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Weekly Press Conference with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi


Location: Washington, DC

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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good afternoon. Sorry to the delay in our start. We were busy on the floor when the House took action today to reassert its authority and to put first -- as a first priority for our country addressing the economic insecurity of America's working families. We must focus first on the issue of jobs here at home.

Most of you have probably heard why we are where we are today. It was totally unnecessary. The protocols of trade agreements would have called for us to have brought this to the floor in a way that respected the prerogatives of the White House and the prerogatives of the Congress and therefore of the American people.

When the president said he was going to send the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to the House, I had no choice but to say that -- well, that violates our protocols and so we will take the leverage back to ourselves; we will set a timetable that is compatible with meeting the needs of America's working people and now we can talk. All the leverage was with the White House before, and now we can talk.

So, here we are. We had been asking the president for a long time for certain initiatives to be taken in a stimulus package or some other legislative vehicle to address the jobs issue here in America. I have said to the administration, over and over again, it will be very difficult to pass a trade bill until we put forth a positive economic agenda for the American people so that they know that their economic security is first and foremost on our minds, and that we, also, understand that many people in our country are losing their jobs; some are losing their homes; most are losing their standard of living.

The cost of groceries and gasoline and health care and housing and education and other staples continues to rise. The costs go up; purchasing power of their income is either stagnated or has gone down.

It is in this arena that the former head of the Fed has said that we are in the -- how did he describe it? -- throes of a recession. We are in the throes of a recession; Mr. Greenspan. And then, just at the end of last week -- at the end of last week, as you know, the Chairman of the Fed said we're in a -- recession was possible that at the same time when the jobless numbers are going up.

So there are an array of initiatives that we would hope we can interest the administration in. Some relate to a remedy for the issues that are a concern right now in terms of the mortgage crisis and unemployment. Others would -- in good times or not so good times are good ideas, whether it's investing in our Innovation Agenda, our commitment to competitiveness to keep America number one; whether it is a commitment to rebuilding America through investments in our infrastructure; whether it is extending the tax credits for renewable energy resources, wind, solar and others.

Many of these initiatives have passed overwhelmingly in the House with bipartisan votes; some also in the Senate already. Some of them. if not attended to -- for example, the infrastructure issue -- will have projects that will stop and we will lose jobs, like the tax credits for the renewables will end and then we will lose jobs. So not only are they necessary to grow the economy, create jobs, they are necessary to stop the loss of jobs.

And again, there are some issues that relate to remedies, relief in the time of a downturn in unemployment and, of course, unemployment compensation, some kind of aid to the states. So we have a full array of initiatives to choose from to do so in a fiscally sound way with bipartisan support to address the concerns of the American people.

So what happened today is the leverage came back to working people in our country. The timetable in Congress is with the working people in our country and not with the President of the United States.

With that, I would be pleased to take any questions you have celebrating the wonderful strong vote that we had on the floor just now to simply change, to remove the timetable from the consideration of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Q On that timetable, has the parliamentarian and his office or any other legal experts advised you whether the bill can be brought up again in the 110th -- 111th Congress under TPA procedures?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we want to take it up under -- hopefully we will be -- we'll come to terms and we can take it up under the usual protocol of the House. But again, we have more leverage in that conversation now. Our conversations with the parliamentarian give me confidence that the leverage is with us.

Q But how is that leverage impacted if you're not certain the bill can be delayed until next year and -- ?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Oh no, it is not a thing about delaying the bill; this is about giving us more time. In other words, if you're in a conversation with someone and they hold all the cards, you're not likely to have a winning hand. Now we're saying, "Okay, now -- now, the leverage is with us. You had all the cards before; we thought that there was a protocol where we would share this discussion to bring this bill to the floor. You thought differently. Now we've asserted our prerogative to control the time of it." And so hopefully we can -- I've already had conversations with the administration -- yesterday with the president and then beyond that about -- how we can begin our conversations and how we can go forward.

Q What are the possibilities there will not be a vote this year on the agreement?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't know; I'm not thinking of it that way. I do know one thing: if the president wanted to bring this bill -- send it over and bring it up -- I think that he either had bad advice or he knew it would lose and that would serve some purpose for him. I don't -- I think that's a fairly cynical view because I know the president wants this bill desperately, but they don't know how to count votes if they thought they had the votes on the floor to win this yesterday.

So this, I think -- it strengthens everyone's hand, actually. I think the conversations we will have is a better chance for us to bring a bill to the floor that will pass. But, we have to see what the conversations are. We've just won the vote, now we can talk.

Q Did you feel these conversations, when you were at the White House yesterday -- that gave any indication you have any more leverage?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we have more leverage regardless of those conversations because we just won a big vote on the floor on this. The -- I think we had a straightforward conversation about how open we would be to conversations as to how we would go forward.

