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.
It appears that we may be shortly voting on this legislation, to give a payroll tax cut to 160 million Americans without having it be offset. That was one of the pillars of the legislation that we had hoped to see. We insisted on three things: one, that we had the payroll tax cut, preferably unpaid for. That's in the bill.
Secondly is that we have unemployment compensation extended for a number of weeks, respectful of the needs of our workers who are out of work through no fault of their own. That is in the bill. It does not have these strange--you have to have a high school diploma in order to get unemployment benefits. For workers who have been in the workforce a very long time, that would be an unfair barrier.
And third, that we would enable seniors to be able to see their doctors under Medicare. That is in the bill, too. And while we do not like the pay for, we would prefer another pay for, and we would prefer a longer period of time, we do recognize that the bill does contain the three features that we said were necessary and does so, at least in terms of the payroll tax cut, and in terms of the unemployment insurance, in a way that I think is acceptable to most of us.
Again, on the pay for for the Medicare doctor visits for seniors, we think it could have been done in a more economical way, which was better for the taxpayer, better for our seniors, a long period of time paid for by war savings. We will wait and see if the bill, if the Speaker is going to move the bill. You probably will be asking him later in the morning.
Secondly, as you know, on the floor now we have one piece of the transportation bill. So much unease in the Republican Caucus has with their own bill, written by their own leadership, that is now in a trifurcated form. This is a bill; it is the first time in probably 50 years. When there is a transportation bill that has not been written in a bipartisan way; a transportation bill that loses jobs, maybe half a million, more than a half a million jobs; cuts safety. And I would call it the Republican horse and buggy bill, because it is a bill that says no to mass transit when it comes to trust funds being used.
The House bill, this is a quote of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, which I am sure is familiar to you, but I think bears repeating if you haven't heard it anyway: "the worst transportation bill I have seen during 35 years of public service." He is a Republican. The horse, the House bill, maybe we should call it the "Horse and Buggy Bill,' the House bill takes us back to the horse and buggy era. That is why over 300 amendments have been offered, many of them by Republicans, to a Republican bill.
So that's what, I guess there is some unease in their caucus about the bill, so they have broken it up into three pieces, trying to see if they could get people to vote for it. As you know, we are engaged in a long amendment process right now. It is really unfortunate. Because this is the jobs bill, the transportation and infrastructure bill. So it is a missed opportunity. It cuts jobs. It cuts safety. It's just wrong.
Getting back to our DISCLOSE, that we talked about last week, with our sponsor of the bill, chief author of the bill, Chris Van Hollen. I want to talk a moment to talk about the DISCLOSE Act, to get secret donations out of politics and to require everyone to stand by their acts. If this is what they want the public to know, the public should know who is saying it.
Yesterday Congressman Brady, and Democratic Members of the House Administration Committee, requested an oversight hearing on the increasing role and influence of undisclosed money in our electoral system. We are very pleased that a coalition of reform groups have come out in support of the DISCLOSE Act, saying this legislation provides essential new disclosure requirements to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars and secret contributions being injected into Federal elections by nonprofit groups, special interests, and other entities. This is, this legislation strikes right to the core of our democracy. Our Founders intended that the people would decide elections. Now, we have a system where big bankrolls will decide the outcome of elections. It's just not right. So we are very pleased the response that we have received to our many, shall we say, manifestations of the ad. "Visiting with You' video, and the rest, have gotten us a drumbeat of support across the country for DISCLOSE. In many places people are initiating their own DISCLOSE, whether it is municipal entities or state legislatures and the rest. So we hope that even though we may not be, the Republicans resist, resist the disclosure of who their sources are, that at least the public sentiment on the subject will be such that people will either disclose or not contribute.
With that I would be pleased to answer any questions.
Q: Madam Leader, would you be opposed to bringing this bill up, the payroll bill, if there is a deal tomorrow? The Republicans said they need, obviously, several days to review. Does that mean you would be opposed to it?
Leader Pelosi. To bringing it up tomorrow?
Leader Pelosi. I think it would be important to bring it up tomorrow, because I don't think the American people can wait another day. We can't have it be in doubt. If an agreement is reached, then we should bring it up as soon as possible, so all doubt is removed that we will have a tax cut for 160 million Americans, that unemployment insurance will continue for our workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and that seniors can see their doctors under Medicare.
While I would have preferred to have a longer period of time for review, this has been a subject of discussion for a long time. I don't like the pay fors, but I don't have the gavel. So if this is the bill, I hope we can take it up tomorrow.
