Transcript: Press briefing Q&A with House Democrats on government shutdown – Sept. 30, 2013

Partial transcript of Q&A with House Democrats on the Senate’s “clean” continuing resolution to avert government shutdown. The press briefing was held on Sept. 30, 2013:
…What are your emotions at this hour? You seem like you guys were very somber when you walked up, you were very quiet, didn’t have very happy looks on your face.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):
We’re unhappy. We do not want the government shut down. We have said that consistently. The government hasn’t shut down for 17 years. The last time it shut down is when the Republicans were in charge of the House. 17 years later, Republicans in charge of the House and they are focused on shutting down the government if we do not meet their demands.

I think Mr. [Chris] Van Hollen has stated it very clearly that we have been willing to go to conference. The purpose of a conference is to reach a compromise, to reach agreement as the American people expect their members of Congress to do. They understand in their own lives they don’t get it all their way. If you’re a husband or you’re a wife or if you’re a child or a parent, you know you don’t get it your way all the time.

And so, we’re unhappy because we think that shutting down the government will hurt the economy, hurt the national security, undermine any morale that’s left of our federal workers and do what the American people don’t want done and that is to shut down the government. They want efficient, effective, cost-effective government but they don’t want to shut it down.

Do you see any way out of this at this point? Do you see a path? I mean, it seems like Speaker Boehner is digging in now, saying go to conference…?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
I think what the Speaker’s doing is doubling and tripling down on a path that was always intended to take us to shutting down government. They have wiggled this way and that to keep being very resourceful in how they come up with ways to shut down government. Because as Harry Reid said, they don’t believe in government. They’re anti-government ideologues. The Tea Party shutdown of government.

The way would be to simply go to the floor and agree to the Senate language, which by the way is their language. To remind, this is their language. They had two things they wanted to do. They wanted the $986 [billion] number, and they wanted to overturn the Affordable Care Act. That hasn’t succeeded.

And now we’re saying to them we’re willing to accept your number for the purpose of going to the table. Keep government open and go to the table.

They’re saying, “We’re rejecting our own number because that shuts down government and only then will we go to the table.”

What is the next step and how long do you think this government being closed now that we know it’s going to happen?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
Well, hopefully something will happen in the next 40 minutes. But remember what this is. Harry Reid talked about what it meant to people going to parks and bringing their families and the rest, what it means to the people who work there not getting a paycheck. These are consumers. This is going to hurt the economy by eliminating the demand that those paychecks inject into the economy.

So it’s about everything that we do that is good for the common good being shut down and taking away the purchasing power of those who perform those tasks for the government.

Actually, their $986 [billion] number takes more than a billion dollars from the National Institutes of Health, Meals on Wheels, kids on Head Start. It’s brutal. It’s brutal.

But even for the sake of keeping the government open for 6 weeks we’re willing to accept that. But what they’re doing is a luxury our country cannot afford – this anti-government ideology.

And what is their point? What is their answer that they would give when we say, “Why are you not taking yes for an answer? Why are you not accepting your own number?”

…To get out of a shutdown, could Democrats accept any small narrow change to Obamacare?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
No. Not in this setting. In other words, we’ve always think that any bill that has passed can be improved upon. We see how it operates, is it effective, does it have consequences that can be improved upon. But you do not use the threat of shutting down government to try to advance your policy agenda. That’s just not the way it works. And that’s what is called irresponsible and that is why this is the Tea Party government shutdown because it is that ideological anti-government. That is what it’s about.

But you know what? This is bigger than the Affordable Care Act. This is their way of saying, “We are going to have a new order here…We don’t want to negotiate with the President.”

And the President said, “How would you like to go forward?” They said, “We want the regular order”, which means members of Congress negotiating with members of Congress, reconciling our differences in going forward. We all welcome that. And then as soon as the bills passed both Houses, they walked away from it.

This is a proxy fight for really the debate on the extent of government and that has been a debate in the history of our country. But to say no government, well, that’s what President Washington cautioned against…

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.):
The Congress of chronic chaos continues.

Tomorrow in my home state, the Statute of Liberty will have a closed sign. The last time that happened was because of a hurricane. This time it is happening because of Republican ideology and it is unforgivable.

Second point is this: The American people deserve two things – a government that stays open and a Congress that communicates.

Our view is we should keep the government open and communicate with a conference. The Republican view is you can only do one: You can talk but close the government.

And the American people deserve better than that.

