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Weekly Press Conference by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)


Location: Washington, DC

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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good morning. Very happy to report today the success of our end of vote last night. I don't have to report it to you -- you know it, you have reported it -- but it's a source of great pride to us that that important legislation passed by 51 votes. I think the Congress took a giant step to ending discrimination in our country, another giant step, and I salute and applaud Chairman Barney Frank and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin for their leadership. It would not have happened without them, so we're very excited about that. That was yesterday.

This weekend, we will recognize the service, sacrifice and patriotism of our men and women in uniform as we observe Veterans Day. We keep our promises to our veterans as a sign of who we are as a nation. I'm very pleased that, earlier this week, we were able to pass in the House the largest increase in veterans' health benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration. That's on top of an over 5 billion appropriation supplemental earlier this year.

As Chet Edwards, the chairman of the subcommittee, said yesterday in our meeting with the veterans, "Who could have ever imagined that in one year we would have an over $10 billion increase in our appropriations for helping to meet the needs of our veterans?"

Yesterday in that meeting, we met with nearly -- representatives of 50 veterans services organizations, and they were very pleased about what's happening in terms of the appropriation, but there's still much that needs to be done. We heard from the families, whether it was the Gold Star Wives or the Military Families Association about the challenges they are facing as they minister to the needs of our returning vets, some with permanent injuries, and of course, that includes also veterans from other conflicts. But nonetheless, the nature of the injuries and the permanence of them and some of it, as you know, falling into the category of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, present a challenge to us.

So as the military says on the battlefield, we will leave no soldier behind, we have said when they come home, we will leave no veteran behind. We include in that their families. So as we observe this Veterans Day, I believe it is with very good news for veterans and their families.

As we praise the troops and the sacrifices and their courage -- their patriotism and the sacrifice they're willing to make for our country on Veterans Day, we do so every day as they help meet the challenges that face our country.

We have a very serious disagreement with the president of the United States on the war in Iraq. The difference in our views and the direction that that war should take have, I think, been clear. I think, in the last year's election, the American people called for a new direction. Nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq. And so in the next day or so, we will once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction, shows a new direction from the Bush policy, the Bush failed policy in Iraq.

The president is proposing at least a 10-year war to a tune of tens of thousands of troops in Iraq over a long period of time, costing trillions of dollars. Democrats in Congress will propose, once again, a new direction. Redeployment of our troops to begin immediately and to end -- with the goal of ending it within a year. After that time, our troops would be there -- a small, limited number of troops would be there for a small, limited purpose: force and diplomatic protection; fighting -- counterterrorism, fighting al Qaeda; and then third, to have limited training and assistance to the Iraqi security forces.

It will also say that the Army field manual will be the document that will determine how we collect information, how we do our interrogations, and it will speak to issues relating to the readiness of our troops similar to the Webb-Tauscher resolutions that passed both the House, had bipartisan support in the Senate, but wasn't allowed to be brought up. So we will have legislation of that nature shortly coming to the floor of the House.

As I said, we promised a new direction. We believe the cost in lives and permanent injuries to our men and women in uniform, cost in our reputation in the world to assume our leadership role in the world, cost in readiness to our troops and cost of dollars to the taxpayer has long been too big a price to pay. On the ongoing, we have been scrutinizing and holding the administration accountable. We will continue to do that -- do so with other forms of legislation and oversight hearings. But in the next day or so, we will bring the legislation I described to the floor of the House.

With that, I'd be pleased to take any questions.

Q Madame Speaker, will that legislation include any funding for the war?

SPEAKER PELOSI: It will provide, it will limit the funding to the war for the purposes I described; that is, it will be a short-term bridge fund for the next four years. The president's asking -- excuse me, four months. The president's asking for nearly $200 billion. This is a $50 billion appropriation limited to the purposes I described, to begin the redeployment out of Iraq immediately, to be completed within a year, force and diplomatic protection -- fighting -- al Qaeda and limited support for the Iraqi security forces.

