Press Conference with Rep. Nancy Pelosi , Speaker of the House of Rep.s; Rep. Steny Hoyer , House Majority Leader; Rep. Xavier Becerra; And Rep. Chris Van Hollen
Subject: The First Five Months of the 111th Congress
Copyright ©2009 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at www.fednews.com, please email Carina Nyberg at email@example.com or call 1-202-216-2706.
SPEAKER PELOSI: Good morning.
REP. HOYER: Good morning!
Q Good morning.
SPEAKER PELOSI: (Laughs.) We know you're out there. (Laughter.)
Q (Off mike.)
REP. HOYER: That's right.
Since yesterday I had the honor of receiving an honorary degree and making the commencement address at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, we decided to combine our -- my weekly and our wrap-up for this first five months today.
And I have news for you this morning, very good news. And that is that the -- this has been a very good week for new energy policy to take our country in a new direction, for the creation of clean-energy jobs, for reducing pollution in the air, for ending our dependence on foreign oil, and for honoring our responsibility to the future by preserving our planet.
Earlier this week the president announced THE most aggressive -- THE most aggressive -- fuel emissions standards ever. We're proud of that because it builds on the legislation passed by the New Direction Congress, in the last Congress, but now this is -- takes it to a new level. And the president did so bringing all of the stakeholders together.
And last night was very remarkable. Thirty-three to 25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed what is transformational, something transformational in how we address the climate change issue and for all the reasons I mentioned about the economy, the environment, our moral responsibility and our national security. It is something that we will now build upon as we go forward.
So it was a good week on energy policy. It's also been a good week as we protect the environment, a good week as we protect the consumer, the taxpayer and the American people in general, in terms of their national security.
This week we were able to pass landmark legislation, whether it was about how people can stay in their homes, how they can pay their credit-card bills in a fair and predictable way, protect the consumer in that way. And the president will be signing that bill -- he did, this -- I don't know if he has, but they were gathered there this morning to do so. I don't know if it has happened yet. But later today he will pass the procurement bill.
So whether it's housing, whether it's credit cards, whether it's saving the taxpayers money, it was a very good week in passing that legislation, sending it on to the president.
We're also very excited that, as we go into Memorial Day -- to take great pride in the service of our men and women in uniform, to thank them in a way that is more than words, but deeds. And since the -- in the first five months of this year, we have accomplished a great deal. So then building on what we did in the last new-direction Congress, many of us met with -- I say General -- Secretary Shinseki earlier this week to take pride in what has been done with President Obama and the new-direction Congress, in a bipartisan way, and also to make plans for what we do next. We want our men and women to -- in uniform to know that -- as the military says on the battlefield, "We will leave no soldier behind" -- when they come home we will leave no veteran behind.
So it was a great five months; was a great week -- five days, counting the signatures. And I'm going to yield to my colleagues now to talk more about them in terms of the economy, in terms of consumers. And I'm going to yield first to the distinguished majority leader.
And in doing so, we say this. This -- what we have done in this first five months was a joint effort, working under the leadership of President Obama, with the participation of Congress; to the extent possible, where we could, in a bipartisan way. None of this success would have been possible without the -- not only teamwork, the partnership that we all have, working together.
Our majority leader rules the floor, as you know, and has done an excellent job in arranging for the presentation of our issues. Our whip, who can't be with us right now, Mr. Clyburn, is the vote counter, and he knows how to count votes. He got enough to get all of this passed. And then the rest of our team has worked in very close concert on how we go forward.
And I want to commend the chair of our caucus, Mr. Larson, the vice chair, Mr. Becerra, who's with us today, and Mr. Van Hollen, who is the chair of -- he wears two hats.
So much talent in these two hats: the chair of DCCC of course, but in terms of policy here, a member of the leadership, as assistant to the speaker.
And so I now, with gratitude and appreciation, recognize the distinguished majority leader.
REP. HOYER: Thank you very much, Madame Speaker.
I want to reiterate what Speaker Pelosi ended on. This has been an extraordinarily close-working team; and the partnership, frankly, between Speaker Pelosi and I over the last six years -- six-and-a-half years almost now -- as when we were in the minority, when we were in the majority, over the last two years of the last Congress, and then in this first five months of the year. And I might say, it has been a leadership team represented here by Mr. Van Hollen, the chairman of our campaign committee, and the vice chairman of our caucus, Mr. Becerra. Mr. Clyburn is not here.