Do you support the language in their bill to end the subsidy for congressional staffers and lawmakers?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
No, I do not.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):
First of all, as I said a little earlier, that’s not a real issue. The issue here is whether we keep government on behalf of the American people open. That’s a distraction and not real and very frankly in my view the people who offered that don’t believe in it.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
You know what else? They’re fakers. They want that to not prevail because it harms them but they want us to vote against it over and over again.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):
But we ought not to be distracted. The issue is whether or not the Congress of the United States will take responsibility for what the American people expect of us and that is make sure their government is open, serving them, serving them effectively and not abandoning them. That’s what this issue is about.

There was an election and that election had two basic issues. One was revenues and one was health care. President Obama won that election. They are in denial about that fact. They don’t have the presidency. They don’t have the Senate.

And as Newt Gingrich said when he made an agreement with President [Bill Clinton to fund government and he had a lot of his right wing say “We don’t want any agreement with Clinton”, he said, “I want to speak to my perfectionist caucus” – speaking right at those who were objecting to the deal he made, the agreement he made, the compromise he made. Now it wasn’t a conference per se, but it was an agreement. What he said to them was, “Look, we cannot have it all our own way because the American people have elected a Democratic President Bill Clinton, Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate who don’t agree with us and Democrats in the House of Representatives who don’t agree with us. We’ve got to compromise.” Newt Gingrich was right then. John Boehner ought to follow his advice now…

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.):
… I know that this is all about keeping the government open for our constituents. This is all about having the parks open and serving people.

But you know, the last time we had a serious discussion like this, we got downgraded. Standard & Poor’s downgraded. Today, they’re now saying this is the reason they downgraded because they saw this coming. And I think that this is what’s going to cost the country over anything else to have this kind of brinksmanship and having the ratings authorities view it as just that.

What does this mean for the debt ceiling?

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.):
I would only say one thing. I know from talking to some of the folks back home in Los Angeles and I have a very working class district, there are whole bunch of members of Congress who are just not putting themselves in the shoes of the average American.

The average American doesn’t understand all of the political shenanigans going on but they do understand that they have to get up and go to work otherwise they can’t pay their bills.

Clearly we have a Congress – a Republican-run House that is out of touch and out of control.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):
Some of those folks that I represent are federal employees who they want to send home without a paycheck.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.):
Is anyone really shocked that the government is going to shut down? This has been a part of their plan all along.

I’d like to think that we weren’t going to come to this but this has been their plan from the get-go. It’s what they want to do and they’re going to accomplish that.

You asked before we seem down. Of course we’re down. We don’t want the government to shut down.

We know this is not about the issue about members of Congress. This is about the health and safety of our country.

We have men and women who are veterans of this country who are concerned about getting their benefits. We have people who want to go on Social Security and Medicare and now their concern is whether or not they’re going to make the application for that. We have first-time homebuyers who will not be able to purchase a government-backed security.

We also know that the American taxpayers continue to pay taxes to this government and are going to get less for it. That’s what this shut down is about.

The American taxpayer paying their taxes – because they don’t stop paying their taxes because the government shuts down – what happens is they get less for the taxes they give to this country.

That’s what this is about. It’s outrageous that we would play these type of games with the American people.

It’s about the health and safety of this country and the Republican caucus is letting this country down.


Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
This is about a Congress doing its job and what I have said to the President, have said to the Speaker, have said to the Chamber, we extend a hand of friendship, we’re willing to accept your number in order for us to keep government open, in order to proceed to the table to reconcile our differences. That is the regular order you requested. We’re going to the table with your number. Why won’t you take yes, yes for an answer?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.):
…I just hope all of you will ask the Speaker of the House why he has absolutely refused to negotiate on the budget since last March and April when the House and Senate had a budget?

And the reason’s pretty clear – it’s become clear in the last 48 hours even more – which is if you want to have a negotiation on the budget, you’ve got to compromise. And the Speaker recognized that his Tea Party members in this House of Representatives would refuse to accept any compromise in those negotiations and that the only way they thought they could get something is to drive the country to the brink, to drive the country to a government shutdown and next stage to say that we’re going to default on our obligations if they don’t get their way.

So now at this 12th hour instead of keeping the government open, they want to go to a conference on the CR which is guaranteed to shut down the government.

So let’s keep the government open. Let’s go to conference on the budget as we’ve been calling for for 6 months and actually compromise – something that the Tea Party House obviously is unwilling to do. I mean, they’re answering the call of Sen. [Ted] Cruz in a very extreme right wing fashion of the Republican Party and we need to get over that and get on the business of the whole country.

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