Transcript of Pelosi Remarks and Moderated Conversation at Brookings Institution on Strengthening the Financial Security of America's Working Families
“You took my speech!
“I’m happy to just free-form here, but the time is why we confine ourselves to our notes. Good morning everyone, thank you all for being here. It’s an honor – it’s really an honor to be here, with members and honored guests of the Brookings Institution. Thank you, E.J., for your kind words of introduction, for your leadership in so many ways, and congratulations as the Senior Fellow of Brookings, with the Chair named for W. Averell Harriman.
“For almost 100 years, Brookings has been the first word in forward-looking public policy. This institution and your President, Strobe Talbot, and your fellows, have been a strong and steady intellectual resource to public, private and non-profit policy makers across the country.
“Together, we can reach toward greater possibilities for all Americans in our discussion: an America where every working family has opportunity, prosperity and security. Beginning this year, this new year, in a new Congress, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to reflect on our progress toward that America, and refocus and renew our efforts for it.
“Reflecting on our progress:
“Six years ago, in January, President Obama stood on the steps of the Capitol as he took the oath of office, and issued a call for ‘swift, bold’ action now – ‘not only to create new jobs but to lay a foundation for growth.’ One week and one day later, the House Democrats passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act – one of the biggest public investments in our nation’s history. The Recovery Act created or saved 3.5 to 4 million jobs; rebuilding our infrastructure, reinvesting in energy innovation, reducing taxes for working families – turning the tide of the worst economic recession since the great Depression.
“64 days later, on the same day in the House and the Senate – quite remarkable – the Democratic Congress followed up by passing the President’s budget – a plan for growth and opportunity, based on three pillars: investments in health care, in education & innovation, and in energy. Our aims were clear: Create jobs.
“Create jobs. Can’t say it enough.
“Create jobs, reduce the deficit, and invest in a stronger future for every American family.
“Believing that health care must be a right for all Americans, not just a privilege for the few, we passed the Affordable Care Act. If there were no other reason to pass the Affordable Care Act, if every American were happy with his or her own health insurance and health care, we still would have had to pass the bill because the cost of health care in America was unsustainable – unsustainable to individuals, to families, to businesses large and small, to governments local, state, and at the national level.
“Importantly, as documented by the Council of Economic Advisors, the Affordable Care Act is helping to drive down health care cost growth to historic lows. Today, the Affordable Care Act has delivered newfound health security to 16 million Americans – and extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 13 years.
“Next – education and innovation.
“Usually, now, I revert to my mother-of-five voice to project across the room.
“Recognizing that education has been the indispensable ladder to achieve the American Dream, the Democratic Caucus acted to strengthen early education, deepen our commitment to vulnerable students, and dramatically expand access to affordable college education.
“We passed the GI bill for the 21st Century for our veterans and their families, as part of the largest increase in veterans funding in our history – making historic investments in our veterans’ access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities. In terms of American innovation, we substantially bolstered our investments: fueling basic research and driving forward innovative energy technologies – and I’ll expand on this in a moment, maybe more than a moment.
“Knowing that our reliance on foreign fossil fuels was unhealthy for our economy, our national security, and the air our children breathe, Democrats acted to make America energy independent by increasing domestic energy production – and we increased energy efficiency and more than doubled clean energy production.
“Solar power is up tenfold; wind is up threefold – in terms of wind, America is number one in the world. This progress is critically important as we address the climate crisis.
“Knowing the only way for the American economy to fully recover, we must recognize that the middle class are the real job creators in America. In a consumer economy, when workers have the wages and confidence to spend, they generate demand, which in turn creates jobs. It’s about bigger paychecks.
“There is an important connection – I said I’d talk about three connections today – this is an important connection about America’s economy: the success of the middle class is the most important engine of economic growth – and of meaningful deficit reduction. This understanding is consistent with the ‘Middle Class Economics’ which the President articulated in his State of the Union address last month – and the budget he released yesterday.
“Democrats’ commitment to middle class economics stands in sharp contrast to the Republicans’ relentless trickle-down agenda – the agenda that drove our economy into a ditch. Republicans’ economic agenda included massive, unpaid-for tax-cuts for the rich, two unpaid-for wars, and a doctrine of no regulation, no supervision of Wall Street. It is this radical agenda that precipitated the financial meltdown and shattered our economy.
“How bad was it? On the night of Thursday, September 18, 2008, the Secretary of the Treasury came to the Capitol for an emergency meeting with Congressional leaders to inform us of the severity of the meltdown. When I asked the Chairman of the Fed at the time, Ben Bernanke, what he thought of what the Treasury Secretary was telling us, he told the leaders: if we did not act immediately, we would ‘not have an economy by Monday.’ This was Thursday evening. That’s where we were, September 18, 2008.
“In order to stop the meltdown of America’s financial institutions, it was necessary for us to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), supported largely by Democrats. And later, we enacted historic consumer Wall Street reforms with Dodd-Frank legislation. Far from creating growth, Republicans’ priorities drove an economic catastrophe that destroyed the jobs, the savings and the security of millions and millions of American families.
