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House Democratic Leadership Press Conference - Transcript

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley, House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey, and Congressman Steve Israel held a press conference today calling on House Republicans to remain in Washington, D.C. and work to avoid the impact of detrimental across-the-board cuts to the national security and economic well-being of middle class Americans. Below is a transcript of Leader Pelosi's opening and closing remarks and the Q and A session:

Leader Pelosi. Did you all have a glorious Valentine's Day? Or as we say -- St. Valentine's Day?

Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here as we just came from a vote recently on the floor, where the Democrats tried to stop the Republicans from leaving, but 222 Republicans voted to adjourn. That means that we have, what -- four legislative days left to avoid the across the board cuts. This month, the Republicans are engaged in some early March Madness. They're playing games with our economy. They're playing games with jobs for the American people. They're playing games with our investments in the future. It's just not right. We -- the job stability and security of the middle class, that the President emphasized so eloquently in his State of the Union address, that stability of the middle class hangs in the balance. The last thing Republicans should do is to kick off another recess -- nine days will it be Steny, that we will be out to avert a manufactured crisis. The manufacture of the crisis, and then instead of having us try to avert that crisis, they go on a nine-day recess.

Why? Why? People inside and outside the Congress are saying a simple message: "no deal, no break.' We really should be here. Democrats are about solutions, the Republicans are about sequester. We want a balanced approach of responsible cuts, revenue, and growth. A plan for fairness to create jobs and reduce the deficit. The Republican strategy of obstruction and delay and recess injects uncertainty into our economy, our markets, our consumer confidence -- just not right. The Democrats want to get a job done and we're here to tell you, once again, about that.

I'm pleased to yield to our distinguished Democratic Whip, who had some words to say on this on the floor of the House earlier, which I hope he will also share with you, Mr. Hoyer.


Leader Pelosi. I thank my colleagues for their statements here today, but all of their hard work going into reaching that compromise. And, Mr. Van Hollen, we thank you especially on the Budget Committee for the work that you have done there and Congresswoman, Madam Chair -- Ranking Member -- for pointing out so clearly what the consequences are of this.

As I was listening to my colleagues and the word "sequester' and "sequestration' kept coming up, I was thinking most people in America, don't know what that word means. Right? What it means is: unemployment. Sequester equals job loss, there is absolutely no question about that. So why would you want to engage in job loss when instead we could come together for a solution that is reasonable, that is balanced, that is bipartisan, that will promote growth with jobs, with responsible cuts, with additional revenue, we can get through this.

Why not? Why not? We should not be going home. We should, in the House, be working. Because, as has been said, the beauty of what is going on, with Mr. Van Hollen's committee on the Democratic side, and under the leadership of Chairwoman Patty Murray in the Senate, the proposals are divided evenly between cuts and revenue. And among the cuts, their divided, the spending cuts are divided between domestic and defense. We have a little more revenue in our bill to even things off from the House side, but what's important to note is that we in the House should be here. Because when you have revenue bills, when you have spending bills like that, you must begin in the House. Anybody who knows the Constitution knows that, that the power of the purse and revenue begins in the House of Representatives.

So, when the Speaker says: "well, I'm waiting to see if the Senate acts, that means I'm not doing anything. Because we must begin, we must begin. So, again, let's not give new meaning to the term "March Madness,' which right now is associated with great fun, competition, and I saw the Hoyas win the other night -- I know the Terps are doing great, Steny. We're getting ready for March Madness in two weeks.


But that's what we like to think of March Madness, not madness that springs from us going into recess that could lead us into recession as Mr. Israel has said.

With that, we'd be pleased to take -- I know my colleagues would be pleased to take any questions you may have.

Yes sir?


Q: Why -- you seem to be giving the Democrats in the Senate a pass on this? Why so?

Leader Pelosi. Why are we saying giving them a pass?

Q: You're giving them a pass -- they went home...

Leader Pelosi. Yeah, but the bill has to begin in the House. The bill has to begin in the House. The bill has to begin in the House.

Mr. Van Hollen. Well, look, look, here are a couple other numbers. Zero, the number of times House Republicans have done anything to avoid the sequester in this Congress. They've done nothing in the 113th Congress, Senate Democrats have now put a plan on the table, which we think is a good plan, it would avoid the sequester.

So, we're here in Washington all united, and they're going home. I'm sure that -- I, I, we can get Harry Reid -- he'll come back if Speaker Boehner will join with us in supporting the plan the House and Senate Democrats and the President of the United States support to avoid the sequester and avoid 750,000 Americans losing their job. We'll do it. They've put a plan on the table on the table this Congress. We've put a plan on the table this Congress. House Republicans have put zero plans on the table this Congress to avoid the sequester.

