Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi received the inaugural "Champion for Change" award and delivered remarks at the Campus Progress National Conference sponsored by the Center for American Progress. In her remarks, Leader Pelosi highlighted the role of young Americans in fostering progressive change, discussed the issues facing young Americans in health care and in securing an affordable college education, and issued a DARE to young Americans to lead the way against voter suppression efforts. Below are the Leader's remarks:
[Member of the crowd shouts "we love you.']
"I love you too!
"I'm absolutely delighted to be here. I have been so looking forward to this occasion and so much appreciate the invitation to be here. Neera's words were so appreciated by me, so generous in her recognition of the work that we did in Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act among other things. This, in case you don't know it, is the "Champion for Change Award,' of which I am the first to receive it but many others will follow and I'm sure many of them are in this room. I want to thank Anne Johnson for her leadership and also for this wonderful award and again to Neera, thank you and Campus Progress for the change that you are making and will make and to John Podesta, what can I say? Years ago when somebody said to me: "do you know John Podesta, what do you have to say about him?' I said: "he is the gold-standard when it comes to policy, when it comes to politics, when it comes to people, he has it all in perspective.' And another great thing he did in addition to his own considerable accomplishments was to recognize that Neera Tanden would be a worthy successor to him in the leadership of the Center for American Progress. Thank you John Podesta for your leadership. Let's hear it for John Podesta.
"I love the theme: "Young People Working for Progressive Change' and since it was called to my attention as I was being introduced that I was especially being recognized for the Affordable Care Act and the role that I played in that. May I thank all of you for the role that you played in that. It was one of those things where it took everything and everyone who was involved to get it accomplished. So, I accept the generous compliments about my role, but I accept them on behalf of my colleagues in the Congress who have the courage to go out and fight for progressive change in the form of the Affordable Care Act. I start with that because it was the center piece of the period of time when we were in the majority and the President, Barack Obama, was in the White House. Now remember, he came into office and the first bill that signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Act to end discrimination for women in the workplace. Lilly Ledbetter. And one of the last bills he signed in that congressional term was repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, ending discrimination in the military. In the workplace for women and the military. And in between, many other expansions of freedom because after all that's what those two bills were about, ending discrimination. And central to all of it, of course, we had our hate crimes legislation, fully inclusive -- the list goes on and on.
"But central to it all was the Affordable Care Act which we think is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A healthier life, the liberty to pursue your happiness without being job-locked into a job just because it had benefits, where instead you could be creative and paint, and play music, or be a photographer, you could write, you could start your own business, you could be self-employed, you could change jobs, you would never -- you nor our economy would never be stifled again because creativity and career choices would be dominated by health care benefits or lack thereof. And when you graduated from college, you can remain on your parents policy and that's important for young people, now isn't, when they come forth to make their choices based on their aspirations, their talent, their passion, their skill, not on whether their job had health benefits.
"And I just came from the White House and heard the President speak about HIV/AIDS as one of the events of the International AIDS Conference. I bring that up because one of the very important parts of the Affordable Care Act -- is very important to people with HIV/AIDS. No longer will being HIV-positive be a pre-existing medical condition. That is the way it is now for children, but for others, no longer will there be lifetime limits on the care that you receive. It makes a tremendous difference. The list goes on, but very important progress for people with HIV and AIDS in the Affordable Care Act. Amongst so many other things with which I'm sure you're very familiar. Instead of going through them again -- well, no longer will being a woman be a pre-existing medical condition.
"But as I accept this award and I acknowledge that this took everything, I tell you that listening to the introduction and the kind words that Neera had, I was thinking to when we were passing the bill -- and some of you have heard me say this before, in fact it was at one of your anniversary parties when I came to thank the Center for American Progress. The press said to me: "how do you think you're going to pass this bill? How do you think you're going to pass this bill? People don't think you're going to be able to pass this bill.' I said: "well, you seem to be confident.' I said: "well, we're going to go up to the gate and we're going to push open the gate and 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, and if that doesn't work we're going to parachute in. But nothing is going to stand in the way of our passing health care as a right, not a privilege in America.' So, I tell you that story because afterward the press said: "which of those did you do?' And I said: "actually, we pushed open the gate.' And we were able to do that because we're 220 strong -- and thank many of you for helping us get that courageous number of Democrats in the Congress to push open that gate.
