Federal News Service January 16, 2004 Friday
Copyright 2004 Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service
January 16, 2004 Friday
HEADLINE: NEWS CONFERENCE ON THE STATE OF THE UNION WITH SENATE MINORITY LEADER TOM DASCHLE (D-SD); AND HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA)
LOCATION: NATIONAL PRESS CLUB FIRST AMENDMENT LOUNGE, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: On Tuesday, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address, a report on the condition of our country and his priorities for the year ahead.
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will deliver the Democratic response.
Nancy Pelosi is the first woman in American history to lead a major party in the United States Congress. She comes from a family with a long tradition of public service, and she raised five children before embarking on her own political career.
For the past 16 years, she has represented California's eighth district, which includes most of the city of San Francisco, and in 2002 her congressional colleagues selected her overwhelmingly to be the Democratic leader.
Under her leadership, House Democrats have displayed remarkable unity. In fact, a study by Congressional Quarterly found they were more unified last year than at any time since 1960.
The most recent demonstration of that unity was a vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill, which forced the majority to keep a 15-minute roll call going for three hours. No wonder that she has been called one of the most savvy political figures around.
Tom Daschle has represented South Dakota in either the House or the Senate for 25 years. In 1994, after an election in which Republicans won control of the Senate, he was chosen to lead Senate Democrats through a difficult transition from majority to minority party. And his colleagues gave him high marks for bringing the caucus together.
In the historic 107th Congress, Senator Daschle was majority leader for 17 days, minority leader for five months, and then majority leader again for the remainder of the Congress. And that was a year and a half that saw September 11th, anthrax attacks, the war in Afghanistan, a war resolution concerning Iraq, and many other historic events.
He gained another title during the 107th Congress of which he is especially proud, I understand: Grandfather. And he's added another line to his resume, author, because he wrote about his experiences in the book "Like No Other Time: The 107th Congress and Two Years That Changed America Forever."
The folks at home, however, know him well through his frequent driving trips through the state alone in the car, stopping at diners and barber shops and cattle auctions to find out what South Dakotans really care about.
We are very pleased to have them here today to talk about the Democratic priorities for our nation. And we will begin with Congresswoman Pelosi.
REP. PELOSI: Thank you very much, Deborah, for your kind introduction, for the hospitality of the Press Club and the Newsmaker Committee. I'm very, very honored to be here with Leader Daschle to speak about the Democrats' view of the State of the Union.
This weekend, Americans will honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who 40 years ago led the greatest demonstration for justice in American history, the 1963 March on Washington. On that day, Dr. King said that his mission was to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.
On Tuesday, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address. Today, Senator Daschle and I are here to remind President Bush about the fierce urgency of now, the need to confront the urgent challenges facing our nation at home and abroad.
The State of the Union address should offer a vision and goals that unify us as a people, as well as policies that reflect the priorities of all Americans.
For inspiration as a country, we need look no further than the remarkable men and women in uniform-active, Guard and Reserve-especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their noble services remind us of our mission as a nation, to build a future worthy of their courage and their sacrifice.
All Americans should listen closely to the State of the Union address next week to see if the president's reassuring rhetoric matches everyday realities. Sadly, if the past is prologue, the president's speech will be another missed opportunity to offer the leadership worthy of a great nation and an agenda that addresses the urgent priorities of the American people.
Our union is indeed strong. Our strength as a union is due to the spirit of the American people, the creativity, the ingenuity, hard work and faith of everyday Americans, and their abiding optimism that tomorrow can be even better than today.
But in homes across America, families are uncertain about their future. Americans want good jobs, better access to health care, the best education for their children, a clean environment, and a safe and secure America. Democrats will fight to expand prosperity and opportunity for all Americans, and will work to ensure the safety and security of the American people.
After three years of reckless Republican rule, the record is clear: President Bush and Republicans in Congress are focused on a different set of priorities, looking out for corporate interests, rather than middle-class Americans.
Mr. President, American families are hurting, but you are not helping. In fact, you are making it harder for American families to prosper. Yours is a government of the few, for the few, by the few.
President Bush and the Republicans in Congress are not simply leading America in the wrong direction, they a re leading us in a dangerous direction. From our national security to our economic security, we see the dangerous consequences of the president's distorted priorities, and the American people are paying the price, America's children are paying the price, America's workers are paying the price, America's seniors are paying the price, American veterans are paying the price.
Leader Daschle will speak further about the president's misguided priorities here at home, and I will focus on President Bush's dangerous policies abroad.
As elected officials, our responsibility is set forth in the preamble to the Constitution, our first responsibility to provide for the common defense. Democrats will never waver in ensuring that America's armed forces remain the best trained, best led, best equipped force for peace the world has ever knowerica's national security is also directly related to America's standing in the world. But never before has a president done so much so fast to undermine our relations with other nations. When President Bush disregards allies and international institutions, when he rejects global treaties without debate or alternative, when he makes assertions without evidence-as he did in the State of the Union last year-and when he embraces a radical doctrine of preemptive war, then he squanders our international credibility and our moral authority. As a nation we must do more than show our strength; we must show our greatness.
