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Press Conference With Rep. David Obey - Energy And Health Legislation

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Press Conference With Rep. David Obey - Energy And Health Legislation Also Participating: Rep. Steny Hoyer; Rep. James Clyburn; Rep. Chris Van Hollen; Rep. Xavier Becerra; Rep. John Larson

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REP. OBEY: We'll be joined by Chris Van Hollen and Xavier Becerra as well.

But we just concluded a Democratic caucus where we had the opportunity to listen to the president's special adviser, David Axelrod. This week in the House we are making great progress on two vital pieces of legislation, the Clean Energy Jobs Plan and the health-care reform. Mr. Axelrod spent a lot of time this morning -- and you're going to hear from our majority leader about health care and what members have been doing out in their districts as we move this plan forward to reduce costs, preserve choice and provide access and availability of quality health care to all.

I want to commend Chairman Waxman and all of the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee for their work, along with the Ways and Means Committee, on these important issues. The committee began its markup of the Clean Energy Jobs Plan that will unleash private-sector investment in jobs and new technologies, make us more energy- independent as a nation and, of course, reduce pollution.

This legislation, together with the White House announcement -- historic announcement that it will, for the first time ever, set national standards for greenhouse-gas emissions from cars, means we are making great progress towards a new clean American energy economy.

At the same time, the committee is working on a plan to reform our health care system, which we all know is so important, a system that will reduce costs, preserve your choice of doctors and plans and assure affordable health care for all Americans. We all know in this caucus and across this country, having talked to our constituents, that we can't afford to wait.

Americans demanded, of this Congress and this president, a fundamental change. The fundamental change that they have been calling for is to get things done. Making sure that things get done, in this Congress, is the business of the majority leader, who has done it better than any majority leader in the history of the House of Representatives.

Steny Hoyer.

REP. HOYER: With apologies out there to all the previous majority leaders, for the kind but overstated observations of our chairman, I want to thank the chairman, for his leadership of our caucus.

This has been, as I said earlier today, with many of you in the room, an extraordinarily productive period of time -- between the start of this Congress and today and when we will, at the end of this week, take our Memorial Day break -- extraordinarily successful in meeting the economic crisis that confronted the administration and the Congress, passing a restoration and recovery act that sought to cut taxes on middle-income Americans, give security to those who had lost their jobs, invest in education, invest in health care, invest in energy independence -- the three major priorities of this administration -- under the arch of bringing our economy back.

So we believe this has been an extraordinarily successful Congress to date, perhaps one of the most successful Congresses, productive Congresses, in which I've served since 1981.

We, as the chairman indicated, are now proceeding in committees to address two of the most important legs of the presidential priority. And that is health care and energy.

The chairman spoke of the energy bill, which is being marked up in committee as we speak, an energy bill that we hope to bring to the floor when we come back, probably in June or the first part of July.

They will also be addressing a health-care bill, along with the Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. (Short audio break) -- that bill, health care for Americans, all Americans, and to make sure that all Americans have the availability of quality, affordable health care; to make sure that all Americans have the choice of the health care that they want; make sure that all Americans have access to a system that focuses on wellness and on prevention of illness, to bring costs down, not just for government and big systems but for individual families, to bring the cost of their health insurance down. They now pay 800 (dollars) to a thousand dollars, maybe a little more, in their premiums, not for their own insurance but for the insurance of people who are not included in the system. We think we can bring those costs down, and we're going to be focused on that.

So this has been a very productive Congress to date. We expect it to be a very productive Congress when we return. And we expect that because that's what the American public expected. In this election they said, yes, we can. They elected a president that they believe is a can-do president, a want-to-do president, a president focused on the needs of the American public.

We believe during these first five months of the year we have shown that that's the kind of Congress and the kind of partnership that we have between the administration and this Congress on behalf of the American people. We believe that they're pleased with that. Our members are hearing that.

We had 170 town meetings or other opportunities for our members over the last few weeks to communicate with the public. We expect to have literally hundreds of more as we seek to build a health reform that will mirror the wants and desires and wisdom of the American people. That's what the president said he wanted to do, build this program from the bottom up, not from the top down. He didn't say this is what it is; he said we want to make sure we have a system of choice, a system that brings costs down, a system that focuses on prevention and wellness, and a system that will be accessible to all our people and give them quality health care.

That's what we're going to be working on.

Thank you very much.

Next, the distinguished whip -- I suppose, the best whip in the history of the world -- (laughter) -- my friend, Jim Clyburn, from South Carolina.

REP. CLYBURN: (Laughs.) There's one or two exceptions, I promise you. Thank you so much, Mr. Leader.