“And now, Republicans want to take us back to those same failed policies, of trickle down and laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez-faire – including repealing Dodd-Frank. In their obsession with trickle-down economics, Republicans fail to see the connection between the purchasing power of the middle class and the success of America’s economy.
“Six years after the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the fruits of Democratic efforts on the economy are clear: 11.2 million new private sector jobs, created in 58 months – the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job growth in our history; we provided a lifeline to save the auto industry and more than a million jobs as part of that; unemployment rate down from around 10 percent to 5.6 percent; deficit cut by 2/3rds: from $1.4 trillion to $483 billion this year; stock market has gone from under 7,000 to above 17,000; manufacturing exports are rising; we've seen reading scores go up, high school graduation rates go up, more young people attending college than ever before; 16 million previously uninsured Americans now have affordable, dependable health coverage; and, again, we extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 13 years – to name a few accomplishments.
“However, even with all of this progress, working families in America are still being squeezed. The reason our economy has not had a full recovery is because of stagnant wages. It bears repeating that in a consumer economy, the middle class are the job creators. We must expand the purchasing power of families; ensure that working men and women enjoy the bounty of their unprecedented productivity; bigger paychecks, better infrastructure, more manufacturing in the United States. We must focus like a laser on strengthening the financial security of America’s working families.
“Once again, there is a need for bold and swift action to reignite the middle class engine of our prosperity.
In order to succeed, we must have a healthy respect for another connection: the connection between the public and private sectors. Private enterprise is the heart of the economy, generating wealth and jobs. However, in order for the private sector to succeed, the public sector must act to secure the conditions in which the private sector can continue to flourish.
“When the public sector is doing its job – investing in strong education, building infrastructure, maintaining the courts, ensuring public safety, et cetera – it performs tasks that the private sector cannot perform itself: public sector accomplishments, however, that leave the private sector in infinitely better shape, better equipped to deliver jobs and opportunity to all Americans must happen.
“Congress must grasp, again, the importance of ambitious goals built into a ‘budget for the future’ – a budget which should be a statement of our values – what is important to us is how we allocate our resources. This is the third connection I want to highlight: the undeniable connection between the investments we make today and the success of our country tomorrow.
“Today, I believe we must make big, bold commitments in four areas: research & innovation back to back, education, infrastructure and investments in working families through the tax code. Innovation is the invigorator of our economy. Research creates jobs, launches entire new industries, and gives us the miraculous power to cure.
“However, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, – the report that just went out in the past couple of weeks – the United States has dropped to tenth place in national R&D investment as a percentage of GDP. Tenth place, the United States of America. As the report makes clear, ‘Unless basic research becomes a higher government priority than it has been in recent decades, the potential for fundamental scientific breakthroughs and future technological advances will be severely constrained.’ That report calls for increasing our nations’ total research investments to at least 3.3 percent of GDP. We must meet that need to reduce the deficit of innovation. The President and Congress must work together to establish a sustainable growth rate in federal basic research.
“In terms of education, we know to achieve equality of opportunity, we must have equality of education. We will always have an opportunity gap so long as we have an education gap. Today, it is clear that one of the most important ways to address education inequality – from early childhood all the way to lifetime learning – is with the power of technology, especially broadband.
“Broadband access has more benefits than just enhanced computer skills; it opens the door to a whole host of new teaching applications and tools, enriching the student and supporting the teacher. As recently as 2012, only 37 percent of our nation’s schools had enough broadband for digital learning – placing 40 million kids on the wrong side of the digital divide. Totally unacceptable.
“We must meet the need to reduce the deficit of opportunity – ensuring that every child, in every zip code has the high-speed broadband they need to learn, to explore and to thrive. We must act to close the opportunity gap in education – because we cannot afford to leave anyone behind. And by the way, nothing returns more to the Treasury than investments in education.
“In terms of infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ last assessment of our nation’s infrastructure rated America at a D+, D+. After years of disrepair and under-investment, we have a – according to the American Society of Civil Engineers – $3.6 trillion, trillion – that’s with a ‘tr’ – trillion deficit in America’s infrastructure. What we know is that no maintenance is the most expensive maintenance.
“Modern infrastructure is essential for our country – it promotes commerce, moving products to and from markets; it improves the quality of life, by moving people to and from work and school more quickly; it is good for the quality of our air and our water; it works to connect all our communities to the promise of the internet with broadband.
“We must meet the need to reduce the deficit in infrastructure – and to do so in an updated and green way.
Over the years, we have proven that policies that leverage private sector capital and expertise with government oversight are successful ways to create better, more sustainable communities. We should learn from these examples and expand opportunities for public-private partnerships.
“We should be putting people to work building roads, bridges and mass transit, water systems and broadband: achieving bigger paychecks and better infrastructure – and this is a strong priority in the President’s budget.
“In order to fund these investments that will create jobs and reduce the deficit, we must use the tax code, and eliminate special interest tax expenditures that increase the deficit – they are spending, tax expenditures, these loopholes. As we close special interest loopholes, we can reduce the corporate rate and produce more revenue; we can have tax reform that ensures that all Americans pay their fair share.
“The economic security of America's working families must be our priority.
