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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon.
SPEAKER PELOSI: Thank you. I knew somebody was out there. Michael. (Laughs.)
Isn't this an exciting time? Yesterday at the White House we were able to see our president welcome His Holiness the Holy Father Pope Benedict the XVI to the White House. Pretty historic occasion to hear his beautiful message of hope. He talked about truth -- spent a lot of time talking about truth and justice and freedom. And today at the mass at Nationals -- National -- do we call it National Park or National Stadium?
Q Nationals Park.
SPEAKER PELOSI: -- Nationals Park -- he had a beautiful message of hope. I don't know if you heard the holy father's speech, but it was very beautiful. And I think really you should hear the last paragraph, because this is something so special. I think the holy father wrote this speech -- not that most people who make speeches don't write their speeches. (Laughs, laughter.) But I think he wrote this speech. It was so much like his writings.
He said, "Those who have hope must live different lives. By your prayers, by the witness of your faith," and "by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which is God is even now opening up" in his -- "to his church" -- "indeed, to all humanity." And then he prayerfully closes. But it's that same thing, the faith that people have give other people hope that the charity that will spring from that is what we're all hoping for, for us to minister to the needs of people who need them, need help, or just understand -- put ourselves in the position of other people.
Anyway, I think between yesterday and today -- and the trip is not over yet -- his holiness has given us a call to action to come together to make -- to improve the situation for many more people in the world. His speech today recognized the diversity -- the beautiful diversity of our country and the need to bring all of that together.
So I take some pride in the fact that earlier this year we were able to do that on the recovery rebates, which on May 1st will begin going out to taxpayers across our country over a period of time. This is our small way of translating into public policy some of what that justice is about.
And so much more needs to be done because since we came to that agreement a couple of months ago, the downturn in our economy has become more severe. As you know, over and over again I talk about the price of groceries, gasoline, health care, education, the challenge to maintaining their standard of living for many people, and for some the threat of losing their jobs and losing their homes.
Today I saw a startling figure. The Pew Foundation put out a number that -- Pew Charitable Trust -- one in 33 homeowners is projected to be in foreclosure over the next two years, one in 33. That's on top of figures that we already have, that 8.8 million homeowners, or 10.3 percent -- over 10 percent of all homeowners now owe more on their homes than their homes are worth. And the foreclosures -- the numbers have come out now, the foreclosures in 2007 are up 53 percent over 2006, and that continues.
We're very pleased with the work that Congressman Frank has been doing. As you know, we had an exceptional speaker's press availability by having a guest, and he went chapter-and-verse on some of what he is doing. Although they will help homeowners refinance the loan -- his measures will help homeowners refinance their loans at a level they can afford to repay with federally backed loans. And Congresswoman Waters, who's on the same committee, will provide assistance to states for purchase and rehabilitation of foreclosed homes, something similar to what the president had put forth.
We think the administration is sort of on the margins. They have to do much more much more substantially to help homeowners maintain their homes and keep their homes and others to become homeowners. And we look forward to moving as quickly as Congress can to send a message that Congress can and will act, and will act in a substantial way, and we will give priority to our homeowners.
Tomorrow I'm going to be in New York to speak to the Regional Plan Association, which is, as you might -- a regional association, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. My focus there will be on rebuilding America, our emphasis on infrastructure building in dramatically different ways. And any of you familiar with the historic nature of this vision that we have, 200 years ago in the spring Thomas Jefferson called on secretary of the Treasury, Secretary Gallatin, for a plan to build into the Louisiana Purchase into the Lewis and Clark expedition, on that the Erie Canal, the Cumberland Road. You've heard me say this over and over. And then a hundred years later, in honor of that anniversary, Teddy Roosevelt -- Theodore Roosevelt -- convened meetings to something equally as dramatic and historic, a main part of his infrastructure plan to establish the National Park Service. And now here we are, 100 years later, with some initiatives I think worthy of that vision and larger in scope than what we have talked about before.