As has been stated, Chairman Waxman has begun marking up the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Under this legislation, emission allowances will be allocated to accomplish three primary goals: first, to protect consumers from energy price increases; secondly, to assist industry in the transition to a clean-energy economy; and third, to spur energy efficiency and the development and deployment of clean-energy technology.

Thanks to the diversity of this caucus -- politically, culturally and regionally -- we have a bill that creates millions of jobs, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, reduces the pollution that creates climate change, and recognizes the regional differences of the country and will provide a strong foundation for economic recovery.

This bill will create entire new industries in the United States and preserve the manufacturing base that has been the foundation of our economy. It helps industries such as steel, glass and cement remain competitive in the global marketplace, and invests in cleaner coal technologies for use here and around the world.

I am pleased to announce that I just received word that on an all-important amendment that was put up by John Dingell, an amendment that establishes one of the real regional approaches for us, I think, if my information is correct, by 51-to-6, the amendment was adopted, to allow a competitive nuclear portion to be added to this bill.

For those of us who represent that area of the country that over time became nuclear-tolerant as a result of defending this nation -- a state like South Carolina, that I represent, where around 53 percent of the electricity produced in our state comes from nuclear -- all of that has its foundation in the Manhattan Project, when we accepted the plant down in Aiken that all of this spun off of.

This caucus has come together to recognize these differences, and we have a bill that I believe will be received on this floor in big numbers, and I do believe will help us move the country into three very important conditions. First, national security. I think that this bill will enhance our national security by lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Number two, this bill will help clean up the environment that we are -- must leave to our children and grandchildren. But number three, this bill will create a new economy that will spin off millions of jobs at a time when job creation should be order number one for all of us. And so I'm very pleased with what we are about to do with this energy bill.

And I'm also pleased to yield now to our vice chair, Xavier Becerra. Having been vice chair recently, I will in no way have anything to say about how good he is. (Laughter.)

REP. HOYER: You know, Jim, I was whip once. (Laughter.)

REP. BECERRA: We'll stick to health care and energy. Just two quick points.

I think those of us who had a chance to watch these last several months not only have been impressed with the way the White House has conducted its business but the way the Congress has been able to move an agenda of a very ambitious president.

And so I believe, at this stage, we head towards Memorial Day with a great sense of accomplishment, in a very short period of time, for this president and more importantly for the American people.

On energy, I don't think there's anyone more pleased than the speaker and members from California to hear the news, from the White House, that we're finally going to move on carbon emissions, in a way that California has been talking about for quite some time.

I think that opinion is shared throughout this country; people who really believe we can make a big dent on pollution, keep our country as clean as possible, but more importantly to move towards those green jobs that we all understand we need, if we're going to continue to fight against this constant dependence on energy from other sources, especially from abroad.

And so it's a good day to talk about clean, green jobs for America. On health care, you only need to point to the fact that some 4 million Americans have lost their health insurance, in this recession, to know how important it is that we act on the president's desire to get health care reform done this year.

We intend to do that because we know there are millions of Americans, beyond those who lost their job and their health insurance, who are looking to us to complete it this time around.

So reform is a must. Doing nothing is not an option. And we take the president literally when he says, this is the year for meaningful health care reform that will contain costs, give everyone a chance to keep what they like and what they have, but make it possible for those Americans who are losing their health insurance or who haven't had it to finally join the fabric of those Americans who are able to say, we can care for our families and our kids.

And so we think that while we've done quite a bit, lots still to go. And with that, I'd like to introduce and I was just the former assistant to the speaker so I won't say anything, about the quality of the leadership, other than to say, we've got a great assistant to the speaker, in the chair of the DCCC, in Chris Van Hollen. (Applause.)

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. And I just -- let me join my colleagues in saying that we look forward to coming back, after the Memorial Day break, to move on the question of a clean energy policy, for the United States, put America back to work, at the jobs of the future, and get on with providing affordable, quality health care for all Americans.

I want to focus just for a moment on the work we've done, in the last couple weeks, and what we will get to the president's desk before Memorial Day.

The credit card -- the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights, which ends the credit card abuses have been -- that lots of Americans have faced, in terms of applying interest rates retroactively, excessive fees and that sort of thing, this is a bipartisan bill. We are going to get it to the president's desk.

Fighting mortgage and corporate fraud and creating a commission to look at the causes of the financial crisis -- again another bill that we will get to the president's desk. And John Larson, the chairman of our caucus, has been very involved in the effort to try and create a commission so that we can go back and learn from the mistakes that were made so we can avoid them, going forward. And of course, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act to address some of the irresponsible lending practices that also gave rise to the problems in our economy.