We also -- part of our leadership team -- we made a very good tactical move earlier in the year, when we sent one of our leadership team over to be the chief of staff at the White House. (Laughter.) So that we have a very close working relationship. He was a very, very important part of our team during the last Congress, the 110th Congress. And we're working very closely together with President Obama, his chief of staff, and his team.
It's been five months, as the speaker said, since we were sworn in as the 111th Congress. And in that time, we have made tremendous strides to create jobs and get our economy back on track. I tell people that I've been a member of Congress since 1981, and in those 29 years, we have had no more productive first five months of a congress in which I have served.
Most importantly, of course, we passed the Recovery Act to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, make investments in important projects in communities across America -- steps which are expected to save and create 3.5 million jobs.
As the speaker says all the time, our agenda, whatever the particular bill is, is about jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. That is a direct quote from the speaker of the House of Representatives. (Chuckles.)
In addition, we passed a budget that makes strong investments in energy technology.
An extraordinary accomplishment last night where after months and months of work, a consensus was created to put forward very, very substantial legislation, one of the most consequential pieces of energy legislation that's passed, out of the committee, in a very long period of time.
I congratulate Mr. Waxman, Mr. Markey, the Democrats and the Republicans. It was a monthslong consideration of a package that was put forward, very ample time to consider all the alternatives, and literally scores of amendments considered in the committee.
In addition, health care reform and education, which will boost our national competitiveness and create jobs, was addressed in our Recovery Act and continues to be addressed. Health care of course will be one of the major issues, along with energy, that we will be dealing with in the months ahead.
Congress also has made great strides on health care, not only the health care investments, in the budget, that I mentioned. We also extended health insurance to 4 million low-income children.
Those 4 million children would have been included, in the last Congress, but for the veto of George Bush. We had an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill passed in the 110th Congress. George Bush said no. And we lacked 12 Democrats in the House of Representatives.
But because the American people selected Barack Obama to be our president, he signed that bill. And those 4 million additional children, to the 7 million in the program, are now covered. Their families are more secure. They sleep better at night because of that bill.
We are close to bringing tobacco products under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration, a critically important bill for the health particularly of those same children, many of whom without adequate regulation and information would take up smoking. The House expects to consider a conference report on the tobacco bill in June.
This work isn't just important for Americans' health. Health care is an economic priority, because the out-of-control costs of our current system are straining family budgets and straitjacketing American business, large and small.
So this is an economic issue, an issue of families, an issue for children, an issue for single moms. But it's also an issue for our business community.
President Obama and congressional Democrats want to pass a comprehensive bill that contains rising costs, preserves patient choice. If you've got it and you like it, you could keep it. That's our mantra. And every American ought to know that and feel comfortable with that premise.
We want to preserve patient choice of doctors and of their health plans and ensure access to affordable, quality health care for all Americans. That will make for healthier Americans and a healthier economy and a better America.
There is unprecedented focus and unity on the need for health reform in our caucus. Speaker Pelosi and I and the leadership have been meeting with every group in our caucus. I've been meeting with Congressman Blunt, who heads up the Republican Task Force. Our committee chairmen have been reaching across the aisle to talk to their ranking members. We want all of the members of Congress to join in this historic effort.
The speaker and I are meeting with members of our caucus to build broad support. As I've said, the three chairmen are doing the same. Democrats have held more than 170 health-care events in their districts already, with another hundred-plus events planned for the Memorial Day district work period.
Our president said we wanted to build our health-care plan from the bottom up, and what he meant is not just the president saying this is the plan. He wanted all of us, working together, to make sure that the health-care system in America serves us all and serves us well. And we hope to pass health-care reform by August. That is a target, not a deadline. And we want to get this done right, and we want to create that consensus. But that is our target in the House.
The speaker points out that she doesn't want me to speak too definitively to what the Senate is or is not going to do. (Laughter.) And certainly I am not -- not confident enough to do that.
But I want to say this. Mr. Baucus and I, and Senator Kennedy -- Senator Kennedy and I met during the last Congress; Senator Baucus and I met last week. And we've met on a number of occasions to talk about how we move this forward. Why? Because the speaker, the president of the United States and all of us believe that health care for all Americans -- with their choice intact, so they can choose what they want in terms of insurance and doctors and hospitals -- is a critically important objective, as is energy independence and addressing the challenge of global warming.
And I'll thank the speaker for her leadership. I want to close in saying that the speaker and I consider ourselves a close team, bringing all of our caucus together to create the consensus for change that America voted for in November of last year.
I now want to yield to -- oh, excuse me.