“Part of these reforms must include making permanent and improving the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit policies that are set to expire in 2017 – initiatives with bipartisan support that strengthen the budgets of working families, and we did working with President Bush in his stimulus package; so this had bipartisan support. If these policies are allowed to expire, nearly 16 million Americans (including 8 million children) will be pushed into or pushed deeper into poverty. We must also, in that regard, strengthen the Child Care Development Tax Credit, which is in the President’s budget.
“To further help families, the Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen, has put several bold proposals on the table. These proposals include the CEO/Employee Paycheck Fairness Act; a saver's bonus to support retirement; repealing the dual-earner penalty; instituting a .1 percent financial transactions fee; and provisions restoring respect for hard work in the tax code – they’re being reviewed by our Members. With tax reform for the middle class, we can put more money into the pockets of working families and, again, ignite the engine of middle class consumer demand that drives growth and opportunity for everyone.
“A strong middle class is the bedrock of our prosperity and is the backbone of our democracy. This is the understanding that animates each of the connections I have outlined today: the connection between public action and private success; the connection between growing paychecks and reducing the deficit; the connection between our investments today and our strength tomorrow.
“For us to achieve a bright and durable future for our country, we must embrace the fact that the financial security of our working families is both the measure and the engine of our nation’s success. It is a simple truth: when the middle class succeeds, America succeeds. Our recognition of that truth guided Democrats’ actions in orchestrating the recovery, and it is a laser focus, again, on the purchasing power of working families that our economy needs today.
“We must achieve bigger paychecks, build better infrastructure, invest in education and innovation, and manufacture more products here in the United States. Only by laying a firm foundation for growth, which the President talked about in his inaugural address, based on ambitious goals for our future, can we secure and maintain a vibrant middle class. Only by focusing on working families can we reignite the American Dream and step into a new era of American prosperity.
“Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this morning. I look forward to your questions. Thank you so much.”
Q: I just want to say that we apologize for the state of that microphone. But it was actually a set-up to show that you’ll allow no obstacle to silence your voice. So, welcome this morning. I am very tempted to ask you about the impact on the middle class of what is clearly one of the most important news stories in the country right now – I refer to Pete Carroll’s decision to call a pass at the end of the Super Bowl. It is clear that this has done wonders for the morale of the middle class in my native New England. But you can pass on that issue if you’d like…
Leader Pelosi. I see by the paper it was the offense coach who called the pass. But Pete took responsibility, as a good leader.
Q: Just know that you can be reassured that no decision you have ever made will be as second guessed as that one. I wanted to start sort of big, with the President’s budget. I think you can make the case that it’s his most aggressive effort to influence the direction of the public debate in some ways since he took office. And he’s made this effort at a moment when Republicans control both houses. I wonder if you can talk a bit about how – and then you have Congressman Van Hollen’s proposals that are also out there – how you are going to balance a desire to put forward what Democrats would do, if they could, if they controlled both houses again, and how you will influence the outcome of what will inevitably – if we’re going to have a budget at all – inevitably be some compromise between the President, the Democrats, and this particular Republican Congress.
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all, when we talk about what we would do – we talked about what we have done, and now we have to go forward. Because other things need to be done. But I believe that the President’s budget does have, within it, many areas of common ground. Infrastructure has never been a partisan issue. We’ve always been able to put forth strong infrastructure legislation – until the President suggests it, of course, and then it became a little bit different. But I do think that the urgency is there, the opportunity is there with public-private partnerships, and again it’s an issue that has usually been non-partisan, not even bipartisan – non-partisan.
In terms of some of those issues I talked about in the tax code relating to children and the rest – those were the priorities we put forth with President Bush, in his stimulus [number] one. He wanted to just use the tax code, and he was very accepting of proposals that we had for the fundability, for the Low-Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the rest. So these have been issues that Republicans, in addition to President Bush, have supported. The issues that relate to sequestration – this is probably the fundamental point in the budget that the President put forth, that he would do away with Sequestration which is – anyway, he’ll do away with it.
And that is something that has appeal to Republicans, and I’m not here to speak for them but I’m just saying in the past they have…
Q: That would actually be interesting though.
Leader Pelosi. He would do away with Sequestration, where we had caps that we’d need to get away with if we were going to have growth. They want to do that on the domestic side, and we support – obviously, we support a strong national defense – but also remove the caps on the domestic side as well. So whether it’s the overarching nature of it, which is to do away with Sequestration, there probably could be common ground. Whether it is building the infrastructure of America, investing in education – these kinds of issues really shouldn’t have any partisan aspect to them.
So I think that, while the President has staked out a very strong budget – which I do believe is a statement of our national values of what we care about, there is a distinction between his budget and the Republican budget in terms of Social Security, Medicare all those things – but on the other hand, there’s plenty of common ground to find some solution. And, like I said on the opening day of Congress, we all have to have the pride we take in our issues and knowledge we have of them, the commitment we have – but we also have to have humility about finding common ground where we can find it.
