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Transcript of Pelosi, House Democratic Leaders Remarks at Press Conference

Press Conference

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Location: Washington, DC

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson, Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra, Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, and House Democrats held a press conference calling on House Republicans to cancel recess and get to work on the priorities of the American people. Below is a transcript of the press conference:

Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon. As my colleagues gather round, just to remind that this morning on the floor of the House our distinguished Democratic Whip led us in asking the Republicans why we are not getting the job done? Why they are trying to silence the voice of the Representatives of the people. We are supposed to be in this week, I'm so pleased that so many of our Members have been showing up in Washington to try to get the job done for the American people. I'm sorry that our Republican colleagues refused to do that. We're missing an opportunity to pass middle income tax cuts, the American Jobs Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Farm bill -- the list goes on and on. Why is that? Who knows why but the fact is that it is fact that this is a Do-Nothing Congress to the nth degree -- in session less than any Congress since 1960, or 1961, and today we have tremendous challenges to our economy and the rest and our competiveness. The list goes on and we're not here.

After the morning session we went to a Steering and Policy Committee hearing hosted by our Co-Chairs, Congressman George Miller and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, the Co-Chairs of the Steering and Policy Committee. I wish that all of America could of heard the testimony. We know that the statistics are staggering in terms of the number of people who are affected by Medicare and who would be big losers if the Ryan-Romney-Republican budget and the severance of the Medicare guarantee were to go into effect. We heard from experts as to what that would mean, but we also heard from individuals, from Ben and from Cheryl, who told us their individual stories of what it would mean to them. This is very personal. It's not just about seniors, it's about their families and what we've heard this morning from other personal stories -- very moving -- what we heard about the statistics are that the facts are these: that the choice that the Republicans are advocating is a choice for the insurance companies to choose to cover or not. Seniors would lose their choice of doctors and other providers. Privatizing Medicare means giving profit to the private sector at the expense of our seniors. The list goes on and our colleagues will touch upon some aspects of that.

But I'm very proud at the overflow turnout that we had of our Members at that hearing today. And to send a very clear message: the election is five weeks from today. Medicare is on the ballot. Medicare is in jeopardy. We have a responsibility to protect it.

With that, I'm pleased to yield to our Democratic Whip, Mr. Hoyer.

Mr. Hoyer. Thank you Madam Leader. We met today and as has so often been the case the Speaker, represented the Republican party, walked away. He walked away when we asked for unanimous consent to proceed on some important business, or at least to talk about it. The to-do list of the Congress is a long one. You've all heard us mention that. We've walked away from job creation. The President offered a bill many, many months ago. I've asked Majority Leader Cantor to put it on the floor, they've walked away from creation of jobs. Middle class tax cuts will expire December 31st, we want to see them assured that they will get no tax increase. But our Republican colleagues have walked away as they did this morning. We want to make sure we address the fiscal cliff from sequestration that all of us think will be harmful. But, my Republican colleagues have walked away. We wanted to make sure that violence against women was addressed so that we stop domestic violence in this country. And unfortunately, our Republican colleagues once again walked away. Farmers are experiencing some of the worst drought, they're in trouble and our Republican colleagues walked away with passing a Farm bill. Postal reform is absolutely essential, but unfortunately our Republican colleagues, once again today, walked away.

The Democrats in the Congress of the United States are prepared to be here. Prepared to do the work that the American people sent us here to do. We're not walking away. And we don't believe that the American people are going to walk away on November 6th. They understand that this Do-Nothing Congress is not what they wanted and that's not what they're going to vote for.

And I'm now pleased to yield to my distinguished colleagues, the Assistant Leader from South Carolina, Jim Clyburn.

Assistant Leader Clyburn. Thank you very much Mr. Whip, Madam Leader, my colleagues. The Democrats are here and ready to work. It may be raining in Washington, but throughout rural America we're suffering from record droughts. American needs a good Farm bill to assist these rural communities and to serve the nutrition needs of our low-income citizens. The Senate passed a bipartisan Farm bill, with sound policies for rural America as well as nutrition assistance for the most vulnerable members of our society. But the House Republican leadership walked away and refused to allow that bipartisan bill to come to the floor. The Farm bill expired Sunday, leaving 16 million jobs hanging in the balance. The American people deserve better from this Congress but the Republican leadership is more interested in playing Tea-Party-Politics much more than working on behalf of the American people. My Democratic colleagues and I are here and ready to work on behalf of the American people.

And with that I'd like to yield to my good friend, our Chair, John Larson.