SPEAKER PELOSI: And we just said something on that before. That's why we had the success last night with the energy bill. Henry Waxman was a master, a virtuoso, in orchestrating the development of this bill and its passage through the committee. Ed Markey has been working on the substance of this bill for a very, very long time. And what we've said to everyone is what we say on all of these issues. We're not leaving anyone behind. We're going down this path together.
And that's what they did in a bill that had great consensus on the committee, a good strong vote, a tribute to Henry's legislative virtuosity and Ed Markey's extraordinary commitment to this issue, but really a tribute to the president of the United States for making this a priority, as it is one of the three pillars of the budget that we passed at the end of the hundred days: education, health care and energy.
So again, we're absolutely elated by the success, know there's much more work to be done.
But to Steny's point, it's about building consensus, working together to bring it down -- take it down. And the forum for us to do that is our House Democratic Caucus, and Mr. Larson and Mr. Becerra hold forth to have that as a forum of debate and consensus-building. Thank you.
REP. BECERRA: Thank you, Madame Speaker.
It's been a thrilling ride so far, and that's just the first four months. I believe most of the members of the caucus -- and we have an opportunity every week to have a sit-down with them -- would agree that we are very well led at the helm by our president, Barack Obama, and our speaker and our majority leader and the rest of the leadership team in the House, and certainly with Mr. Reid and his leadership team in the Senate.
But we know that these four past months have really been our way to communicate to the American people that we want to restore confidence, not just confidence in government, confidence in the economy, but confidence that they can lift themselves up as well. And we want to give them the tools to do exactly that.
At the end of the day, this is about putting people first. Whether you're a taxpayer, whether you're a consumer, whether you are someone in need of health care, we're trying to elevate you, make you believe once again that this economy, this government, our people are really going to lift us up, as we've always seen it happen in the past.
The credit card bill, the housing bill, all of these things are meant to tell people, send them a signal that we're trying to make it better for them, to give them confidence that they can go ahead and continue to lead their lives.
But it's tough sometimes. When today you have a debt of a trillion dollars -- and I don't mean government debt; I'm talking about consumer debt in credit cards -- a trillion dollars, you've got a problem, especially when the rules of the game are changed midstream.
A trillion dollars -- if you were to translate every dollar into a second, that debt would have commenced at the time that human beings were trying to figure out how to start a fire. Thirty-two thousand years ago you'd have to begin to accumulate a dollar every second of time -- 32,000 years ago.
That's a lot of money that consumers in America owe.
On top of that, of course, we saw that President Obama inherited an over trillion-dollar deficit from the previous administration. Lots of work to do to restore confidence.
But it's tough to restore confidence when Americans are getting letters like this. (Displays letter.) And no one is immune. This is a letter I received last month from my credit card company. Now I pay through autopayment on my credit card, yet I received a letter telling me that -- guess what -- "We've reviewed the files and spending and debt profiles of our cardmembers, and we're making some difficult decisions. Unfortunately, that's why we're writing to you today. We have had to make the difficult decision to lower the credit limit on your account."
Now I don't have -- I have a zero balance at the end of the month, every month. And so I received this letter.
And of course they said, "Your credit limit may have changed, but your value to us has not." (Laughter.)
Now that's the letter I received, and I pay on time, automatically, every month. Now, if this isn't bad enough for the Becerra household -- let me tell you, my daughters are getting letters to apply for credit. Now, if it weren't for the fact that they are still minors -- my oldest is now 16, and for the last two years she's been receiving credit card applications. We shouldn't have to worry too much, but that's what's going on in the Becerra home. I can only imagine what's going on in other homes around America.
And so how can they have the confidence that we're trying to do the right thing when people across America are getting letters like this, including people who pay their bill on time, who try to do things the right way? A trillion dollars is out there in consumer debt today.
We're going to change that. Working with the president and this leadership team in the Congress, we're going to restore confidence to Americans that we want to do this the right way.
Next up: health care. We intend to move forward. This is not a do-nothing Congress. We will not accept those who say status quo is okay. We intend to move forward on health care reform.
Climate change? We want to forever rid ourselves of the dependence on other -- foreign sources of energy.
And so we're going to move forward, but it's tough, when you get letters like this, to make people believe that we're trying to do it the right way. We intend to give people a different signal. That's why we did this credit card bill -- to give people rights. That's why we're going to do health care reform. That's why we're doing climate change. That's why we did the housing bill. That's why we did a stimulus package through this economic recovery plan. We are going to restore the confidence that Americans used to have in their government and in their people.
And we believe that if we do it the right way, no one will receive these kinds of letters. And certainly 16-year-olds will not as well.
