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Weekly Press Conference With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good morning, everyone.

This has been a great week for veterans as we prepare for the 4th of July. We are very proud of the actions taken by the House of Representatives.

This week, earlier in the week, we passed as you know the supplemental bill. It's a source of great pride to me that in that legislation, we not only supported our men and women in uniform in the legislation, but we also had a provision that extends the GI Bill of Rights to families of the fallen.

When we passed the bill last year, we were very proud of it. You would be able to transfer a benefit from a veteran who wasn't interested in using it to a family member.

What emerged in our conversation with family members is that if your family member fell in combat, you lost the benefit. So for us, this is a specific, but very important improvement in the lives of our veterans when they come home.

Earlier this week, we met with the veteran service organizations. They were very pleased with that turn of events and now it will be the law.

In addition to that, we had good news for them, something they've been asking for for years and that's advanced appropriations funding. This is a very big deal for the veterans.

As you know, the veterans issue has been a high priority for us. We planted that flag when we took the majority in the Congress. We did more in that first two years than had been done in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration. It's now, 78, 79 years old. We have a Democratic president in the White House, Secretary Shinseki working with him; we are able to do even more.

So the advanced appropriations for those of you who follow appropriations or follow veterans know that this is a giant step forward.

At the same time under authorizing side, the Armed Services Committee marked up its bill well into the wee, small hours of the morning, the next day practically and they have a pay raise for our veterans, $1.9 billion for family housing, establishes something that the families wanted, an internship pilot program for military spouses.

So I'm very delighted with what we were able to report to the veteran service organizations, Military Family Association and others about what happened in just sort of a 48-hour period that was so helpful to them and made us all so proud.

Since we met last week, we also passed the tobacco bill on the floor of the House last Friday, passed in the Senate, passed in the House both with strong bipartisan majorities and signed by the president on Monday.

And we are also very pleased on another front that we talked about last week and that is that we have introduced our PAYGO legislation. We have -- 155 members have co-sponsored the PAYGO legislation in the House. This is very important for us because as we go forward to follow the blueprints set forth in our budget to invest in education, health care and energy, to grow our economy, to create jobs and reduce the deficit, the PAYGO piece of this is essential.

And so the legislation will be coming to the floor when we're ready and that will be soon and it's something that I'm very proud of. Steny Hoyer, our Majority Leader, George Miller, Aaron Hill, Peter Welch are the lead authors of the legislation.

I always want to remind my caucus and I tell you this, perhaps I mentioned it last week, but if I don't remember if I did, maybe you won't remember if I did, and that is that while this is an article of faith for the Blue Dogs in our caucus and has since become a guiding principle for our entire caucus, pay as you go, we must reduce the deficit. We cannot heap mountains of debt onto future generations.

As long ago as 1982 when many of us were gathered at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, George Miller of California, a progressive, liberal, whatever the name, Democrat, proposed a resolution that won and became part of the Democratic platform and that was pay as you go, very similar to the legislation that we are introducing now.

We lived under that in the '90s and in President Clinton's administration, his last four budgets were either in balance or in surplus. We want to return to that.

As we go forward now, we are coming -- nearly finished with our energy bill in terms of putting it together. We'll bring it to the floor as soon as it is ready, and of course, we are making great progress on the health bill, as well in the House.

I'm very proud of our three chairmen, Mr. Miller, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Rangel who are working together in unison to bring that legislation to the floor to make a very significant difference in the lives of the American people.

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

Q (Off mike) -- mixed review up here. There were some concerns that the Fed -- give the Fed too much power. What changes, if any, would you like to see in the legislation?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, first of all, I commend the president for his announcement yesterday, very important that it represents real change. Barney Frank is taking the lead for us as you may have observed. He was there when the president signed the order yesterday and I spoke with him this morning. We'll be meeting in the next 24 hours to continue the conversation about how we go forward legislatively to implement if necessary if it needs legislation or to have some other suggestions of our own.

