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Pelosi Remarks at Aging in America Conference Opening Session

Location: San Francisco, CA

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks today at the Aging in America Conference opening session in San Francisco. The Aging in America Conference is the largest gathering of a diverse, multidisciplinary community of professionals from the fields of aging, health care and education, along with business leaders from across the United States, and this year's theme is "The Future of Aging Services in America." Below are the Leader's remarks.

"John Feather, thank you for your invitation and for your introduction to be here today, for your leadership of the American Society of Aging, the largest association of professionals working in the field of aging. I extend my congratulations to all of the honorees for their well-deserved recognition, to all of the young people, I know there are some students here, some working people, for all of you who are here today on this subject of concern to many of us personally, as well as officially for our country. I want to thank President Stein, the president of the organization for his leadership and also welcome Louis Colbert, the incoming chairman as I recognize John Feather for his leadership up until now.

"I would also like to acknowledge all of the society's members and welcome you all who come here from around the country and around the world to the great city of San Francisco, the district I represent. I know that you have an admirable goal to improve the quality of life for older Americans and their families; your theme and title "Aging in America'--to make aging in America better.

"I also want to take a personal moment to acknowledge the presence of former Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly, a woman with whom I served in Congress and watched as she led on the Ways and Means Committee on issues relating to seniors and others in our society, our children and those who are vulnerable in our society. She has for a long time been in the leadership of the Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, she has great credibility among seniors in our country, the respect of her former colleagues in the Congress and I am honored to be with her today. Let us salute Barbara Kennelly for her great work.

"Bob Blancato is on the board of the society. He has been inviting me to come for many months. In fact, when he invited me, I was Speaker of the House, and he said the invitation still stands. Little did I know that when we all came together here that we would be involved not only in improving the lives of those aging in America, but in a big fight to preserve Medicare, so I am very honored to accept, Bob Blancato. Well, you see, he is an Italian-American and we bond that way, so here I am.

"I am pleased to be here with Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for Aging in the Obama Administration, she served--Barbara Kennelly and I went to Trinity College in Washington, so did Kathleen Sebelius, well we were not all there at the same time. Kathleen came after us and we are very proud of her as we are of the work of the Obama Administration. And to the point of Medicare, I am pleased that the President has said that we will preserve Medicare as we know it, we will fight.

"For the young people, for the students shall we say, who are here on a matter of history, in 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating Medicare. He said this when he did so, "No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings, seniors have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years, no longer will young families see their own incomes and their own hopes eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligation to their parents.'

"With this statement President Johnson elevated the debate to the higher ground of values. With the sweep of his pen, President Johnson codified a commitment between America's citizens and their government, those who have spent their lifetimes contributing to our nation will be guaranteed medical care as seniors. For the last 46 years, it has been the responsibility of elected officials to preserve and strengthen that promise. I know the theme of this afternoon is the Future of Aging Services in America, so I want to try to focus my remarks there and that part is about honoring our commitment to Medicare.

"Honoring that promise, just a little more than one year ago, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, making history for our country. Standing right up there with the establishment of Social Security and Medicare, affordable health care for all Americans as a right, not a privilege. At the center of our efforts was strengthening Medicare in the Affordable Care Act. And in it, as relates to our subject today, the Affordable Care Act reduces prescription drug costs for seniors, provides a free annual wellness visit under Medicare and providing free Medicare coverage of key preventive services, strengthens Medicare and extends the solvency of Medicare trust fund by 12 years without reducing benefits and helps seniors remain at home. We will fight repeal of this health care bill and we will preserve Medicare.

"This year we will work to re-authorize the Older Americans Act. As you know, this act provides Meals on Wheels, helps seniors with long-term care planning and pension counseling and filing tax returns. It also provides community service jobs for low income seniors. The Older Americans Act empowers many of you to do the work that you do. We all support you in that.

