National Press Club Luncheon
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REP. PELOSI: Thank you very much, Donna, for that very interesting introduction. (Laughter.)
Congratulations to the National Press Club on your 100th anniversary. How wonderful to be here with you on this occasion. (Applause.)
It's an honor once again to join Leader Reid to offer the Democratic view on the state of the Union. As the introductions were being made and Deborah was introduced, she was reminding me earlier of the first time that I came here for this "prebuttal," when Senator Daschle was the Democratic leader in the Senate. We've had a few in between, haven't we, Harry? And let's hope this is our last Democratic "prebuttal" -- (scattered applause) -- that next year we will have a Democratic president. (Applause.)
As speaker of the House, I'm proud to talk about the work of the 110th Congress since we were here last year, what we have done to restore faith in our democracy by enacting landmark lobbying and ethics reform, reasserting congressional oversight and restoring fiscal responsibility.
Now we must strengthen America's faith in the economy. Yesterday House Democrats and Republicans reached a bipartisan agreement to immediately jump-start the slowing economy. The plan provides working Americans, middle-income families and those who aspire to the middle class, who are struggling in these difficult times, with timely, targeted and temporary relief.
Because of this effort, more than 100 million American families will soon receive what I call recovery rebates. The package also gives families a second chance at the American dream of home ownership by helping middle-income families refinance and avoid foreclosure.
The House will move quickly to approve this package, which will provide broad-based help to the middle class, again, and those aspiring to it. It will create jobs and it will stimulate the economy.
If there's any doubt of the need for immediate action on our stimulus package to strengthen middle-class families, consider the story of Florice Seester (sp) of Charlotte, North Carolina. Florice (sp) works full-time in customer service for a major telecommunications company, yet she worries that her paycheck will not stretch far enough to cover rising gas prices. Florice's (sp) five- year-old son even offered to loan her $9 from his piggy bank to help fill up the family car. She turned him down, she said, because she already owed his piggy bank $50.
Americans like Florice (sp) deserve an economy that rewards their hard work, helps them provide for their families, and renews the American dream for their children. That is why the House will act quickly and decisively to put recovery rebates in the hands of hard- working Americans.
While 2008 is a time to get America's economy moving again, it is also a year when we will be choosing a new leader for our future. I know Americans will find that leadership among our outstanding Democratic candidates. But we cannot wait for the next presidential election to address long-term challenges. We have already begun to chart a new direction to strengthen our economy and create jobs for the middle class.
As was mentioned by Donna, we increased the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years.
We advanced our innovation agenda to make serious and sustained investments in research and development, and promote public-private partnerships that develop high-risk, high-reward ideas into marketable technologies. We must combine, and continue to chart a new direction for our economy that creates new knowledge-based jobs as we tackle every major challenge.
And our point is, is that we can, and we must, create jobs. And we can do so in a new an innovative entrepreneurial way in these four areas by bringing innovation to education; by promoting better health care for all Americans; by rebuilding our infrastructure; and by addressing the climate crisis and global warming. We must bring an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to the work of government and make fiscally sound investments that will pay dividends for the future.
For education we will chart a new direction where innovation not only begins in the classroom, but where innovation will also change the classroom and the way children learn. We must ensure that students are prepared for a globalized world, and workplaces that will increasingly require them to work in teams -- collaborating across companies, communities and continents. We must ensure that our children are not just learning basic skills -- they're very important, but also learning critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge to new challenges.
To begin this effort we must leap-frog over old arguments about testing, and encourage and invest in more innovation so that students of today will be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow here at home. We began this work with our Innovation Agenda, which launched a new commitment to encouraging students, and ensuring highly qualified teachers in the fields of math, science and engineering.
We are making college for affordable for all students to ensure that we have a new generation of innovators. We began this work by enacting the largest expansion of student aid since the GI Bill in 1944. We cut student loan rates in half and boosted Pell Grants. This year we will continue to work through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which will continue to address the rising costs of college and reshape our higher education system.
For health care we will chart a new direction where every American has access to quality, affordable health care to create a healthier America. In the course of some of the conversations I've had as speaker, with the visitors who come to my office -- some from the administration asking for more funds for their agencies, some from the business community emphasizing the importance of health care as a competitiveness issue, from the grass roots community which reaches out to provide health care to the community, for people representing families, and the rest -- talking about this, I always ask them the same thing: When we talk about universal health care, and access to it, just what are we talking about? And let's think in a newer, bigger way about what that vision can be.
And across the board, it's almost consistent, everyone seems to share the same view: A healthier America must begin with major investments in basic biomedical research, while ensuring universal access to those discoveries. For example, this year we will spend $5.5 billion on total cancer research -- the cost of two weeks in Iraq. Every year cancer kills nearly 560,000 Americans, 1500 per day. Imagine for progress for our families, for our economy, for our future if we doubled the investment in cancer research to four weeks in Iraq?