We're particularly pleased with what the president did on the new consumer financial protection agency, long overdue. People in our country who are in jeopardy of losing their jobs, of losing their homes, of having their savings jeopardized, and therefore, the education of their children in question, it is very important for us to have this consumer protection agency.

So I'm very pleased with what the president did. We may want to do more.

Q (Off mike) -- gives the Fed too much power or no decision on it yet?

SPEAKER PELOSI: The new authority for the Fed to supervise all firms that could pose a systemic threat to our financial -- use the word again, system, I think is very important. I wish that had been in place before.

I'm not certain that the Fed could not have assumed some more authority or used more authority than it did in a more timely way, but having higher capital standards for all firms, having the Fed one standard to look at all of them, I think is very important.

I, myself, personally, I'm very pleased that the Office of Thrift Supervision is now eliminated or blended actually into the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The fact that the Office of Thrift Supervision should have had oversight of AIG, this giant insurance company had as one of its investments a thrift, and therefore, placed that under the OTS is absolutely ridiculous and I'm glad that that office is gone.

Q Madame Speaker?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes. Do you have a question there?

Q (Off mike.) There are 232 cosponsors currently of this legislation and Representative Paul has proposed to do audits of the comptroller general, 66 of those cosponsors are Democrats. What's your position on that particular bill, in general, in terms of this expanded role that the Fed has taken on?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, the fact is that the American people want to know more of "The Secrets Of The Temple" as the book was -- before you were born, the secrets of the temple. It was required reading in my day. But, certainly, we want to know more -- many of us were, shall we say, not surprised, taken aback when the Fed had $80 billion to put into AIG just out of the blue. All of a sudden we make up one morning and AIG was receiving $80 billion from the Fed. So, of course, we're saying where is this money coming from? Oh, we have it. And not only that, we have more.

So a balance has to be struck as to what is required to run the Fed in a responsible way, but what transparency there should be so that as the Fed even assumes more power as indicated by what the president had to say that the American people have more knowledge about it. I'm really not familiar with the details of Representative Paul's --

Q The CBO report on current health care plans show that it's costing, at least part of it already costing upwards of $1.5 trillion and only cutting the number of uninsured by a third.

How concerned are you about the cost of health care? And do you have confidence they've run into some issues over on the Senate side of finding a way to pay for the plan?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I believe they were just scoring a particular bill. Let me say a few things fundamentally, first of all, the health care bill will be paid for. Second of all, we have to reduce cost; the cost must be reduced as we go forward. We know there are many initiatives of prevention and wellness and the rest that may not score down, but nonetheless, we have to try to keep the number, a containable one, an affordable one, one where waste, fraud, abuse, other aspects of as the president has already indicated, there's money to be found in Medicare and Medicaid, not that that's waste, fraud and abuse, but just in how it is managed and administratively it's okay, but how the money is spent.

And we can wring out money and we must. We can't just say, well, we want the health care bill we want and we'll pay for it and how we're going to do that, no, we have to reduce cost, establish priorities and then go forward with how we pay for it. So that one -- that particular bill as to what it costs and who it covers really is a separate subject from what the legislation that we will put forth in the House.

Q A follow on health care, Madame Speaker.


Q Last week, you said that there is support in the House for a public option, but it doesn't appear to be the same in the Senate. Given the snag that they're hitting in health care negotiations in the Senate, are you concerned that, ultimately, it will be tough for Congress to pass a bill with a public option in the timeline that the president has laid out?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I have every confidence that we will have a public option coming out of the House of Representatives. It will be on that is actuarially sound, administratively self-sufficient, one that contributes and adds to competition, does not eliminate competition. It may not be called a public option. But it will be a level playing field, public option by whatever name, level playing field.

So that is what is -- what we will have and we will work to get support for in the House of Representatives and I feel confident that we will and that what we put together will have -- will be reconcilable, conferenceable, whatever the word is with the Senate of the United States.