Chairman Larson. Thank you Jim. The Republican's made a great deal, before we left, both the week prior and during, about work requirements. Going back home the only requirement that the people want is that Congress be here working. We're here and prepared to work. Fourteen million people that are out of work demand that Congress be here working so we can put the nation back to work. We just came from a conference that most informative and personal. People back home want to see us here working cause they understand, on a very personal level, what this means, as the Leader says, when Medicare, Social Security, and in fact Obamacare, are all on the ballot and what that means to the American people. We are here to work.

And now the Vice Chair of the Caucus, Xavier Becerra.

Vice Chairman Becerra. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I would like to echo what those who have spoken before me have said by simply reiterating something that we all know. If you believe in America, you invest in America. Not in the Cayman Islands, not in Swiss bank accounts, but here in America. The President made it very clear in his State of the Union address almost a year ago -- it's time to bring jobs back to America. Insource rather than outsource American jobs. And so he put forward a to-do list that included insourcing jobs by giving American companies a tax break if they brought jobs back to this country and paid for that tax break by removing the tax break that companies get when they move jobs outside of America. That legislation languished in this Republican Do-Nothing Congress, as did several other jobs bills this year with this Republican Do-Nothing Congress.

We're here to say we're ready to work today and tomorrow and every day this year, it's not a time to take a break, it's time to work. But unfortunately with this Do-Nothing Republican Congress, it's as conservative commentator P.J. O'Rourke has said in the past: "Republican campaigned saying government doesn't work' and guess what, they got elected and proved it. It's time for a change, let's get to work.

Let me now introduce the Ranking Member of the Budget Committee Chris Van Hollen.

Ranking Member Van Hollen. Thank you Xavier it's to be here with my colleagues. You know, every day the choice that Romney and Ryan make in their budget is becoming more clear to the American people -- another round of tax breaks to the very, very wealthy at the expense of everyone and everything else. Today, we talked about how seniors on Medicare would get hit very hard in order to provide those tax breaks to very wealthy individuals. The middle class gets hit very hard, our investments in education and infrastructure -- things that power our economy -- get [hit] hard. And, I understand why they don't want to talk about the budget math on the campaign trail, it's because the math is pretty simple. If you refuse to ask people like Mitt Romney to contribute one penny more to reducing the deficit, you're going to hit everybody else that much harder. And today we heard from seniors and people who work with seniors every day, that if you transform Medicare into voucher-care, you're simply going to be transferring rising health care costs onto the backs of seniors. And the other thing that became very clear was seniors on Medicare today, right now, will pay more because Romney and Ryan are proposing to reinstate the overpayments, the excessive payments, to private insurance companies within Medicare. So under their plan you're going to take a dollar out of the seniors pocket and transfer it into excessive overpayments to private insurance companies in Medicare. That's what they do under their plan.

So, the word is getting out, as my colleagues have said, the President, he submitted a jobs plan more than a year ago, he has submitted a plan to reduce the deficit in a balanced way. And we're still waiting for our Republican colleagues to come back and get that work done for the American people. It's now my privilege to introduce Rosa DeLauro, one of the Co-Chairs of the Steering and Policy Committee.

Co-Chairwoman DeLauro. Thank you Chris and good afternoon. It was a very compelling session that we had today -- very compelling hearing. The personal stories of two of our witnesses, Dr. Ben Williamowsky and Cheryl -- who spoke about their own particular concerns. And as my colleagues have pointed out this is very, very personal. But what our witnesses did tell us today and what Dr. Stein and Karen Davis talked to us about as well, is what they told us is that, as the Leader pointed out, that Medicare is in jeopardy and that the Romney-Ryan plan would fragment Medicare and there by putting it into, and I quote, these are not my words: "a death spiral." This affects current retirees, as well as future retirees. And Cheryl talked about herself. She's 54 years old, [and] what this would mean to her future. They talked about, today, that what this is about, where Romney and Ryan want to go on Medicare is not about deficit reduction. It is all about tax cuts, but more than any of that, it is about a political philosophy that says let's turn over Medicare to the private sector. That takes us back before 1965 when the issues that were at stake in 1965 -- the inability of seniors to afford health care. The inability of their families to provide for that cost of that health care. That is not the direction that we need to in with Medicare. Medicare does not need to be privatized, not to go before 1965. And we're not going to let it happen.

I'd like to introduce now, my Co-Chair for the Steering and Policy Committee, Congressman George Miller.