Q: In your remarks you stressed the pride you and Democrats take at what you accomplished, particularly in the first two years – notably, the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act otherwise known as the stimulus, the auto rescue. Yet these programs have never sort of captured broad popular support, at least in the polls. You know Democrats have argued over and over that, without the Recovery Act, the recovery might not have happened or would have been infinitely slower, the Affordable Care Act has covered an awful lot of Americans – yet they still have not sort of grabbed the public, the kind of majority support you would hope for.
Leader Pelosi. Well, it wasn’t messaged properly. But I have to say, it’s interesting to me to see all of our Republican colleagues who speak out against the recovery package show up at every ribbon cutting and every ground breaking. Fifteen thousand projects – the statistics are staggering in terms of roads and mass transit and all the things that came from that. And again, [it is] our fault we haven’t communicated. I think there was reluctance to. People wanted to make sure the public knew reducing the deficit was a very high priority for us – and therefore, the jobs would come with the bill, but not to boast of what the investments were early on. We should’ve messaged it differently, as we should have messaged the Affordable Care Act differently.
Q: Again on this point about the deficit, one of the most striking things about what the President did, and in general what Democrats are doing now, is that they seem much less captive to the deficit debate. It’s almost as if that debate took hold so quickly that the things that needed to be done to get the economy moving were kind of pushed off the agenda. Can you talk about where the deficit is now, relative to the desire just to get the country moving and deal with the long term in the long term?
Leader Pelosi. Well, in order to reduce the deficit, which is really important to all of us, you have to have growth. You can talk about cutting investments and you can talk about raising revenue, and all that should be on the table, but you must have growth; and you can’t have false economies. And anybody who thinks that, by cutting education, they’re going to reduce the deficit – [they are] dead wrong. Because nothing brings more money to the Treasury, to reduce the deficit, than the education of the American people, from the earliest childhood, K-12, higher education, post-grad, lifetime learning for a trained workforce.
So you have to make a case to the American people about why certain investments are about the future and reduce the deficit. And, from the day the President took office until now, the deficit has gone down two-thirds – $1.4 trillion to, what is it, $485 billion – still too high; we want to take it down. But I think the public understands that growth and bigger paychecks for the consumer, for working class families, to inject demand into the economy, to create jobs – that brings revenue to the Treasury. And so there has been a large – 70 percent of the deficit since the President took office. It isn’t any less of a priority to reduce it further, but there is a recognition more clearly that growth – job creation – is an important part of it, not just by cutting investments as we go forward.
Q: I just want to remind everybody that there are cards in the room and I should start getting them soon. So please submit your questions. Again, I also want to invite people to Tweet if they wish, #PelosiAtBrookings. I want to, if I could, play a kind of psychological game, and ask you what was the first thing that came to your mind when Congressman Paul Ryan talked about “envy economics?” But more generally, I’d love to know how do you react to that sort of argument? I mean, he made an interesting juxtaposition, where on the one hand, he talked about rising inequality, and then he talked about Democratic economics as ‘envy economics.’
Leader Pelosi. We don’t have time to go completely into the Republican budget. But it is not a statement of values that most people would identify with, when it comes to how we invest in the future and the rest. But let me just say, that really is so wrong. When I heard it, I thought, “stale,” yesterday. That isn’t what this is about. Nobody begrudges people’s success. People recognize that, when people take risks and succeed, it creates wealth, it creates jobs, and that’s a good thing. What the concern is is that we don’t want that to happen at the exploitation of the worker. So God bless everyone for their success. God Bless everyone for their success, but not, again, at the exploitation of others.
Now, I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush. But what we saw on Wall Street leading up to 2008, what we saw on Wall Street – that was just not right. Now again, not everyone on Wall Street should be painted with the same brush. But we saw a situation where people on Main Street were seeing the values of their homes, or even their ability to keep a home, the education of their children, the stability of their jobs, their savings, were all diminished because of what happened on Wall Street. And when we passed TARP, what people said was: “You just did that for Wall Street and not for Main Street.” No, we did it for our economy. It was probably the toughest vote I ever asked Members to take. And they’ve paid a price for it, because again, not something clearly explained to the American people, what the connection was between that TARP, bailing out the banks, and lifting up our economy.
It was interesting because, if I just may on that score, because this is a big deal and not something we should go back to. But again, they want to go back to the laissez-laissez-laissez faire. And by the way, even Adam Smith wrote a different book. What was his book called?
Q: The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Leader Pelosi. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I wish he had written one book, Wealth of Nations and the Theory of Moral [Sentiments], all in one book. Because he talks about the responsibility of people to each other in the other book. So when I say laissez-faire, we all believe in free markets. That’s what our capitalist system is about. But it’s not about laissez-laissez-laissez-faire, that there’s no cop on the beat. And look what happened. The Chairman of the Fed, an expert on the Great Depression, Ben Bernanke, an expert on the Great Depression, tells us “There’ll be no economy by Monday.” Stunning. Stunning.
