Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks today at a summit hosted by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Below are the Leader's remarks:
"Thank you Judy [Lichtman]. Thank you for your very, very kind words and this award, which means a great deal to me. Receiving it from you makes it even more special. For generations, now decades, Judy has been working to make our nation better for women and families. When I was sworn in as Speaker of the House, I was surrounded by children for a very important reason because when people would say to me, from the time I came to Congress, what are the three most important issues facing the Congress? And I always said the same thing: "our children, our children, our children.' Their health, their education, the economic security of their families, the retirement security of their grandparents, the healthy, safe neighborhoods in which they can thrive, and world peace in which they can reach their fulfillment. And it's hard to think of anyone who has done more for our children than Judy Lichtman, and thank you, to you, at this national summit. May I pay tribute to you for your extraordinary leadership? Judy, thank you so much.
"Being here with Letty [Leticia Mederos], I mean, the thread that runs through so much of what we do -- I know that you heard from Rosa last night, now she is our firebrand, she is our leader, intellectual leader and political leader on the subject, but Letty worked for Rosa, as you know, before, and was part of putting so much of the legislation that I was able to bring to the floor in the majority, but Rosa worked for Chris Dodd who was largely instrumental in passing the family medical leave legislation, so there is a thread that runs through this long continuation and dedication to families, the strength of families in our country, and it's no surprise that we see so many of you who've worked on these issues over time, some new friends who are here to help us take the ball further down the floor for our families, so thank you Letty, for your leadership as well.
"Again, the Lilly Ledbetter [Fair Pay Act] being the first bill that the President signed, that was important. We sent him SCHIP, we sent him Lilly Ledbetter, we sent him an array of family legislation, including one week and one day after his speech on the steps, his inaugural address asking for swift bold action now to create jobs, which is the ultimate family issue, the economic security of America's families and the importance that has for our children.
"I am particularly happy to be here on your day of action to thank you all for being here, for your leadership, I know that all of you have constituencies back home, that further intensifies the voice that you bring to Capitol Hill when you go for your day of action and I thank you. The paid family leave issue is really the central issue to the values system in our country, a sense of community that is really, not to be political here, but something that isn't a dividing, it shouldn't be, it shouldn't be, let's just say, the education of our children, the health of our families, job creation for our workers, retirement security for our seniors, clean, safe neighborhoods for our kids, done in a fiscally sound way, is there anything political about that? Partisan, political, it seems like every American would agree that the public role in all of this should be in the best possible and most effective role.
"One of the problems that we have, and I want to talk really, very basically to you about the challenges we face on these issues. First, let's put it in historical perspective. Over 90 years ago, women finally got the right to vote. Imagine the courage of the suffragettes who went before, almost 90 years before them, the courage of them going out there when women weren't even allowed to go out without an escort, going across the country and speaking about equality in terms of the ballot box for women. Really it was a very important mission, so over 90 years ago, during World War II, women were in the workforce helping the war effort by leaving home and going to the factories and helping with the war effort, so women in the work place in a major and significant way. Then, after World War II, the higher education of women, higher than [what] they had, whether that meant graduating from high school or higher education into the graduate, into the professions, women in the professions. But the missing link along the way of these issues that we are here to talk about, no child care, no affordable quality child care legislation, it was there, President Nixon vetoed it, it was thought he would sign it and the conservatives, Pat Buchanan and others weighed in and he vetoed that bill. That was a long time ago, it was long overdue then, but it is that missing link on all that progression of women in the workplace, women taking their full roll.
"So, if we're going to unleash the power of women, and if we want to have growth in our economy, that's what we have to do. The empowerment of women is the answer to many challenges we have -- economic growth, unleash the power of women. National security, unleash the power of women in the military in a fuller way. The education of our children, the active growth of corporate America, the health care, you name it. Unleashing the intellectual and imagination of women in all of this is really important for our country to continue to be number one, but I think if you, and I speak to many women's groups across the country, thousands of women coming together at the Fortune 500, the this, the that, the that, and if you had a breakaway group in any one of those meetings, no matter what level of economic success women are in, what kind of jobs they have, whether it's entry level, or 17 of Fortune 500 companies, so you can't say to the top levels in our country because we haven't gotten full representation, but if you had a breakaway group, the group that said balancing family and work would be inundated with people because it is the challenge, not only to women and to families, but to the success of our country. So, when you're going out there, and you're spreading your power going on the Hill, you're talking about families and a sense of community and what we believe in, in what Rosa [DeLauro] has fought for, she is, again, our field marshall, our fighter, our intellectual, she just thinks about it, powerhouse, and a powder keg sometimes. But it's about something even bigger than that, it's about our country's success. Why should we compete with countries where women have -- one time I had, a couple doors away from me in San Francisco, a Norwegian Consulate, and they had a big conference here, international conference, and so I went by to pay my respects and one of the Europeans said: "how come the American government doesn't care about its children?' I said: "of course we care about our children, but our policies do not, have not necessarily reflected that.' If we were smart, as we know that Rosa is, we know what we need to do. It's just a decision. And not to get political, but you cannot separate the policy from the politics, and if in fact there isn't a political attitude in our country that there should be no public role in clean air, clean water, food safety, public safety, public education, public housing, public transportation, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, that there should be no public role, it's very hard to convince people that we should have legislation that provides paid medical leave, and the paid sick days, again, paid family leave.
