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Pelosi’s Economic Stimulus Press Conference Feb. 7, 2008

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Transcript of Today’s Speaker Pelosi Press Conference, February 7, 2008

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference in her office in the Capitol this morning. Below is a transcript of her remarks:

"This is all part of our agenda for jobs. The stimulus package is necessary because families across America are struggling to make ends meet. The high cost of groceries, gasoline, health care, education, clothes for their children, makes it a paycheck to paycheck existence. We call it the recovery rebate and it will be helpful to over 100 million families in America. It is part of our agenda for jobs so that we can avoid these downturns in the future."

Thursday, February 7, 2008

10:50 a.m.

Ms. Pelosi. Good morning. As we gather today, I want to begin by expressing my deepest sympathy to the people in the South of our country who have been affected by the tornadoes. I’ve spoken to the leaders of the delegations from the states and extended an offer of assistance to the governors of those states. Later today, we will be meeting with the Members of the Congress from the area to see how we can be more helpful and get a report on what the disaster assistance – how that is working. We are thinking of each and every family in the region who has lost a loved one, lost their homes and their belongings, and we hope that we can give them some reason to trust that we will be there in this time of tragedy.

As you know, last week we passed the stimulus package in the House, sent it over to the Senate. We are eagerly awaiting the decision of the Senate as to how they will go forward. They had some good additions to the bill. As I said last night, we hope that they will add the seniors and the benefits for disabled veterans to the package. If they do not, we stand ready to do so. We also will clarify the language regarding undocumented persons in our country as to who can receive the benefits. They cannot.

This is all part of our agenda for jobs. The stimulus package is necessary because families across America are struggling to make ends meet. The high cost of groceries, gasoline, health care, education, clothes for their children, makes it a paycheck to paycheck existence. We call it the recovery rebate and it will be helpful to over 100 million families in America. It is part of our agenda for jobs so that we can avoid these downturns in the future.

All the things we say that the American people need. Improved access to quality health care, better education for their children, building the infrastructure of America so that people can get to home just to have more quality time with their families, as well as ensuring our energy independence and addressing the global climate crisis. All of these create jobs, good paying jobs in America, if it is done right. And we have initiatives to do just that. So as we again eagerly await what the Senate will send over. We are ready to move to the next step with this.

Again, this being our first time, I am seeing you in the month of February, I am pleased to recognize that this is Black History Month. It gives us an opportunity to recognize the contribution of African Americans to our great country. We recall the many words of wisdom of Reverend Martin Luther King. May these words also inform our work. "The time is always right to do the right thing."

With that, I’m pleased to take any questions you may have.

Q Madam Speaker, what is your reaction to what the Senate did yesterday on the stimulus bill, and in particular, the Republican Leader has asked several times to do just what you said, add the senior citizens, disabled veterans, and immigration fix to the bill and send it over. Reid has rejected that. What’s the reaction to his decision?

Ms. Pelosi. Well, I hope that the legislation that they pass will have that. I believe that those aspects of the bill – the two, seniors and benefits for disabled veterans – are stimulus. We were trying to keep our package intact so it stayed within the cost that was presented by the White House. That was in keeping with our PAYGO. Our members, our Blue Dogs are insistent on PAYGO, they realize, as do many of us that are insisting on PAYGO, in a downturn in our economy, we had to go forward with some rebates that would stimulate the economy and that we did this on the basis of giving rebate to people who paid taxes. And that was in keeping with the amount of money that we thought was appropriate. The Senate wanted to go beyond that. We accept that and hope that they will do it today.

Because our goal is to have targeted, temporary, and timely recovery rebates. And that timeliness is very important.

Q Mr. Blunt apparently has mentioned March as the final deadline for finishing the package. How do you rate the chances that you will not finish before the end of next week? And how do you feel about including unemployment of benefits?

Ms. Pelosi. March? Well, I’ve always wanted to include unemployment benefits. I said that to the President when he called to say how pleased he was that we were going to go to the floor with a package. When he, Mr. Boehner, Mr. Paulson and I were all on the phone with him, I said that I would hope that we can go further, either in this package or in one that would come up soon.

The President – I don’t want to speak for the Administration – but I do believe he will sign the bill that has the seniors and the disabled veterans and the clarification on the undocumented people. And that’s what we want to do – get a bill signed to get the checks in the mail into the hands of Americans and middle-income families and those who aspire to the middle class so they can meet their needs, inject the money into the economy and create jobs. We know that there is a need for unemployment insurance, and we can hope that this will be part of some legislative vehicle.

Q Could it be finished next week?

Ms. Pelosi. Back to your original point, forgive me. I hope so. I think there is no reason for any more delay on this. I think the Senate will work its will. That should hopefully well, we don’t know how long it take takes in the Senate, but we will act upon what they send us next week and send it to the President. I don’t think any change in the bill is really worth the delay.

Q If the Senate could finish today, would you be willing to keep the House in tomorrow to take it up, or do you still think it will be next week no matter what?

Ms. Pelosi. If they finish today, we can do it today. We can finish today.

Q The Republicans have been speaking with a unified voice on this. Senator McConnell, Mr. Boehner, the White House have said…What should observers take away from the differences among Democrats?

Ms. Pelosi. I think the Democrats in our House and in the Senate have both said that there are a number of issues that we think belong in the stimulus package. I’ve cited the list many times to the Administration and to my Republican colleagues here. They include some things that were mentioned here, one which was unemployment insurance, LIHEAP, food stamps, Medicaid, infrastructure, summer jobs program; there is a long list.