So when Paul Ryan says that, I want to quote the Chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, a few decades ago, Chairman Abrams. He talked about “stakeholder capitalism” – capitalism where decisions were made by management that took into consideration shareholders, of course, workers, customers, and the community at large. At that time we had wages at about – the CEO was making about thirty times what the workers were making. Thirty times. Productivity would rise, CEO pay would rise, workers’ wages would rise. When we moved to something called “shareholder capitalism,” where none of those considerations were for the community at large, the customer, the workers weren’t part of the decision – “shareholder capitalism,” it went to 300 times, CEO pay versus worker pay. As I say, a right angle going in the wrong direction. So as I say, it’s not about “economic envy.” We just don’t want a rising tide to lift all yachts. We want it to lift all boats.
And so, God bless you for what you have, but let’s all share in the prosperity of our country. Because the productivity of the American worker contributes to that. So I think that’s cute, but it’s not a fact, it’s just not a fact. Everybody wants to succeed, and they don’t begrudge other people’s success, unless it’s crushing them under their heel.
Q: I like one of the headlines of the event as “Leader Pelosi Urges Congressman Ryan to Read All of Adam Smith.”
Leader Pelosi. It’s a beautiful book, Adam Smith’s other book. Both of them, actually.
Q: I’ve got some great questions here, which I am about to get to. I wanted to ask one more question – maybe I’ll ask it in two halves, so I’ll sneak in two questions. The first is: when you look at a lot of polling, there are two things that come out, I think, on public attitudes. On the one hand, there is a lot of skepticism about the way the economy is working – a belief that “laissez-to-the-nth-power faire” doesn’t work by itself. So there is a lot of general support for Democratic ideas on the economy. On the other side, there is a lot of skepticism about government itself, and that government itself can’t really fix that.
And the reason I want to link it to the second question is that Democrats, and this goes back to your days of campaigning for your dad in Baltimore, always counted on the support of working class people of all colors – white, black, Latino. Democrats have a had a particular problem with white working-class people. It seems to me that some of it might relate to the first half of my question. So I want to ask you: How do Democrats – especially, they’ve got the White House but are in a minority in Congress – restore some faith that government can actually succeed in doing some of these things? And how do they win back more of these white, working-class voters?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I would add one other ingredient to your question. Because, what happened in 2008 scarred people. It scarred people, in terms of the confidence they need to have consumer confidence to invest. I’m not particularly interested in whether it’s Democrats or Republicans. We just want a policy that works for America’s working families. And I think that, because of that scarring, the people are feeling more optimistic about what’s happening in the economy now, but the scarring has had them hesitate to think it’s going to last, or that something else couldn’t happen. And that’s not necessarily only government; that’s the private sector as well, when they see people trying to repeal the Volcker [Rule] and Dodd-Frank, and some other things. So it’s part of the debate as well.
In terms of the role of government – that’s been a debate in our country since we were founded. It’s always been, what is the role of government? How much do we need? How much do we need at the federal level? Does it work? And that’s the lively, legitimate debate of our country. What I would say is different about the Republicans now is that it’s not about the degree of government. Many in the [Conference] – I’m not talking about Republicans writ large in the country; I’m just talking about Republicans in Congress – are not supportive of governance. So it’s not a place of where you are in the spectrum – they’re off the chart. They don’t support governance. They don’t believe in governance. They don’t believe in science. And they don’t believe in Barack Obama. So they’ve got a trifecta going, about being opposed to everything that is proposed. And their messaging, with their endless money and all the rest of that – that has affected the thinking of people.
But also, we haven’t, again, messaged what we’re doing. And quite frankly, the breakdown – not the break down, but putting [it] in perspective: the rollout of the health care act was not a good thing. People say, “Oh, it doesn’t work.” But the system works. And 16 million people are insured. It’s like the refrigerator is keeping your food cold; the light’s not going on, but the food is cold.
So there’s that. Yeah, that’s an issue that we have to address. You know as well as I that many of the people that you are describing had social issues that took a little path away from the Democrats – whether it was guns; the three G’s – guns, God and gays. But a lot of that is diminishing. And so, I maintain: whatever it is about the social issues, if you have a strong economic agenda that gives hope to people, that they can get good-paying jobs, and give them that confidence, then that is the winning argument. And that’s one that we want to make the differentiation.
Now believe me – and I believe this from the bottom of my heart – if the Republicans would come around to places where we could come together on these, elections wouldn’t be so important. But, as long as they intend to engage in trickle-down, laissez-laissez-laissez faire – I said once to the press in my press conference: “They make Adam Smith look like a piker.” They said, “What’s a piker?” So it must be a generational thing.
But this is so far beyond what our responsibility is in order to protect our middle class. And all that is involved. So some of it was cultural issues that took people away from us. Some of it is that, even though everything is improving. They still have that scar from ’08 and they’re not ready to fully embrace what is happening. They see government having played a role in what happened in ’08, either by omission, or by passing TARP, which they didn’t like. But we had to do it. But that was a bitter pill, probably the worst bill I ever had to ask people to vote for, in terms of the public not having a clear understanding of it. And we supported President Bush in that. We supported President Bush, but the Republicans abandoned him. So it was overwhelmingly a Democratic vote to pass the TARP. Can you imagine that?