"But after making historic progress, building on Social Security and Medicare in our Affordable Care Act, we now face some historic threats, I am sad to say. But I say it in a hopeful spirit that working together, we will push them back. It is very timely that you are having a conference about the future of aging services because many of the core initiatives for America's seniors may be in jeopardy. Consider the cuts in the Republican path continuing resolution this year: a $375 million or 45 percent cut in the senior community service employment program, which helps older adults who need to remain in or return to the workforce, to avoid financial crisis, that's one; a $425 million or 51 percent cut in the supportive housing for elderly initiative which helps seniors facing homelessness. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning.

"The Republican budget that passed the House less than two weeks ago also breaks the promise that President Johnson made and that we have sustained for over 45 years. Make no mistake, their budget intends to end Medicare as we know it. Their budget drastically reduces benefits for seniors and forces them to buy their insurance from health insurance companies. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the cost to seniors will double from $6,150 to $12,500 dollars. $6,000 dollars more--who has that? Do you know many seniors who can just out of pocket that for less in benefits?

"Furthermore, the Republican budget destroys much of the progress made in the Affordable Care Act. It ends support to the Class Act which many of you know is an essential first step for addressing the long-term care need in our society. It reopens the donut hole. The Affordable Care Act was closing the donut hole, now they want to re-open the donut hole and raise prescription drug costs for seniors. How could that be? It ends free preventative services like a regular check-up and some of the other services that I mentioned earlier.

"Simply put, the budget ends Medicare as we know it. It makes the wrong choices. It ends Medicare while giving big tax breaks of billions of dollars to Big Oil, making record profits in our country. It slashes support of nursing home care under Medicaid and gives tax breaks to corporations who are sending jobs overseas. It cuts education for children and raises the cost of college for nearly 10 million young adults and veterans, while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country, adding $1 trillion to the deficit with those tax cuts. The impact of the Republican budget on Medicaid is devastating, $770 billion in cuts over the next 10 years.

"You know that Medicaid in California is called MediCal. It is a lifeline for many seniors and the strength of Medicaid is essential for the success of Medicare, especially for seniors and nursing homes. But Republicans want to undermine the entire system by dramatically reducing federal Medicaid spending through turning it into a block grant. A block grant is nothing more than a way for the federal government to shift costs and risks to states, providers and beneficiaries--to share the costs there, to states, providers and beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are going to share the costs now. In order to squeeze out federal savings, the block grants will be well below what is provided today. When states will not be able to afford current eligibility and services, there will be particularly devastating effects upon our nation's most vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities. We cannot allow this to happen.

"When we have these debates, people are always saying, "Why don't you find the middle ground?' And I agree we have a responsibility when we can to find middle ground. But is that middle ground splitting the difference? Seniors won't have to pay $6,000 more, they will have to pay $5,000 more or $4,000 more? I think that we shouldn't be seeking middle ground to split the difference. I think we should take it to a higher ground and share the values rather than split the difference. It's about values.

"Because this budget breaks the promise that President Lyndon Johnson talked about that this country made to its seniors, that after a lifetime of work, they will be able to depend on Medicare to protect them in retirement; because this budget is the wrong choice for seniors and for the American people, because what the Republicans are proposing does not create jobs, does not responsibly reduce the deficit, does not strengthen the middle class and does not care appropriately for our seniors, you can be sure that we will be all working against it. But we must succeed.

"In 1935, mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, Social Security was established in our country to give economic security to our seniors and people with disabilities. 30 years later we enacted Medicare, a pillar of health security for our seniors. And last year we stood there with our champions and had the Affordable Care Act becoming the third pillar of security for the American people.

"The morning after the healthcare bill passed, President Obama called me and he said, "Last night when the health care bill passed the House, I was happier than I was the night I was elected President of the United States.' Now remember Grant Park and that beautiful speech the night he was elected President of the United States? I said: "Well I was pretty happy last night too, Mr. President. But I wasn't happier than the night you got elected President of the United States, because if you weren't elected President of the United States we would have never been able to pass the Affordable Care Act--with your leadership and your persuasion and commitment.' We simply could not have done it without him. We simply could not have done it without many of you in this room as well.