With that, it's my pleasure to introduce the assistant to the speaker and someone who has become very valuable to each and every Democrat, in the Democratic Caucus, as we move forward every two years, to try to change this country to a new direction for all America. And that is our leader, Mr. Chris Van Hollen.
REP. VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, Xavier. I was just thinking, as Xavier was speaking, God help us in the Van Hollen household. If our 18-year-old daughter gets one of those credit cards, we are in big, big trouble. (Laughter.)
But Xavier spoke about the importance of restoring confidence around the country. And I think everything that this leadership team, this Congress and this president has tried to do, in these important first months, is geared to doing exactly that.
And a very important component of that is to restore accountability and transparency, to the government, because the American people are willing to make an investment in our common future. But they want to make sure that their monies are being well spent.
And from day one, President Obama, Democrats in the House and in the Senate have worked very closely together to pass legislation, to get us toward greater accountability and transparency.
If you look at the president's budget, it finally ended this fiction that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not costing the American people money. It ended all sorts of other budget gimmicks that suggested that our financial situation was better than it really was.
So we are restoring ourselves to budget honesty and putting an end to the budget gimmickry, the gimmickry we've seen. And the president's budget of course, over a four-year period, cuts the deficit by two-thirds.
Just this morning, we applied that same principle of accountability and transparency to a bill that the president signed, in the Rose Garden today, to begin to bring down those huge cost overruns in many of the Pentagon's largest weapons acquisition contracts.
GAO did a report recently that showed huge cost overruns in those areas. And every dollar that goes to a cost overrun is a dollar that we cannot invest in our armed services and cannot invest in strengthening our national security.
Just two days ago, we tried to also provide greater accountability within the financial markets by passing -- the Congress passed and the president signed -- anti-fraud legislation to provide the FBI and law enforcement with greater tools to crack down on fraud in the mortgage sector, in other financial sectors; the kind of fraud that we've seen where people were taking advantage of unwitting stockholders and others for their own personal gain and at the loss of everyone else in the country -- investors who were involved in those decisions.
So that was a very important measure. And finally, that measure included the establishment of an independent commission, something that Mr. Larson has been pushing for, the speaker and others have been pushing for, to go back and investigate the causes of the financial meltdown. We want to bring independent experts together so that we can learn from our mistakes and make sure we address those issues going forward in legislation, as well as other efforts that we undertake here.
So I think our efforts to restore accountability and transparency to the government, to our investments, to federal contracting, and to make sure that we hold people in the private sector more accountable have been an important part of trying to restore people's faith in their national government. And it's been a team effort, and it's something that we will continue to do in the days ahead. Thank you.
SPEAKER PELOSI: Thank you. I'm particularly proud of the commission, because earlier this spring I called for a Pecora-like commission. Mr. Larson had been working on one for a very long -- for months, even before this new Congress came into session. And the product that is in there is bipartisan, and its provenance -- it came from Democrats and Republicans in the Congress, and, of course, bipartisan in its makeup as it goes forward.
So it didn't take us very long to get to that place. And I -- the American people know there is a need to understand how the financial collapse came about. It's not about assigning blame; it's about avoiding these problems in the future.
And so we go from here. The first hundred days we talked about that; we came together to talk about that. But it laid down a marker and the blueprint in the budget for how we go forward. Under Steny's leadership -- excuse me -- the distinguished majority leader's leadership -- (chuckles) -- working with the chairman, Mr. Miller, Mr. Rangel and Mr. Waxman on health care, and every single member of the Congress.
Many, many people serve on the three committees of jurisdiction, Democrats and Republicans -- probably a third of the Congress, if you add it all up. So they will be on the ground floor in the development of this legislation as it unfolds. I promised the president a week or so ago at the White House that we would have it on the floor of the House by the end of July.
You see the progress we are making on the energy bill. It's -- it's so exciting, and we're so grateful to Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey, and to the president -- and as Steny said, the members of the committee on both sides of the aisle.
And then, the issue of education, which is unfolding for us now -- and to do it in a fiscally sound way that takes down the deficit, cuts taxes, creates jobs and holds a government accountable to the American people.
With that, I'd be pleased to take any questions.
Q Madame Speaker --
SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes, ma'am?
Q -- have you got any thoughts of who you would like to appoint to this financial commission that was established?
SPEAKER PELOSI: We -- Senator Reid and I will -- have talked about how we get together. We'll bring our names together to see that we have the balance between the two -- people are coming forth with -- there are certain criteria in the bill that have to be met. We want, of course, to have a full representation of many ideas on the commission and hope -- I mean, one of my -- to tell you the honest truth, one of the people that I would like to appoint the most to the commission is a Republican and -- (laughs) -- but it's three Democrats, two Republicans, so maybe -- maybe -- yeah, so I don't know how that will work out. We want the best possible people. We are reviewing names. We are going to work together on how we put this --
Q Can we know who that is that you are considering?