By providing for the common defense by ensuring a strong military, Democrats are fighting for a foreign policy that makes America safer, by reflecting American priorities, promoting political and economic freedom and human rights, cooperating with allies and friends, respecting international law and institutions, and alleviating the long-term conditions that breed poverty, AIDS, instability, and the fury of despair.
In the State of the Union, the president must explain how he plans to restore America's standing in the eyes of the world. Nowhere do we see the dangerous consequences of the president's distorted priorities more than in our efforts in Iraq. At every stage of this endeavor the president's policies toward Iraq have been marked by confusion and uncertainty-uncertainty and changing rationales about why we invaded Iraq; uncertainty about how to stabilize Iraq after the end of major combat operations; and now uncertainty and changing plans, practically on a daily basis, about how to transition to a stable democratic Iraqi government.
Indeed, Ambassador Bremer is back in Washington again today for what appears to be yet another change in plans. President Bush's dismissive treatment of our allies has left the United States bearing the heavy burden of stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq virtually alone. Ten months into our presence in Iraq, we are seeing the price of the president's distorted priorities. American taxpayers are paying almost all of the bills-a colossal $120 billion, and rising. More importantly, American soldiers are enduring almost all the casualties-nearly 500 Americans killed, and thousands more wounded. And to many Americans I believe it is time to honor their sacrifice with a National Day of Remembrance.
Invading Iraq was a war of choice, but now we have no choice but to succeed in rebuilding a secure and stable Iraq. Ambassador Bremer's meeting at the United Nations on Monday is an opportunity. President Bush must work with our allies to gain the necessary manpower and money to succeed in Iraq.
In the State of the Union address the president must explain to the American people how he will ensure that the sacrifices of our military men and women will lead to stable, democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbors and with the world.
As we work to stabilize Iraq, we must never lose sight of the great threat to the national security of the United States, the clear and present danger of terrorism. As we all saw all too clearly on September 11th, our highest national security priority must be to stop terrorists such as al Qaeda from unleashing their venom on our country. And we must not rest until all the perpetrators of September 11th are brought to justice. Here again, we see the dangerous consequences of the president's distorted priorities. Instead of focusing on the war on terrorism, President Bush has overstretched our military and intelligence resources in Iraq. Just this week, a report published by the Army War College confirmed that the Bush administration took a detour into an unnecessary war in Iraq, and the administration's antiterrorism campaign is strategically unfocused.
The president has not done an adequate job dealing directly with the nuclear threat from North Korea, has not done an adequate job keeping weapons of mass destruction and their components out of the hands of terrorists, has not done enough to secure poorly guarded nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials around the world. It is not enough to hope that we can catch these weapons as they spread across the world, or that we can stop them at our borders. We must do everything in our power to stop these weapons at their source. Democrats propose that the United States lead a global campaign to acquire the existing supply of the world's distill material into deadly weapons. In his State of the Union, the president must explain to the American people how he will secure these dangerous weapons and materials before they fall into the hands of terrorists.
As we protect the United States from threats beyond our borders, we must protect Americans within our borders, our homeland. Even when it comes to homeland security, we see the dangerous consequences of the president's distorted priorities. Today, House Democrats led by Congressman Jim Turner, ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, are releasing a new report revealing that more than two years after September 11th, our borders, our ports and our airports are still dangerously vulnerable to terrorist attack. Today, too many firefighters and police officers, our first responders, do not have the equipment they need to communicate in a crisis. Less than 5 percent of cargo on passenger airlines and only 3 percent of ship containers coming into the country are ever inspected. Long stretches of our border go unwatched and unprotected. So long as we fail to do all that we can to protect the homeland, the Orange of the high level alert will continue to be the color of our holidays.
The technology is there to protect our homeland. But under President Bush the resources are not. Democrats demand 100 percent inspection of our cargo, the cargo that comes into this country by sea; 100 percent of the cargo carried on domestic and international flights. Democrats demand that our first responders be provided the training and equipment they need to communicate to prevent or respond to a crisis. In the State of the Union, the president must explain to the American people how he will address these dangerous vulnerabilities in our homeland security.
As we protect and defend the American people from terrorism, Democrats are fighting to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and our civil liberties contained therein. We cannot and we will not allow the Constitution to become a casualty of the war on terrorism, nor should the beacon of freedom that has welcomed millions of immigrants with the promise of opportunity be extinguished by an immigration policy that closes down avenues for citizenship. As a nation, we make a solemn pledge to those who serve in uniform, take care of us and we will take care of you. But here, again, we see the consequences of the president's distorted priorities. It's hard to believe, but last year President Bush actually proposed cutting pay for our forces in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration provided no bid contracts in Iraq for politically connected corporations, such as Halliburton, but did not plan for all our soldiers to have life saving body armor to survive Iraqi guerrilla attacks.
President Bush and Republicans in Congress would rather give tax breaks to special interests instead of ending the unfair disabled veterans tax that denies many veterans their full retirement and disability benefits. Recent news reports indicate that the president will propose in his new budget that veterans pay even more for their healthcare. Democrats will keep fighting to ensure that this nation keeps faith with our servicemen and women, their families, and our veterans, including ending the disabled veterans tax for all disabled veterans. And we must change the military survivors benefit plan which unfairly penalizes the survivors, mostly widows, of our veterans.