"But we were not along, you were there with us with your mobilization, your ideas, with your encouragement, with your sense of urgency, with your helping to spread the message on it. You were right there with us pushing open that gate. So, I'm here to thank all of you for what you did to pass the Affordable Care Act because it simply would not have happened without you. The day after the vote the President called and said: "you know, last night when we passed the Affordable Care Act on the floor of the House I was happier than I was the night I was elected President of the United States.' I said: "well Mr. President, I was pretty happy last night too, but I wasn't happier than the night you were elected President of the United States because if you weren't elected President of the United States, without your inspiration, your ideas, your leadership, your signature, we would not have been able to pass the bill.' We simply could not have done it without him. That's for sure, but we couldn't have done it without you as well. So, I hope you take some level of satisfaction in the role that you played. I'm here to thank you for that as I accept this award from you on that same score. Thank you, thank you so much. Thank you Campus Progress.
"Okay, so, the news of the day, I'm sure Senator Durbin talked to you about what was happening in terms of the tax cut legislation that the Senate passed yesterday and it was a tremendous, tremendous victory. I know he talked to you about the DREAM Act, he worked so hard on that, we were so proud that we were able to pass it in the House of Representatives and even though he had more than 50 votes in the Senate, in the Senate that doesn't seem to be enough. That's his dream, to pass the DREAM Act. We all salute him for his leadership there but I'm very, very proud of my courageous House Democrats for passing the DREAM Act -- so appropriately named for what it does for young people in our country for sure, but also what it does to strengthen America. Thank all of you who helped to work on that as well.
"I just referenced that they passed the bill -- yesterday the Senate, as you know, passed a bill that said that there would be an extension of tax cuts for people making up to $250,000 a year. The Republicans are rejecting that -- without getting too political, but just talking about the policy here, if they would just pass this bill -- they're the only obstacle standing in the way of tax cuts for the middle class. The only obstacle. We could have this on the President's desk in a matter of days. It could be the law of the land and give a sense of certainty, not only to America's middle income families, but to our economy and the jobs it will generate. And also to the certainty that we need as we approach a sequestration and debt limits and all the rest of that. But they simply refuse to do it. But we are not prepared to take no for an answer so we're still fighting that fight. And that's really important because it's about balance in our approach, it's about fairness which is an American value for the middle class and by the way it'll cost us $800 billion to give a tax cut to the wealthiest people in our country. Which will increase the deficit and the middle income people will have to pay more. If you make over a million dollars a year you get a $160,000 tax cut on average, some may get more. If you're a middle income family you pay an average, in some cases, of $1,000 more. One hundred and sixty thousand dollar tax break -- you pay more if you're middle class. What could they possibly be thinking? It's really just not fair and we're very proud of the President's leadership on all of this.
"I bring that up because I think it's very important to see the relationship between policy and politics. Walter Reuther, a great labor leader, and I know you heard from one earlier today, Richard Trumka, Walter Reuther said: "the ballot box and the bread box are connected.' Benefits and progress we make at the negotiating table can be taken away in the legislative bodies and the reason we have to go through all of this is because of the roll of money in campaigns. So I'm here to talk to you about a dare that I have put forth. In fact I'm getting so steamed up about it that it might be a double dare. And this DARE goes like this: D, disclose. I have to say: "I'm Nancy Pelosi and I approved this ad.' But other people can dump millions of dollars into the campaign system without even identifying who they are. Special interest, secret, huge amounts of money. Disclose. A, DARE you see, amend the Constitution to overturn Citizen's United. Amend it. We can do that. It will require an outside mobilization which you are clearly prepared to engage in and many of you already are. Three, reform the system. I'm talking about citizen funding of elections, low dollar contributions being the basis for funding of our elections. Public financing if you will. D, A, R, E -- elect reformers of any party who are willing to reduce the role of money in campaigns. If we -- I promise you this. If we reduce the role of money in campaigns, and increase the level of civility in our politics, we will elect more women, more young people, and more minorities to public office I promise you.
