Speaker Pelosi's Weekly Press Conference

Speaker Pelosi's Weekly Press Conference

Rep. Nancy Pelosi - March 26, 2009

PELOSI: It is a joy to be with you on any day, especially today. We're so, so very pleased with the work of the Budget Committee under the leadership of John Spratt who is a master at work. He knows the budget. He presents it in a very values-based way so that it is a statement of our national values. The budget that was passed out of the committee last night, after -- it went in at 10:30 and came out around midnight -- 10:30 a.m. -- with scores of amendments as I understand, but in tact at the end of the day.

A budget that reflects the blueprint for America that President Obama has put forth, it reduces the deficit, it reduces taxes for 95 percent of the American people, it is a job creator in every respect. When it comes to a greener America and clean energy, it creates new green jobs. When it comes to the education of our children, creating a global work force for the 21st century, it creates jobs.

And when it comes to making America healthier through prevention and biomedical research and technological advancement, it creates jobs.

You see, I did get my throat blessed on the Feast of St. Blaise, but in this job, I guess, I have to keep doing it. Excuse me.

So we're very proud of it. And in addition to that, this budget is being presented in the context of what other initiatives we are taking to be accountable for taxpayer's dollar. As you know, a few weeks ago, I called upon our chairs to set the date for hearings for accountability to subject every dollar of taxpayer's spending to the harshest scrutiny to root out waste, fraud, and abuse and (inaudible) as a matter of fact, also.

We have, as I mentioned, a deficit reduction in the budget, and I'm very pleased with that. We also have a strong commitment to pay as you go. And as we go forward, that will be the order of the day, and it is. In addition to that, we'll work with the White House to make sure that uncollected taxes are collected. You know, it to the tune of over $350 billion that is estimated of taxes that are owed to the federal government that are not back.

So accountability, transparency, waste, fraud, abuse, obsolescence, get rid of it, pay as you go, make it the order of the day, and get our taxes paid. All of this to help reduce the deficit as well.

We look forward to going to the next step on the budget and, in doing so, to maintain, again, the reflection of the president's blueprint for a better America. We will be proposing reconciliation for health care, as you know.

I do -- before I take any questions, I want to say, again, how sad we all are here about the storms in North Dakota and Minnesota. Now, I'd this morning that it's in Mississippi. I don't want to call it a natural disaster, but a -- some ravaging of whether in Mississippi. And so we send our warm regards. That's simply not enough.

I spoke with the governor, Governor Hoeven, last night from North Dakota to offer the full support of this Congress. The president has already called for a disaster status. The governor appealed for individual assistance and a lifting -- a reducing of the local match -- a listing of the federal match. We're working through our member of Congress, Earl Pomeroy , who has been dividing his time between making sandbags in an assembly line and coming to Congress to appeal for the needs of his people there. We'll work with Congressman -- Chairman Peterson on the Minnesota side of the border on that and look forward to working with our colleagues in Mississippi.

It seems that a month does go by that we don't have to deal with issues of natural disasters that challenge all the resourcefulness of the people. The people of North Dakota have been used to, especially, in Fargo -- now Bismarck is hit. But they have a tradition of neighbor helping neighbor, and we have to be good neighbors to them.

With that, I'd be pleased to take any questions.

QUESTION: You mentioned that reconciliation for health care was in the budget. I wanted to ask why you thought that was necessary. If there's any concern that the Senate would be an obstacle to health reform or other issues.

PELOSI: I believe that it's absolutely essential that we come out of this year with a substantial health care reform -- substantial health care reform legislation. I believe that that is best served by having reconciliation in the package. I believe that health care is not only important about health care, it's about a healthier America.

And we want a robust initiative about prevention, about biomedical research, about health IT, about community health centers reaching out, personalized, customized care. This is a big agenda. And I believe it should have a public option in it for it to really be substantial. In order for that to happen, I think the best prospect for that to happen is to do it under reconciliation.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a more partisan fight and that that might even hurt the process somehow.

PELOSI: I don't know (inaudible) some people are. But in the House of Representatives, it is generally believed that we want to have the strongest possible package to have the healthiest possible America. This is not only about the health of individuals in our country which will be justification enough; it's about the competitiveness of our businesses to make them globally competitive because they are competing with companies and countries where the federal government -- their governments pay for health care. They don't have to bear those health care costs.

PELOSI: So it's about the health of our people, the competitiveness of our businesses, the strength of our economy. And it is the most important way for us to reduce the rising cost of entitlements. Health care reform is entitlement reform. If we can control the increasing cost in health care, we can control the cost of Medicare and Medicaid and we can, therefore, bring down future growth of the entitlement.

This is absolutely essential. It is central. And I -- I think with country is best served by the reconciliation with health care. Some of these same people on the Republican side didn't have a problem with it -- and we have their quotes -- when President Bush wanted to put forth his tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the America and even going back to President Reagan.

QUESTION: Speaker, will you, next week, put Chairman Frank's bonus bill on the floor here? And, secondly, were you disappointed that the Senate this week sort of fell on the ball and ran out the clock and didn't act in any way on AIG?

PELOSI: Well, taking the first question, it is my understanding -- we'll have to review the bill that is being put forth -- I think there's strong support in the country for reasonable performance-based rewards. Now, whether you call them bonuses -- I think we have to be careful how we go forward with this because, in some rather common practice many places, part of compensation are bonuses. And I'm not talking about golden parachutes. I'm talking about middle-income people getting a bonus as part of their income.

So we want to make sure that what we are doing makes the distinctions between the abuses and the insult to the taxpayer of an AIG employee executive who drove his company into the ground, costing hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars and then taking taxpayer dollars as his reward for failure. That is something quite different than the normal compensation practices that have bonuses and performance as part of it.