On the battlefield, our troops pledge to leave no soldier behind, here at home we should leave no veteran behind. In the State of the Union, the president must explain to the American people how he will keep our nation's commitment to those who serve and to their families.
In the final analysis, the question in any State of the Union is not simply whether we are a strong nation or a secure nation. Rather, the question is whether we are as strong as we should be and as secure as we should be. On this score, the record of the past three years is clear: We are not as secure as we should be, when our military and intelligence resources are spread too thin, instead of focusing on the clear and present danger of terrorism; or where the invasion and occupation of another nation incites resentment in the Muslim world toward America and our allies; or when we fail to stop weapons of mass destruction at their source, before they fall into the hands of terrorists; or when we stand alone, isolated from our allies and global institutions; or when our borders and ports and airports are still vulnerable to terrorist attack; and when our first responders cannot communicate in a crisis.
And we are not stronger as a nation when we fail to keep pace with our armed forces, their families and our veterans, who defend our freedom with their very lives. These are the dangerous consequences of the president's distorted priorities. And the American people, especially our military men and women, are paying the price.
Forty-three years ago as a college student, standing in the freezing cold-a day similar to today, except with much more snow-I heard President Kennedy issue this challenge in his inaugural address: "My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man." Mr. President, let this be our clarion call. Let us work together with each other and with other nations, so that the state of our union is truly strong, and that the state of the world is truly safe for the freedom of mankind.
To discuss the president's misguided priorities here at home, I am pleased to introduce the outstanding Democratic leader in the United States, the gentleman from South Dakota, Senator Tom Daschle. (Applause.)
SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you, Leader Pelosi. I also would like to thank the National Press Club for having us here, and especially thank Deborah for her generous introduction.
In recent weeks Americans have been riveted by the photos beamed back to us from Mars, by a 400-pound Rover named Spirit. The name is appropriate. As we have proven over and over through our history, the spirit of America knows no limits.
As Spirit was beaming back those photos, another story appeared in the newspapers. It was about the budget the president is expected to propose for 2005. Not only will the president's budget contain the largest deficit in history, it will also attempt to-and I quote here from the budget itself-"Control the rising cost of housing vouchers for the poor; require some veterans to pay more for health care; and merge or eliminate some job training and employment programs. What a stunning juxtaposition. America has the genius to send a spacecraft 35 million miles to explore the surface of Mars. But the president tells us we cannot write a budget for America without heaping crushing debt on our children, and making painful cuts in veterans health care, in worker training, and in affordable housing for America's families.
And he believes we can have economic growth without weakening the laws that protect our air, our water, and our most pristine public lands. America should always pursue great goals, but the American people also deserve a government that helps them achieve their everyday goals.
On Tuesday the president will talk to the Congress and the nation about his accomplishments and his plans for the future. He will speak of great purpose and great progress. The real test, however, is not whether the president's words ring triumphant but whether they ring true. For a select few Americans, the very wealthy, well connected, these last three years have been very good. But for the vast majority of Americans the president's policies have not worked as advertised. Nancy talked about the administration's priorities and actions on foreign affairs and homeland security, and how they fail to adequately address the threats we face.
I want to talk about our values and about our priorities right here at home. We believe in the dignity and the value of honest work. The recession we have all lived through since this president took office-the three million jobs lost, the eight and a half million people out of work, the historic reversal in the fiscal situation that took a $9 trillion turn from rosy to red didn't just happen to us, and they aren't just a result of the war on terrorism. Those things are also the direct result of choices Republican leaders in Washington have made-choices that value the accumulation of wealth over the dignity of work. In a stunning example of those misplaced priorities, the administration recently instructed employers on how they can cut workers' pay and avoid paying overtime. When the administration tells companies how they can gain the system, it's Americans who pay the price.
The president's economic philosophy seems to be premised on the belief that if you reduce oversight, let polluters pollute, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and let big businesses avoid taxes entirely by calling an offshore post office box their corporate headquarters-those businesses and individuals will ultimately respond by creating American jobs. Instead, these policies have created an economic flood for a few, while prolonging an economic drought for many.
Democrats believe that the opportunity to work isn't just the foundation of a strong economy; it's the foundation of a strong society. That's why we proposed an economic plan that independent analysts estimated would create one million new jobs by the end of this year alone. That plan was rejected. Now we are proposing to strengthen, rebuild and modernize a critical part of our economy that is especially hard hit, and that is the manufacturing sector. Under this administration, 2.6 million manufacturing jobs have been lost, 8,000 which came from my home state of South Dakota.
Another way to create American jobs is by increasing demand for American food, the meat that our ranchers raise, and the fruits and vegetables that our farmers grow. Country-of-origin labeling is a program the Democrats included in the 2002 farm bill, and would give consumers the ability to buy American at the grocery stores. Every American could perform a simple but significant act of patriotism whenever they visit the supermarket. But the administration and some congressional leaders have done the bidding for the powerful meat- packing cartel, and are trying to block this important effort to allow consumers a simple choice about the food they feed their families. It would be a welcomed change for Washington Republicans to put the public interests ahead of the special interests-and it would create jobs.