"So, it's a bigger fight than that. That's why we have to change the political arena. We've been fighting on somebody else's turf for a very long time. We have to make our own atmosphere, create our own environment. And I will tell you this: an environment that exists today, with endless money suffocating the system, the suppression of the vote, and poisoning of the debate is not a healthy place for women to run for office. If you reduce the power of money and increase the level of civility, you will elect more women to public office.
"Walter Reuther said: "the ballot box and the bread box are connected.' And indeed they are. These, again, are not partisan political issues and there was much more consensus about them before then there is in our Congress right now. In order to put Lilly Ledbetter on the President's desk, we had to win and he had to win. We want to elect people, whatever their party, who support a children's agenda, a family agenda. Support for families, support for children, it's important for America.
"And as a Californian, I want to take some pride in the fact -- are there many Californians here today? You came a long way! We take pride in having passed the nation's first comprehensive paid family leave program. The program has been enormously successful, the average length of leave taken by new mothers has doubled and we know that helps with everything from mother and child bonding, to nursing, to arranging childcare. The vast majority of employers report that the LEAP Program has had a positive effect, or no noticeable effect, but nothing negative on productivity, profitability and performance. That provides a nationwide model, while Rosa has been our intellectual leader, our passionate intellectual leader, she's so passionate about the issues, you notice it, but she's so dispassionate and clear in her thinking about the approach to take. So she has the great intellect and a great commitment and she took that as a -- to build on our success with the national paid family leave insurance legislation, the Family Act. Particularly, in San Francisco, I'm proud to say we've gone another [step] with paid sick days standard. We're seeing progress nationwide and last year the entire state of Connecticut, Rosa's home state, joined our ranks, but we need to do more.
"Forty percent of private sector workers still don't have a single day of paid leave, paid sick day. What are they thinking? But I say this, again, paid family leave is one way to help Americans to meet the dual demands of work and family. We know, again, we have to solve this child care challenge. We really do. Why don't we have that? First of all, as I said, some very wealthy man and his wife came to see me about some project they were involved in and they are, I told you their names, I think they're Republicans, we didn't talk politics or anything. They left right after. But anyway, they said that their daughter, who is a high level corporate woman, [her] child went away to college this year and it was the first day she didn't feel guilty going to work. Now, at that level of income and opportunity for quality child care, but it is a challenge across the board. Of course, our concern is about women who really, really, really need this help. It is a prime need in our country and we have to do something about it. So, I would hope that you put your movement together for these issues about paid sick days and family medical leave. I mean, when President Clinton became President this bill had been -- you know Judy, because you worked on it so hard and Judy was just relentless in her leadership on this, and when President Clinton became President that was one of the early bills that he signed. But people had been, Pat Schroeder and others, had been working on it for a very long time. When President Obama became President we were able to put Lilly Ledbetter right on his desk. The disappointment was that we couldn't put the pay equity bill, Rosa's legislation for pay equity, while Lilly Ledbetter took us to a better place, it still wasn't where we need to be. So, this -- I mean the empowerment of women, again, for meeting the needs of family, for helping the success of our country, is what this is all about. So this movement is a very patriotic one in addition to being a very family oriented one. And I see those as completely one initiative. They have an integrity, a oneness about them.
"So, again though, we can't do it unless we -- how does a woman do in a poisonous debate? He's strong. She's strident. You've got to take it to a different place where the playing field is more level. We know we have to be better and all the rest of that. We also know we have to elect more women to public office. We really do. Not that we don't admire the work of many of our, the Chris Dodds, well hundreds of them, but the fact is, it's not that women are better than men, it's just -- you have to have the mix. When I was running for Speaker they were like "who said that she could run?' That's the point. "Who said she could run?' Or, "why don't you just make a list of all the things you want done and we'll make sure they get done?'
