Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone. As many of you know, I'm originally from Maryland and we speak in racetrack terms there. We are in "the stretch" as far as the work of the Supercommittee is concerned. Democrats continue to be committed to big, bold, and balanced in terms of a proposal that could come out of there. Each day it looks like I don't know whether they are bargaining positions or whether they're ruling out possibilities, but let me say this. The committee has paid great attention to the need for us to reduce the deficit on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol. They have produced good work that could, pieces of which could turn into at any moment now--and I'm hopeful--to something that is an agreement. I don't know if it can be as big and bold as I'd like, but I hope that it will be balanced because that's the only way that we will be able to reach agreement.
The President put forth a grand bill in the summer which he negotiated with our Speaker, Speaker Boehner, which was big, bold and balanced. Our Members in the Democratic Caucus stood with the President on that. Sadly, the Republicans walked away from their own negotiated agreement.
We have demonstrated in the Affordable Care Act that we are willing to review Medicare and the savings that we had there to reinvest and making Medicare--prolong the life of Medicare for around 10 years. In a bad economy that may be reduced a bit from the original 12 to around 10 or under. And we made improvements in Medicare for our seniors: closing the donut hole, providing preventive services, and those kinds of initiatives.
So we have demonstrated, A, in terms of most recently with the President's proposal that he negotiated with Speaker Boehner, B, in our past performance in terms of addressing these issues on how we strengthen the initiative while we reduce the deficit, and hope that some of the work that has been done, I believe in good faith, my Members believe in good faith by Democrats and Republicans alike, to pursue some possible provisions for an initiative that hopefully is big, bold and balanced but will definitely be balanced.
We are grateful to all the members of the [Supercommittee] for their work and I am as eager as you are to find out how close to Thanksgiving we can all go home and start working on that. And with that I'd be pleased to take any questions.
Q: Madam Leader, you said don't know if it can be as big and bold and balanced as you would like. You have said repeatedly since this process started you wanted it to be big, bold and balanced. Does this indicate a concession or some resignation to the fact that they are not going to get those votes?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I'm still optimistic, but I'm realistic as well. I don't hear anything that sounds big and bold. But what would that be? That would be something that would begin with the jobs. Just the centerpiece, as I have said all along, job creation. Honoring the entrepreneurial spirit of America. Recognizing the role that small businesses play in the growth of our economy, having savings.
We know we have to make cuts, but the timing and the nature of them should be done as all of the bipartisan--whether it is Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin-Domenici, the Gang of Six, anybody who has spoken out on this in a bipartisan way has said the timing is important so that we do not impede the economic recovery they we need to have.
So it is about jobs and entrepreneurial spirit. It's about having savings, real savings and taking nothing off the table as we address that. And it's about revenue. About everybody taking responsibility. And that revenue piece seems to be the stumbling block for the Republicans.
Q: Some liberal folks on and off the Hill have said that failure may not be so bad, that to allow the cuts to take effect and the tax cuts to expire may be better than whatever deal arrives. Do you specifically reject that point of view?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don't want that to happen. We have been working very hard for it not to. Let me remind we have already cut $1.2 trillion since the summer. $1.2 trillion was part of the legislation to lift the debt ceiling. Part of that legislation was to say cut $1.2 trillion more and if not, there would be a sequestration. I hesitate to use the word after the Jon Stewart show last night, but anyway. Sequestration would take place.
It is a way to cut $1.2 trillion. It is a blunt, crude way to do it. We could do if more finely with more establishing of priorities if it were to be done in the committee. I've always been optimistic that the committee would be able to do that. But if it doesn't happen, I think it's important for the markets to note that $2.5 trillion, a la--per the bill that was passed in the summer, $2.5 trillion will be cut--deficit reduction will occur. We had hoped that the 1.2 which was all discretionary cuts to begin with would cover that base and we would go to other areas, including growth. Because we firmly believe that creating jobs that produce revenue is the best way to reduce the deficit.
Again, the revenue seems to be the rub for the Republicans. But, again, $2.5 trillion will be cut so the deficit will be reduced by that. So I don't subscribe to let's hope nothing happens. I think there is a better way to do it than the sequestration, but the sequestration is a part of the legislation and that's what we will follow. But there is a better way and I'm still optimistic that, recognizing that, Republicans will come around.
We don't have a whole lot of time because this room is used for many purposes. We have so many people.