Over the long term, the foundation of a strong economy is a well- educated work force. We believe that education is the most important investment we can make in our nation's future. We believe that every child deserves the chance to go to a good school and make the most of his or her God-given ability. We believe that a college education should be available to everyone who is willing to work at it. Last week the president provided the first glimpse of his education budget for next year. Just in Title 1, the largest single program in the No Child Left Behind law, the president's budget falls short by $7 billion.
The president's refusal to fund his own signature education reform is putting pressure on state and local taxpayers, and forcing communities to lay off teachers and take other drastic steps. Under his budget, 4.6 million children will be denied better teachers, smaller classes, and extra help in math and science that the new law promises. I'm not math whiz, but I know that 4.6 million children left behind is approximately 4.6 million more than no children left behind.
At the same time, the failure of this administration to invest adequately in higher education is making it harder for many families to send their children to college, to community college or to vocational school. This year tuition at state colleges increased an average of nearly $600 nationwide. The 13 percent increase in public college is the biggest annual increase in three decades. Instead of freezing student aid, as Republicans propose, Democrats are proposing a new college guarantee. If a student works hard and does well, he or she won't be priced out of opportunity. As the down payment on that guarantee, we propose new federal assistance to make college, community college, and vocational school more affordable for average Americans. The American people deserve to know from the president what he will do to make America's schools more successful, and America's colleges more affordable.ericans also deserve to hear from the president on how he intends to close the growing Healthcare gap. America has the best healthcare in the world. We've mapped the human genome, unlocked the secrets on the most dreaded diseases, and in some cases we've even turned cancer into a treatable condition. Yet, for an increasing number of Americans that healthcare is not affordable. Since 2001 more than 2.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance. Today 43.6 million Americans go without any health insurance at all. And it's not that these people aren't working, 8 out of 10 are in working families, it's that America's healthcare system isn't working.
For those Americans lucky enough to have health insurance their premium costs went up by a staggering 14 percent last year. That's not an anomaly, that's a trend. The increase in family health insurance premiums that middle income families have seen over the past three years is three times larger than the four year tax cut that they have been promised, that's tantamount to a tax increase on every middle class family.
One of the factors driving up the cost of healthcare is the rising cost of prescription drugs. Today one out of nine healthcare dollars is spent at the pharmacy. And the rising cost of prescription drugs account for 23 percent of the rise in healthcare costs today. It would seem natural then that a president who promised a prescription drug benefit to America's seniors would use the bargaining power of the government to help lower the price of prescription drugs. Amazingly, just the opposite has happened.
Rather than using the power of 40 million Americans to lower the cost of prescription drugs, the Republican drug law specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower cost. So now the federal government can negotiate lower prices for bullets, and butter, and anything else it can purchase in bulk, but it cannot negotiate lower prices for Medicare's prescription drugs. And while the supporters of the new law say the drug benefit is voluntary, the reality is that if someone does not sign up in the beginning, their premium will be increased at least 12 percent for each year they do not enroll. So if a senior waited 3 years, their premium would be almost 40 percent higher. That's what happens when the wishes of the pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies are put ahead of the needs of American seniors.
That's why Democrats will be fighting to make sure that Medicare can negotiate lower drug prices. Democrats believe that affordable, available healthcare is not a luxury, but a cornerstone of a compassionate society. On Tuesday the American people have the right to ask, Mr. President, how do you intend to make healthcare more affordable, and more available?
Finally, we believe in a retirement of dignity after a lifetime of work. In recent years scandals at high flying corporations, and fraud and abuse in the mutual fund industry have cost millions of Americans their retirement savings. The administration's response has been a combination of delay, and do little. They've delayed cleaning up the scandals, and done little to help the average American save for retirement. On Tuesday the president reportedly will call for new tax shelters to make it easier for the wealthiest Americans to accumulate more wealth, and claims this will boost average Americans' retirement security. Democrats advocate a different plan. We want to crack down on mutual fund abusers, and clean up the corporate scandals that have fleeced ordinary people of their life savings.
We want to help small businesses provide pension coverage for employees, and make that change-make changes in their pensions so that they don't leave workers out in the cold. We want to make sure that within companies, whatever retirement system is good enough for the executives is good enough for the workers themselves. The behavior we've seen from the mutual fund companies, and the Enrons of the world, was disgraceful. Their greed destroyed people's jobs, life savings, and we're going to fight to protect Americans' investments from corporate misdeeds.
We also believe that Social Security should be a guarantee, not a gamble. We will not allow Social Security to be divided up as spoils to reward Wall Street insiders. On Tuesday the American people need to hear from the president how he intends to restore security to America's private and public pension systems.
Two generations ago my grandfather left his home country for a place that must have seemed as far away to him then as Mars seems to us today. That place was South Dakota. He was drawn to it by the promise of land in exchange for his willingness to work it. My grandfather, and the other immigrants who settled and built America were some of the most self-reliant people in the world, but they also understood, no matter how hard they worked, there were some essential things they couldn't do by themselves. It took neighbors working together to raise the barns, to clear the land, to plant the crops. And it took some help from the government to bring electricity to small towns and to build the interstates so that they could be connected to the rest of America. They understood that what makes America great is not just the possibility of individual wealth, but our commitment to our common wealth, our belief in things and ideas that are bigger than one person or one group. Today our common wealth calls for jobs that provide dignity and decent wages, good schools for our children, and the chance to go to college or vocational school for every student who is willing to work and make the grade.