Q: Madam Leader, as the Republican leadership on transportation goes back to sort of rework their approach here, to get the votes, a two part question: has the Speaker approached you about anything that you, or Democrats, would want from this bill in the event that he seeks Democratic support for it? And secondly, if not, do you see any scenario, given what the House is working on, and what the Senate is working on, do you see any legislative scenario right now where a transportation bill this year would be preferable in your eyes to just an extension of current law?
Leader Pelosi. The answer to your first question is no. As I said, this is the first time a bill has been written in a strictly partisan way in the House, contrary to the Senate, where they have worked in a bipartisan way, and not two people who are necessarily compatible on many issues, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California, and Senator [Inhofe] of Oklahoma. Not very cozy and close on the substance, but nonetheless, working in a close bipartisan way for a Senate bill.
So, I think that it's important for us to be able to go to conference to reconcile and negotiate a better bill. But this bill is so far away from something that will even pass, I don't know if the Republicans even have the votes to pass this in the House on their own side.
So, no, we haven't had any suggestion of, "what would you like to see here?' What we'd like to see here is a bill that creates jobs for the American people, that promotes safety, that promotes commerce. This is a very important bill. It's transportation and infrastructure. It's about moving people and products to market. It's about quality of life issues. It's people not sitting in their cars for 45 minutes while they could be on mass transit for a third of that time to get to work. It's about, again, it is a jobs bill right from the start; it is a safety issue right from the start; and it should be put together in a bipartisan way.
And the fact that they cut off, this is really quite remarkable. Just when you think you have seen it all, they go another place, which is, the trust fund will not be used for mass transit. I mean, I think they're seeing a lot about this issue in their own caucus.
Q: Do you see any, enough, or any, commonality between the House and the Senate, what looks like the House and Senate positions, going into this, that would make it preferable to just an extension of current law? Is there any way to get there?
Leader Pelosi. What I'm saying, you have to pass a bill first before you can go to reconciliation, and this doesn't look like a bill that can pass.
Q: Madam Leader, you mentioned that there wasn't anything strange in the payroll bill, but I wonder what you think of the drug testing part and the
Leader Pelosi. Did I use the word "strange"?
Q: I think you did.
Leader Pelosi. Well, whatever. Strange is probably a good all-purpose word around here.
Q: It was in reference to the GED part, but there is also this drug testing thing, and the work search, and the Georgia Works component, and I wondered what you think of those pieces?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think some of that is being mischaracterized. What I would like to do is let us see what the actual wording is. We haven't seen that. But some of the things that are in the bill are an extension of current law, and Republicans are characterizing them as something bigger than that as some reason to go forward with it.
So I really can't respond to you until we see what the actual language is, which we haven't seen, but we do know that they have not insisted on the provision of high school graduation or a GED, and I think that's a big improvement.
Q: Madam Leader, this is a question of politics and Santorum. You've talked a little bit about Newt Gingrich. Do you have any memories of Santorum's time here in Congress? Did you ever work with him? Any thoughts on his record here?
Leader Pelosi. Let's leave the Republican nomination process up to them. I think that they are branding it in their very, very special way, and I'd just like to leave it to them.
Q: Madam Leader, I saw yesterday that you endorsed the idea of marriage equality being in the Democratic Party platform. I am wondering what you think about, if that did happen, and it got into the platform, if that would be an awkward situation for the President since this is one of the issues that he continues to be evolving?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I have played many roles in platforms. I've been the state party Chair responsible for the platform in California years ago, 30 years ago. I have chaired the platform for the Democrats in 1992, our Clinton-Gore platform. Responsibility, community, security, opportunity. We are very proud of that.
What I, as one person, say that I support, is not necessarily what the consensus document of the platform is, so I was just talking about me when I said that. In fact, in my platform in 1982, it was a midterm platform for our convention in California. We respected the definition of "family" that worked for people, where they found their support, their loving system, and their opportunity to raise a family or to be a family.
So this is a long time for me on this. But as I said, I was talking about myself, not the entire Democratic Party speaking for the President of the United States.
Q: What do you think of his position on this? The fact that he keeps saying he is evolving and he has been evolving for at least a year and a half?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I hope the evolution continues. It always does, doesn't it, now? But I'm very pleased that the State of Washington has done, the Governor was my guest at the State of the Union Address, and she told me that this was coming, and she was very excited about it, as was I.
Q: Madam Leader, do you intend to explicitly support the payroll extension, this deal? You said that you are concerned about some of the pay-fors, but do you think that you will actually support it, and will you urge your Caucus to support it as well?