"So, we have a situation where this big money is suffocating the system. Just suffocating the system -- taking over the airwaves, just blocking out any other airtime. Suppressing the vote and thank you for your work against the voter suppression initiatives in our country. Suffocate the airwaves, suppress the vote, and poison the debate -- just talk about, misrepresent the facts, poison the debate. So what does the average person say? A pox on both your houses, I don't understand any of this. And that is a victory for the special interests. The lower the turn-out, the better they do. So, that's what my DARE is to the American people, to those who are engaged in the political arena, to anyone who cares about that. We have to take back our system for the American people. We have to honor the vows of our founders. Which was to risk their lives, their fortune, their sacred honor, and the rest in order to create a democracy -- voice and the vote of the many determining the outcome of elections, not the checkbooks of the very, very few. Had they had that in mind, they would of established a plutocracy -- a government of the wealthy. Or a oligarchy -- government of the few, almost the same thing. But they didn't. And our democracy is a shining beacon to the world when it was established and continues to be. But we have to keep faith with it. An important way to do that is to take the DARE to disclose, to amend, to reform and to elect those who will do so. So that when we have decisions on the floor of the House like the DREAM Act, or life fair tax policy, or Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the rest, it will reflect the thinking of the American people, more than the check writing of the very, very few people.
"I don't understand -- I don't understand why so many of them, with all this money and their representatives in Congress think it's a good idea for there to be no government role -- my time is up, so I'm going to go faster now. Here's the thing, people say: "why can't you all find your common ground?' Have you ever heard anybody say that? Have you heard anybody say this is the most important election of our time? We say it and now it just gets truer and truer because it gets more urgent since our whole democracy is at stake. But what is also at stake are our values. So you have a situation where, it used to be, where we would have a spectrum and we would go back and forth on our ideas, hoping to influence the outcome, to find our common ground to get results for the American people. But the folks who are there now, they have broken that spectrum by saying: "we're going down two different paths.' So it's impossible to find common ground if you're going down two different paths. And their path is the path of obstruction. They obstruct what President Obama wants to do. Not because they have a better idea that they want to substitute for what he is proposing -- like the American Jobs Act, which would have put so many more people back to work. But because they do not believe in a government role. And their obstruction is their agenda. Get nothing done. And that's why, almost every day on the floor of the House, including today, you will have amendments that will say that there should be no government role in clean air, clean water, food safety, public safety, public education, public housing, public transportation, public health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. No public role. And if you have no public role, the public-private partnerships, and the rest, do not exist. You cannot find common ground.
"When I first ran -- I'm celebrating my 25th anniversary in Congress this year -- we used to ask the volunteers "why are you here? Why did you come to volunteer?' One young woman said to us: "I'm concerned about the air I breathe and the water I drink and I know that government has a role in this. So, I guess I'll always be interested in politics and government as long as I breathe air and drink water.' And it was actually very wise statement from this young woman, but the fact is: today we have amendments on the floor to overturn safe drinking water regulations that are in effect. In the interest of cutting red tape they're cutting off your supply of safe water. So it's a lot, there is a lot at stake and I just came here to thank all of you as was mentioned, as Neera said, you are our hope, you're the future, you've decided you're going to take responsibility for it by your participation in Campus Progress and you're an inspiration to all of us. It really is so gratifying to see so many of you informed, in touch, enthusiastic about the issues because important issues are made every day that affect your life, your future, and I'm so glad that you're here to take responsibility for much of that. And to go home and carry that enthusiasm with you. And I know you brought a great deal of enthusiasm from home as well.
"So, to Neera, to John Podesta, to all of you, I thank you for this wonderful opportunity to be with you. I thank Anne Johnson for this wonderful award which I will display with great pride in my office in the Capitol -- whatever office that might be -- as a reminder, not that I need one, but as a constant inspiration about you. Eleanor Roosevelt said: "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.' I think you do. Congratulations to all of you and thank you so much."