Weekly Press Conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good morning. As we begin today, I want to express my deepest sympathy and that of my colleagues to the people of Omaha for the tragedy that befell them yesterday. It's just staggering in its magnitude that, at this holiday season, that they would go in the spirit of the season and have such tragedy befall them. So again, I extend the deepest sympathy to the people of the region.
Today in the House, we have an historic opportunity to pass legislation to declare energy independence. When I go to the floor, if the rules allow, I will show my colleagues a baseball that I have on my mantel. Many of you have seen it. It's signed by Bobby Thomson, "The Shot Heard 'Round the World." I told my colleagues this morning that if Bobby Thomson hitting a home run, even with the bases loaded, could echo the shot heard 'round the world that began our American Revolution for independence, so today can we echo that sentiment when we pass this legislation. It will be a shot heard 'round the world for energy independence for our country.
It's about our national security. It's about our economic security. It's about energy security and it's about environmental health. And it is, again, a moral responsibility to protect God's beautiful creation. That's why we have a coalition of scientists, evangelicals, of labor and business in support of what we are doing today.
The Energy Independence and Security Act does all of those things. And more than 80 percent of the American people have demanded that Congress take swift action and comprehensive action on energy policy. The price at the pump is a very compelling reason. It's as personal to the American people as that, and it is as global as preserving the planet and everything in between.
So, again, we will make history today. More importantly, we will make progress as we go forward. This legislation is a product of our New Direction Congress. When it first passed the House, it did so with strong bipartisan support. I hope we will have that bipartisan support today.
With that, I'd be pleased to take any questions you may have.
Q Do you have a comment on the White House veto threat? And why did you include the renewable energy portfolio and tax bill when it faced such hurdles in the Senate?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, first of all we have addressed most of the concerns that the White House has presented to us and we responded to their correspondence. I think that has been made available to you.
The renewable electricity standard passed this House with a 30- vote majority, strong bipartisan support. And that is why it is included in the legislation. The tax package is that which was agreed between the House and the Senate. So we are going forward on the basis of that agreement.
Q Madam Speaker, you mentioned at the outset about Omaha and expressing your condolences. And whenever there is any kind of incident like this, people always express their condolences and outrage, but the gun lobby is so powerful in Washington that nothing ever seems to get done in terms of restricting access to guns. Any discussion among your colleagues to do anything like -- related to gun control next year?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well first of all, we want to enforce the laws that are on the books. We have to make sure that that is happening. And as you know, following Virginia Tech, we had the McCarthy bill, which hopefully will be signed into law. I don't know what the status of it is in terms of the White House. But that is legislation that we have had agreement on and that, in fact, the National Rifle Association is not opposed to. It is sensible and it is hopefully going to be law soon.
Q Let me ask you about the sort of proposals Secretary Paulson is talking about to address the subprime lending crisis. I know that the House has already passed a lot of these measures: increased funding for mortgage counseling, tax breaks for people who re-work their loans, an increase in Fannie and Freddie's loan limit. Getting those separate packages passed in the Senate would be a bit of a challenge. Do you see adding those to an omnibus? Do you see a need to get that done quickly this month or can it wait until next month?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well I think aggressive action is needed. I support what I know of what the administration is doing. I think the timing is a little late, but nonetheless, freezing the interest rates is a good idea.
Just in case anyone missed what you said, I want to reiterate that the House has responded aggressively by expanding affordable mortgage opportunities, by protecting consumers from risky loans, raising loan limits in high cost areas, expanding consumer counseling, and increasing affordable housing supply.
I have not seen the total package from the White House. I know what I've read about in the press. When we get more information I can comment more fully on it, but I think freezing the loans is a good idea.
Q Do you think that should get -- is it possible to get that done this month and to the White House this month?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well I would hope so in one vehicle or another.
Q Madam Speaker, the other night you and Mr. Hoyer and many others feted former Speaker Foley, and former Republican Leader Bob Michel was there. There was a lot of talk about the spirit of bipartisanship that those two gentlemen worked in. And it seemed to me to be in very distinct contrast with what we experience now between Democrats and Republicans and the back and forth with the White House. At what point, looking back at the history of those two men, did all this change? When did this change and what's going on?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I'm not about assigning where certain things changed, but I will point out that I am very proud of everything that we put forth in our first 100 Hours. Passed this Congress with very, very strong bipartisan support.
Whether you're talking about passing 9/11 commission recommendations to make our country safer, whether you're talking about our Competes Act, where we got a majority of Republicans to vote for it, our commitment to competitiveness to keep America number one, keep good paying jobs in the U.S., strong bipartisan support. Whether it was strengthening our families by passing the biggest loan -- college affordability act since the GI Bill of Rights in 1944, with strong bipartisan -- raising the minimum wage, strong bipartisan support. Promoting research in stem cell research, not signed -- all the others signed by the president -- not signed by the president, but having strong bipartisan support. All of our appropriations bills have had strong bipartisan support.