A healthier America means a common electronic medical record for every American from birth to reduce mistakes, to lower costs and to improve health care. A healthier America means personalized care. Every American should get customized care to their needs, not a one- size-fits-all. In doing this we must remove the disparities in our health care system.
A healthier America means mental health parity. This is especially important for our veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. A healthier America must contain a strong component of prevention -- prevention, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle. I always there are millions of health care providers in America, they're called mom and dad. All of this can begin right at home for a healthier America and we have to have the participation of all Americans in achieving a healthier America.
None of the success we want to have in health care, though, is possible without trained, highly-skilled personnel. By make the investments in nurses, doctors, and other health care providers, we can have a healthier America, and, by creating jobs here at home, a healthier American economy.
The next area where we want to create jobs is in our infrastructure. For our nation we will chart a new direction where we renew America's infrastructure, and rebuild it in a way that is greener and helps confront the climate crisis. Two hundred years ago, in 1808, Thomas Jefferson charged Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin with drafting a plan to develop America's infrastructure. Work like the Erie Canal and the Cumberland Road, to take advantage of a nation that was growing because of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
A century later, in 1808 (sic), the same year the National Press Club was founded, Theodore Roosevelt launched a similar commitment when he convened a White House conference on conservation to stress the importance of preserving America's natural beauty. That led to the creation of the National Park Service and helped a growing America remain a green America.
In 2008, in keeping with the traditions of these great American leaders, we must keep America growing while making America greener. That means reinvesting in our crumbling highways and bridges, and renewing our commitment to mass transit solutions which will create jobs for the middle class here at home. It also means expanding broad-band access across America, particularly to rural communities. Again, in our infrastructure challenge there is job-creating opportunity to reinvigorate the American economy.
Global warming is the issue upon which this generation of leaders will be judged by posterity. Only this generation can make the changes needed in time to avert a crisis that our children and our grandchildren will otherwise have to face. We must build on last year's landmark energy legislation that increased energy saving standards for lighting and appliances, among other things, and historically boosted fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. And this was for the first time in 32 years. We will take the next step by creating a cap-and-trade to help protect our environment.
In our clean energy revolution we have the opportunity to train Americans for green jobs here at home to reinvigorate our economy. These commitments, taken together, represent more than just a democratic decision in favor of the future, Americans embrace this vision as their own. Our nation has the resources -- both the human resources and the financial resources to meet these challenges, and strengthen and expand the middle class. We only require the will to make the decision to make this vision a reality.
As leader Reid will discuss, we need to restore America's leadership in the world, and we truly need a new direction in Iraq. For a cost of one day in Iraq, around $330 million, we could fund nearly 1,000 NIH research grants to find cures and treatments for the most deadly and debilitating diseases. For the cost of about one week in Iraq, we could provide 400,000 young Americans a scholarship for a full year at a public university.
For the cost of just over one month in Iraq we could provide healthcare for 10 million children in America for an entire year. It is not a matter of resources. It is a matter of making the right choice for America.
Leader Reid and I both salute our brave men and women in uniform. They have performed their duties excellently and with great courage, and when they come home they will find improved healthcare thanks to the largest investment in veterans' healthcare in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration. I'm very proud of that. Yet we owe our veterans much more. We owe them our best efforts to build a future worthy of their enormous sacrifice. Thank you. (Applause.)
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MS. LEINWAND: (Inaudible) -- to questions. We have a lot of questions so I'll try and get through as many as I can. We'll start with the domestic agenda and particularly the tax cuts and the stimulus plan. Can you explain how tax cuts are a good stimulus for the economy now when you opposed tax cuts that President Bush proposed in 2001?
REP. PELOSI: It's not a question -- Democrats support tax cuts for the middle class and those who aspire to it. The question is the -- where does the stimulation come from. And what happened in this package that we put forth yesterday was a drastic shift from tax cuts for the wealthiest people in our country to tax cuts for the middle class and tax cuts for the working Americans. This is a very big difference in terms of having the resources to inject into the economy to create jobs, to put people to work. Again, the cycle continues.
So any day of the week Democrats stand proudly in support of tax cuts for the middle class. It's part of our agenda. Our disagreement with the president was that he was making tax cuts for the high end, and by the way, he was adding enormously to the deficit. Don't take my word for it. That was the word of the Congressional Budget Office under the control of the Republicans at that time.
MS. LEINWAND: In the stimulus package you gave up on the food stamp issue. Why didn't you press for that and where do you think the second stimulus plan will go?
REP. PELOSI: Well, I don't know about any second stimulus plan but I will say this. First of all, food stamps is something that we had championed for a long time, most recently in the farm bill, and we look forward to the farm bill coming to reconciliation and coming to the floor because we had a huge increase and permanent -- putting it into the permanent section of the farm bills on food stamps.
