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Press Conference with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

Press Conference

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Location: Washington, DC


PRESS CONFERENCE WITH REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE

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SPEAKER PELOSI: Today, March 19th, for me, an Italian-American, the Feast of St. Joseph, so I always remember what happens on this day. On the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 2003, the president called for the initiation of hostilities into Iraq.

Here we are six years later, six years later in Iraq. The good news is that our new president has called for an end to the war and a timetable to bring our troops out of Iraq. As they continue to serve there and as our troops continue to serve in Afghanistan, they are our heroes. And their well-being is very important to us.

I just traveled to Afghanistan. And when I met with the troops there to thank them, for their service, their sacrifice and their courage and that of their families, as well, to see how the mission was going, I also heard from them about their concerns. And every place I visit the troops, they always ask about, what is it going to be like when they come home?

They all want to stay with their unit, mind you. But what is it going to be like when they come home? And they were very pleased with the G.I. Bill that we passed and were pleased with the recovery bill that had so much, so many increases in it for our veterans.

Yesterday, we met with our veterans. And I was pleased to be able to report to them that there would be no change in policy on how their combat-related health benefits were covered.

But for the veterans who are here and our soldiers and others who are -- our men and women in uniform who are serving, we're always reminded that we owe them a future worthy of their sacrifice. And it is just that future that we address, in our budget bill that will be coming up, in the next week and a half, on the floor of the House.

I'm very proud of the president's budget. It is an outline of transformation. It's an outline of a budget for the future. It is a budget that is a statement of our values, as a federal budget should be.

Its priorities of health and education and energy, of those domestic pillars, of having a tax cut for 95 percent of the American people and for reducing the deficit, are priorities that we all share, with the president, and look forward to passing his budget.

And that is very important; part of the president and the Congress's stabilizing our economy.

We passed the recovery act, which is very popular in the country, I'm proud to report from my travels in our country. The president has put forth the housing principles to address the housing crisis -- more than principles, but now the guidelines to go with the policy. And the -- we are working on regulatory reform, so the president's prepared to take that message to the G-20.

And, of course, we have to address the issue of the stability of our financial institutions. In the course of doing that, we see the outrage of the American people in terms of bonuses paid by AIG, and perhaps others who have received TARP funds. Out on the floor of the House today, we will present legislation to address the concerns of the American people, to bring some justice to the situation and to get the taxpayers' money back. That legislation will come up soon, and we'll have other legislation on the floor today too, with a sense of the Congress about how we go forward on this.

It's not the end next week. They'll be marking up in Financial Services legislation to ensure, and tighten rules and et cetera, that this never happens again. And we may, at some point, bring something from the Judiciary Committee that relates to the contracts.

So again, this is a small part, but it has a big anger in the country. And we want to remove all doubt that the disparities that we see in income in our country, which I believe have contributed to the downturn in our economy, are addressed, at least when it comes to bonuses that are paid to -- to those who have contributed to the downfall of their companies, that have received TARP funds, $5 billion or more, and who, again, have not acted in the interest of the American people.

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

Q Madame Speaker? Madame Speaker?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Oh -- not -- who hasn't had a turn since last week?

Q I didn't.

Q I didn't get one.

Q I didn't. (Laughter.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: No. (Laughs.) Because there's not enough time for everybody, okay?

You're next.

Q Madame Speaker --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes.

Q You and your members are being blamed for these excessive bonuses.

SPEAKER PELOSI: (Yeah. Right ?).

Q But you were one of the people who were pushing for these limits on executive compensation --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes.

Q -- back in the fall. And various measures have passed the House and passed the Senate. Isn't it really the administration that's put a stop, through these kinds of limits?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, I think you go right back to February -- September 16th, when the -- when the announcement was made by the Fed, by the chairman of the Fed, that they would be making this big infusion of cash into the -- into AIG, without any prior notification to us. It -- we didn't even know they had that much money.

And that's when it all started.

And in the TARP conversations we had on the 18th, we told the administration that unless there was a controlling of the CEO compensation in the TARP package, we couldn't even go forward with it. But they had absolutely no intention of honoring the spirit of those conversations or anything that we suggested in the law.

I'm -- you're the first person to tell me that I'm being blamed for this, because I've missed that. The fact is, is that this is policy -- we have in writing, for the record, all of the measures that we have taken and a timeline -- you have it, so I won't read it to you -- but accountability on executive compensation and then fighting for a fair financial rescue.

