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Transcript of Pelosi, Van Hollen Press Conference Today on GOP Budget

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ranking Member on the House Budget Committee, held a press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center to highlight the disastrous effects of the budget proposed by Republicans for fiscal year 2012--including ending Medicare guarantee for seniors, slashing support for seniors in nursing homes, and giving away tens of billions of dollars in tax subsidies to Big Oil Below is a transcript of the press conference.

Leader Pelosi on the GOP Budget:
"…The so-called path to progress looks more like a road to ruin for Medicare and a road to riches for Big Oil. Put simply, it is unfair, it does not create jobs, it does not grow the economy, and it does not strengthen the middle class..."

Leader Pelosi on Possibility of a Government Shutdown:
"…Let me say at this point that we do not want government to shut down, that we have made every compromise. In fact, we had cut $41 billion from the President's budget at the end of last year. The President and Senator Reid have gone much farther than that in meeting the Republicans more than halfway…"

Leader Pelosi. Good morning. I am very pleased to be here today with our senior Democrat on the Budget Committee, to thank him for his leadership, for his stamina in making the fight yesterday in the Budget Committee, again, to congratulate him on his leadership and to thank the members of the Budget Committee, as well.

We always say around here, a budget is a statement of our national values. At least, it should be. It should reflect the priorities of our nation. And as we allocate resources in the budget, it should reflect those values. That is not what we have seen come out of the Budget Committee early this morning.

The Republican budget is unfair because it has the wrong priorities: ending Medicare for our seniors, while we give tens of billions of tax breaks to Big Oil; slashing support for seniors in nursing homes, while we give tax breaks to businesses sending jobs overseas; cutting education for our children, increasing the cost of higher education for nearly 10 million students, while we give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country.

Last night, the Republican Budget Committee voted to reopen the doughnut hole. Can you imagine that? To reopen the doughnut hole, forcing seniors to pay more for their prescription drugs. This is not a statement of American values.

For America's seniors, according to AARP, the Republican budget would undermine Medicare's promise of secure health coverage. And the nonpartisan CBO says it would force seniors to pay twice as much for less--that is, when people enroll in 10 years.

A letter from 17 Democratic governors says that the Ryan plan would cut Medicare, would cut Medicaid, would severely undercut our ability to provide health care to our residents.

And for the claims of fiscal responsibility, the Republican budget would add more than $8 trillion to the national debt over the next decade--$8 trillion over the next decade.

Passing a budget and addressing our nation's economic challenges requires us to seek compromises. But threatening seniors' health and cutting off our children's education just to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires is not the middle ground that we strive to find.

In fact, we are not going to find the middle ground if we are just talking about dollars and cents. We have to take this debate to a higher ground a higher ground of our values, respect for our seniors, the education of our children, creation of jobs, while reducing the deficit.

By April 15th, the Republicans will have been in the majority for 100 days. And they have created they have put forth no jobs bill. In fact, they have voted for bills that slash jobs, and rolled out plans to end Medicare.

The so-called path to progress looks more like a road to ruin for Medicare and a road to riches for Big Oil. Put simply, it is unfair, it does not create jobs, it does not grow the economy, and it does not strengthen the middle class.

I am very proud of the fight that Mr. Van Hollen and the House Democrats presented yesterday, last night, all day, I guess, all day and evening, in the Budget Committee. I thank him for his leadership, and I yield the podium to him.

Thank you.

Congressman Van Hollen. Well, thank you, Madam Leader. And thank you for your leadership on these issues.

And I fear that what we are seeing right now on the CR is just a preview of things to come when we get to the main event, which, of course, is the budget for fiscal year 2012.

And what we saw all day yesterday in the Budget Committee was the plan the Republicans have. And behind the sunny rhetoric of reform, you have the same old ideological agenda: big tax breaks for the very wealthy in this country, continued big subsidies for the oil industry and other special interests, continued breaks for companies that ship American jobs instead of American products overseas. And at the expense of what? Cutting education for our kids; cutting essential research in science and development, including research to find cures and treatments to cancer and other diseases; cutting important investments in our national infrastructure, the kind of investments that made this country strong.

And, as they talk about providing the very wealthy with an added tax break, if you move the top rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, on average, millionaires would get a $100,000 tax break. Now, if you do that in a revenue neutral way, who pays? Middle class taxpayers. And, in fact, when we offered an amendment yesterday to protect those middle class taxpayers, they rejected it.