But we worked closely with President Bush, whether it was PEPFAR for AIDS drugs, whether it was the Voting Rights Act the President signed, whether it was issues that relate, as I said earlier, to child tax credits and the rest in that, whether it was an energy bill. One of the biggest energy bills in the history of the country we passed. He wanted nuclear. I wanted renewable. We had one of the greatest bills ever. So we did a number of things with him, including, as I said, TARP with him. And I only wish that the Republican leadership in the Congress would give the same respect to President Obama and try to find common ground on issues.
Q: Thank you, and if I mispronounce anyone’s names, I apologize. Thank you for some good questions I already have. Rachel Karas from Inside Health Policy asks: “What do you believe is the Democrats’ best defense against piecemeal attacks on the ACA by the GOP? What will the Democratic strategy be in the face of the King v. Burwell Supreme Court lawsuit, presumably if the government loses?
Leader Pelosi. Well, in terms of the second part of the question, some of you may know – I know some of our friends in the press who asked me this so many times who are here today – when it was the case before the Court originally, I said: “We’re going to win.” I was wrong – I said it would be 6-3, it was 5-4 – but I did say we would have the Chief. I have confidence about what will happen with the Court. What the case is is that they’re saying we can’t give subsidies – do you all know what this case is? – we can’t give subsides to those who are not in a state marketplace; if they’re in the federal marketplace in states where they don’t have a plan in their states, then that was not covered by the bill. I don’t see how that’s a constitutional issue. I think for the some reason, they approved – the verdict was what it was, the decision was what it was before – it will be this time.
To your first part of the question, how we [protect against] the piecemeal, this bill has oneness. You can’t say: “We’re going to eliminate discrimination against people on the basis of preexisting medical condition,” but then not say we’re going to have a mandate. It all goes together, because you have to bring down the costs. That’s, as I said earlier, one of the main reasons to have the bill – even if we had no other reason – to bring down the costs. And so, when the Republicans say: “I’m against discrimination on the basis on preexisting conditions and women, and I don’t want lifetime caps, and I don’t want annual caps” – well, you can’t say that unless you have the oneness, the integrity, the integral relationship of the different parts to the bill. So, it’s almost silly for them to say that, without having the mandate, which is essential to the bill. And that’s just the case we’ll have to make.
Now, endless money came in – fire and brimstone, carpet-bombing, scorched earth, shock and awe, death panels, abortion, you name it – things that had absolutely nothing to do with the bill. And that really poisoned the well. And we didn’t have an antidote out there early enough. And I may write a book about this subject and the whole messaging thing. I may. I don’t have time right now, but I may write a book about it.
In fact, as President Lincoln said – and we have it in his book, in his own handwriting – “Public sentiment is everything. Public sentiment is everything.” So you can’t assume the public will understand this is in their interest, or this or that. The public is wise, but they have to know. God bless the public. Our country is so strong because of the wisdom of the American people, the productivity, the energy, the ingenuity of the American people. But you can’t allow the other side, with endless money – anti-government ideologues; at the time, insurance companies who didn’t want the bill to pass, but now have become team players in it – to define what the legislation was about.
But it’s so exciting, really – we talked about Lincoln, let’s talk about our Founders. Life, a healthier life, liberty to pursue your happiness. Imagine: in our Founding Documents, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – and that’s what this bill is. It enables people to have a healthier life, to pursue their happiness without being job-locked, because a child is bipolar. So they can be free to be self-employed, start a business, be engaged in the arts, change jobs, have mobility to pursue their happiness. It’s a great bill, and it brings down costs, lifts aspirations. Brings down costs – and you can’t take pieces of it. Now, any bill that we pass can be subject to scrutiny, to say: How can we do this better or that better in the implementation? And of course, we’re always open to that, but not something that totally takes the heart of it and undermines it. This is as important as Medicare, Medicaid, affordable care access for all Americans. It’s a great thing. We’re very proud it .
Q: I’m told we have five minutes left. And I have one question I want to close with. So, what I’m going to do is combine two people’s questions here, and then ask you my last question, which is actually a personal question – personal from me. This is from Athena Jones of CNN, who, very wisely, is on top of the day’s news. So the first question is: will you weigh in on the vaccination debate? Should they be required? And the second is, working families from the Department of Homeland Security could be affected by congressional inaction because of the immigration fight that the Republicans want to have. Are you concerned this funding battle will go down to the wire? Will there be another CR? And I also just wanted to ask, and I apologize for the other questions we couldn’t get to, Steve [Lowman] in the audience said, “What messages did you take from the 2014 election?” So vaccination, Homeland Security, and 2014.
Leader Pelosi. Politics. Okay. On the vaccination issue, while I am sympathetic to the concerns, and I’ve met for many, many hours and tried to facilitate conversations with families who have had concerns about vaccines and how they affect their children, be it Autism or otherwise, it is a public health issue. And the fact is, is that children should be vaccinated. That could be a generational thing. You know, when I was a little girl, people had Polio and it was – “A vaccine, a miraculous power to prevent the spread of disease.” And I think that, again, I support the public health decisions that call for children to be vaccinated.