Q: Madam Leader, Mr. Hensarling yesterday strongly signaled and almost implored Democrats to come up with some what he called real entitlement cuts and on that basis if it happens he would offer more revenue.
Leader Pelosi. Did he say he would offer more revenue?
Q: He certainly signaled that or suggested it strongly. When are the Democrats going to come up with that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, we have as a matter of fact. We subscribed to what the President put forth in [the summer] in his grand bargain. He had, just to recall, there was a menu of savings that the President and the Speaker had put together from which some of these entitlement changes could take place. That's one.
As I said before, we already have gone down this path a half a trillion dollars in savings to strengthen Medicare in the past. And one of the reasons to address the entitlement issue is to strengthen them, to prolong them. If the goal is to eliminate them, if the goal of the Republicans is to say that we are not going--as has been rumored but I'm just going by what I've seen in the press--that the Speaker has said that the Bush tax cuts must be extended, that repealing those cannot be part of the plan. So if the plan is to extend the Bush tax cuts and to repeal the Medicare guarantee for our seniors, well, that's not balanced and that's a place we cannot go.
Q: Madam Leader, when you say that the sequestration is a blunt, crude instrument, does that mean that you would be willing to look at cutting the same amount of money in some different way in the intervening year?
Leader Pelosi. No, what I'm saying is that we should do it right now. We should do it right now. This committee has extraordinary power. The Supercommittee, six people--12 people, six on each side from one side of the Capitol and the next. We should do it right now because the American people can't wait. They need jobs and that should be the starting point for this committee.
We need to reduce the deficit and how we do that should recognize the job creation is the biggest deficit reducer. So that's what I'm saying. I don't like the formulation but it is what it is and that's what we have to honor because we have to act now.
Q: You would not support repealing it or changing it?
Leader Pelosi. No. I don't like it, but the way to do away with it is to act now. You notice there are many of you here, some of you here are always here and I always say I will see you at the press conference. So if you think I'm honoring the requests of those who are always here, I am.
Q: The Secretary of Defense has said, Leon Panetta has said that the cuts to the Defense Department would be devastating and would lead to the smallest ground forces since 1940, says it is to much on top of the $450 billion that Congress has already cut for the defense budget. Do you think that he's exaggerating or do you think that the Congress should take another look at the sequester and do something about it?
Leader Pelosi. Well, the sequester is what it is. There are those, maybe some, who think or who have suggested that the oath to Mr. Norquist is more important than other oaths that Members take. I don't know if that is so.
But the thought with sequester was that we are all very concerned about our national defense, the strength of our country. Whether it is measured in the health and education and well being of our people on one side of the sequester and as it is measured in our military strength. So we would rather there be a better way to do this.
But if you refuse, if you refuse--do I have my one red cent?--if you refuse to take one red cent from the wealthiest people in our country and the price we have to pay is a diminished defense and diminished strength of our country, I think that's something listen to what we are saying. We are saying $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction without one red cent coming from people making over a million dollars a year. That's just isn't right. Those people don't think it's right. I don't see them lobbying for us to do that. I see some political activists, ideologues who are anti government saying we shouldn't have fairness in how we all assume responsibility for reducing the deficit. But to say defense to the tune that Secretary Panetta is describing to the impact on the investments we make in our people and our future, that could be avoided if we just had big, bold, balanced with everyone taking some level of responsibility.
So it was thought years ago when the Gramm Rudman Hollings, long before many of you were here, when that was put forth it was the exact same sequester, half domestic, half defense. The Republicans at the time said we are not going to go to that place to cut defense to that extent. Today it looks like one might judge that the Republicans are more concerned about not taxing any more, again, we are talking about people making over a million dollars a year. People making over a million dollars a year. That they don't want to increase the taxes, get revenues from people making over a million dollars a year and putting our defense, our strength, whether it is defined, however it is defined in our military might as well as our health, education and well being of our people.
Do I have time for one more?
Q: Madam Leader, there have been reports that Rick Perry is challenging you to a debate. Have you received a challenge? Will you accept or deny?
Leader Pelosi. Well, he did ask if I could debate here in Washington on Monday. It is my understanding that such a letter has come in. Monday I'm going to be in Portland in the morning. I'm going to be visiting some of our labs in California in the afternoon. That's two. I can't remember what the third thing is.
Thank you all very much.