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. We have some very special guests today. Thank you for joining us.
Right now we are in the midst of a discussion about the future of our country, and that relates to how we make college education, higher education, available to as many Americans as who are eligible, who want to go to college, and to make it affordable and accessible to them. Democrats have always stood for putting something forward that, again, makes it accessible and affordable to American families. It is in the great tradition of our country. The G.I. Bill that came out of World War II changed America, strengthened the middle class and therefore our democracy, enabled families to have an education, to buy a home, and to make the future better for the next generation. We have the situation where for a long time our Republican colleagues had resisted reducing the interest [rate] on student loans, to keep the rate low. Three point four percent was something we enacted, in a bipartisan way actually, with President Bush in 2007. That comes due in July. It would be raised from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. That makes a big difference to America's families, to our students and their families.
In our budget that we have put forth, we stop that increase. The Republican budget does not. As recently as last week, 100 percent of the Republicans voted for that increase in the Ryan budget. And they were saying that they are sort of growing tired of this whole issue of the interest on student loans and thought that was that. Thankfully, our President went out and made the pitch to the American people with such clarity that the Republicans are now changing their mind and coming back and saying: "okay, we won't have it go from 3.4 to 6.8 [percent], but in order to pay for it, we are going to make an assault on women's health. Make another assault on women's health, continue our assault on women's health, and pay for this with prevention initiatives that are in effect right now for childhood immunization, for screening for breast cancer, for cervical cancer, and for initiatives to reduce birth defects" -- a large part of what the Centers for Disease Control does in terms of prevention.
We will not support a bill that robs Peter to pay Paul, which ostensibly supports a middle class initiative while making those very same people pay for it. I don't know what it is that the Republicans have against the idea that there is a positive role that we can do in a public private way to make America healthier, that a woman's health is central to the health of her family. They consider it a slush fund to pay for women's health. We consider it an absolute necessity. And that is the difference here. So we will be whipping against the student loan bill as it is proposed by the Republicans in the House.
At the same time, millions of women are watching to see what we are going to do about the Violence Against Women Act. As you saw a few weeks ago, we stood here with our colleague, Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, the lead author of the Violence Against Women Act in the House of Representatives. Nineteen years ago, under the leadership of our Vice President, Joe Biden, then Senator Joe Biden, a broad bipartisan coalition of women Members and all Members in the House and Senate, this legislation took the issue of violence against women and children out of the shadows and shone a bright light on it. Now, we must ask to authorize and strengthen it. Hopefully this week our colleagues in the Senate will have the opportunity to vote on the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act. The House must do the same. We support the Gwen Moore bill in the House, which is almost a mirror image of the Senate bill.
What else did I want to tell you today? That is about it. Why don't I hear what you want to hear about?
Q: Leader Pelosi, the CBS affiliate in Seattle has a new report out today finding that Secret Service agents actually solicited prostitutes a year ago in El Salvador. They spoke to a government subcontractor down there. They spoke to a strip club owner down there. The report is very credible. The Secret Service insists that what happened in Cartagena was a one time thing. Do you believe that what happened in Cartagena was a one time thing, or do you think this is just the first time they got caught?
Leader Pelosi. I think what happened in Cartagena was disgusting, and I think that the Secret Service has a responsibility to investigate what happened there. I don't know anything about the Seattle press report on it. But the Secret Service has a great responsibility to protect our President, and that is with some personal risk to them. That a few of them would tarnish and taint the image of the Secret Service in this way, or in any way, but in this way, is particularly disgusting. And that is what I have to say about that.
Q: To follow up on that, if this report proves to be true and there is actually a culture where this is accepted in the Secret Service, do you think that the Director, Mark Sullivan, should have to step down?