On a separate note we should do everything we can to find out what the causes of some of the diseases that affect our children are. And that’s why, in the 90s, I worked with [three] people – Senator Specter and Jon Porter – two Republicans, Jon Porter and Specter, a Republican at the time, and Tom Harkin, and I in the House, on my side in the House – to double the funding for the National Institutes of Health, and what that meant to invention and discovery and of course the CDC, and what that means in terms of prevention and public health. It’s really important to our country. So I would say, I’m sympathetic to the concerns, but let’s address it another way. But public health requires that we have the vaccination.
What was the second one?
Q: The DHS funding.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, my friends, in December the Republicans said: “We’re going to pass a bill,” which was a terrible bill – the CRomnibus. I didn’t know if that was like, a donut and a croissant combined or something. In New York that’s what they stand in line to buy, my kids tell me. But in any event, they pass this bill – I won’t even go into that, let’s just say what it didn’t do: it didn’t fund Homeland Security for the year. It kicked the can. The Speaker said, “Well, we’re going to do it.” It was like a thing for his – well, I don’t want to say right wing, because that’s a legitimate place to be – his radical, over the edge, people. That’s December. That’s December.
January: Paris, je suis Charlie – the whole world is galvanized around the issue of homeland security in each person’s country except in the hermetically-sealed chamber of the House of Representatives where we just aren’t doing it. This is so dangerous to our security that we would be frivolous is a dereliction of duty. And – you have to understand, and again, part of our messaging problem is we don’t want to be fear-mongerers, and if you tell it the way it is, your hair’s on fire and you go running out the room. It is so bad in terms of what it prevents Homeland Security from doing in terms of hiring people and the rest. And what are we [doing]? The whole world is – you would think that the Paris incident we would have said: okay, we made our point, now we’re going to the next place.
So what’s the next place? The next place is: we’re not doing Homeland Security unless they can get their anti-immigrant and anti-immigration legislation in it. And when I leave here a little bit, later today I’ll go to a press conference to call out some of the statement that they’re making about immigrants. This isn’t who we are. We’re a nation of immigrants by and large with all the respect and love for our Native American brothers and sisters. But it’s more of the same from there.
And by the way – if you’re concerned about the deficit – the immigration bill reduces the deficit by what, $158 billion within the first ten years, and then $700 billion over a 20-year period. So you want to reduce the deficit? Pass the Senate-passed bipartisan bill. By the way, the Senate sees this differently than the House Republicans in terms of immigration so it’s hard to see what’s going to happen. But what we have now is taking the President to court over one thing or the other that relates to immigration, they’re not passing a homeland security bill. No wonder the American people have doubts about the effectiveness of government but since we’re identified more in terms of private solutions than they identify it with us.
But this homeland security – support and defend, that’s the oath of office that we take: to support and defend the Constitution, and, therefore the American people and all that’s in the Constitution. And, again, their negative attitude towards immigrants is driving their attitude toward the homeland security bill. It’s just plain wrong. And again, if you want to make any distinctions – I mean, we have Republican former secretaries of Homeland Security writing and saying: don’t do this. Again, don’t paint all Republicans with this same brush, but this is what’s driving the agenda in the House among the House [Republicans], not even the Senate Republicans – the House Republicans. I’m glad you asked about it.
Was there a third part to your question? Oh yeah, the elections. As far as the House is concerned – where there wasn’t a senate or gubernatorial race – we did just fine. My state of California, they came after us big because we had five tough races. They came after us big; they had a new leader on the Republican side who was a Californian [that] they were going to show me and take away the seats we won in the last election. Not only did we win them all but we added one more. And that’s because we really just had the field to ourselves – it wasn’t trying to take out a senator or a governor, you know what I mean. Where they brought in that big, enormous, endless money – and they brought in a lot in California, but I’m talking endless in those other places to win the Senate and win some of the state houses – it did hurt us in the House races. Equivalent to the Senate, we didn’t lose as many – you know, they lost eight, that would have been 30 for us.
It’s no consolation, don’t get me wrong, but the fact is: “Public sentiment is everything.” You have to give people a reason to register and a reason to vote. They didn’t’ see that reason. Shame on us for not making it clearer. As I say, at the risk of not being a fear-mongerer you try to – now, this is the 50th, and I’ll close with this, I think I have to – this is the 50th anniversary…
Q: I still want to ask my one question if I may.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, okay. It’s up to you.
Q: Can I throw in my last question and then you can do the close as part of it. And it is a personal question because there is sort of the image of Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco liberal, that parody, and yet, people who know you and have watched you know that there are two aspects of you that don’t get talked about much: one is the deep importance of family to you – mother, grandmother, and how family has been so much a part of your life, the other is God and religion. And you spoke earlier about the loss of votes because of the social issues. And, you know, I’ve not only heard you quote Pope Francis, which is very popular among liberals these days, I’ve heard you quote Pope Benedict which was not as popular among liberals. And I kind of wanted you to square the person you think you are with this public image that some have because I think those aspects of your life would come as a surprise to people who have a certain view of you in their heads. And I just wanted to put that on the table before we finished.
Leader Pelosi. So you care about that. I’m so happy that my college roommate at Trinity College Washington, D.C., Rita Meyer, is here. Yes, we’ve been friends for many, many years. And here’s the thing: Pope Benedict’s first encyclical was called “God is Love.” And in the encyclical, he quotes Saint Augustine and Saint Augustine said that any government that does not exist to promote justice is just a bunch of thieves – words to that effect.