Co-Chairman Miller. Thank you very much. I want to thank all of my colleagues for attending this Steering and Policy Committee meeting this morning. The information conveyed by the personal witnesses and by the experts was simply a devastating message to current retirees on the thousands of dollars that they will now have to come up with as they continue to use Medicare in the future -- a program that they paid their entire working life for, to have those benefits, that the Romney-Ryan budget now changes that contract. They will now be called upon to pay thousands of dollars in additional health care costs, prescription drug costs. It's also a very devastating message to people who are, as our witness was, Cheryl, 54 years old. A working couple, 54 years old, thinking about retiring, will now have to contemplate the idea that before they retire and go onto Medicare they're going to have to set aside another $120,000 between them to cover those additional health care costs.

I don't know where middle class families get an additional $120,000 over the next 10 years. We know the struggle they have today with health care, to pay for it. We know the struggle they have with a children's education. We know the struggle they have with their mortgages. And we know how hard they struggle to set aside pension savings, their 401k plans that have been devastated in the downturn of the market. Yes, the market's back to where it was, they just lost four years of earnings in their 401k plan. Now they're told that they have to set aside another $150,000 before they retire. That's the Romney-Ryan plan. That's the message to middle America -- that it's over for you because this is what we have to extract from you in the future, you and your family, to pay for those tax cuts for the wealthiest people in this country. This plan is very, very bad news for middle class working families in this country.

Leader Pelosi. I thank my colleagues for their leadership on these very important issues that relate to the economy and health security of the American people. When we talk about taking Medicare and health care for seniors back to pre-Lyndon Johnson, pre the establishment of Medicare, I told a story at the hearing this morning, perhaps you weren't there. When I was very young my father was very much a part of the John F. Kennedy campaign for President. Senator Kennedy came to Baltimore to talk about his campaign and it was a tv show called "Senator Answers Your Question' -- that simple. And I had the privilege of being one of the people, as a student then, one of the students to answer the phone to relay the questions to Senator Kennedy. It was a giant thrill as you can imagine. Every single question was about health care for our seniors, about some health insurance for our seniors. And not all of the calls came from seniors, it came from their family members. Because this is an issue that just doesn't affect seniors. It affects the economics of stability and security of their families as well.

So, what they want to do is take us to a place where seniors and their families were clamoring, clamoring for what would become Medicare. They want to take us to a place that takes us backward.

I want to call to your attention this flyer that you all have there and it says: "how much more will the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan cost you?" If you're 65 or over, it'll cost you over $11,000 and if you're 54 -- well you can read it yourself, but the fact is this hurts all the way down -- if you're 29 years old, some of you may be, get ready to spend $331,000 on your health care if Medicare is overturned, if the Medicare guarantee is severed. And that's what they want to do -- some of their previous leaders have said wither, "Medicare should wither on the vine.' And that is exactly what this is. This is the wither on the vine agenda, unfortunately they have accelerated, tried to accelerate that withering by misrepresenting to the American people what happened in the Affordable Care Act in relationship to Medicare and that is over $700 billion were taken from a decrease in the increase of what private sector providers would receive in order to plow that into increased benefits for our seniors and prolong the longevity and the stability of Medicare. It has been misrepresented to the public. We have to correct the record. But the fact is that on, come five weeks from today, Medicare will be on the ballot and that being in jeopardy makes this a big fight for us.

Any questions?

No? Okay.

[Laughter]

***

Q: I wanted to ask you about President Obama downplaying his performance in the upcoming debate. How do you think he'll do? And will Mitt Romney get a boost in his candidacy after the debate?

Leader Pelosi. Well, can I hold on that for a second? Does anyone have a question on the most important issue facing the American people? The survival of Medicare. And if you don't think it's important just think of granny moving into the den on one of those adjustable beds when they have to leave the nursing home because of the block granting of Medicaid and the assault on Medicare…

Q: Do you all plan to come back and stage demonstrations? Republicans…

Leader Pelosi. We're here.

Q: …to call once went right back in the chamber after you all left, when they were minority, and held forth on the House Floor when there was no House. Are you planning on…

Leader Pelosi. I remind the gentleman that that only was allowed because the House Democratic leadership had freedom of speech on the Floor of the House. But as Mr. Hoyer, and I will yield to him, will tell you they have shut down the microphones.

Mr. Hoyer may I yield to you?

Whip Hoyer. Well we were there this morning David

Q: I was there… [Inaudible]

Whip Hoyer. And as I said in my…

Q: [Inaudible]

Whip Hoyer. That's all the opportunity we have. You take what you're given when the majority wants to shut down the House, when they want to walk away from the business that the American people want done and they shut down the House then we made our position very clear: we were there, we were ready to work, our Democrats are ready to comeback to do the work of this House and the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, scheduled this week to work and they chose not to be here to do the unfinished business the American people think ought to be done. We're prepared to do it.