SPEAKER PELOSI: No -- (laughs) -- no, no, I can't do that.
Q Madame Speaker? Madame Speaker?
Q Madame Speaker, just last week, the -- what you knew when, and your comments about misleading -- being misled by the CIA have been big, big news -- this is for the speaker. But Leader Boehner has said produce evidence that you were misled or apologize. CIA Director Panetta has said that, you know, the CIA is not in the practice of misleading Congress. What are you -- what's --
SPEAKER PELOSI: I have made the statement that I'm going to make on this. I don't have anything more to say about it. I stand by my comment. And what we are doing is staying on our course, and not be distracted from it in this distractive mode. We're going forward in a bipartisan way for jobs, health care, energy for our country.
And I -- on the subject that you asked, I've made the statement that I'm going to make. I won't have anything more to say about --
Q Should the CIA offer to --
SPEAKER PELOSI: I won't have anything more to say about it.
Q Madame Speaker?
Q Madame Speaker?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Another subject?
Q I wanted to ask -- a different subject. You have criticized the GOP, as you know, in the past for the K Street Project. And your friends the Republicans now say --
SPEAKER PELOSI: I'm sorry, I didn't hear. The what?
Q The K Street Project.
SPEAKER PELOSI: K Street Project, yes.
Q And your friends the Republicans now say that the Democrats and you are resorting to money politics, developing allies on K Street to help raise money, and cutting deals on bills. How do you respond?
SPEAKER PELOSI: That's just simply not true. I would -- I remind you that The Washington Post, at the time the Republicans were in power, said that what was happening on Capitol Hill was like a criminal syndicate run out of the office of the majority leader, Mr. DeLay, at the time. There is -- we have drained that swamp. It's simply not happening.
Steny, do you have anything you --
Q Madame Speaker?
Q Talking about DeLay, does this mean that -- (off mike) -- operating here --
REP. HOYER: Let me -- let me just say -- let me -- let me just say, there is no K Street Project. Period.
STAFF: Last question.
Q Madame Speaker?
Q Madame Speaker?
Q China, Madame Speaker? You're going to travel over the break to China. I wondered if you could tell us about what your intentions are. And will you make a case for human rights while you're there? This is the --
SPEAKER PELOSI: The --
Q -- coming up on the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.
SPEAKER PELOSI: As you probably know, the speaker's office does not confirm any of the speaker's travel plans, and that -- with other members as well. However, the Chinese government has announced the hospitality it will be extending to us -- that they are extending hospitality, and the American embassy has confirmed that. So I'll associate myself with that characterization, without going -- any further detail about logistics.
But it is -- the purpose of the trip is to follow up on meetings we've had here with the representatives of the Chinese government on the subject of climate change and energy, and how that relates to our economy. So that will be our agenda on the trip.
And we look forward to a -- I'll be going with members in a bipartisan way, with members of the Select Committee on Climate Change and Energy Independence. So that -- the -- people who are going are, you know, expert and experienced in this field; have been having hearings for almost two and a half years on the subject. And we went to India last year. India and China are crucial in how we go forward.
So we want to -- we'll meet with the private sector, the -- of course, the officials of China and the nonprofit -- nongovernmental -- every element -- the students as well -- to see what the possibilities are for us to.
As -- the secretary-general of the U.N. was here yesterday. He said -- I'm -- I want to -- he spoke at a Hopkins graduation too, yesterday, except it was in Washington, D.C., while I was in Baltimore. And he said that -- "I'm using the word -- I made this up -- 'seal the deal.'" He said, "I've made up this phrase: 'seal the deal.'"
So we're hoping that we're able to seal the deal by the time we go to Copenhagen. But we have to see what the possibilities are for common ground, learn from each other as we go forward. So that is the subject as we're going.
Q Can I follow up on that? Can I follow up on that?
Q Madame Speaker?
Q Human-rights activists --
Q Madame Speaker, the "cash for clunkers" program, is that going to be --
Q About human rights -- about human-rights activists, what --
SPEAKER PELOSI: Cash for clunkers is in the bill.
Q Yeah, is that something you can see a vote coming up on anytime soon?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, it's in the bill. It's in the energy bill. And I would like it to come up as soon as it can come up.
Q Were you aware that Steve King is asking for your security clearance to be revoked? Have you --