And, when I talked to my staff, excuse me, my caucus, about this to see where they were and to get their license to go forward with this, my caucus is divided; some never wanted a free trade agreement, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and some are open to it under certain circumstances, and a few smattering are with it today, but not enough for the Republicans to have enough votes to pass it. So, I have to reflect that and that's what I conveyed to the White House, that there are at least two main blocs in my caucus, those who never want to vote for it and those who are open to it; to put me in the second category.

Q Has anyone offered anything yet from the administration?

SPEAKER PELOSI: We'll be having our conversations. I mean, we've had conversations that haven't amounted to much, because they had all the leverage and didn't think they had to do anything. Now the leverage has changed.

Q Madam Speaker, on housing, the Senate passed its bill, which the White House has been critical of, and now the White House is working on its own version. How are you going to bridge the gaps between these three very different approaches to the housing crisis? And how confident can homeowners be who need this relief that they'll actually get something in time?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I have great confidence in the chairman of our Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank. He has a total grasp of the challenge before us and he has his priorities in order in terms of helping families who are at risk of losing their homes or who have lost their homes, but also with the understanding of what the impact of any decisions we make on the economy. So Mr. Frank will be riding point for us on this and I am very pleased with the initiatives that he has put forth. Some of what the administration is doing, and certainly much of what the Senate is doing is, coming in our direction. I really don't characterize this as three very different approaches.

Now, in terms of number of people affected, the president's initiative -- most recent one -- affects 100,000 people when it should be affecting 10 to 15 times that many, but Barney has the confidence of all elements in this, the Democrats, the Republicans, the leadership in the White House as well. So, I have confidence in how he proceeds with this and our caucus is with him.

Q You mention the bill is coming in the House's direction, but how willing are you to compromise to get something done sooner?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we have to get something done sooner. First of all, the message has to be -- which is what we did weeks ago -- the message has to be to the markets that whether it is the housing market, consumer market or the stock markets, any piece of this, that Congress will act. And I think that is now very clear; now we just have to see what we can afford.

Q Madam Speaker, you spoke about leverage. Do you intend to maximize your leverage by using the war supplemental potentially as a way to move the stimulus package, because that's one of the two things that the president really wants this year?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I would hope that the president would come to terms with us about what this economy needs in order to succeed, that it doesn't necessarily have to be with the supplemental. What we want to advance could be in a stimulus or it could be in other legislative vehicles, as I mentioned, but we're in the course of having our conversations about how that supplemental will be shaped. But, we're looking at other ways for us to advance an economic agenda.

Q Can you address at all what you plan on doing in terms of domestic spending as well as when it may be coming up for a mark?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, you know, there's a wide array. Come with me on the floor sometime and I will show you an ever-expanding list of excellent ideas as to what could possibly be in such initiatives. So we have to establish our priorities; we have to take initiatives that address the housing crisis, the job situation, the rising costs in our country and the solutions that we have. We'd like to be as bipartisan as possible, but also, as I said, not to be so costly and increase the deficit in a way that would impede a recovery.

Q Does that mean you're looking at some kind of significant addition of domestic spending to the bill?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, what I'm talking about is I think we need to have another stimulus package and that stimulus package I think has to have two features: one that addresses the immediate needs, addressing the threat of recession and all that I've already talked about, and the other is what we need to grow our economy and I mentioned some of those initiatives earlier.

Q All in the Iraq package?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Oh, no, I'm not even into where this is. Some of it could be in a stimulus package; some could be in a supplemental. I'm not going to that place, but I think we have -- because of the situation in our country and the urgency of doing something and showing that Congress will act and with some discernment about what the governors need and what's happening at the state level and what people need first and foremost in their homes and what we have the possibilities of doing, we have to make some choices.

When we first proposed the stimulus package to the President originally, he wasn't interested. At a time when any housewife in America or homemaker or whatever in America -- domestic engineers we used to call ourselves -- could have told him that the economy is in a downturn, he still didn't recognize that. When Chairman Bernanke came and testified about the condition the state of the economy a couple of months ago, then and only then did the President agree to go forward with the stimulus package. We think it is time for another.

The President says, "Let's give the first one a chance to work." Well, that would have been fine if the status quo had prevailed, but it did not, the situation has worsened and there is a bigger urgency to have another stimulus package and that's what we would like to talk to him about.

One more question, because I have to go back to work.

Q Technically, wouldn't it be better...

SPEAKER PELOSI: I have to go back to work and use my leverage on a level playing field.


Q Technically, wouldn't it be best for the Democrats to attach a second stimulus package to the Iraq supplemental since that is the absolute must legislation for the administration for it to be accepted in those terms?

SPEAKER PELOSI: You may think it may be a good tactic, but there may be those who think that it doesn't fit within our strategy.

Thank you all very much.

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