Q: So do you plan more?

Leader Pelosi. And our leaders -- we have planned more, what is that your third stint on the Floor, Steny? And for other Members have been there practically every pro-forma day -- every third day. But the fact is, is that this debate is something that is so big and they're so afraid of it. They're afraid of the voices of the American.

Any other questions?

Q: Health care economists say that the measures that are in the Affordable Care Act to produce long-term savings in Medicare won't necessarily be enough to preserve its long-term solvency past say 2024. Are things like higher eligibility, starting people at a higher eligibility rate, age, or higher premiums, or things like that on the table? What discussions are had about the fiscal cliff?

Leader Pelosi. I don't necessarily agree to your, as a stipulation of fact, that this will not do because we have provisions in the bill and I wish you'd been there this morning, you would of heard what they are to reduce costs.

But I'm going to yield to our distinguished Budget [Committee Ranking Member].

Ranking Member Van Hollen. I would just say that the data is already coming in and even in the last year, the rate of increase in Medicare costs has been lower, lower than had been projected. And that's not due only to the slow economy. It's due to the fact that we're getting a more efficient Medicare system -- people are coordinating care better. So, the evidence that's come in today suggests that we're bending that cost curve and I just, again, remind everybody that that's the big difference between the way we approach reducing Medicare costs versus the Republican approach. We have reduced the cost by improving coordination of care and ending the overpayments to some of the private insurance companies. They try and reduce costs for Medicare simply by transferring those costs onto the backs of seniors -- they just put all the risks and costs onto the backs of seniors as opposed to finding savings in a coordinated way.

Whip Hoyer. I also want to point out, we extended the life of Medicare by eight years, number one. Number two, CBO says that we're going to save over a hundred billion dollars in the first ten years, and over a trillion dollars in the second ten years. Number three, we have put in place a number of studies to see how we can bring those costs down even more so that we can continue to have a guarantee, not only of Medicare, but of affordable quality health care access for all Americans.

Vice Chairman Becerra. If I could just, that's the point I wanted to make that the Whip just pointed out -- that much of what's in the health care reform bill is in demonstration projects because CBO wouldn't give us scores for some of these moves towards coordinated care because they were still somewhat unproven. But we've already begun, as Mr. Van Hollen said, to see the success of some of these things and that's where when you build out these demonstrations into a universal system, that's where you're going to see the greater mark of savings. But the other point is, everyone forgets to ask, if not this then what? The other alternative that's being proposed by our Republican colleagues to privatize Medicare means to rely on the private health insurance companies to offer health care, which as the last two decades have proven, have higher costs -- their costs are rising faster than our Medicare is by a factor of 50 percent. And so, if you look back at the last 10 years of numbers that we have from 1999 to 2009, Medicare would of probably had to pay about $130 billion extra for seniors health care costs had it gone towards a private insurance model for health care for seniors because private health insurance has done a worse job of corralling the increasing costs of medical care than has Medicare. And so, that's the unwritten story, is that Medicare is better than the private sector is at controlling health care costs, but wait until these new innovations take place to really help drive down the costs even further.

Leader Pelosi. And that's about quality, not quantity of procedures. It's about value, not volume of procedures and readmissions. And we heard about, a good deal about to document that this morning. But we were very proud of what we had done in the Affordable Care Act to that end. But then Dr. Williamowsky, whose also a dentist, a health care provider himself -- spoke very eloquently as to what is already happening with the wellness, without the co-pay and the deductible, the wellness, the prevention, the prescription drug costs going down, closing of the donut hole, this is reduced costs, not only for seniors and their families and America's businesses and our public budgets. So, we're proud of what is in there and the curve, bending the curve was an important part of our goal to do that. And if everybody was thrilled to death with his or her health insurance, which they weren't, but if they had been, we still would have had to have this bill because the costs of health care in America were unsustainable. Again, to individuals, to families, to businesses, to big businesses, to our competitiveness, to our fiscal soundness.

Well, since we're going to have the -- Deidre why don't you take the first?

Q: I wanted to ask you, since you mentioned the election, for the second time in two weeks you've been featured in Mitt Romney's political campaign ads.

Leader Pelosi. I haven't seen them. I've been on the road myself.

Q: We've seen this strategy before from Republicans. I'm just wondering what you think of it being employed now against the President?

Leader Pelosi. Well, I think it demonstrates a poverty of their own ideas. The American people -- elections are about what are you going to do to make my future better? And I think it's an act of desperation on their part.

You had a question about politics?