I feel very comfortable about it and I believe that for us to have substantial health care reform, this has to be a part of it. I'm so pleased that President Obama has been so positive in his statements as well.

Q Just to follow up, given the snags in the Senate and the inability to get the votes, are you saying that it could be something short of the public option?


Q That you support that ultimately gets to the president?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No. Definitely not. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying we will have a public option in the House that will be real. If it's not real, it's no use doing and if we don't do a public option, I'm not sure that we have as effective a public health care reform as we wished.

When you talk about snags, we're on Capitol Hill. We're in the legislative process. The give and take, the back and forth of different ideas, you may call them snags, we call them the legislative process and this is a situation where everybody wants to hear everyone's ideas, put it all on the table, see what it does for the American people. What is it that we can afford? Establish our priorities. And that competition of ideas is why we all come here. We don't all come here because we all think alike on every subject and the reform of the health care system in our country in terms of expanding access to health care, making it affordable, quality, accessible, having prevention and wellness right in the front, reducing cost, retaining choice, this is a tall order and it isn't something where you write it out on a piece of paper and everyone salutes. It's the vitality of ideas is what will make it workable and what this health care reform will be is affordable, quality, accessible and workable for the American people, reduce costs and it will be paid for.

Yes, on health care, on health care you said.

Q Actually, mine is on PAYGO.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Okay. Let's stay on health care for a moment and then we'll go to PAYGO.

Q (Off mike.) When you talk about the public plan, how much government support do you see in that? Will there be federal dollars committed to the plan? Will it be start up or seed money? Or do you see a continuing effort with the government --

SPEAKER PELOSI: No. I do not see a continuing effort. It doesn't exist now. So it will have to start up. The question is more -- should the money that is invested in it be recoupable, is that possible or is it just something that starts it up and then it will be self-sustaining? Because that's really the only way that it could be competitive, you know, that is to say -- this is not to drown out the private sector. This is to say let's all do our best, let's compete, let's give the American people the choice that they want and that they need and that is better served by a public option that is, again, sound, fiscally, actuarially and what it provides to people.

I was going to go back to PAYGO.

Q Just real quickly. You mentioned Mr. Miller and his role in '82, but one of the issues with PAYGO was the idea of sequestration, that mandatory programs like Medicare, particularly, would be cut if there was a deficit on the scorecard under PAYGO.

Is that causing problems with the progressives in your caucus?

SPEAKER PELOSI: We have put a proposal on the table. We will now have the legislative process weigh in on it. One thing that for sure is and I'll keep coming back to this no matter what I talk about, we will have a PAYGO that will work, that will reduce the deficit and will take us down in terms of the national debt, and therefore, excuse me, the interest on the federal debt.

If you look at the pie chart of the federal budget and you see how much is spent on interest on the national debt, it should tell you that something is very wrong with this picture and that we must reduce the deficit and taking it back to health care, health care reform is entitlement reform. That will do more to reduce the deficit and the growth of the health care entitlement and what that means to the budget deficit than anything you can name.

Q (Off mike.) Senators are quite frustrated with how CBO is scoring the potential savings of health care reform.


Q Can something be done to perhaps change the way CBO's scoring goes -- the savings or would it make sense to use OMB numbers or score reform using another source?

SPEAKER PELOSI: It has always been a source of, yes, I'll say frustration for many of us in the Congress that the CBO will always give you the worst-case scenario on one initiative and never, or not even a best-case, any credit for anything that happens if you have early intervention in health care, if you have prevention, if you have wellness, if you have the inoculation of children, even if you have education. You name any positive investment that we make that we know reduces cost, brings money to the Treasury in the case of education, but never scored positively by the CBO. Yes, it's frustrating.

I hope that we will see them say this is what we see the cost of something, we have not accounted for the benefits because they don't and they haven't and it should not be inferred from what they do that they have.

Thank you all very much. Thank you.

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