But if you want to talk about food stamps in this package what was being bandied about was a 10 percent increase in food stamps. Do you know what that translates for a person on food stamps? Ten cents a day. Ten cents a day. I thought it was far more important to put a check for $1,000 in the hands of the mom of that family than to talk about -- (inaudible). We still will get food stamps. It's not a question of either/or. It's a question of in this package a decision was made to take the cuts from the high end to the middle class and then taking it to the middle class and to the working poor so that much more could be put into -- many more dollars could be put in the hands of the working poor.
Food stamps -- again, it's a very important part of how people make ends meet. We have it in the farm bill and if that's not enough or the farm bill doesn't come to fruition we'll have a permanent increase in food stamps in another legislative vehicle. But this -- just think about it. Think in a new and bigger way about what tax cuts -- refundable rebates to working poor people and refundable rebates to -- for child credits with a focus, again, on the middle class but including those who are fighting -- struggling to get into the middle class. It's a remarkable -- it's remarkable. It isn't the end. We have much more to do in terms of unemployment insurance, again, food stamps -- (inaudible) -- infrastructure and the rest. But this will make a big difference.
MS. LEINWAND: Speaker Pelosi, you addressed the National Press Club on November 5th -- you'll get yours. (Laughter.)
MR. : (Off mike.)
MS. LEINWAND: (Laughter.) Speaker Pelosi, you addressed the National Press Club on November -- in November 2005 with a competitiveness agenda. It didn't go anywhere.
REP. PELOSI: That's not true.
MS. LEINWAND: Okay. Well, what happened to it and what types -- what steps are you going to take to save the economy over the long term?
REP. PELOSI: Respecting the friendship in that question, may I respond this way? The competitiveness agenda -- the innovation agenda -- is something that we put together in a bipartisan way working with workers, with -- and leaders in industry, with the academic community, with policy makers, legislators, and something that passed the Congress in July and was signed into law by the president. It is very much a part of our new direction. What it calls for we have implemented in other pieces of legislation -- many more scientists, mathematicians, and those trained in technology to be trained as teachers to educate our children but also placing a premium for children to follow those disciplines. It talks about issues like healthcare being a competitiveness issue and so we must do something about healthcare.
But the components of it are innovation. Innovation begins in the classroom. It's about technology -- expanding broadband across America. An important part of an innovation agenda also is the issue of energy and a part of the innovation agenda was passing the energy bill. So this is law. It's reflected in our appropriations legislation. It's reflected in our education legislation. It's in the works. Of course, with a Democratic president we can do much more and I look forward to that.
But we're not waiting for that. We are pushing very hard. It passed overwhelmingly -- overwhelmingly in the Congress and as I say was signed by the president. So have hope because, again, the innovation agenda is the answer. One of the reasons we passed it is because, again, you have to leapfrog over the debate about trade -- is it good for our -- (inaudible). Of course, we're in a global economy. We can't turn back from that. But we have to be fair to our workers, and instead of agonizing over some pieces of this let's innovate, compete, and prevail in the marketplace.
MS. LEINWAND: Okay. Our last economic stimulus question is clearly very important to many people in this audience because I got about seven of them. When can we expect our first rebate check? (Laughter.)
REP. PELOSI: Judging by the attire and what I see in this room you may never be getting one -- (laughter) -- and God bless you for your success. Well, we passed our -- we haven't passed our bill. We've introduced our bill. We'll bring it to the floor within the next 10 days and then it will go on to the Senate, and as soon as the president signs the bill I have every assurance from the secretary of the treasury that the IRS can handle this. The bill was written in a way that would expedite the checks going out to the American people. Looking beyond this room, 110 -- no, 117 million American families will be receiving a recovery rebate, and as soon as the bill is the law that process will begin.
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MS. LEINWAND: Okay, this is for both of you.
What are the prospect for comprehensive immigration reform in 2008?
SEN. REID: I think comprehensive immigration reform in 2008 is going to be very hard to come by.
I may not be an expert on many things but I'm an expert on legislating immigration. We spent, last year, many, many weeks in the Senate trying to legislate with immigration. And the last go-round, the president said he would help us. And I have said publicly, I appreciate that.
But his help didn't gain much. We have 12 -- we had 12 Republicans who supported us on comprehensive immigration reform, that's all.
We have -- we have found that they refuse to allow us to do things that would -- good, that would control our northern, southern borders; have a temporary guest worker program; would allow a pathway to legalization, no amnesty for these 12 million people; they would not go to the front of the line, the back of line, they'd have to pay penalties and fines, learn to speak English, stay out of trouble, pay taxes. They wouldn't let us do that.