Those are three bills. They passed the House with strong bipartisan majorities. Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights had 105 Republicans voting yes; fighting mortgage and corporate fraud had 114 Republicans voting yes; and the Mortgage Reform Anti-Predatory Lending Bill had 60 Republicans voting yes -- bipartisan bills.

What was interesting, in each of those cases, is that even though you had a number of Republicans voting yes, in each case the head of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, Mr. Boehner, voted no. And clearly, it seems to me, another indication, along with a lot of other mounting evidence, that the leadership on the other side is very much out of touch with where the American people are on this issue. That their rank and file members go home every weekend, they talk to their constituents about credit card issues and the abuses they've seen, they talk to them about the importance of tackling the fraud issues within the financial sector, and yet from the highest levels of their leadership, they're voting no on all these issues.

We hope, as we move forward to tackle these other issues on energy policy and health care, that the Republicans, both rank and file members as well as the Republican leadership, will join us in trying to solve these very challenging problems for the American people.

Let's hope that as we go forward after Memorial Day, we will see a different tone.

Thank you.

REP. : Questions.

Q On the (climate change ?) bill, Mr. Leader, what's your sense of how much the bill may have to change when it gets out of committee -- if it gets out of committee -- on the floor there to get the support there?

REP. HOYER: (Laughs.) That's a tough question to ask, if it gets out of committee. First of all, we don't know exactly what it will be when it comes out of committee. They're considering, as you heard Mr. Clyburn mention, amendments, Mr. Dingell's amendment, overwhelmingly adopted. So I don't want to speculate on what might need to be changed before, in fact, it gets passed.

But my expectation is we will pass an energy bill which will accomplish the objectives that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have set forth, and that is, of course, to bring the cost of energy down, make us energy independent and address the critical challenge of global warming. So I think it will accomplish those.

But I don't want to speculate, because the bill's not -- it just started to be marked up. It would be premature.

Q What are your plans at the moment -- (off mike) -- credit card legislation -- (off mike)?

REP. HOYER: Well, the Senate just passed it.

Q Exactly.

REP. HOYER (?): We expect to pass it by sometime tomorrow, the earlier the better. We're working on that time frame.

Q And are you going to go with the plan of splitting the bill in two? (Off mike.)

REP. HOYER (?): That would be my expectation. The Rules Committee's going to have to consider it, but I think that's the easiest way to give people who are overwhelmingly in favor of the credit card reforms to protect those who have credit cards from practices that we believe puts them at risk, and to give those who either want to vote for or against the provisions that were included in the Senate on the guns and the national parks an opportunity to vote as well. But my expectation is we will send that bill directly to the president from the House.

Q Mr. Leader, I know -- you talked about this this morning -- (off mike) -- your favorite subject, interrogations, but respectfully, that you turned a lot of fire on the press this morning about -- (off mike). Is it --

REP. HOYER: Well-deserved, I'm sure you agree. (Laughs.)

Q To that point, though, is it really the fault of the press that is keeping this going?


Q You said as much this morning.

REP. HOYER: Well, here we are discussing health care reform and energy, two huge issues. I think that the continued focus on this issue, which is what the Republicans want -- the Republicans want to distract the American public from the real issues.

In this particular case, they want to distract them from what the Bush administration did -- not as to what was said, when it was said, who said it. I believe the speaker when she says that she was not informed of what the specific aspects of the "enhanced interrogation tactics" were -- a very polite phrase, frankly, for what has come to be admittedly referred to even by the president as -- President Bush -- that -- as torture. He said we didn't torture.

My point this morning -- and I reiterate that point -- is, the Republicans want to distract the public on this issue. To the extent that the press continues to focus on that, continues to ask questions about it -- particularly at press conferences that are dealing with issues of critical importance to Americans' families and Americans' -- America's well-being, health care and energy and the other legislation we've passed -- I think they facilitate the Republicans' objective of distraction.

Q Could you be more -- you said the energy bill in June or even July. Could you be more specific? What part of June? And also, when the House comes back June 2nd, what will be -- agenda items of those first few weeks back?

REP. OBEY: Well, we're going to do appropriation bills. It'll depend upon how quickly they are able to get appropriation bills to the floor. But I expect to do all of the appropriation bills. My objective is to do all of the appropriation bills individually by the time we leave for the August break.

Secondly, we're going to have the defense authorization bill on the floor, and we're going to have the State Department reauthorization bill; Homeland Security reauthorization bill as well. My expectation is, as I told -- as I've expressed earlier today, I'm very much focused on trying to get the D.C. voting-rights bill to the floor as well. I wanted to get it done before the Memorial Day break. We weren't able to do that, but I'm focused on that.