And all of these cuts for the very top so that they can cut away the fundamental Medicare guarantee for our seniors. And I want to be very clear about what that does. And there is no dispute about this. Seniors, under that proposal, will no longer have the Medicare option. They will be required they will be required to go into the private health insurance market and fight for a policy and try and get a policy when the funds, vouchers, whatever you want to call it, they are given are going steadily downward in relationship to the rising health care costs.

Seniors, you are on your own with the rising health care costs and the insurance industry, under this proposal. It is rationing by income, and you will not be able to find the doctor you use if the plan that you can now afford doesn't have your doctor.

Everyone's payroll taxes for Medicare now and all the premiums that seniors are paying for Medicare, where do they go? They go to the insurance industry, which stands to make a bonanza out of this, and seniors are left on their own.

I want to close by making this important point. Number one, this is not similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, as has been stated. Under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, there is what is called a "fair share formula." The beneficiary and the provider, in this case the Federal Government, share the risks of rising health care costs. That is not the case under this proposal for Medicare.

What they are saying is they want a much better deal for Members of Congress than they want for seniors, because it was very clear that they are not changing those formulas for Federal employees, as they shouldn't. But they are asking seniors to take on the risk of rising health care costs that they themselves, as Members of Congress, will not take.

And that is a very bad deal for seniors. It may be a good deal for the insurance companies, but, from the perspective of seniors, Medicare is terminated in its current form. No more guarantee, you are on your own.

Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much, Ranking Member Van Hollen.

As many of you or some of you who were here at the time, 5 years ago, the Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the Senate had to meet the challenge and beat back a Republican effort, led by President Bush, to privatize Social Security. Here we are 5 years later, and we are fighting an effort on the part of the Republicans to end Medicare.

Many of you also know, some time ago, then-Speaker Gingrich said, "It will wither on the vine because people will voluntarily leave it." He repeated "voluntarily." This Republican budget goes that one better by eliminating Medicare. There is not even an option to leave it voluntarily, because it will no longer exist.

So this is a fight that our caucus is very unified behind. It is stunning to see the radical nature of what the Republican Budget Committee and the Republican leadership are proposing to America's seniors. We will not let it happen.

And I am pleased to take questions on the subject.

Q: Ms. Pelosi, can you give us what your understanding is of the latest in spending negotiations for this year and what the outstanding issues are that remain?

Leader Pelosi. Well, you would really have to speak to the Democratic leader in the Senate, the President, or Mr. Boehner because they are inside that room. But the understanding that we have is that they are working very hard.

Let me say at this point that we do not want government to shut down, that we have made every compromise. In fact, we had cut $41 billion from the President's budget at the end of last year. The President and Senator Reid have gone much farther than that in meeting the Republicans more than halfway.

But we understand that some of the concerns are about the amount and some are about the rider. But everybody understands that we cannot shut down government.

Q: Madam Leader, Senator Reid was on the floor today, and he said that, basically, the numbers are getting very close, that they are almost there, but the outstanding issue now is over this abortion issue and the other riders. I wondered if you could weigh in on that and tell us if you think that, if that comes off the table, if any of your Members will…

Leader Pelosi. I appreciate that you have said that that is what Senator Reid has said. I do not know that that is the sum total of the policy objections that exist, the policy differences that exist, between those who are negotiating here. So far, we haven't seen anything that House Democrats can support, but we hope that they will arrive at a place that we can.

Q: Erskine Bowles, the President's fiscal commission chair, told the Senate Budget Committee recently that America faces the most predictable economic crisis in history because of the national debt. And he said that this crisis is going to hit in about 2 years. Do you both agree with that assessment?

Leader Pelosi. I am going to yield to the Budget Ranking Member, but I will have something to say about it, as well.

Congressman Van Hollen. Well, first, I think that the bipartisan fiscal commission did a great service to the country by putting a lot of ideas on the table for discussion. And those have been the subject of a lot of debate. And I think some will move forward as we go through this process. And we will see how it shakes out.

Do we have a deficit problem in this country? Yeah, we have to get our deficits under control over the long run in a steady, predictable way. That is not what the debate is about. The debate is how best to do that.

And anybody watching the Budget Committee the other day would have seen a very different set of values and choices. Time after time, we said, you have to make sure that the very wealthy in the country pay their fair share. You cannot say you are going to cut Medicare benefits for seniors, that you are going to cut education, and then say you are going to give the folks at the very top an even bigger tax break.

Now, let me mention what Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson said about the Republican budget for 2012. They said it was not balanced and not comprehensive. Why? For the very reasons that I say.

The fiscal commission's budget assumes that the folks at the very top will go back to the same tax rates they had during the Clinton years--years when the economy was going through the roof, lots of job growth. What happens in the Republican budget is they have chosen, as I said earlier, to give folks at the very top big tax breaks, special interests big tax breaks?