So now, we have -- every time we offer a piece of legislation, they want to build a higher, longer wall, punitive things that I think are really shortsighted. So I don't think we'll get anything done this year. We have a presidential election. We have a number of very important House and Senate races, and our time is really squeezed. So I think we're going to have to look forward to some new leadership. We need a president who is willing to step forward and get more than 12 of his party to support this legislation.
Nancy, do you want to say anything?
REP. PELOSI: Thank you, Harry.
Harry's absolutely right. If we are going to have comprehensive immigration reform, it has to come from the leadership -- with the leadership of the president of the United States. This is an area we thought we could work closely with the president on because he had -- his heart and head were in the right place. He understood the issue, being a former governor of Texas. We all agreed that we had to secure our borders, enforce our laws, protect our workers. We talked about a path to legalization where we can bring people out of the shadows and into the full economic -- full economic contribution to our society and our economy, and to do so in a way that unified families. Those were the principles that we were operating under.
And then, perhaps because things had come so easy to the president with the Republicans in the Senate before, the minute there was a problem, the White House was not up to the task of bringing the leadership necessary to make this happen. So if it isn't going to happen in the Senate, it's not going to happen.
But it doesn't mean that it doesn't need to happen. And we have to continue to work together because there are too many aspects of our economy -- if we're just talking pragmatically -- that depend on a comprehensive immigration reform. And expanding that beyond H-1B visas, H-2B visas, guest worker programs, AgJOBS, the list goes on. But this has to be done comprehensively -- again, securing our borders, enforcing our laws, protecting our workers, and again, respecting what so many people do bring to our economy.
I just want to say, because I believe our time is coming to an end, the question on bipartisanship. It has been in the interest of some to beat this drum that we didn't do anything working together. But right from the start last year, for our Six for '06, on every initiative we put forth, we were looking for common ground. We weren't looking for a fight.
So that -- raising the minimum wage, strong bipartisan support. Cutting in half the interest rates on student loans, strong bipartisan support. Our first bill, H.R. 1, enacting the 9/11 commission recommendations, strong bipartisan support. Passing stem cell research legislation -- wasn't signed by the president, but strong bipartisan support. In the SCHIP, the Children's Health Program, veto-proof bipartisanship in the United States Senate -- not quite that, but strong bipartisan support. The Innovation Agenda.
The list goes on and on where we had strong bipartisan cooperation and support and the bills were signed by the president. These are all eclipsed by the Iraq war because the president has his head in the sand on this war that he -- it's, for him, a war without end, no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, any analogy or cliche that you want to use.
And because we could not come to terms on that, it eclipsed what we were able to accomplish in a bipartisan way.
The reason we were able to achieve the stimulus package was for really the first time that we had something that the president wanted. But he hasn't really had an agenda that we could bargain over. He needed the stimulus package. He finally admitted it the end of last week.
Any homemaker in America could have told him it months ago -- that our country was heading for a downturn and we needed a change in economic policy. But it finally dawned on the president the end of last week. We quickly went into motion because we have known also for a long time that this needed to be done. But in order to have bipartisanship, you have to share common values or you have to be in a position where you can negotiate. I think we've -- hopefully this stimulus will serve as a model on how we can go forward in this year, and hopefully immigration can be one of those issues.
But I associate myself with the comments of Senator Reid and what he said, because the reality is in the United States Senate. And in closing may I just say what a privilege it is to serve with Senator Reid in his capacity as majority leader and mine as speaker, to work together on behalf of the American people. It's an honor to be with you here today, Senator Reid.
And thank you to the National Press Club for making that possible. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: We've now come to the economic stimulus portion of our afternoon, and that is the gift giving. But -- we'll have one more question, but first, we have the National Press Club mugs.
REP. PELOSI: (Off mike) -- very much.
MS. LEINWAND: Oh, there's more! The National Press Club DVD documentary of our hundred years, and medallions.
REP. PELOSI: Wonderful.
MS. LEINWAND: And now we have our last question.
Oh, actually, first let me remind our members of our future speakers. February 8th we have Admiral Thad Allen, the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard. On Valentine's Day, February 14th, we have Ted Danson, the actor. And on --
MR. : (Off mike.)
MS. LEINWAND: Ooh! (Laughs.) I heard that.
On February 29th we have Andrew von Eschenbach, the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
And, let's see, here is our last question. It seems that some people in our audience think that the senator and the speaker ought to referee the primary election. What can you do, or what should the Democratic Party do to keep Senator Obama and Senator Clinton from beating each other up? (Laughter.)
SEN. REID: I'm going to stay out of it. (Laughter.)
REP. PELOSI: And he's a boxer. (Laughs.) Let the democratic process continue. Whoever the nominee is, we will all rally behind, lift up, be very proud of and go on with to victory in November. So I'm very proud of each and every one of our candidates, Senator Edwards as well, and look forward to supporting one of them very soon.
Thank you. (Applause.)