Much of our conversation will be about how we pay for it and new ways to recognize the need to do it in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. Very bipartisan, and I might add, President Eisenhower, when he put forth the interstate highway system, which again was about infrastructure, it was about jobs, it was also a national security issue, which all of this is, to connect America for the important reason of protecting America.
Be pleased to take any questions you have.
Q Madame Speaker, there's been a lot written about Don Young and this Coconut Grove -- (off mike). What do you make of this, first of all? And how is it that something could be changed operationally after you pass something on the House side and -- (off mike)? Is there a problem internally? Realizing this was not under your watch.
SPEAKER PELOSI: It wasn't under my watch. And what we learned yesterday, that I think represents a change here, is that my understanding is -- is that Congressman Young has said that his staff did make that change after this bill had passed the House and the Senate. It wasn't about technicalities; it was about something quite different. And so I think that's something that the ethics committee should look into, should look at it.
Q The ethics committee should do a full investigation --
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, it's up -- you know, they have a process.
Q Madame Speaker, you just -- (off mike) -- a pretty big fight over war spending in the next few weeks. And I'm wondering, what lessons might you have learned from your showdown with the president on Colombia free trade, on -- that might -- (off mike) -- you approach this war spending?
SPEAKER PELOSI: I -- if I -- I beg to differ. I don't think of it as a showdown. We're still hopeful that we can come to some resolution. I don't think we're really that far apart from a policy standpoint. If you want to talk using some (tactics ?) that's a different story.
If that what the administration wants to do, there's no satisfying them. But, from a policy standpoint, I don't -- I think that we can resolve this.
Secondly, in terms of Colombia, it was just a question of who sets the timetable. But, I want to have a good faith effort in order to see if we can come to terms in a way that we can pass that. That has always been the spirit in which approach the Iraq war funding.
And frankly, when I first -- a year ago around this time, we were sending a bill to the president's desk that had bipartisan support, passed the House and Senate, went to his desk, which he vetoed. We thought -- and maybe this is a lesson learned -- we thought that the president would then compromise with us because we had the votes and we put something on his desk which was a reflection of the message the American people sent to Congress, and to the president, in the election of the few months before then.
Basically, the president says, okay, let's sit down and talk. He assigned people. We were willing to meet with his chief of staff and budget director on this -- and National Security Advisor, which was a concession to him. And, they basically -- and then everyone said, we're not doing anything. We're not signing anything.
So, the good faith that we were putting forth -- that perhaps we could find a way to bring stability to the region, recognizing that redeployment of our troops out of there was essential to that, as well as making our first response at -- fulfilling our first responsibility to keep the American people safe, was completely ignored by the president.
So, we'll see where we go now. It's a matter of months. It's a matter of months before we have a new president and we want to give that new president, whoever she or he may be, the opportunity to go forward and we will certainly make our point and set the stage for a sooner than the president makes that redeployment of our troops out of Iraq.
Q Do you the think the power has somewhat -- has shifted at least somewhat from one side of Pennsylvania Avenue to another now that Congress has "no" to the president on two or three issues?
SPEAKER PELOSI: I think that the president has finally realized that the leverage has changed. You know, I use that word quite frequently, and some of you have made note of that. But, that's a -- who has the leverage? And, I think the president realizes now that we do.
Q Madame Speaker, you said the Ethics Committee should look into the altered earmark. Does that mean you'd be opposed to Senator Coburn's proposal for a bicameral, bipartisan body to look into that?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we have an ethics committee. I don't see why that would be necessary. And it's -- I think we should take that course of action, especially now since Senator -- Congressman Young has said that his staff person has -- did make that change after the fact. Now, that's just not right.
Q (Cross talk.) -- investigated, or would you --
SPEAKER PELOSI: I've just learned today. I mean, I've been in a happy state of attending events that have been pulling us -- yesterday, in the afternoon and the evening at the White House; this morning all day. I mean, up until 12:30, so I just learned of that statement by Congressman Young.