Q: Yeah, my question was President Obama has recently downplayed expectations for his performance at tomorrow's presidential debate. How do you think he will do? And will Mitt Romney get a boost, do you think, in his candidacy after the debate?

Leader Pelosi. Well, we'll all find out in a very short period of time now won't we? In 36 hours we shall see, but I have confidence in how the President will talk about the future and let's hope that Mitt Romney, the public deserves that discussion -- where do we go from here?

My colleagues, any comments on that?

Q: What should the President say Madam Leader?

Leader Pelosi. You had a question already.

Yes Ma'am.

Q: I have a non-political question, it's about the Farm bill. Mr. Clyburn described bring the Senate Farm bill to the floor, does that mean the Democratic leadership opposes the House Agriculture Committee bill?

Leader Pelosi. Well, it means there's a bill. Mr. Clyburn would you like to speak to that?

Assistant Leader Clyburn. That bill that passed the Senate

Q: Yes, but you have your own bill here in the House now.

Assistant Leader Clyburn. And they wouldn't bring that to the floor either. That come out of the…

Q: Does the House Democratic leadership oppose that bill?

Assistant Leader Clyburn. If my memory serves, the bill that come out of the House, the Farm bill that came out of the Committee, had bipartisan support. And they wouldn't bring that either. It was different and that's why we have these difference so we can work them out in conference. So, we wanted a bill and we didn't get a chance to do either.

Leader Pelosi. So, perhaps I can add to that by saying that I support the discharge petition asking the Republican leadership to bring the bill that came out of committee to the Floor of the House and then we can go to conference and resolve our differences. But it was almost, well nothing is shocking anymore, but it was quite a surprise to many that the bipartisan bill that was worked on in committee, and again, people have different views on it but we believe that it should come to the floor so that we could move the process forward without whipping it one way or another.

Q: Leader Pelosi, I'd like to get your comment on the Pennsylvania voter-ID law being overturned by a judge today. And besides that, a desperado Electoral College prediction, as a prognosticator or something.

Leader Pelosi. I thought you were going to ask me about baseball.

Q: The Nationals playing the Giants.

Leader Pelosi. The Nationals play the Giants, and what about the Orioles?

Whip Hoyer. We'll have the Parkway Series. The Parkway…

Leader Pelosi. They're talking about the parkway, I'm talking about the orange and black series of the Giants and the Orioles.

Q: If it's Giants-Reds you could [inaudible]…

Leader Pelosi. If the Giants what?

Q: If the Giants and the Reds will probably play in the first round here, it could be a Boehner-Pelosi.

Leader Pelosi. But in any event, what did you ask?

Oh yes, well, hallelujah, Mr. Clyburn has been leading the fight for us in order to protect the vote, let's speak in a positive way, in order to protect the vote. So, I wish to yield to him on this. But let me just say that this is important for our democracy. So you have obstacles placed in the way of citizen participation in the voting process -- almost has an immorality to it. But then we're getting used to that. The fact is it was a critical part of what they wanted to do -- endless unidentified money to suppress, squeeze the air out of the airwaves, suppress the vote with these laws, which now this one has been halted and then also poison the debate so people would say "the heck with it all, I throw up my hands, I'm not going to vote.' And that poisoning of the debate is as much of a voter suppresser as some of their laws. But Mr. Clyburn has led the way with us in the protection of the vote so I'm going to yield to him on this day of a good decision from the Pennsylvania court.

Assistant Leader Clyburn. Well, if my colleagues would indulge me and excuse me for this. On Pennsylvania, William Penn, the whole history, the founding of that great state had to do with compassion and fairness. I think the judge had some of that in mind when he ordered a stay to the implementation of that bill. Now as I understand the judge, he says, it may be okay for after the election, but five weeks is not enough time for them to put into place what they're attempting to do. I think it's kind of interesting if you look at the other state that we've been having this kind of a problem with, we have another problem in other states as well, but in Ohio. Ohio was the regional hub on the underground railroad and to have these two states that held out so much hope for people who had disenfranchised and people who had been really relegated to something less than citizenship, have their reputations threatened and sullied this way, I'm very pleased that this judge stepped in as well as the judges in Ohio. It gives me hope that the foundations from which these two states were found will allow us to continue to move forward.

Whip Hoyer. Let me just add to that because I think the Pennsylvania judgment even though it's a stay is an affirmation of our contention that what was being attempted is to suppress the vote. In a democracy that is not what we ought to do, we ought to encourage the vote, facilitate the vote -- as you know, I was the sponsor of the Help American Vote Act, which premise was we want to make sure every citizen can vote, does vote, and has their vote counted.

Leader Pelosi. Thank you all very much. Four more years!


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