The strength of our union depends on decent, affordable health care for all Americans, and a secure retirement; policies that protect us from terrorism, without forcing us to give up our basic freedoms; and a commitment to act as a world leader without alienating old friends and essential allies-solutions, in short, that reflect and advance America's values rather than undermining them. These are America's priorities, and they are what we will be listening for on Tuesday. We don't need to go to Mars to find great causes to unify the American people. The causes are right here, and the solutions are within our reach. Thank you. With that, Nancy Pelosi and I will be happy to take some of your questions.
MODERATOR: We'll take questions at the makes on either side of the room, and please identify yourself and your organization. Thank you. This gentleman here.
Q I'm Al Milliken, affiliated with Washington Independent Writers. Will the Democrats want to or have to be involved in defining or redefining marriage? Will what the Republicans do about marriage force your hand?
REP. PELOSI: No, I don't the Democrats will be involved in redefining marriage, and I don't think the Republicans will be forcing our hand.
Q Sam Husseini from IP Media. Ms. Pelosi, this is you on "Meet the Press" on November 17th, 2002, quote, "Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons. There is no question about that." Wasn't it your job to ask questions about that, and doesn't that make you a rather weak person in contrast to some of your colleagues in the House, in the Democratic House, that you didn't ask those questions as the Bush administration pushed towards war, that you said, quote, "Saddam Hussein certainly has" --
REP. PELOSI: I heard your quote --
Q-"chemical and biological weapons. There is no question about that." But none has been found.
REP. PELOSI: That was the evidence that Saddam Hussein has had chemical and biological weapons and he used them. However, that was when they were asking about nuclear, and I said that there was no evidence of any nuclear weapons. In fact, thank you for bringing up this question, because you give me an opportunity to say that as the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the debate leading up to the vote I said that the intelligence does not support the threat that the administration is putting forth in Iraq, and that there may be chemical and biological weapons, because they are rampant in the region, there was no imminent threat that would justify our going to war. We had not exhausted all our remedies.
I want to also announce that my colleague on the Intelligence Committee, Congresswoman Jane Harman, the senior Democrat, will be making a speech-I think noon in California-to the World Affairs Council there, questioning the National Intelligence Estimate and the intelligence going into the war. But I voted against the war, because I said the intelligence did not support the threat. Sixty percent of the House Democrats voted against the war, and that is my response to your question.
Q I'd just like to clarify, please, are you still not conceding that this is a false statement to this day that "Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons-there's no question about that"? You are not conceding that that's a false statement?
REP. PELOSI: The point is, is there an imminent threat to the United States? Is there a nuclear plume? What I was responding to there is that the intelligence did not support this threat. And while you might concede that in the region there were programs to develop chemical and biological, there was no reason to go to war, and we had not. And that is my response. If you want to ask it three times, that's up to the audience if they want to.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Let's go to the next question, please.
Q Yes. Wayne Mathis (sp), YeOldPolitique.com (sp), for Congresswoman Pelosi or Senator Daschle. One of the Democratic Presidential candidates has suggested a congressional investigation into the Bush administration for its actions or deceptions leading up to the war in Iraq, based on that and what we now know from Secretary O'Neill, General Zinni, Ambassador Wilson, would you favor such a congressional investigation of the Bush administration?
SEN. DASCHLE: I think it's very important for Congress and the American people to have all the facts regarding the decision-making leading to the decisions we've made with regard to going to Iraq. We now know that some of the information provided to us was faulty. We don't know if that was just a misuse of intelligence, or just lack of adequate intelligence to begin with. But clearly these facts should be known, and I think the more information the American people know, the better our country will be.
MODERATOR: The gentleman here.
Q Yes. I'm Joel Wishingrat (sp) or World Media Report. Senator Daschle, you just commented briefly about domestic type concerns, especially with the economy. We had revelations in the last half week where Wal-Mart has been hiring immigrants, have broken various laws, and it's considered one of the largest companies in the world. Apparently there seems to be a very big divide between Republicans and Democrats, way out of sync, and in the last number of years various radio talk show hosts have skewed the presidential fields with their rhetoric. Is there some manner that Congress as well as Senate and House sides can reconcile these differences with the Republican leaders and to, again, listen to people in the communities, and to actually ask President Bush to end this bickering that partly on his part may be intentional?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, that's a good question. First of all, I think that with regard to those who violated the law, there ought to be every effort to hold them accountable and to bring them to justice. There is no excuse for violations of the law and those responsible ought to pay the price.
With regard to the larger issue, I've been working with Senator Hagel for some time with regard to immigration law, and I applaud him for his willingness to work in a bipartisan way, which, in my view, is the only way we can address this matter satisfactorily.
It ought to be comprehensive. It ought to deal with the issue that President Bush has raised, the temporary worker question. But it also ought to address reunification and many of the other questions that we face in the country today.