The White House has decided it wanted to have a tax rebate bill, and so when we went in that direction as some of these other items came off the table, we lowered the dollar amount that people had to pay in taxes in order to get a rebate. So I think it is a great achievement that we could work together to say – as opposed to the President’s original bill and Democrats are united in the House on this. The Republicans agree. As opposed to the President’s original bill, we took $28 billion by putting a cap on the bill. Instead of giving it to the wealthiest families in America, put a cap on the bill and gave a tax rebate to 35 million families who never would get a tax rebate or child tax credit because they didn’t make enough money to pay income taxes. Now this says FICA taxes count for that.

I think Democrats are all united around that. And we care about some of the other issues and the Senate as is appropriate in the legislative process, is trying to expand the package. I don’t think there is any disagreement on the values that we would like to see presented. It’s just the decision about how much money you have to spend, and is that stimulus.

Q So would you have preferred that they have gotten 60 votes yesterday?

Ms. Pelosi. I’m not going to comment on what the Senate does. I support the House bill. I think it is really groundbreaking in terms of getting tax rebates to those who pay FICA taxes. I did not want to open up the bill so that any of it was subjected to change, because I think it is really important statement about the value that we place on the contribution of all people who work in America, not just those above a certain income level.

Q Madam Speaker, on Iraq, last January when President Bush proposed the surge, you predicted in a letter to him with Harry Reid that it would cause more American casualties and would not lead to an increase in stability. American casualties are down and there seems to be more stability. Are you prepared to admit that you were wrong?

Ms. Pelosi. No, I don’t agree with your characterization at all. We have lost many Americans. We will be pretty soon up to 4,000, which is an average of 800 casualties a year. And this past year had a large number of casualties.

But the point about the surge is that it has not brought stability to the region. Its purpose was to create a secure time in which the government of Iraq would then be able to make the political decisions and choices to bring stability to the region. The political stability to the region. The generals have told us – the sitting generals have told us, not just the retired – that a military solution will not do it alone. You have to have the political solution as well.

So I say now what I said then: The surge has not worked in fulfilling its purpose. God knows any time our men and women in uniform go into a military exercise, we want them to succeed, and they did. They brought the security. The politics did not follow.

And that’s why the generals in the region have said the biggest obstacle to stability in Iraq and bringing the peace that we want in Iraq, the biggest obstacle to reconciliation in Iraq is not the Iranian militias, the Sunni militants, or the al Qaeda terrorists, it is the government of Iraq.

So they can paint whatever picture they want on it; the goal has not been accomplished. The tragedies, the casualties continue; we are going in the wrong direction in Iraq. And I was very, well, I have it right here, Admiral Mullen’s testimony yesterday to the Congress was very – I think I have it right here. Do we have Admiral Mullen’s statement? Excuse me one second; if you didn’t hear this, this is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "The pace of ongoing operations has prevented our forces from fully training for the full spectrum of operations and impacts our ability to be ready to counter future threats. I am extremely concerned about the toll the current pace of operations is taking on them and on their families, on our equipment, and on our ability to respond to crises and contingencies beyond the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."

People like Jack Murtha, retired generals have been saying this over and over again. This war is not only a cost to us in the worst way, of course, in the loss of life and in the injuries some of them permanent to tens of thousands of our troops and in our reputation in the world. And in our cost, opportunity cost of money, a trillion dollar war. But it is our cost to the capability of our military, a cost to our readiness to meet threats to our security wherever they might occur. This has been said by former generals, retired generals over and over again. It is now being said by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Secretary Gates testified that we need $170 billion for a year in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, we will spend whatever it takes to protect the American people, but the fact that this Administration diverted the full attention that was needed in Afghanistan, so that that war continues, to go into a war – we won’t go into all of the mistakes they have made there. Suffice to say that we need a new direction, and that direction must begin with the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq to bring stability to the region, to make our country safer and to do so in a way that does not impair our ability to meet threats to our security wherever they may occur.

Q Could you tell us when would be your drop dead deadline – back on the economic stimulus package – on needing to get the Senate version over here? And what is the problem delaying it to next Thursday at this time?

Ms. Pelosi. Well, why would we do that? Do you know what it feels like at the end of the month? Probably you do. I know a lot of people are happy that February has 29 days because the next paycheck will come in at the end of the month sooner, or the beginning of the next month. People are paycheck to paycheck. The sooner we get this done, the sooner the check will be in the mail. And it’s about a stimulus. That’s why we worked with such urgency to come to agreement.

No, we didn’t, each of us, get everything we wanted in the bill. But decisions have to be made. And again, we want this to be timely so that it makes a difference for people right away, targeted to those in the middle class and those who wish to be in the middle class, and temporary, so that people will use – whether it is a tax incentive for small businesses – so that they can make their decisions to create jobs or that families will use this money in a timely fashion to inject demand into the economy and again create jobs.

So I think that unless there is a reason, why should we – why should we wait? And the reason would be that deliberations in the Senate, but when they’re ready, we’re ready.

Q Leader Hoyer, he wants to tackle entitlement reform. Do you think the House will get around to doing that?

Ms. Pelosi. I don’t know. I have no idea. I think that it is an issue that we need to address, but I don’t know if the House will get around to doing it. We haven’t really engaged in that discussion yet.

Thank you all very much.

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