Q On that, some clerics said that, you know, in terms of attending the mass, Catholics hold the same position that you have on the issue of choice --
SPEAKER PELOSI: Is this a follow-up question?
SPEAKER PELOSI: What do you all think?
Q -- to not take communion and --
SPEAKER PELOSI: Really?
Q -- do you think it would be -
SPEAKER PELOSI: Oh, I take communion regularly. Every -- all the time. Yes. At St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday in New York and here today at the stadium. Yes.
Q So you don't agree with the idea that you should not take communion if you do not share the church's belief --
SPEAKER PELOSI: You know what communion is. Communion is the body of people who make up the church. Communion: coming together. And I feel very much a part of that.
Q Madame Speaker --
SPEAKER PELOSI: You should know, I was thinking of it this morning. It was so -- yesterday, actually, when I was talking to the -- how would I differentiate it without causing offense? The religious press? (Laughs.) Not that you aren't, but -- (Laughs.) -- but those who spend their time writing about religion, in the pure sense of the word "religion."
I was telling them that when His Holiness -- the Holy Father became -- John Paul II came to San Francisco, I had the privilege of meeting him when he landed there and, also, receiving communion from him at the stadium where he performed mass. Same thing: tens of thousands of people.
So I -- that has sustained me for such a long time. It gives me great confidence about my -- what's the word? -- I will be receiving communion, yes.
Q Madame Speaker, on the housing bill, as you mentioned, I think, that this is a voluntary program. Lenders would have to agree to take a loss in order for homeowners who are struggling right now to get into it. Is there anything Congress can or should do to compel those mortgage lenders to sort of step up and help people handle these debt burdens? And, do you support a vote on the bankruptcy change that would let judges make those changes?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I've always supported that. I support that. I don't know what -- it clearly does not have any good prospects in the United States Senate. And so, whether it's on this bill or not, it's something I think we have to keep education Members about because it's very, very important.
In terms of compelling lenders to lend, there's still an issue of creditworthiness and they have to make a decision about making those loans. So, I think that some borrower-lender relationship has to produce that result and that's what's been absent in all of this. People don't even know who their lender is anymore. If you've borrowed from a bank to -- in another area, know who your banker was, and you could work these things out.
But now, that there's so many degrees of separation in that that isn't there, so this subjective decision, with certain guidelines and certain incentives to the lender are there, but they still have to make a decision about whether the person can pay the loan back.
Q Back on the subject -
SPEAKER PELOSI: And, you know what? I think that we're going to just have time for one more question, because I have to deal with the farm bill.
Q Back on the supplemental -
SPEAKER PELOSI: I'm sorry, I recognized Megan.
Q The chief of staff to the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad today told Reuters that they expect the handover of most of the security for Baghdad to Iraqi security forces within a year. Do you have any reaction to that?
SPEAKER PELOSI: I had breakfast this morning with Secretary Gates and I was trying to gauge what all of this meant. I was not aware of that statement at the time, but it's interesting that they said that. I think it's important for the government of Iraq to know that they're going to have to take responsibility for the security of their own country and soon.
And, that's why the message in a supplemental or something else, about redeployment is essential to this, or else they will never move, and they haven't. And they haven't. But, I would hope -- we've been told over and over again that the Iraqis are ready to take responsibility. That they've been -- we've been training. Remember the training and it's going to be one year and they were going to be trained to take responsibility and now they haven't.
And now, it's 45 days and, you know, there's all kinds of formulations about how we get the number down. There are also serious questions about the need for at least three brigades to combat one training in Afghanistan and where are those troops coming from if people are actually not coming out of Iraq.
So, again, I'm not familiar with that particular statement because I had breakfast with him, went to go see the Pope and came back. And, I'd be interest to see the context in which that was said. But it is, I think, essential to the stability of the region and the safety of the American people and relates directly to our military capability to protect our interests wherever they are threatened. Right now, that is being seriously undermined by our presence in Iraq.
Thank you all very much.