Leader Pelosi. Well, the fact that we have the three features that we asked for: payroll tax cut unpaid for, unemployment compensation extended for the amount of time that we were requesting, without some of the onerous provisions that the Republicans were suggesting, when we see the final language, the third point that we would have seniors be able to see their doctors under Medicare, very important, essential that we get these three things done.
As we go through these last hours, I hope that we can prevail and say, instead of harming one set of workers in order to help another set of workers, why can't we just use our war savings to cover that? So I hope that that will be how we go forward. But I don't see a scenario where our Members will vote against it.
Q: Do you believe that all of your conferees will sign off on the bill?
Leader Pelosi. I have no idea. They are on their own.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Joe Kennedy announced that he would be running for Barney Frank's open seat in Massachusetts. Have you spoken to him about his candidacy, and do you plan on supporting him for running for that seat?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I haven't spoken to him since he announced that he was running. I have spoken to him in his lifetime. He went to Stanford. He came West. He and his brother, we're all very proud of them. I served with his father Joe Kennedy, and, of course, the tradition is one which is a great blessing to our country. I have not spoken to him recently, but I look forward to his candidacy and serving with him in the Congress. He's lovely.
Going back to this side.
Q: Do you agree with the idea that Federal employees should pay an additional 1.5 percent of their earnings into their pensions to cover the payroll tax extension?
Leader Pelosi. No. No, I think that we can do better then that. I support the actions of Mr. Hoyer, who has been a leader on this, Mr. Van Hollen, Mr. Cardin, to name a few, a couple of the conferees plus our distinguished Whip, who has been a champion for our federal employees. They do great work for our country.
We all have to make sacrifices in this. They should not carry an undue burden, especially when we have an alternative, which is called our war savings, to cover this.
Q: Do you think that the conference committee process, particularly the part of the payroll tax not being paid for, represents a shift in Speaker Boehner's leadership style, and what is your observation about his leadership style?
Leader Pelosi. I will leave that to you, to ask him about his style and this change. I'm just glad for the American people that the drumbeat that President Obama created across the country--remember, public sentiment is everything, and the public overwhelmingly supported a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans. The public overwhelmingly supported that we have unemployment insurance and the rest of the package.
But the payroll tax issue, confine it to that, the payroll tax cut unpaid for, I think, responds to the argument that we have been making. Why are we paying for this when we don't pay for tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country? I just think this was something that happened because the public was fully aware, and I salute the President for his leadership and commend my colleagues who are echoing his voice on this subject. And I think that's what made the difference.
Q: Madam Leader, a number of Catholic institutions are self-insured, and they say the whole notion that the insurer should pay for these services that they object to doesn't help them at all. For example, the Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., is a self-insured institution. Should the Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. be required to pay for these morning after pills and birth control if they find that morally objectionable?
Leader Pelosi. You are talking about birth control; you are talking about women's health. I firmly believe, I want to remove all doubt in anyone's mind on where I am on this subject. This is an issue about women's health, and I believe that women's health should be covered in all of the insurance plans that are there.
Right now, as we gather here, in another part of the Capitol there is a hearing. Five men are testifying on women's health. My colleague, Carolyn Maloney of New York, who is on the committee, looked down at this panel from which a woman, who was the Democratic witness, was excluded and said: "where are the women?" And that's a good question for the whole debate. Where are the women? Where are the women on that panel?
Imagine having a panel on women's health, and they do not have any women on the panel. Duh! What is it that men don't understand about women's health? And how central the issue of family planning is to that? Not just if you're having families, but if you need various kinds of prescription drugs for your general health, which was the testimony they would have heard this morning if they had allowed a woman on the panel.
I think the fact that they did not allow a woman on the panel is symbolic of the whole debate, as to who is making these decisions about women's health, and who should be covered. And I remind you, I think it's  states have this requirement already. So this is nothing really new. More than half of the states already have it.
So this is probably a pretty good debate to have. Just think. Suppose you were, suppose you were a Christian Scientist, and you had an institution, and you said, if people work here for us, who are not Christian Scientists, or even if they are, they cannot avail themselves of any medical treatments because that's what we believe. Would that work for you? I mean, it's just, it's so, shall we say, disrespectful of the contribution that, in this case, women make to the workforce. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women, I am told by all of you, [have used] birth control to determine the size and the timing of their families.
So again, it is a women's health issue. Yes, I think that all institutions should cover and give health insurance, should cover the full range of health insurance issues for women. And I think it's really curiouser and curiouser, that as we get further into this debate, the Republican leadership of this Congress thinks it's appropriate to have a hearing on a subject of women's health and purposefully exclude women from the panel.
What else do you need to know about the subject? If you need to know more, tune in. I may, I may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.
Thank you all very much.