But as your question suggests, it ought to be done in a tone and in a manner that will allow meaningful dialogue and important bipartisan cooperation if we're going to do this at all.
MODERATOR: The woman here.
Q Mary O'Driscoll (sp) with Environment & Energy Daily. This is for Senator Daschle. Coming into the next part of the congressional session next week, you still have two pieces of unfinished legislative business-first off, the energy bill; second off, the omnibus spending bill. I wanted to ask you about both of them.
First, what are your thoughts about whether you're going to pass the energy bill, if this is something you think can be done, if you are going to be helping the Republicans in trying to pass it? They say that they need two more votes and they want to get the votes from the Democratic side. And then your thoughts about the omnibus bill with regard particularly to the mad cow situation.
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, with regard to energy, I have said now on several occasions-I said it on the floor the very day the legislation passed-that if they would take out the onerous provisions dealing with MTBE liability immunity, I believe we could pass this legislation with a good vote.
I have said that I'm quite positive that I could produce anywhere from four to six additional Democratic votes if they would take those provisions out.
So I believe the ball is in their court. I've made the offer. There's nothing else I'm able to do until they take the action. But I'm prepared to work with them to see that we pass this legislation early in this session of Congress. But, again, as I say, they have to take the step required to bring about the additional votes.
With regard to the omnibus, as your question noted, there are some very onerous provisions within the omnibus appropriations bill, provisions that, I might add, enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
One was to ensure, as I said in my opening remarks, country-of- origin labeling, to allow consumers the right not only to know what the content of their food is and what the nutritional value of their food is, but what the origin of their food is. Forty-three other countries do that today. And now, with the mad cow problem, there is absolutely no question the time has come for this country to do it, too.
I also am very concerned about the onerous overtime provisions that will deny overtime to more than 8 million American workers in the coming year if this legislation goes through. So our desire is to very carefully consider just what options there are available to us when we return on Tuesday.
There is strong support for defeating the cloture vote, even though we haven't made our final decision with regard to what we will do on cloture. We'll be holding a caucus that morning. I am continuing to consult with my colleagues and with Senator Byrd. We'll be making a decision within the next several days.
But clearly the support is there for giving Republicans the opportunity to fix this legislation. We don't want to kill the bill, but we certainly want to fix it in a way that will allow us the opportunity to address some of these concerns.
MODERATOR: We'll go back over here.
Q Andy Mollison (sp) from Cox Newspapers. You said you have an unspecified plan for creating 1 million jobs in a year. Where can we learn what's in that plan?
REP. PELOSI: It's a very specified plan, and it involved a number of things. It involved investment in infrastructure. There are billions of dollars from the highway tax that could be used immediately for infrastructure projects that are in the pipeline, so that in a matter of a few months these jobs could be online-these projects could be online and creating jobs.
So, first off, investment in infrastructure; second of all, investment in the business-some incentives to business that they want and that would be job-creating; third of all, two things that create jobs but also are the right thing to do in terms of our responsibility to workers-extension of the unemployment insurance, as well as the tax credit for all children, not just those whose parents make over $26,000 a year.
In both of those cases, the need is there. These people are on the margins. They would spend the money immediately, injecting demand into the economy, and therefore creating jobs.
This was our Democratic proposal a year ago. By even the White House estimates, it would create at least 1 million jobs. It was paid for. It was paid for. All of it was paid for. So it was fiscally sound. It was fair in terms of who benefits. And it was fast-acting in terms of creating jobs.
We still have it. We can go forward with it immediately. But the Republicans have resisted.
Q Thank you.
REP. PELOSI: Thank you.
MODERATOR: We'll try to move quickly through a few more questions.
Q Hi. Jeff Young. I work for an NPR program called "Living on Earth." Two quick questions. One, what chance do you see to enhance funding for Superfund, which is close to going broke, as I understand it? And also, as a follow-up on the energy question for Senator Daschle, if the energy bill does not move, should provisions like ethanol be stripped away and moved separately?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, your question regarding the Superfund is one that many of us have been concerned about for some time. You're right; Superfund is dramatically underfunded. And ironically, we're being told once again-I could have added it to my litany as I made my opening remarks-about money that we were told we just don't have.
Yet we're told by the president that he has money to provide additional tax cuts to those at the top. We're told that we have perhaps a trillion dollars to go to Mars. But we don't have money to work on Superfund. We don't have the money to address the needs of working families, health care and education.
So I think it's a matter of priorities. Yes, we have the resources. In some cases, in this administration there just isn't the will.
With regard to ethanol, if the energy bill fails-and I would hope that it would not, if we can strip out this onerous language-but if it does, it would be our intention to offer it to additional legislation sometime this year. I have absolutely no doubt that we have overwhelming bipartisan support to pass it in both the House and in the Senate.