It is in the interests of some to make it seem as if we don't have that level of cooperation. The fact is, is that we have looked for legislation and made them our priorities where we had a commonality of interest with the Republicans.
Q Madame Speaker, back on the energy bill, Republicans and Democrats are worried the bills will not be included in the Senate.
SPEAKER PELOSI: Yeah.
Q The White House reiterated its veto threat about 45 minutes to an hour ago. How willing are you consider paring back the bill, perhaps adjusting the tax or the renewable energy standards, in order to get it passed before the Congress adjourns?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we have to pay for the bill and the tax part of the problem -- of the issue -- of the bill is the -- are the pay fors. We are committed to pay as you go, no new deficit spending, no heaping of mountains of debt onto future generations, and that is what we are committed to.
The -- we're going forward today with our legislation. It will go to the Senate. The Senate will work its will.
I'm pleased with the conversations we have had with the White House. I think there is a large area of agreement. And as our letter indicates, six out of eight of their concerns were positively addressed in the legislation. One, the pay fors, is a matter of discussion, and the extent of the renewable electricity standard as well. But I think where we are today is to go forward and let the Congress work its will.
Q Madame Speaker?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes, Mike. And then --
Q Prior to Thanksgiving, the Democrats in the House passed a supplemental war spending bill, a $50 billion bill with conditions about troop readiness and withdrawal goals and so forth. At the time, you and other Democratic leaders were very adamant about two points: That that would be the last spending bill, the president could take to Senate, could call the Senate Republicans, get them to pass it and sign it; and that all that notwithstanding, the Pentagon can move money around. Will that be the last measure that passes the House for war spending this year?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, the DOD had assured us that they had enough money until March. The legislation that we passed gives the DOD everything they want from now until then for our troops, and that's where we stand.
Q Will you pass anything else this year in the omnibus or any other --
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we'll have an omnibus bill and it will address some of the concerns that have been raised. I wish to call to your attention -- I'm sure you've seen a letter sent, a bipartisan letter, of people in this region -- members of Congress from this region -- Mr. Moran, Mr. Wolf, Mr. Davis -- to Secretary Gates saying, "Please don't use scare tactics by threatening pink slips to the workers."
Q How much will be required to avoid those layoffs?
SPEAKER PELOSI: That's something that we're getting the numbers for.
Q Will there be any war funding in the omnibus?
SPEAKER PELOSI: Some -- there will probably be some level of addressing Afghanistan, some of the domestic concerns about child care -- you've seen the list that the DOD has come up with. We can address those concerns, and certainly perhaps if more is needed to do something about Afghanistan. But that's all being -- I think the Appropriations Committee had to have its subcommittee work done by midnight last night, so I haven't gotten a full report back from them on that.
Q Madame Speaker?
SPEAKER PELOSI: What? What? Yeah.
Q On the AMT, can you accept anything that's not fully paid for? And if not, how do you see a solution to this impasse with the clock winding down?
SPEAKER PELOSI: On the AMT, as you know, we are committed to pay as you go. You've probably have seen the letter sent to me by the Blue Dogs yesterday with that commitment in it by them for our caucus, and I fully support that. The state of play is that the Senate wants to have a package where AMT is not paid for, but the extenders are. And so we -- so we'll take the money for the extenders, use it for the AMT, and we'll deal with the extenders later. That's the state of play.
Q Madame Speaker --
SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes, one more.
Q -- just on the energy bill, Republicans are saying that by repealing these taxes on the oil companies, they're just going to pass these costs on to consumers. How is this going to save consumers money?
SPEAKER PELOSI: It's going to save the consumers so much money that the CBO has insisted that we -- that it be scored in that way. And we had to find money to pay for the taxes that the consumer was not going to pay on gasoline because they were going to get so many more miles per gallon, and that's nearly $2 billion just on the tax piece of it. It will -- it will save consumers $22 billion. It's pretty exciting, because we believe that it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make us independent to choose our energy sources depending on the price.
Q In the short term, Madame Speaker, how -- the price of a gallon of gas is not going to go down.
SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, it may not go down tomorrow, but the fact is, is that we are making a plan for the future, and this is consumer -- this is consumer legislation. And as soon as we can bring those prices down, we will. The price at the pump compels us to do this. That makes this legislation even more urgent. And you know, I would hope that with the 90 -- approaching $90 a barrel cost, that -- that the oil companies will take some mercy on the consumer.
Q Madame Speaker?
SPEAKER PELOSI: I have to go now because we have a bill on the floor, but I know you probably -- I'm not going to make you pay a quarter, as I made my colleagues do, to see this -- (laughter) -- but it's -- I can't open it -- shot -- "To Nancy Pelosi with best wishes, Bobby Thomson. A Shot Heard 'Round the World. October 3rd, 1951." Isn't that exciting? We'll have another shot heard 'round the world today.
Thank you all.
Q That was in New York.
SPEAKER PELOSI: New York Giants, now known as the San Francisco Giants. (Laughter.)