Q (Off mike) in the past you've said -- set the goal of May of 2008.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, because the legislation hasn't passed and now the time has gone by. It's still approximately a year; it's just that we're starting later because we haven't been able to get a signature on the other legislation.

Q Ms. Speaker, last year Democrats said no more supplementals. Once again, a whole year has gone by and there are still supplementals. Why not do the war funding as part of the budget?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, if I may, what Democrats said was there would be no supplementals that gave the president a blank check. This is not a blank check for the president. This is providing funding for the troops limited to a particular purpose with a short time frame, not a supplemental that just says to the president, you asked for it, you've got it, no questions asked.

Q But why not include war funding in the PAYGO plan if you're -- why -- so that it was paid for? How come you don't do that?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, if the president -- I would love it if the president would submit the cost of the war in his regular budget. He says they can never figure out how much it costs by the time the budget comes forth, but the fact is is the American people do have to pay for it. And now, today, we'll be voting -- this is all in the context of today -- we'll be voting on a bill that gives the Defense Department nearly a half trillion dollars, half a trillion dollars.

Q Madame Speaker, can you clarify what you mean by a day or so? And also, do you have any --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Hopefully tomorrow.

Q expectation -- tomorrow?

SPEAKER PELOSI: If we get our -- in other words, we know what we want to do; we're at the mercy of leg counsel in all of the housekeeping that has to go into legislation. It will be my hope that it would come up tomorrow.

Q Does that mean AMT won't come through tomorrow necessarily if you do --

SPEAKER PELOSI: They have nothing to do with each other. There will be two independent decisions. Yes?

Q Some of this -- this has been -- this idea of a veto of one -- sometimes it doesn't even make it through the Senate.

Do you have any increased expectation of this actually becoming law or policy?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we're restating the differentiation between ourselves and the president of the United States. The American people have spoken very clearly about their opposition to the course of action in Iraq. I believe that this legislation gives voice to the concerns of the American people, as at the same time, strives to meet the needs of our troops.

Let's see if I can have somebody who hasn't had a question.


Q Madame Speaker, so this is a non-binding goal to finish it within a year?

SPEAKER PELOSI: It's a goal. It's the same thing we sent to the president's desk in May. You recall that that had a goal -- this is a goal of redeployment, of combat troops out of Iraq within a year, within a year.

Yes, sir?

Q Do you mind if I ask a separate question?

SPEAKER PELOSI: It's up to you.

Q Energy -- you told freshmen yesterday that you hoped to move ahead next week. Does that mean that you have reached negotiation settlements on most big issues? And are you planning to drop the tax issue?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, no, no. What I said to the freshmen was I would to see the bill come up next week, but we do have -- we have still -- maybe hoping against hope that we could have a conference on the bill, but the Republicans in the Senate have rejected every time Leader Reid has brought this up.

So what I just said is, okay, everybody has had their time. Democrats and Republicans staff, House and Senate working together to resolve whatever differences there are that they can resolve and then give us a report on that and what the remaining issues are. I don't know if it's possible to do that. I would like to do it before we leave. I'd like to do it because it's Thanksgiving -- over and under and through the woods to grandmother's house we go; that's what I used to do and now they come to grandmother's house. But the price at the pump is just staggering for America's families and we would like to have had something by then. I don't know that that is possible, but I do know that we will be moving in a forward direction on that.

Q It seems the major hang-up and there are several major hang-ups, that the sticking point seems to be the tax -- well, I guess, tax issue. Are you considering dropping that off and passing a pure policy piece?

SPEAKER PELOSI: What the discussions are, I'm not at liberty to announce to you right now. When we come to closure on those, you'll be the first to know.

Q Okay. I'll hold you to that.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Okay. (Laughter.)

Q Ms. Speaker --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Could be in the middle of the night. (Laughter.)

Q -- on the economy with the subprime crisis playing out --

SPEAKER PELOSI: And we have a bill on the floor today.

