Transcript: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s remarks after the White House sequester meeting on March 1, 2013

Transcript of press briefing remarks by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi after the White House sequester meeting on March 1, 2013:

As you know this morning the President held a meeting at the White House with the Vice President and leaders of the House and Senate in a bipartisan way.

It was an important meeting that pointed out the clarity between the Democrats and the Republicans in the Congress. We believe that we should build our economy from the middle-class out – from the middle out. The Republicans believe in trickle down. That is the essence of our difference.

We gathered today because today begins the cuts – the mindless cuts that are the result of sequestration – across-the-board cuts that do not reflect priorities but just reflect a blunt way to make cuts, which even the Chairman of the Fed has said that cuts of this size made this quickly can lose jobs, slow the growth of our economy…”keeping deficits larger than otherwise.”

So the point is to reduce the deficit; growth is essential to that. Mindless cuts made in such a large amount in a short period of time do not reduce the deficit.

And so the President challenged us all to look at all of the expenditures that government makes – whether it’s about entitlements, whether it’s about taxes, whether it’s about discretionary spending – and to see if we can come to some agreement on how we go forward.

To govern is to choose. To govern is to choose. And when we want to subject our expenditures to the scrutiny that we should do so that we know that taxpayer is getting his or her money’s worth out of this and that the initiative is doing the job it sets out to do.

We have to make judgements. Is a particular initiative still a priority for us? Is it duplicative? Is it obsolete? Is there any wasteful spending? Certainly, we have to always, with the oversight of Congress, subject initiatives to that scrutiny.

But we have to be careful about how we do it and across-the-board cut is not the way to do it.

For example, education – probably the best investment we can make in our future, in our families. Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than the education of the American people – early childhood, which the President is advocating, K-12, higher education, post-grad, lifetime learning. Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investing in education. So cutting education does not reduce the deficit.

And that innovation begins in the classroom so cuts in education deter the growth of innovation, and cuts in science do the same things.

So are we going to say across-the-board so we’re cutting science?

If America’s going to continue to be number one – and we must continue to be number one – we do not do that by making cuts in science.

The President mentioned infrastructure. Cuts in infrastructure – ridiculous. We have so much deferred maintenance now. What we do know is no maintenance is the most expensive maintenance, and investing in infrastructure now creates jobs immediately as well as builds infrastructure of our country, which is essential to our economic growth – products to and from market, people to and from work, broadband information in real-time high-speed. Why would we cut those kinds of things? So across-the-board cuts that do that are mindless.

The President mentioned tax reform. Very important. We all agree on a number of things – that we must reduce the deficit, that we must have tax reform, and that we must look at again another set of expenditures that are investments – we have to prioritize, choose. Some may be good but they may not be best and they may not make the cut even though they are worthy but we have to prioritize. Across-the-board cuts do not do that.

Next thing is we look at entitlements…look at how we can prolong and sustain them in a fiscally sound way. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid – pillars of economic security for many of America’s families and certainly for our economy.

So let’s go to the table in an agnostic way and make judgements about how we sustain that. If the purpose is to prolong, to sustain for a longer period of time in a stronger and fiscally sound way – Medicare and Social Security – I think that’s what the American people want us to do.

If to say Social Security has no place in free society and we want to privatize it and Medicare should wither on the vine and we want to voucherize it, we’re not in for that.

But, again, objectively – agnostically – looking at how we should strengthen those – we should do that.

So we’ve talked about two levels of expenditures – investments and entitlements. The third and very important set of expenditures that we have to subject to scrutiny are tax expenditures.

Tax expenditures. There are probably around $1 trillion that occur each year. We have a $3.5 trillion budget – about $1.1 trillion of it are in tax expenditures. Now, some of them are very worthy and support the middle-class – for example, the mortgage interest deduction. But some of them are wasteful and are special interests…and some of them are excessive for the middle-class, and so that’s where we have to go to the table and say, “These tax expenditures are spending. They cost the taxpayer. What are we getting for them?”

The Speaker has said there are hundreds of billions of dollars of tax expenditures to look at. Mr. McConnell has said that as well. But when they look at them they say the only way they would look at them is to lower rates; and we’re saying, “No, how about lowering the deficit? How about reducing the deficit by removing wasteful tax loopholes that are there for the special interests and some of them are just excessive for the wealthiest individuals in our country, and in our shared sacrifice we can’t ask seniors and children and families and our future to make all the sacrifice and say that this is going to be sacrosanct.”

So we have a proposal that would have been better than sequestration – Mr. Van Hollen’s proposal, which cuts spending, which has a revenue piece, and which does not deter growth and does reduce the deficit. We haven’t been able to bring it up. We tried 3 times in the last 2 months. The Republicans – don’t know what they’re afraid of – this is the marketplace of ideas. Are they afraid some of their members might vote for it?

As we go forward, it has to be with the commitment, as the President said, to the American people, to the middle-class and not for us to be not opening our eyes to the fact that if this is going to happen it has to be shared sacrifice, that we have to look at domestic discretionary spending, entitlement spending, and tax expenditures – that’s where the big money is; that has what has remained untouched in all of this discussion, and that is a place where I think we can find some area of agreement.


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