Whip Hoyer. In fact, Tom, as you well know, anytime this is mentioned they talk about what they did in the last Congress, those bills are gone. But they keep pointing to them as if somehow magically they're going to be resurrected, well if they want to resurrect them, put them in, put them on the floor and let's vote.

Q: Madam Leader, thank you. Can you address, you know you often talk about education, and health, and other areas here, we've so much about the sequester, if it hits, about it hitting defense spending. Can you layout, maybe some of the others could as well, your two or three areas that are most important to Democrats that the sequester hits would impact in the spending area.

Leader Pelosi. Well, the -- I'm going to defer to our Budget Chair because he has worked with all of our Caucus on this, but I know that other Members will be talking about it too. And Ms. Lowey, of course, translates -- that's where the rubber meets the road, in the Appropriations Committee. But let me just say, since you mentioned education, when they talk about cutting education, it's a very bad, a mindless thing to do. Speaking of minds and education, nothing brings more money to the Treasury than educating the American people, early childhood, K-12, higher education, post-graduate, lifetime learning -- nothing brings more money to the Treasury.

So, in addition to the fact that all innovation begins in the classroom, our international competitiveness depends on us being number one. And education is key to that. It also brings more money to the Treasury to reduce the deficit, for one. Investments in biomedical research, whole world is in competition on this and we're going to cut our investments to biomedical research, to grants that are put out outside the National Institutes of Health, as well as what is happening there, that is, that is really giving the advantage to other countries over ours.

But I'm going to yield to Congresswoman Lowey because she listed some of these and you mentioned those too, so I wanted to speak to those, but, Ms. Lowey.

Ms. Lowey. Thank you Madam Leader, I wanted to just follow up with your comments about research. A major New York hospital came to me and said: "how could you have sequester? We [receive] $185 million for research into cancer, Alzheimer's, autism,' and on and on. Not only is this critical research that saves lives, but this is economic development. And these kinds of institutions exist all over the country, so you're going to take steps backwards in the important research that we have to do -- and by the way this saves not only lives, but money, when you can find cures for these illnesses. But it is jobs of people, hardworking people -- I was at the Energy and Water Committee the other day, where there is some bipartisanship, and it was clear to me that it didn't matter because there were going to be cuts in our incredible research labs around the country. And this is closely allied with the defense industry as well. We are doing important research that supports the defense establishment, and again, is making amazing advances with nuclear issues -- much more than I can even discuss with you today, look at what the labs are doing around the country.

And education, we know, as the Leader mentioned, that it's so critical to get our young people in pre-K, to make sure that they are getting the education they need so they don't fall behind. Because if you fall behind at the beginning, then what happens later on? This sequester doesn't make any sense at all. We should be sitting down as appropriators and working it out. And I must tell you, that there are many people on the Republican side of the aisle on the Appropriations Committee, with whom I've worked for years, believe in regular order, they'd like to sit down and work it out, but this Tea Party crowd wants to go home and all they're saying is: "sequester, sequester, sequester.'
So, Chad I can tell you there are a dozen more examples -- I think you mentioned air traffic controllers -- this, this is critical. Food and safety, what about the food that comes into our country.

Leader Pelosi. He did earlier.

Whip Hoyer. FDA, border control.

Ms. Lowey. This is really serious, it creates chaos in dozens of industries around the country. And the bottom line: it's a deterrent to our economic future. I wanted to mention one other example and elaborate on that and that's infrastructure. We all believe we have to deal with the deficit. We all believe -- and we have it in writing -- that we need a long-term plan to deal with the deficit, but right now, as President Obama says: "we have to put people to work,' our roads, our bridges are crumbling. So we're going to cut infrastructure at this critical time? This is madness. We should be working, stay here, and we could work it out together -- the people that are paying their dues, or their [inaudible] to the Tea Party should be isolated and the rational people on both sides of the aisle should work together and get this done.

Whip Hoyer. Can I just -- I want to add something, just briefly there, Chad, because one of the most important crises that are created by this is the inability of people who are performing services for the American people to plan properly, or for the people who are receiving those services, or working with government, to have any sense of confidence that tomorrow will be a stable tomorrow and they can do the work that they're expected to do. It is almost incalculable, the undermining of confidence and good order of getting a job done and the cost that, that will require additionally to the American people. Totally irresponsible.

