House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes opening remarks at White House health summit

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 11:47 AM

OBAMA: Well, thank you, Lamar.

Both I and Lamar went a little bit over our original allocated time. I'm not one to be a hypocrite. I wanted to give you some slack.

We're going to have Nancy and Harry.

I think -- my understanding is you guys want to split time?

PELOSI: We will.


OBAMA: We'll split it up. So we'll let them make some quick remarks.

What I will then do is just address -- John, are you going to make the presentation yourself?

OK. What I will then do is just address a couple of points that were raised by you, Lamar, in terms of process. And then we will start diving in and getting to work. All right?


PELOSI: Yes, Mr. President. Thank you very much for bringing us here today. I will try to stick to the time because we have many people to hear from.

Thank you, Mr. President, again. It was almost a year ago, March 5th of last year, when you brought us together in a bipartisan way to set us on a path to lower costs, improve quality, expand access to quality health care for all Americans.

In the course of that time in our committees in the House and the Senate, we've had lively discussions. Here we are today.

You began your remarks, Mr. President by saying there was a glimmer of bipartisanship in the Senate with the passage of the jobs bill. I want you to know there was a blaze of bipartisanship in the House yesterday with, what, 406-19, we passed under the leadership of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Tom Perriello, Betsy Markey and others the listing repealing the exemption that insurance companies have on health insurance and the anti-trust laws for health insurance -- 406- 19, a strong message that, yes, the insurance companies need to be reined in.

So put us down on that side of the ledger.

The -- that day, March 5th, we all remember the bipartisan spirit, the hope that was in the -- in the room, and also when Senator Kennedy came into the room and declared himself a foot soldier in the fight for health care for all Americans.

And then later he wrote to you and said, "This is not just about the details of policy. It is about the character of our country."

The character of our country has formed the backbone of our country, our working middle-class families in America. As we sit around this table, I think we should be mindful of what they do when they sit around their kitchen table. What we do here must be relevant to their lives.

And for them, they don't have time for us to start over. Many of them are at the end of the line with their insurance, with their caps, with this and that. You talked about stories. Senator Alexander did, too. I can tell you many stories, as I travel the country, where I've seen grown men cry. One man in Michigan, Mr. Dengel (ph), told me that his wife had been sick for a long time. He was at the end of the line in terms of his finances. He might have to lose his home. And she was bedridden. He was afraid of what was going to happen. And he was too proud to tell his children that he needed help, because they were raising their own families.

He said, "When is something going to happen on health care in America? I can't hold out much longer."

I have a letter from a -- Michigan seems to be where I get some mail on this subject, since I've traveled there recently -- by a woman who said that their family they're going to have to pay their deductible, they have to subtract it from their food budget. And that's just one of the concerns she mentioned.

Can't mention health care in Michigan without acknowledging Chairman Dingell -- his institutional memory of how difficult it was to pass Medicare, how he has worked over the decades to improve it, how committed he is to preserving it, and how important a part of preserving Medicare is to this -- passing this health care bill.

Later he will inspire us with that, but he, Mr. President, as you know, as a young congressman gavelled Medicare into law in the House of Representatives.

The -- you have talked about how the present system is unsustainable for families, for businesses -- large, modern and large, small, any size -- and how it's unsustainable, as you said on March 5th of last year.

And health care reform is entitlement reform. Our budget cannot take this upward spiral of cost. We have a moral obligation to reduce the deficit and not heap mountains of debt onto the next generation.

So I want to talk for a moment about what it means to the economy. Imagine an economy where people could change jobs, start businesses, become self-employed, whether to pursue their artistic aspirations or be entrepreneurial and start new businesses, if they were not job-locked because they have a child who's bipolar or a family member who's diabetic with a pre-existing condition, and all of the other constraints that having health care or not having health care places on an entrepreneurial spirit.

PELOSI: Think of an economy with that dynamism, of people following their pursuits, taking risks. We want them to take risks, and yet we lock them down and we have an anvil around our businesses because of these increasing costs of health care.

So this bill is not only about the health security of America; it's about jobs. In its life it will create 4 million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately, jobs of, again, in the health care industry but in the entrepreneurial world as well.

You, Mr. President -- under your leadership, we passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (sic) last January and got a running start on some of the technology on scientific advancements in this by the investments in biomedical research, health I.T., health information technology; a running start by your signing the SCHIP, the children's health bill, insuring 11 million children.

We had a running start on expanding access, and not only that, but doing it in a way that is of the future. This is not just about health care for America; it's about a healthier America. This legislation is about innovation. It's about prevention. It's about wellness.

But most people haven't heard about that. And those people sitting at that kitchen table -- they don't want to hear about process. They want to hear about results. They want to know what this means to them. And what it means is a health initiative that is about affordability for the middle class, lowering costs, improving access for them; accessibility -- affordability and accessibility are closely aligned -- and accountability for the insurance companies.

So it is a very important initiative that we have to take. And I want to say, because Medicare was mentioned, unless we pass this legislation, we cannot keep our promises on Medicare. We simply must make the cuts and waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare so that the benefits and the premiums are untouched. We owe it to our seniors. We owe it to our country.

That day, March 5th, Senator Kennedy said health care is a right, not a privilege. Let us move in a way -- who can say "ram"? We've started this six weeks after your inauguration, just six weeks after your inauguration, on March 5th, with you extending a hand of bipartisanship. And many of the provisions that are in our bill are initiatives put forth by the Republicans.

Others of our colleagues will talk about this. But I just hope that, as we sit around this table, we understand the urgency that the American people have about this issue, how it affects not only their health but their economic security.

And I thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership in getting us to this place.

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