"There were some dark days when we were making the fight to make health care in America a right for all Americans and not just a privilege for a few, to have expanded coverage and ending discrimination in coverage where no longer will being a woman be a pre-existing medical condition. Where we had talked about expanding in the Recovery bill and in the health care bill increasing our investments in biomedical research and making all of that science available to all Americans. Where we talked about technologies, information technologies and how that brought home, or to the neighborhood or community where a person was, his or her personal records. So, improved quality, lower costs, more expanded coverage to many more people, it's very, very important for our country.

"You have heard some misrepresentations about it, but you should also know that it is about prevention and wellness and innovation. It's about the future. It's about personalized, customized care. It's about something very different. It's about establishing the principle that the most privileged person in America has the best possible health care if the poorest person in America has access to health care as well.

"And so, in some of those darker days, when the press would come to me and say, "You seem pretty certain that you are going to pass this bill but it looks kind of in doubt, how do you intend to do this?' I said, I told Barbara Kennelly this a long time ago so forgive me, Barbara. I said: "We are going to go up to gate. We are going to push open the gate and if the gate doesn't open, we are going to climb the fence. And if the fence is too high, we are going to pole-vault in. And if that doesn't work we are going to parachute in, but nothing is going to stand in the way of our having health care as a right, not a privilege, in America.'

"So when it was over, the press came and said, "Which did you do? Which one?' I said, "As a matter of fact, we pushed open the gate.' We went up to that gate 220 members strong--all Democrats, I wish it were bipartisan--pushed open that gate until it opened. But we were not alone. So many people in this room were there with us, those of you who cared about this issue, who supported people who cared about this issue and who would vote for health care for all Americans. So many of you who were an intellectual resource as to how the best way was to go forward with our innovation and our wellness and our prevention and our universal access. So many of you were part of pushing open that gate so I am here to say thank you to you for the role that you played as we observe the one-year anniversary of the passing of the bill. We simply could not have pushed open that gate without you. I hope you take some level of pride and satisfaction in the role that you played. We could not have done it without President Obama, we could not have done it without you, so thank you for the role that you played.

"For now we have to protect these pillars. We have to say, yes we must reduce the deficit and we must do it responsibly. We must put everything on the table. I believe Social Security should have a table all its own. If we are going to look at Social Security and make it solvent and make changes in it, all of the benefits must redound to the solvency of Social Security. We can never use a raising of the age or a raising of the fee in order to give a tax cut for the wealthiest people in America in order to balance the budget. So, Social Security is its own case.

"In Medicare we already cut $500 billion and Republicans misrepresented during the campaign as you saw, and now they are taking that same $500 billion, instead of contributing to the solvency of Medicare and closing the donut hole, they are using the money to give to the insurance companies, not to reduce the deficit but to privatize Medicare. We simply cannot let that happen.

"Now as I said at the start of my remarks, when I received my invitation to be here, I thought we would be talking in a very positive way about new, fresh initiatives as we go forward. One of the reasons I love being in Congress was to pass a health care bill and to make sure it was not repealed. Little did I know that from day one of this Congress we would not only protecting a health care bill, we would have to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but that is the fight that we are in.

"So I come here today when I was invited, with a little bit of a different spirit than when I was invited but I thought it would be really important for you to know what the stakes are in this debate in Congress. And I think, and I honestly believe, that as long as we keep talking about dollar and cents, it's hard for the American people to think that isn't some money that can be cut. But as long as we take it to values, to the higher ground of values, of respect for our seniors, for the education of our children, for the creation of jobs, for the responsible reducing of our deficit as we protect the American people, I believe we can find a better common ground at the higher ground true to the principles of our founders, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they set forth for us. So we have a tall order to honor their vision, the vision of our founders, the aspiration of our children, to honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, God Bless them, and to respect the work of our seniors and what they have done to build our families, to build our country, to make us strong.

"So I congratulate all of you who are here to protect those pillars. We will say no to ending Medicare, we will continue to make progress on behalf of America's seniors. I thank the American Society for Aging for your leadership and for making aging in America a much better prospect for all Americans. Thank you for the opportunity today."

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