Leader Pelosi. First of all, I don't even know what the report is. I accept your characterization of it. Secondly, I have great respect for Mark Sullivan as the Director of the Secret Service. He is a patriotic American committed to the protection of our President and those in the executive branch. And his reputation is such that it is hard to connect him with any culture of this kind. But, nonetheless, an investigation has to take place because, first of all, whatever the agency of government this might be taking place in, it is disgusting. The fact that it casts some doubt on, shall we say, the full attention that people are supposed to be paying to the protection of our President, makes it even more worrisome.
I don't have anything more to say on that subject.
Q: Madam Leader, given that we are facing another trillion dollar deficit this year and that the parties both agree on the majority of the Bush tax cuts being extended, how much of this battle over student loans, the $6 billion pay for, is just simply political posturing, just basically is trying to run up some ink?
Leader Pelosi. I think this is as central to our debate as anything. This is about the education of our children, the competitiveness of America, to give people the opportunity to reach their personal aspirations for sure, but essential to our success in the global economy, that our young people be educated and that the next generation have more opportunity than the last. That is called the American dream. It is something that Democrats are committed to, reigniting the American dream. It is part of the ladder of opportunity, education, a rung of the ladder of opportunity. So, I don't see it as any posturing. Six billion dollars is $6 billion. We say: "okay, we are going to pay for it, and we can pay for it by going to subsidies for Big Oil and gas." And what we see here is, what are the priorities of the parties in Washington, D.C.? We say: "Big Oil and gas gets subsidies to have incentives to drill so that they can make probably $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Certainly we could spare some of that money for reducing the student loan interest. The Republicans say: "no, leave the subsidies for big oil intact, and let's take it out of our old favorite target, women's health." And that is just wrong.
But it is what we come here to do, to debate priorities. Their priority is to protect the subsidies for Big Oil. Our priority is to prevent breast cancer, cervical cancer, to immunize our children so that they are healthy. And if they think that it is a good economic measure, fiscal measure, to stop immunization because it is largely for poor children, that is really very harmful to the health of all of our children. It is important to all of us that poor children get immunized, that everybody has to get immunized.
Q: But you acknowledge there is little fiscal impact from whether you guys pay for this or don't?
Leader Pelosi. Well, this is a one-year. And next year will be another year. So, over time, I think that it is a very legitimate debate as to where this money is going to be coming from. But you can say that about almost anything. A few billion dollars here, a few billion dollars there, what difference does it make? Well, it adds up to a big national debt.
And I want to say this. And I thank you for asking the question. Nothing -- I am going to make an absolute statement -- nothing that we can do, in the tax code, or any other place, brings more money to the Federal Treasury than the education of our children. Early childhood, K through 12, higher education, postgraduate, lifetime learning -- nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investment in education. It is the most important decision a family and a nation can make.
I think we only have time for one more because the room is needed.
Q: Madam Leader, the Speaker said that there is bipartisan support for his pay for. He is citing the support for the middle class tax retention, and the payroll tax cut, and unemployment insurance. Are you confident, as you whip your Caucus, that you are going to be hold[ing] it together and see a lot of Democrats vote for it?
Leader Pelosi. Oh, there is a unity in our caucus that people making over $1 million a year should not have a tax cut extended. And that is with absolute clarity. Certainly we support the tax cuts for the middle class, but not for the high end. And what we all support in our Caucus is fairness. But that is a place that the bipartisanship seems to end, because the Republican majority seems to think it is okay to give, in their budget, tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country while making seniors pay more for Medicare. Seniors will pay $6,400 more under the Ryan Republican Tea Party budget, $6,400 more, while tax cuts will continue to go to people making over $1 million a year -- big tax cuts going there, maybe as much as $400,000.
So, yeah, we agree that middle income tax cuts are important. Where we disagree is on the issue of fairness.
Q: Well, part of that was paid for in what Speaker Boehner is calling the slush fund and
Leader Pelosi. No, well, he is calling it a slush fund. It may be a slush fund to him, but it is survival to women. It is survival to women. And that just goes to show you what a luxury he thinks it is to have good health for women. We do not agree.