Q Kwame Holman, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, for Senator Daschle. Relating to infrastructure and ethanol, Senator, and regarding reauthorization of the transportation bill, what's your view of the disagreement among Republicans over how to deal with the gas tax in the highway bill and have it perform ethanol's role there? And do you believe there will be a new transportation bill this session?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Kwame, that's a very good question. There was an earlier question about the Democratic position on the economy and our plan for creating jobs. One of the easiest and most effective ways to create jobs would have been to pass the highway bill when the last bill expired. We lost 90,000 jobs just because of the Republicans' inability to pass the bill last year. It means 800,000 jobs if we can pass the bill this year.
So there's no question this is not only an infrastructure bill, but it's a jobs bill. And we need to provide it.
With regard to the tax dispute, I can't comment on who's going to win or lose. But I do believe that we've got to resolve it quickly so that we can move quickly to the legislation itself. This is imperative. This is not only important for our economy; it's important, I think, in the longer term for the kind of infrastructure that is so critical to the growth of the economy in the out years.
So I'm hopeful that we can resolve it. Senator Grassley has been very directly involved, as you know. And, knowing him, I'm confident that they will find ultimately some resolution.
REP. PELOSI: I'd like to speak to that question as well, because Democrats came back early this week, before the session, to have an issues conference on infrastructure.
This is going to be a very important bill for what it means to our economy and to job creation. It's really a five-fold. It creates jobs immediately-as would our stimulus package, by the way, in a smaller version. It creates jobs immediately. Many of the mass- transit projects and initiatives will help to protect the environment.
It contributes to livability. Americans spend five weeks of the year or something in their cars. They spend one week longer because of all these traffic jams, and that's time they could be spending with their families. So it's a livability issue.
It's an issue of commerce, as the leader said, in terms of moving products to market, people to work. And it's a homeland security issue; investments in our ports and waterways and other infrastructure-very, very important in terms of homeland security. So we really need to go forward with this bill for a wide variety of reasons.
In our house, of course, we have supported-the chairman of our committee, Mr. Young, supports the larger number. You can have all of this. You can have mass transit and bike paths and livability and commerce and environmental protection and the rest. The cost: Five cents. And that's part of what the fight is is the five cents that would have to be added to the gas tax to make the additional funding available to have a robust infrastructure investment.
It's important to note that our country's infrastructure-the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card the other day. And whether it's drinking water, which gets a D, bridges, transit, you name the categories of infrastructure-waste water-we're at C- and D or D-.
So we absolutely have a huge need in our country to mend America, to build America for the future. An important part of building infrastructure, of course, is investments that we have to make in schools, school construction, as well.
So this will be a very important debate for us. We're hoping that the Republicans who want the more robust package will prevail, because it means so much to our country and it will have a very large return to the treasury.
Q Hi. Good afternoon, Deborah, Congresswoman Pelosi, Senator Daschle. Good to see you up here. A question about this city, the nation's capital city. As you know, I'm often wont to ask on the Hill. And I would start out by asking Congressman Pelosi, there is this plan in the House by Congressman Tom Davis, a Republican, to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House, but it has run into some opposition by your colleague Congressman Henry Waxman. He seems to object to the fact that there would be a seat given to Utah, in return for a Democratic seat in the District of Columbia, a Republican seat in Utah. I wonder what you think of his opposition, and do you support the Davis plan?
REP. PELOSI: I support the District of Columbia having a vote on the floor of the House. That has been a principle of the Democratic Party, and when we win next year Eleanor Holmes Norton will have a vote on the floor. Whether we should expand the number of other votes in the country is, I think, a large issue that would open up quite a can of worms to other states that think that they were not fairly treated in reapportionment, so why shouldn't they. So let's just take the direct route, let's elect the Democrats and give Eleanor Holmes Norton a vote, and that can happen in a number of months.
Q Could I have Senator Daschle's view on representation for the District, the Davis plan or any other plan?
SEN. DASCHLE: You can't say it any better than Leader Pelosi has just said it. You elect us, and one day they're going to have representation in the Senate, too, like they should have had a long time ago.
Q Will you be mentioning this in your response to the president, anything about the district next week?
SEN. DASCHLE: We're going to be talking about it for the next year, until we get it done, Dave.
MODERATOR: I'm afraid we just have time for one additional question.
Q Thank you. Margaret Orchowsky (sp).
MODERATOR: We do have time to finish.
Q I'm a freelance writer on immigration, mainly. Congresswoman Pelosi, I just got back from Southern California and people there are very concerned about the grocery strike there. People are striking because of the lower wages and benefits. They're concerned, especially, that this new proposal by President Bush would allow employers to hire illegal workers to take those kinds of jobs that Americans won't do for lower working conditions. There's nothing in either of your statements about the problem of illegal immigration, and I'm wondering if the Congress' Democrats are going to have a position about illegal immigration.
REP. PELOSI: I did say in my remarks that the beacon we have always been to bring people to our shores should not be extinguished by cutting off the path to citizenship for people who come here. As far as the strike in Southern California, this is a very deep wound in California, my state. After I leave here I'll be going back to California this afternoon, and the issue is healthcare, and healthcare is a major, significant issue in our country. We stand in solidarity with the strikers there to say hands off healthcare, hands off healthcare. And one of the ways they tried to do what you suggest, is to say, we'll have healthcare for these people who are here now, but the new people coming in will have a two-tiered effect. As long as you commit to a priority of having healthcare, and there's no distinction as to new workers-old workers, then the issue that you suggest about people who are not-whose documentation is not in full compliance at this moment does not become an issue.