Mr. Van Hollen. If I could just emphasize one point on the deficit reduction, the proposal we've put forward in the House, House Democrats, and the proposal Senate Democrats have put forward achieved the same amount of deficit reduction as the sequester would do, but they achieve it without losing 750,000 jobs. Why? Because you have targeted cuts over a period of time, we get rid of these direct payments to agribusinesses, which serve no useful purpose right now. We ask very high income earners, people paying more than $2 million a year, to pay a 30 percent effective tax rate, so they can't take advantage disproportionately of all these tax preferences that are in the code.
And so what Republicans are saying is, they'd rather cut all that right now at the expense of 250,000 American jobs, than get rid of these excessive subsidies for agribusinesses, or ask people making $2 million a year to pay a little bit more. So, we get the same amount of deficit reduction over a period of time in a smart, measured way, without the 250,000 Americans losing their jobs.

And the other thing that's important to understand is that we -- there are going to be federal employees who perform important service for the American people at NIH, the National Institutes of Health, and others, they will be furloughed. But the 750,000 jobs I'm talking about, those are on -- that's not federal employees. Those are, those are non-federal employees. Those are Americans throughout the rest of the economy. So, yes, you're going to see huge disruption in government services and all the negative implications in our investments in our future, but you're also going to, on top of that, going to see 750,000 Americans lose their jobs, according to the CBO.

Q: Leader Pelosi, and actually, also for Ranking Member Lowey, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers, said that he's planning to introduce a CR that would be at the 1043 level, [to] be subject to sequestration, he plans on doing that in the next couple weeks in an effort to, ideally, avoid a government shutdown. Would Democrats support a CR that would go until September at the 1043 level, subject to sequestration?

Ms. Lowey. You probably know the details, that, that CR would make appropriate changes the 1043 [level], in the defense part, the defense bill, and the Mil-Com bill and leave the others alone. Now, the negative is they're not making any adjustments in the National Institutes of Health, Homeland Security bill, air traffic controllers, food and safety inspectors, etcetera. However, it could go over to the Senate, the Senate could make important changes, and then come back here and let's see if we can get some bipartisan working together. But it's not clear exactly what would happen. And then, as I understand it, and you've all reported it.' First, we looked at it, and we said: "Hmmmm. This is an interesting idea, let's explore it, let's see if we can work something out. But after this happens, they are still planning to do the sequester.
So, it would be the CR, attached to the Defense bill and the Mil-Com bill that would go to the Senate, it could be made better with Barbara Mikulski and Senator Shelby -- but then they still want to do the sequester.

Now, I just want to close with one other important thing. The Budget Control Act already cut $1.5 trillion. It's important to know that the discretionary part of our budget is the lowest percentage of the economy, of GDP, that it's been in 45 years. So, when we talk about cutting jobs, when we talk about destroying the economy, this is real, these aren't statistics. These are people in every district in our country that are going to be hit by this. And that's why this plan is really not a total solution at all. And I think what our Chairman said before is critical.

Mr. Van Hollen. Wait, let me just emphasize one thing about that. I talked about the 750,000 jobs lost, that doesn't change that all. You're still taking those big, deep, immediate cuts within a very short period of time. So, again, the independent, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says when you suck that much investment out of the economy, in a very short period of time, Americans are going to lose jobs. The sequestration element -- the magnitude of the cuts will remain the same under that plan. And so your total job loss number will remain the same under that plan. From the point of view of the whole economy, you're just rearranging the chairs on the decks of the Titanic. The Titanic still goes down, losing 250,000 jobs and reducing economic growth by a full third this year.

Whip Hoyer. Let me, can I make a comment. I don't want to go on, but, I'm not sure that what you posited is correct. In trying to get Republican votes for not going over the cliff, as I understand, the Speaker made two promises: One was that Ryan would present a budget that would balance within 10 years. As you know, his initial budget was 2040, or thereabouts to balance. That is going to be, if he does that, he's going to savage the economy. As well as government and national security and economic security. And the second promise, as I understand he made to the RSC, was that they would mark appropriation bills to the $985 billion figure, which was the RSC budgets figure that you will recall we had a vote on, we voted present, they were worried that the RSC budget would prevail and they switched votes so that they could defeat the RSC's budget, if you recall, because they thought $985 [billion] was too radical. It is, but it's my understanding that Speaker Boehner made a representation to the RSC at the time of the cliff vote that we would mark to the $985 [billion] figure, not the 1043.

Q: This is the Chairman, this is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he introduced this -- he plans to introduce this.

Ms. Lowey. No, but for clarification, he's talking about the CR that's attached to the defense bill and the Mil-Com bill, after that they are still going to do the sequester, which brings it down to the level that Mr. Hoyer mentioned. So, it's not alone.

Whip Hoyer. So, if you mark it at the 1043…

Mr. Van Hollen. Again, you still get the same, you understand…

Q: No, I do understand. I understand. But the CR would be at 1043, but that would be, but subject to sequestration…

[Exasperated Laughter]

Mr. Van Hollen. With, with, not just -- planning to allow sequestration to happen…

Q: Which is how, which… which, why is this happening right now?