Q: Will House Democrats support [the] Republican Violence Against Women reauthorization even though it lacks the expanded provisions in the Senate bill?
Leader Pelosi. We are hoping that we can get the bill that will -- we will see what the Senate passes today. And I think if there is bipartisan support for the Senate version, that speaks to why shouldn't we -- why would we want to support a bill that says: "we don't have violence against women, except [against] certain women it is okay?" No. We want our bill to look very much like the Senate bill.
[Points to two reporters]
One, two. And then I think we have to -- the Speaker is going to be in next, and we have to make the room available.
Q: This week there was an instance of mad cow disease found in your home state. Do you think it is desirable or necessary to test all cattle, as they do in Japan?
Leader Pelosi. You know what? I really don't know. I think that -- we have had some initial conversations about the extent of this. I think it is pretty contained. But, again, I haven't had a full briefing on it. And I will give you some thoughts on it when I get a better briefing as to what it is. But so far, the report I have had from my state of California is that it is pretty contained. So we will see.
But, again, you take us to a place where there is a government role that is appropriate. And one of the things that people say: "how come you all can't come to agreement on things?" Well, because we have a difference of opinion about what the public role is in clean air, clean water, food safety, public safety, public transportation, public education, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. You have heard me say that before. And if there is no public role or enforcement of regulations in that regard, it is very hard to come to common ground to say: "you want none, we can't agree with that." But that is what they call common ground.
So, we will take a look at the particulars there, but I don't really know enough about anything beyond the statement I made to you.
Q: On cybersecurity, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Mr. Ruppersberger, said that the privacy changes that the White House wants are a nonstarter with the Internet companies to fight off cyber-attacks. I am just wondering what you think of the bill, whether you are going to vote for it, or [if] you share the White House's concern?
Leader Pelosi. Well, again, with all due respect to each of you, when you make a contention that somebody said whatever, I would have to see what his statement was on the subject. But I do know this, because I spent many years on the Intelligence Committee: the threat of a cyber-attack is a real one to our country. The response to it has to balance security and freedom. The bill that is before us, obviously, has -- there are some concerns among our Members, and certainly with the White House, about some of the privacy provisions, issues that also relate to liability, immunity for some of these big companies. But we do have to have a bill, and we have to recognize the public private partnership in it. Any real attempt to deal with cybersecurity, though, must also address this critical infrastructure aspect of this, and that is the utilities and the rest.
That is not the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Committee. It is the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security Committee. In their deliberations, in their subcommittee, they put forth a bill that did address the critical infrastructure in [the]subcommittee in a bipartisan way. When it went up to full committee, the Republican leadership stripped the critical infrastructure provisions out of the bill. Very dangerous. You might want to ask them why. You may want to ask them why, knowing how important the critical infrastructure provisions were, knowing that they had bipartisan support, and having the Republicans vote against their own amendment, their own amendment, because they got orders from headquarters that they did not want the regulation of the utilities that would be necessary to truly protect us from a cyber-attack.
So, the White House has expressed some concerns. We are reviewing those and looking at the impact of the amendments that have been made in order. I am not satisfied that they approved enough of them.
I do salute the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Rogers, and the Ranking Member, Mr. Ruppersberger, the Republican and Democratic leadership of the committee, for trying to work together to put together a bill that could gain bipartisan support. Clearly, it does not go far enough. I wish that the Rules Committee would have allowed, which it can, an amendment on the critical infrastructure. That would have made a big difference. But they chose not to, in keeping with the Republican leadership stripping of the critical infrastructure out of the bill. That really is harmful to our national security.
Q: Are you going to vote against the bill?
Leader Pelosi. I am looking at the -- I am going to talk to Mr. Ruppersberger again. He gave me his take on the amendments this morning. I want to see what they are and listen to both sides. It is very difficult.
But I do salute him for doing his best to try to get the best possible bill with the privacy protections that are so important to our country while we honor our responsibility to protect and defend.
Thank you very much.