And I -- I'm certain that once this bill comes to the floor and goes to conference that those distinctions will be made and that it will be in furtherance of be accountability to the taxpayer's dollar without collateral damage to those who had nothing to do with this but have if you're -- it's not uncommon for middle-income professionals to get a bonus, and they shouldn't have to pay the price because people making months of dollars a year had the arrogance to insult the intelligence of the American people. Our bill that we passed, I think, served a very good purpose. It put the spotlight on the AIG abusive bonus practices, and it still may -- it still may pass in the Senate. It didn't this week. But I think it has produced a result, and that will be demonstrated in how successful we are with the next legislation as we go down the line.

But I don't want people to think that businesses and people who have worked hard, performed well, and received bonuses are going to be painted with the AIG brush.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) did you go too far on that? Taxing people 125,000 who are single? Is there any chance -- do you feel in any way that you might have gone too far on the AIG bonuses? Taxing people at over $125,000?

PELOSI: Well, I don't think it is a hundred -- so it was 250 which is -- well, if they're married, then it's 250. But 250 has been sort of a line of demarcation. But I don't think that that's not why Senate didn't bring the bill up. I think they just have a full plate.

I'm more interested in the Senate sending us today, the GIVE Act so that we can bring it up on the floor on Monday. This is a remarkable legislation. Do you know what it means?

I tease them because it's quite an acronym. Generations Inspiring Volunteerism -- oh, no. Invigorating, right? Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education, GIVE.

And it will enable the American people to give and volunteer in a much more significant way. It is in the tradition of our country, and it is very exciting legislation.

QUESTION: We understand that you and other congressional leaders are going to the White House today for another briefing on the Afghan policy. From what you've been told so far from members of the administration about what the president plans, what could you tell us? Do you have confidence that it's going to work? Do you have concerns whether it will work? (Inaudible) of your feeling about work...

PELOSI: Well, I don't know what they're going to tell us because this is, you know, the report is now, I guess, finished or almost finished. And on the basis of that, the president will make a decision, and that decision -- I think what we will learn today or at least the direction he's going in subject to any suggestions he may hear today.

First, let me commend the president for the bipartisan way in which he has engaged this discussion both on Iraq, when we were there a few weeks ago, and now on Afghanistan. We will go, yes, the leadership House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, to the White House today for our report. But in the course of the weekend and days leading up to today, the administration has been in touch with the committees of jurisdiction, House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, to give them some idea of what the options are that the president has.

As you know -- or perhaps I should remind you -- I was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago. And when I came back -- with members of our delegation -- we talked about concentrating on four areas: the military. And the military has told us that, as proud as we are of all of them, they, alone, cannot solve this issue.

Secondly, the issue of governance -- the governance -- the corruption issue in Afghanistan must be directly addressed. The construction issue and how we invest resources in Afghanistan so that they see some appeal away from the Taliban. I say "construction" because some of you have corrected me when I said reconstruction. Those of you who have been there or served there have said to me there's no re involved here. It's about starting pretty much from scratch.

And then the fourth and, I think, probably the most significant is the regional approach. This is not an issue that can be resolved in Afghanistan. It has to involve Pakistan in a very major way and then the region -- India and then the other -stans that border Pakistan and Afghanistan and China, Russia, and Iran and, perhaps, some other Persian Gulf state.

So it is -- it is a regional -- a regional solution is what will, I think, bring us more success. All of the countries I named have a stake in stability in Afghanistan. They and our NATO allies have to be part of the solution. And so that's -- we talked to the president about these issues when we came back from our trip. I know he's listened to other members and their views on the subject. Some of us have been there over and over again, others just brought fresh eyes on the trip.

When we were there, we spoke to grass roots people, NGOs out in the hinterland who droves hours to meet with us. We met with the women. We met with people trying to develop culture of Afghanistan in addition to meeting with the president of Afghanistan, first and foremost, the purpose of our visit to get the lay of the land from our own military there and to pay our respects to our troops and thank them for their service and their patriotism and their courage.

So I don't want to make any characterization of what I think the president may say, but I may have a statement after that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) be deficit neutral? Should the cost be fully offset?

PELOSI: That's what I would hope would be the case, but we're going to have to have health care reform. And remember this. It has -- we would hope that, in some of the initiatives that we're putting forth that we know reduce cost, that there would be some reflection of that as the Congressional Budget Office.

We always seem to get the upside of an investment -- you know, the downside of an investment without getting the upside in terms of what it means to inoculate children, invest in a healthier America through a prevention diet -- not diabetes -- prevention, not amputation. So we believe that was we do will save the American people money and, in the meantime, reduce the entitlement cost.

So we have confidence that we will not be increasing the deficit.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) five years Max Baucus doesn't think it's possible to pay for health care reform or to be deficit neutral in the first five years. Do you think it can be deficit neutral?

PELOSI: You know what? I haven't seen Max Baucus ' figures and the rest. But I'm sure that what we have done in the House is to have our three chairmen, Mr. Rangel of Ways and Means, Mr. Waxman of Energy and Commerce, Mr. Miller of Education and Labor, they all have a major piece of that. They've also invited Mr. Conyers, because he's been a strong advocate for single payer, to sort of sit in on the discussions.

PELOSI: But the three committees of jurisdiction -- of legislative jurisdiction are working as one, sharing staff and going forward with what we have -- what we are going to be advocating on...

QUESTION: Do you want the cost to be offset?

PELOSI: They will be putting forth their proposal. I saw some statement in the press yesterday which I did not find to be totally consistent with the facts in terms of any of the members saying it didn't have to be. But I'm not making a statement about it here except to say we believe our investments in a healthier America, the jobs it creates, the entitlements it reduces, the competitiveness it engenders will be a positive force for reducing the deficit.

Thank you all very much.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi


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