The CEO compensation issues were completely resisted by the Bush administration, and so we are right now sweeping up after them. We are sweeping up after them. The question is, why were there bonuses in the first place? Why was that not made clear when our TARP funds were given or, in the case of AIG to begin, not TARP but the Federal Reserve funds? We can --

Q But Madame Speaker, there were provisions in the stimulus bill that were stripped out and never made it to the --

SPEAKER PELOSI: We never had it -- what you're talking about is the language that was discussed on the Senate side. That was never in any conference that we agreed or disagreed -- we had already passed Barney Frank's bill prior to the stimulus bill that went even much farther than any discussion they're having now. It's up to the Senate to pass that legislation. But we were on record early on this, because it's outrageous. It's outrageous. And we passed our own TARP legislation, and that is to say with restrictions on executive pay. I hope that that will pass the Senate. Again, we will mark up another bill that will even be tighter in terms of how we see how resourceful people are in using taxpayer money to give bonuses to people who have driven their own companies into the ground to the tune of billions of dollars of cost to the taxpayer and still getting millions of dollars in bonuses.

Q Madame --

Q Madame Speaker, can you solve a mystery here?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I certainly hope so.

Q Because there is a provision in the stimulus that has been called the AIG loophole. It says that the restrictions on executive compensation in the stimulus bill will not apply retroactively. They'll only be from February 11th forward.

Now Senator Dodd says that that was put in at the insistence of the -- of Treasury Department officials in those conference negotiations. You were part of the conference negotiations. Can you tell us --

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, there -- this was a Senate -- this is -- this --

Q (Off mike) -- conference, this --

SPEAKER PELOSI: I cut you off. There's a Senate-White House -- this is Senate-White House language. That is what you're talking about here. And so again, we are -- we're already on record with even stronger language in the legislation that we passed. This was never brought to conference.

Q But -- (off mike) --

SPEAKER PELOSI: This was never brought to conference.

Q It came out of the conference bill.

SPEAKER PELOSI: But it was never brought to conference.

Q It's a line saying it does not apply retroactively.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes, I understand, but what you're -- but the mystery that you're asking, this never came to conference. If it had come to conference, we would have had to -- to honor the bill that we had already passed ourselves, which was the stricter restrictions on bonuses. So this is not -- this never came to the House side. You can talk to any of our conferees. It's a matter of absolute fact and record.

Q But the loophole was in the final bill that came out of conference. Did you oppose that loophole?

SPEAKER PELOSI: The language that related to this was in the Senate bill. We had stronger language that we had passed before. We want the Senate to pass that language.

So the point is, is how do we get this placed here in the first place? We have a situation where, because of lack of regulation, supervision, any discipline, any interest in the public interest, the financial institutions in our country drove their companies into the ground, and therefore had a very harmful effect on our economy.

They thought it was a good idea to reward just those same entities within their own financial institutions with bonuses. That is wrong. That is wrong. And they did not act in the public interest. And if you want to be specific about language, the bill does talk about the public interest, without any date or anything. So the public interest should have prevented -- enabled us to get this money back in the first place and prevented them from doing these bonuses. That is the bigger issue, the public interest.

We spent a good deal of time with the Judiciary Committee, with the Financial Services Committee, with the tax-writing committee -- the Ways and Means Committee -- to see how can we bring justice to this every step of the way. And everything we have asked our members to vote for has been, starting on September 6th to 18th, when we told the administration we cannot take anything to our members that does not have -- does not control CEO or other executive compensation, going down below. So our record is clear on this subject.

If you want to talk about what happened on the Senate, go on the Senate side and talk to the senators.

Q But Speaker Pelosi --

SPEAKER PELOSI: But again, let's get back to the point. The point is, because of all of this -- you know, we're talking about these bonuses, and it's a lot of money, over $100 million, but the billions -- hundreds of billions of dollars that the taxpayers had to put up, and hopefully we will recoup -- and that is how we wrote the bill, so that we could recover those funds -- that -- that is the issue at hand.

The anger springs from the fact that the arrogance and the hubris and the greed of these people to take and to give these bonuses is a symbol of a bigger problem that is a source of great concern, because it has affected the pensions of America's working families, the education of their children, their livelihood as to whether they will have a job, their housing security. Every step of the way, the American people in their homes and on Main Street have been affected by this, and on top of it all, they decide to give themselves bonuses for driving their companies and the financial -- the economic well- being of America's families into the ground. That is the issue.

Q Speaker, on a different wavelength, on a speech you recently at an immigration rally in San Francisco --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yeah.