With respect to energy and health care, obviously, energy I would expect the latter part of June or the very first part of July, and I would expect the health-care bill later in July.

Yes, sir.

Q What was Mr. Axelrod's guidance or advice regarding health reform to you guys, and what did (he say ?)?

REP. OBEY: Let me -- why don't I let the chairman of the caucus speak to that? It was his meeting.

REP. LARSON: Well, number one, I think his message was, this is something that America needs, wants and desire (sic). Let's make sure we get it done in the best possible way, and let's all pull together to make sure that that happens.

And you heard the majority leader run through the proposals. And you know, it's controlling the cost, not just in terms of the overall cost but the cost of families and the expenses that they incur individually.

Member after member got up and addressed that specific issue in the caucus. It provided an opportunity for a back-and-forth and give- and-take with the White House. Essentially everybody is singing from the same pew. We understand and we want costs to come down.

We want to make sure that in the process that we have access of quality health care, for all Americans, especially those who don't have access to health care, and also to make sure that choice becomes something that people feel that they have a greater say and more of an option, that there's non-interference -- when a doctor recommends that you need care, that you get the care; you're not turned down by some bureaucrat -- that there's portability -- if you quit, retire or get fired, you can take a program with you -- and that no preexisting conditions -- all preexisting conditions are eliminated.

And those are the essential, cardinal points that we all stand on.

Q (Off mike.)

REP. LARSON: You know, it's -- you know, of course, Mr. Axelrod is an expert in this area. But what he focused on most was how important getting the policy right is. He said, it's funny, he said, coming from a marketing background. But what is absolutely essential for America and for us, given what happened the last time around, in the '90s, that we get the policy right, and everything else will fall in line. We know what the broad goals are and terms now. Let's all pull together.

Q (Off mike.)

REP. CLYBURN: Well, guns don't have anything to do with protecting consumers on this issue.

And that's why we are going to split those two issues and vote on it the way we will vote, in order to allow those of us who will vote for the credit card bill but will not vote for the gun portion of it that's being sent to us by the Senate -- the same thing they did on the D.C. bill. And I expect something similar to come when we start doing health care. But --

Q But on the issue of guns, when it comes to D.C. voting rights -- (off mike) -- doesn't it speak to the fact that there are a lot of Democrats who are against gun control?

REP. CLYBURN: Well, sure. We have a very diverse caucus. I talk about that all the time. That's one of the things I think is a great beauty of our caucus. And I do believe that's why you see us getting such big votes for the things that we bring forward, because when we sit down as a caucus we've got just a plethora of cultures and experiences being -- discussing the bills.

And so if you've got 41 African Americans sitting in your caucus that are very, very emotional about the D.C. Voting Rights Bill, and the Republican Conference has got zero, then it's natural that we'll have some discussions and that those discussions will have some substance that you won't get in the other conference.

And so that's what is going on here with this legislation. And of course, over in the Senate you have a different set of rules to deal with. And so I think Senator Reid is doing what he -- as best he possibly can to, you know, deal with these issues. But we're going to try to accommodate those people, both groups that he has to deal with over in the Senate, by voting on bills the way we're voting on them, in order to get them out of here.

Q It seems on these positions the NRA has really gotten its way, though. Is there some frustration over that?

REP. CLYBURN: Well, there's always frustration, with me personally, over these kinds of issues. But I do come from the South, and I know how those issues are dealt with by people in the South. And although I may have the feeling that I've got, there are a lot of my constituents who feel differently. And so I understand that, and I think that's what we ought to do, is respect these kinds of differences and to try best as we possibly can to deal with them with legislation. And that's what we're trying to do.

Q To get to the credit card bill, the leadership split off the gun portion, to be voted on separately.


Q Do you think they should do that with the D.C. voters law?

REP. CLYBURN: Well, the issue here is a little bit different.

Remember, the credit card bill started here. I think the problem is, the D.C. bill started in the Senate. And I think that when you look at the procedural, as I understand the process, it's a little bit different. Now it's -- we would be in much shape and I think we would have had the D.C. bill already signed if the D.C. bill had started over here this time, as it did the last time. See, we voted the D.C. bill before. And so therefore the way the rules work, we have a different circumstance with the D.C. -- I'm -- yeah, with the D.C. voting rights bill than we have with the credit card bill.

STAFF: Thank you.

REP. CLYBURN: Thank you all so much.

Q Was there any discussion of Speaker Pelosi's controversy with the CIA in the caucus room?

REP. CLYBURN: No, not while I was in the room.

Q Have you picked up anything from your members about it, that she's lost any support?

REP. CLYBURN: (Chuckles.) Hasn't (lost any ?) support that I can tell.

Okay. Thank you.

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