FEMA; it's about many things, about the safety of the American people.  So there is a catering to the Tea Party to go to the place.  But we'll see what it says.  Again, it’s really – I don't know about you, but I really like to talk about what I know what I’m talking about in terms of what the bill actually is.

One good piece of news and so can we have bipartisan support that I’m very excited about is Tim Walz’s bill, the Veterans Suicide Prevention legislation.  It will come to the floor in a bipartisan way on Tuesday is my understanding, and then hopefully go right through the Senate and be signed by the President in time for the holidays for our veterans.  And, of course, we owe them so much and they suffer when we shut down government.

That's why when I was Speaker I was so pleased to pass legislation to have forward funding for them so they didn't get caught in all of these kinds of fights – the shutdown of government is a separate thing that hurts everybody.  But this legislation under the leadership of Tim Walz supported by the Iraq, Afghanistan veterans is so well thought out and so needed and so urgent, and that’s something that will have strong bipartisan support.

With that, though, they told me last question.  So I have to get back to work.  We're getting ready for the new Congress, which, hopefully, will be very exciting.

In the meantime, we'll keep you posted on our views on what we see when we see what is in the bill.  My inclination is, obviously, to be hopeful that the legislation will be something that we can accept and support.

Thank you all very much.