Q -- you said the current ICE raids must end and you called current enforcement -- immigration enforcement "un-American." What did you mean by that?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No -- (inaudible) -- thank you for the question. What I said was separating parents from their children -- ICE raids that separate parents from their children in the middle of the night are un-American, and I stand by that. And those were the -- those were the issues that we were dealing with, three families where the parents were separated -- a parent was separated from the children and the prospect of the second parent being separated. And I do believe that separating parents from their children, in these cases sometimes in the middle of the night, is un-American.

We have to enforce our laws. We have to -- we have to control our border. We have to enforce our laws. We have to protect our workers. We have to, I believe, have a path to legalization for people who are in our country who are not fully documented. But we don't have to kick in doors in the middle of the night and take fathers out of their homes and think that we are solving the issue, when we really need comprehensive immigration reform.

Yes, please.

(Cross talk.)

Yes, ma'am.

Q Are you aware at this point of who asked -- who in the administration asked Senator Dodd to make --

SPEAKER PELOSI: No. No.

Q Should he reveal to the public who he had that conversation --

SPEAKER PELOSI: You know what? You'll have to talk to Senator Dodd about that. But I think that we're -- let's not take our eye off the ball. We have inherited a terrible mess. The president has inherited a terrible mess from the Bush administration when it comes to our economy, the jobless rate in our country, the depth of our -- the size of the deficit that we have and the shambles in which the financial institutions are left, because of an economic philosophy that went beyond laissez-faire -- no regulation, no discipline, no supervision and when it all tumbles down, in the case of my colleagues here, no intervention, no intervention.

And so we have TARP legislation that we passed in a bipartisan way with President Bush but with our provisions that they would have to contain CEO compensation, that we would have to have equity for the taxpayer, that we would have to have forbearance in terms of mortgage foreclosure and that we'd have to have transparency.

So every step of the way, it is written into the law, what we required. The administration just did not abide by it.

And so when you're talking about one date or another, the public interest knows no date. The authority, to look into these bonuses or in our case today to tax them, exists if the public interest is not served. And nobody can hide behind a contract or a date or a conversation that may or may not have taken place.

New subject. New subject. New subject, or else.

(Cross talk.)

Budget. Okay, on the budget. Yes, ma'am.

Q Okay, just a question, is the budget much, much worse? New numbers coming out tomorrow, are they making you rethink your priorities?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No. Our priorities are the same.

As I said, this budget is a statement of our values and our investments in education, health care and health, the health of America -- that includes prevention as well as care -- and the energy initiatives as well as tax relief, for 95 percent of the American people, as well as an approach that takes the deficit down.

Those are the principles and the priorities of the budget. There are different figures on these numbers. The CBO differs from the OMB. That is not unusual. I'm more optimistic. And the budget, it's -- for those of you who are perhaps new here, the budget process is very exciting because it is the outline; it is the blueprint of how we go forward. And it doesn't have the particulars. That is to be debated later.

But it does say, this is what our priorities are. This is how we see them, in relationship to each other. And the downturn in the economy that we are suffering now insists that we make these investments, so that we can get ourselves out of the -- out of the --

Q Are you saying, just to follow up, that you're more optimistic than the CBO numbers that are coming out?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes. I'm saying that I think that we have to take them into consideration and that we have to calibrate our numbers.

But I think that for us to say that we would make less of an investment in education, health care and energy, which are going to turn the economy around, a new green economy creating new jobs and new opportunities, in rural and urban America, investments in health care and the science that goes with it, to make America healthier, to make costs come down, America healthier, the costs come down and remove errors, investments in our education -- if we don't make those, we won't have the innovation that we need to do the rest -- and again the tax cuts and the budget discipline.

The point is that any investments that we make in education -- more than any other initiative you can name, investments in education bring more money to the Treasury -- not just to the economy; to the Treasury -- than any other investment you can make.

The big issue in the budget, of course, is entitlement reform. Health-care reform is entitlement reform. If we're going to take down the cost of entitlements, Medicare and Medicaid being the two biggest challenges, we have to take down the cost of health care. These investments in the budget will do just that. And then, again, I've said about education and energy.

So again, you can't -- you can't say we're going to do less because those numbers are pessimistic. You say, we have to do what we do in light of those numbers, but we have to recognize that education, a change in energy policy and health-care reform are what will turn the economy around, bring money to the Treasury, make America healthier, make us competitive internationally through innovation, and do what we need to put the economy on a much more stable footing as we go into the future.

Thank you very much. I have to go to work now.

END.


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