Q -- banks losing billions and stock market is going down and gas prices are going up. Polls now show that 60 percent of the American people think a recession is likely. Do you think we're headed into a recession this year?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I certainly hope not and I don't want to have any self-fulfilling prophecies on such a thing. That's a low number. The poll number I saw, ABC's was 69 percent of the American people saying that we're going into a recession. But we are trying to change that perception. What we're doing with the subprime legislation on the floor today to alleviate some of the concern that people have on that important issue, the ownership of their homes. What we're doing with the AMT patch, that we hope to give a tax cut to the middle class.

For too long, this administration has given tax breaks to the richest people in America paid for by the middle class. We want to reverse that. Initiatives that we have taken about education and a refundable child tax credit, about raising the minimum wage, about doing something on energy to lower the cost of energy in our country, whether it's home heating oil or price at the pump, all of these issues, I think, give more confidence to the American people that their own ability to make ends meet for them and many people are on a paycheck-to-paycheck regiment -- most people in America, in fact -- and we hope that these initiatives will help in that regard.

We want to -- with our middle income tax credit -- cut -- and the child tax credit, have a situation where those people will either save that money or spend it and then spending it to inject demand into the economy to continue to create jobs. So we can't fear what's happening, we have to give hope on the basis of some initiatives.

I hope that we could work in a bipartisan way to pass, for example, our trade adjustment assistance legislation, which, again, helps these same working families in our country.

STAFF: Last question.

Q Madame Speaker, is the ATM (sic) going to come to the floor tomorrow?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't know.

Q AMT. (Laughter.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: The ATM is right down the hall, and sometimes the president thinks he has an ATM for his war in Iraq. But the AMT -- and that's not absolutely certain. Some of our bills this week have taken a little longer and we may just have time for one bill or two bills tomorrow. But that announcement will be made later.

Q Is SCHIP -- is it coming to the floor any time soon?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, the SCHIP negotiations are still continuing. Our position is clear: Ten million children; there's no negotiating on that. Mr. Hoyer is riding point on that in those meetings. Mr. Emanuel has been a leader on this issue so that -- the two of them are reporting back to me on what they think the status of it is.

At some point, we will know whether there is a reason to go forward with something new. If not we'll send the bill that we passed last Friday to the president's desk.

Q (Off mike.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: We have to go meetings on these subjects.

Q I think it's quite possible your opponents might see this as a political move -- another attempt to nullify your frustrated base on the war. Have you discerned any change in the political atmosphere that's going to get you more votes either here or in the Senate? Most people are thinking now March is the new September, as General Petraeus has said.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Without stipulating to any of your characterizations, which I thoroughly reject -- (laughter) -- I don't reject -- I don't reject the idea that the base is dissatisfied, but they have been all along and I respect that.

For many of us here, the war issue is the premier issue. We talk about ethics. This war is the biggest ethical challenge facing our nation, the manner in which we went in without a plan for our troops, without a -- well, on a false premise -- without a plan for our troops on how to succeed, without a strategy for success, without a reason to stay. Our troops have performed magnificently. They've done everything tha's been asked of them and more. We praise them any chance any of us get for their courage, their patriotism, the sacrifice they and their families are willing to make.

This war is now longer than -- we are in Iraq one year longer than World War II. It is a war without end. It is war that, no matter what the military success, the leadership in Iraq refuses to make the political decisions necessary to resolve the civil conflict there, enabling us to redeploy our troops out. This is not working. It's a war without end. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. We must reverse it.

We come here with our own commitment to protecting America. We take an oath of office to do that. This war is not in furtherance of protecting and defending our Constitution and the American people. It is not in furtherance of strengthening our military to meet the challenges to our security wherever they may be met, and it is not in furtherance of stabilizing the region.

So it is our responsibility to keep the American people safe, but we reject the course of this war and hope that the president will stop turning a tin ear to what the American people are saying and a blind eye as to what is going on on the ground in Iraq.

Thank you all very much.

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