"So, we would never have had the first woman Speaker unless we had many more women in Congress too. And this is really important, I mean, people see women in these positions, they know that many more opportunities are open to them. So people want to be entrepreneurial, risk-takers. You talked about the Family and Medical Leave [Act], excuse me, the health care bill, wasn't that exciting? I really have to say that I never had any doubts that we would pass the bill in the first place, that the court would uphold it. My money was on the Chief [Justice John Roberts] because I read his statements, his writings, and all the rest, and there's no way that he could turn from his idea of what the purpose of the court was to reject this law. So, again, when those first reports came out I said that can't be true, well that first 30 seconds, whatever that was.
"But let me talk about the health care bill for a moment because last week we celebrated the 4th of July and this health care bill is about what our founders envisioned: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine those founders who came together to form a country based on the principle of equality, writing the Constitution, thank God it was amendable, but the Declaration of Independence and all the rest of this and talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as something that was important to our country. And so this bill is about life, a healthier life. Liberty, the freedom to pursue your happiness, and that means to follow your talent, your aspirations, your passion to do what you want -- not based on whether you're job locked because you have a pre-existing condition in your family, or the fear of one phone call of a diagnosis, or an accident that can completely pauperize your family. You can do what you want based on other considerations, but not constrained by -- now think of an economy, think of a society where that mobility, and that vitality, and that choice is available to people. So that's what that bill is about, it honors the vision of our founders. It's also about the future looking forward, about innovation, about wellness, about prevention, it's about -- it's such a fabulous thing and already tens of millions of people are enjoying it.
"Unfortunately, when $200 million are spent mischaracterizing a bill it is a long road back to un-taint it of the false representations that were out there. And I won't go in to what they are. Instead, I'll thank you for the role that you all played. When you say, give me some credit for my role in the passage of it I accept that duty on behalf of all of my Members of the House Democratic Caucus and Congressional Democrats in general. Because there was a time when people didn't think it would pass and many of you have heard me say that the press would come to me and they'd say: "how on earth, why do you think you're going to pass this? You just lost in Massachusetts.' I said: "this is our historic opportunity, this is our opportunity to stand with those who've passed the pillar of economic security for our seniors, Social Security. Our opportunity to stand with those who passed Medicare and Medicaid for medical security for our seniors and those with disabilities etcetera, and our working poor families. And now we have a chance to have health care as a right for all, not just a privilege for the few in our country, and all that that entails. So, we are not going to pass up this opportunity. The urgency is there, the legislation is visionary and we're going to pass it.' "And how are you going to do it?' "We're going to go to this fence that might be standing in our way. We're going to push open the gate. If the gate doesn't open, we're going to climb the fence. If the fence is too high, we're going to pole vault in. If that doesn't work, we're going to parachute in, but we're not letting anything stand in the way of health care for all Americans.'
"When it was over, they said: "which one did you do?' Well, we pushed open the gate. We went up there, 220 strong, committed people to push open that gate, but we could never have done it alone. You were all there with us, pushing open that gate with your ideas, with your advocacy, with your outside mobilization on this issue. Judy's leadership here, being a bridge between advocacy here, and mobilization on the outside, and so many of you in your organizations doing that pushed open that gate. So, I hope you take some level of pride in the role that you all played, that your organizations played in achieving that great success for the American people. Again, I never had any doubt that we would pass it. When you're in the majority, you choose the time, and that timing is important, but it is something that, again, I didn't doubt that we would win in the court, but you never know. We were ironclad constitutionally, iron clad. We would be on any bill, because we believe in judicial review. Are the merits of the bill, in terms of it being shaped in a way that was iron clad, but you never know what the court will do, and here we are. So now we have to save it because they want to take these things away. We have a debate on the floor today to take away the provisions that say children should not be discriminated against on the basis of a pre-existing medical condition. That seniors, the closing of the doughnut hole will be reversed, that the wellness check-up, free, no co-pay wellness check-up will go away. The kids on their parent's policies up to 26 years old, roll that back. That being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.
"And finally, again, thank you for the National Summit on Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave, co-sponsored by the National Partnership for Women and Families and family values at work. You are doing such great work. We're all so proud of you, and no good thing, whether it's Lilly Ledbetter, or ACA, the Affordable Care Act or any of it can happen. We can maneuver all that we want in Congress, but without the outside mobilization, it's a much weaker product, so thank you for making so many things possible and know how important your day of action is to children, to families, to women, to America.
"Thank you for your patriotism, thank you for this beautiful award, good luck to you today!"