This is Saint Augustine 17 centuries ago, but in “God is Love,” Benedict quotes him. And Benedict is a beautiful writer and thinker, and the speeches here were so fabulous and the rest. So then Benedict goes on to say: sometimes it’s hard to define justice, but when you try to do so, you must avoid the blinding lays – or words to that effect – of special interest and money. Is that beautiful? So when I say that on the floor, my Republican colleagues are not happy about that – my quoting Benedict in that way. But that’s really what we have to do – we have to get money in terms of special interests weighing in on government and legislation, money controlling elections in a way that destroys any confidence the public has that their vote counts for anything.
And so, my family, I have five children. When my baby was brought home, Alexandra, who many of you know – a journalist, when I took her home from the hospital, our oldest child Nancy that week was turning six. So when our colleagues on the floor start talking about what they know about family planning and the rest, I think I have very strong credentials. In fact, one day – since we’re speaking about the Pope – when we were having this debate on family planning, whether it’s domestic or international, one of the Republicans got up and said: “Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the Pope.”
Yes. This was, like, 20 years ago. Yeah, I think the Pope would agree. So it is a strange debate that we have because the fact is: is that family, yes, is very important and the Catholic Church is very important to me and I love Francis and I’m glad he’s named for Saint Francis who was the patron saint of San Francisco and his song of Saint Francis, “Make me an instrument of thy peace,” is the anthem of our city – Republicans don’t like when I say that either. But that is why those values are a part of who I am, but raised in Baltimore where we were devoutly Catholic, fiercely patriotic Americans, proud of our Italian-American heritage, and in our case, staunchly Democratic. We saw that as a connection. And that’s who I am.
The reason they have a different image is because people spent nearly a $100 million in the campaign of 2010 to describe me to the public, and since I wasn’t really a known quantity, some of that took. But I say to my colleagues: “If you are effective, you are a target.” So understand that. And I accept that mantle – says she immodestly.
And then just back to this 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act – mind you the Court has undone some of it, mind you the Republicans in Congress have not chosen to accept the bipartisan, modest bill to correct that, but also mind you that when President Bush was president, we passed the Voting Rights Act. We were in the minority, but we worked with him in a bipartisan way to pass the Voting Rights Act. And I think it’s really important – I think I have it here so that you don’t think I’m making this up. The Voting Rights Act Reauthorization, July 13, 2006, 290-33 in the House, bipartisan – 192 Republicans voted for it – and in the Senate, unanimous, the Voting Rights Act. But we can’t get it passed, a simple version passed to correct the courts now.
And that’s just – the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, it was in the summer when it was signed originally, in August by President Lyndon Johnson. And it’s really important, but with it, again – look, one-third of the people voted in the last election, one-third of the electorate, those eligible to vote voted – so there’s something wrong with our not getting out those other people. They didn’t see a reason to vote. They see the influence of money in politics, which we must reduce and that’s a whole other session. But also, I’ll just close – did I say I would close? One more time, I will close with this.
Q: I interrupted your close.
Leader Pelosi. Okay. I didn’t intend to have this as a close but you took us to this path, so I can’t ignore this. You know, we have Selma coming up and we’re all going to Selma again to – it’s fabulous, and you have the movie and 50th anniversary and all of that. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said he had a dream that his children would not be judged – he used the word “dream” and [“judge”] – by the color of their skin but the content of their character. And that just haunts me all the time when we talk about budget.
When we walk about children, children in economically disadvantaged areas, their families are working two jobs because they make a minimum wage which is not a living wage – they don’t even have time to have dinner with their children, to mentor their children, to read to them, to listen to them read back to their parents. Their neighbors are in the same boat so the community is not there.
So, when we talk about judging people by the content of their character, we have to judge our country by the content of our character if we are not recognizing that these children are worthy of everything. They are the heirs of America’s future. And what you see what your children have, the love, the opportunity, this or that, and you see the disparity – even I talked about it in terms of technology, that opportunity gap and education gap. So the character of our country should be judged as to how we invest in these children.
And when people ask me: “What’s the most important three issues facing the Congress,” I always say the same thing: our children, our children, our children, their health, their education, the economic security of their families, a clean, safe environment in which they can thrive, a world at peace in which they can reach their aspirations. But if you have a budget that does not enable that bigger paychecks, ending education gap, all of those kinds of initiatives that help a child’s character grow with confidence and with judgment, with example of their parents – hard working, but not able to meet the needs of their children, although people try very, very hard.
So I think that, as we observe the 50th anniversary, we have to think of Martin Luther King and examine our own consciences about what we are doing for the character of our country to meet the needs of kids so that they can be judged by the content of their character. It’s a pretty exciting opportunity. It’s the inspiration that we have; it’s the inspiration that we had at our issues conference in Philadelphia, and it’s what unites us. And I don’t think there’s any partisan aspect to investing in America’s [children]. As President Kennedy said: they’re our greatest resource and our best hope for the future.
Thank you all for the opportunity to be with you all today. Thank you.