And that is why Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson said just the other day that it was not a balanced approach to dealing with the deficits going forward. We need a balanced approach.

Q: So, do you agree with him, though, that there is going to be, what he called, the most predictable economic crisis in history, that that is coming, and soon?

Congressman Van Hollen. I agree that the most important thing that we have to focus on is getting our economy back in full gear and getting people back to work. And that is our focus.

And, interestingly--and I don't know if you followed it the other day--but there is this, sort of, prediction that if you adopt this Republican budget, that it will create jobs. That prediction was made by The Heritage Foundation, the same group that predicted that the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 would lead to huge job growth in the United States. And they predicted millions and millions of jobs would flow from that.

I think we all know the end of that story. The end of that story, we actually lost over 650,000 private sector jobs at the end of the Bush administration. So, clearly, that was a failed approach.

So our focus should be on jobs. It should be about the right prescription for jobs, and that is what we have been focused on.

Leader Pelosi. I believe that the commission, the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson, Simpson-Bowles commission, presented many good suggestions to the American people and to the Congress of the United States, most of them ignored by the Republican writers of the Republican budget.

They talked about subjecting the defense budget to some scrutiny in a very significant way. They talked about ending revenue earmarks; that means tax--what do we call them? Tax expenditures. That means tax breaks for Big Oil, for example--about looking at these tax expenditures. That was ignored by the Budget Committee.

And they also, as have others who have reviewed the situation, have said, you have to reduce spending, but you cannot do it too quickly or you will harm the recovery that we need to have, the creation of jobs and recovery that we need to have.

So whether we characterize when the moment of truth is on this budget, I wish that some of our Republican friends who are tooting that horn would have been around and saying something when President Bush was increasing the deficit, coming out of President Clinton's last four or five budgets either in surplus or in balance. And then with the tax cuts for the rich, which did not create jobs, two unpaid for wars, and a giveaway to the private sector on the prescription drug bill, took us to this place of deep deficit. As they took us to deep recession, they didn't have growth, and a fiscal crisis, which reduced revenues, as well.

So we want to have an approach that recognizes that we have a challenge; we all know we have to reduce the deficit. We are not presenting any bills to our children and our grandchildren. But we have to do so in a way that promotes growth, that promotes growth, that keeps us number one from the standpoint of innovation, and, again, sensibly reduces spending, but not to try to do it in a way that reduces education, which brings more money to the Treasury than any other initiative you can name.

We all agree we have to reduce the deficit. The question is how do we do it. We are returning to the same path of disaster that President Bush took us on: tax cuts for the rich, not creating jobs, not encouraging growth.

Q: Leader Pelosi, the CR that is on the board today the Republicans are describing as a "troop funding bill."

Leader Pelosi. That is not the--I am sorry

Q: The 1 week CR that is on the floor.

Leader Pelosi. Oh, I see. And they are describing it as what?

Q: They are describing it as the "troop funding bill." I am just wondering, do you think that there will be much, if any, Democratic support for it? And are you concerned at all about this perception about the troops not getting paid during a shutdown?

Leader Pelosi. No, I think that we will have--the choice that we will have on this floor will be a clear one when we have the debate as we have the debate. We certainly intend to keep government open so that our troops will be funded.

For them to hide behind our troops while they build a future unworthy of the sacrifice of our troops, with the initiatives that they have in H.R. 1 and the proposal that they are making, is a contradiction in terms.

But I believe we will have a solid vote against that, because it is not the right path to do for our economy and for our troops and for the strength of our country as defined both militarily and economically. So I think you will see a strong Democratic "no" on that, and I would hope that the President would veto that bill.

Q: As a follow up, are you worried about that being seen as not voting for our troops?

Leader Pelosi. No. We cannot--I mean, we know who we are. We are the ones who have supported our troops all along. We have done more for our men and women in uniform and when they come home as veterans than has been done in the history of our country--all of that with a great deal of Republican opposition.

So for them to want to disguise their bad proposal by hiding behind our troops is really a disservice to our troops.

Congressman Van Hollen. This is a very cynical ploy, to use our troops to try to impose the Republican agenda through the budget process. They are saying, unless you yield to our demands on our very radical social agenda which is what they are trying to impose through this--we are not going to move forward in helping our troops. That is a cynical ploy. The American people will see right through that.

Leader Pelosi. And, by the way, when we had this in our bill, our omnibus bill and the rest last year to fund the troops, they voted against it. So this has a--some would use harsher words. I will say "inconsistency" about it that does not look good in the light of day.

Thank you all.

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