May I just a have commercial for a second. On behalf of the House Democrats I want to invite all of you to our Democratic State of the Union response center, housedemocrats.gov. We have a wide range of conversations going on on housedemocrats.gov, but this week we have a special Democratic State of the Union response center. So please stop by.
MODERATOR: We'll finish up on this side.
Q Thank you very much. Oliver Linn, with Central News Agency from Taiwan.
Senator Daschle, you just mentioned American values and freedom, and Congresswoman Pelosi mentioned once, not here, referring to President Bush's reaction or comment on Taiwan's referendum that it is not exactly in line with your American value on democracy. Just a few hours ago, Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian laid out his questions for referendums. One is whether to purchase more anti-missile equipment, if China does not renounce use of force and does not remove missiles against Taiwan. And the other is whether to start a dialogue to establish a framework of interaction to promote peace and stability. What do you think of that? What do you think the Bush administration should do in reaction to that? Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Who would like to address that question?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I haven't seen the specific proposal to which you referred, but I do believe that it is important to create what you described as the framework for dialogue, to continue to allow the peaceful and diplomatic resolution to many of the challenges that Taiwan faces with China. It is obviously the position of the United States that we will continue to support a one-China policy, but we recognize the opportunities for autonomy and the opportunities for voices of opportunity to rise, as they have in Taiwan. We support those voices. And yet we want to continue to ensure that this framework for diplomatic efforts to a peaceful resolution can be achieved.
REP. PELOSI: As you know, I have spoken to the point at the time of the referendum, and when the U.S. expressed its position. I don't know what was said today by the president, except what you've said, but I haven't seen the full context.
Let me just enlarge the issue for a second, and just say that as we promote democratic freedom, we have to be consistent. We can't say we promote democratic freedom, except if the opponent to that freedom happens to be a big commercial partner, then we're not as enthusiastic about it. So as we talk about Taiwan, we cannot say that there is parity between the build-up of forces to threaten Taiwan in advance of its elections, but then say if Taiwan reacts with a referendum then they are being provocative. I don't think there's any parity between a military build-up and the exercise of a democratic measure in a country. So I think that we have to, again, enlarge the issue, be consistent, but also we didn't say very much when the Chinese were being provocative with the build-up, but we said something when the Taiwan government responded to that. So.
Q Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: And our final question.
Q Yes, Evelyn Thomas (sp), CBS News, and this question is for either Mr. Daschle or Ms. Pelosi, and it's on the omnibus. The omnibus bill has a lot of earmarks on it, and it's in this time of such a huge deficit. Are we out of control now with these earmarks and setting aside amounts of money? Could you comment, please?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, there are some commitments in here that in my view are not only costly, but inappropriate. And I think you're right: there ought to be greater scrutiny to how these decisions are made. It's one of the reasons why Nancy Pelosi and I were so frustrated, and frankly angered, by the process itself. If the process were open, if it were truly bipartisan, if it had the kind of debate and the conference that has historically and traditionally been the approach used in appropriations, much of this would not have happened. And so I think it's imperative that we go back to those practices and that tradition. We are going to continue to refuse to go to conference until Democrats can be assured of full participation. You'll see that over and over again this year. We began doing it at the last phase of the last session, and I think it merits our continuation this year.
REP. PELOSI: If I just may respond as an appropriator for many, many years in the Congress, and as a member of one of my committees, the Health and Human Services Subcommittee. We never had earmarked-for many, many years we didn't, and then the Republicans introduced them into that bill. Now, in the House we never had the earmarked.
You give me an opportunity to tell you how proud I am of our House Democrats, because the Republicans came to us and they said, Unless you support cutting $8 billion out of No Child Left Behind, there will no Democratic earmark in the bill. One hundred percent of the House Democrats voted against the bill, because it cut billions of dollars from No Child Left Behind, leaving millions of children behind-by Leader Daschle's presentation, 4.6 million children behind. So they said, Okay, you didn't support the bill we sent you? Do us a favor: any money the Democrats would have gotten for earmarks, apply it to No Child Left Behind. They said, No, we are just going to spend it on the Republicans. So this is what it has degenerated to. From my standpoint, I'd just as soon see no earmarks. I don't know if that's politically realistic, but the fact is that this is blackmail. It has now turned into blackmail, and on the backs of America's poorest children.
For that I would just like to thank you all very much for your attention and the opportunity to be here. Senator Daschle, I yield to you for the last word. Thank you, Deborah, and to the press club.
SEN. DASCHLE: I join Nancy Pelosi in thanking the National Press Club and each of you for giving us the opportunity to make our presentation and to answer our questions. These are important times for our country, and we look forward to a good, vigorous debate about many of the issues confronting our country as the weeks unfold in the new session of Congress. Thank you. Thank you, Deborah.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Senator Daschle, Congresswoman Pelosi. (Applause.)
Would you please remain seated while our guests depart. Thanks to all of you for participating. Thanks to our viewers and C-SPAN for your interest in democracy. And thanks especially to the great staff at the National Press Club. This concludes our program.