Leader Pelosi. Yeah.

Ms. Lowey. We had that presentation -- sequestration is going to take place according to them. They've made that decision.

Leader Pelosi. And there is a rumor that one of the other promises the Speaker made to his Members is that if they voted for previous legislation, or if they allowed it to come to the floor because they never did get 218 -- that they would, that sequestration would go through.

Ms. Lowey. That's right.

Leader Pelosi. Now, sequestration is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. Avoiding it is even, is a very good idea because then we can move to where we need to go. Whether it's doing our appropriations bills, or doing a CR, or an omnibus, whatever form that, that takes -- hopefully not a CR. But that also we can go into the mode of many of these Ways and Means Committee folks up here want to talk about, about simplification and fairness in our tax code. And we have to go to that place and do that. People have said: "okay, what is this about?' We all want to reduce the deficit. In order to reduce the deficit, we know that we have to cut spending and we have to obtain, increase revenue, in order for us to have growth, growth with jobs. Democrats have supported $1.6 trillion in cuts, $1.2 [trillion] in the Budget Control Act, another $400 billion in other actions taken in the last Congress.

Last year, $1.6 trillion. The whole idea was to have it balanced. On the revenue side, we have $600 billion -- so what is that? Two and a half to one, three to one in favor of cuts? So, I hope that you would, in your messaging to the American people, make it clear that we have made cuts. We have passed bills for those cuts. But we want to see more in terms of on the revenue side, to make this happen. One way to go is the Buffet Rule which says that everyone should be paying, the people making over $2 million a year, would pay 30 percent, by closing some loopholes and making them not be available beyond 30 percent.

On the other hand, the Republicans are saying: "we don't want to touch tax breaks, tax giveaways to Big Oil, we would rather you cut Pell Grants by the same amount. I don't think that, that is a reflection of the values of the American people. But the record should be clear as to where we stand today, we have voted for $1.6 trillion in cuts. On the other side of it $600 billion in revenue. No more tax cuts for the wealthy say the Republicans, take it out of Meals on Wheels, food safety, education…

Whip Hoyer. Head Start.

Leader Pelosi. …Head Start, the safety of our neighborhoods, the education of our children, the safety of our food, the defense of our country, our national security. It's just not right.
I think that was it. So, I just want to…

Q: Madam Leader, to rephrase a little bit of what [inaudible] question was, I think we can all accept the fact that the House Republicans can't keep the government open, they just won't have 218 votes, more or less, no matter how they do things. Would Democrats, if the devil's bargain would be to either allow the government to shut at the end of March, or pass a -- or approve a CR that leaves in place a sequester…

Leader Pelosi. Well listen, let me tell you something -- I appreciate your question and the good faith in which it has been offered. The Republicans are poised to shut down government. The Republicans are poised to let sequestration go forward, which is, sequestration, you know what that word means? Well, what it means to the American people is unemployment, no jobs, take us to recession, it's not quite an exact Latin translation, but that's what it means.


Leader Pelosi. That's what it means. So, we have no idea, even what the provenance of Mr. Rogers proposal is. Does it have the backing of the leadership? Let's see what is proposed, if and when, but the fact is: do not mute -- this is their obstruction and we have made many cuts and we stand ready to make more. But we're not going to destroy our opportunity for growth in our country, growth with jobs. Because at the end of the day, revenue comes from those jobs. So, if you're interested in deficit reduction, you need more revenue.

And let me just say this one other thing: so curious, so curious that in the eight year of the Bush Administration, while the bulk of this deficit was being amassed, you didn't hear them say: "boo, who, woo,' any deficit hawk bird sound you can come up with. They were, it was an endangered species, the deficit hawk. But I also think it's important to remember this and I'm -- this is the last thing I'm going to say here today. Understand this: the Republican party in the Congress, as opposed to the Republican party in the country and that's why I say to the Republicans: "take back your party.' Republican party in the Congress is dominated by anti-government ideologues and they will forever, forever want to reduce taxes on special interest, make cuts in the education of our children and the care of our seniors and the rest because they do not believe in government. So shrink the tax revenue and make serious -- the cuts that undermine our economic growth, that undermine the education of our children, that undermine the creation of jobs. But that's who they are and bless their hearts, they act upon their beliefs. And that's what they believe. And that's what this fight is about.

So, let's not skirt around the edges here. Let's understand what is fundamental between the two parties here. Yes, we're going to reduce the deficit. Yes, we need to make cuts to do it. We have and we continue to -- we need more revenue, we need growth.

Anything my colleagues?

Thank you.

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