Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo hosted a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting.
AUDIO of their conversation is available here.
PHOTOS will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's conversation with Speaker Pelosi is below:
Governor Cuomo: Well good afternoon to all on behalf of all the governors who are here today and the Chairman of the National Governors Association, Governor Hogan. Let me welcome Madame Speaker for being with us today at our winter meeting. Thank you very much. We know you have a very busy schedule and you're very kind to be with us.
As a matter of full disclosure I am not objective. I'm a big fan of Madame Speaker. We've been personal friends for many, many years. As my children will tell you, when the Speaker comes on the television we have a mandatory silence policy so we can all hear what the Speaker is talking about at the time.
I will not ask Madame Speaker about anything new that happened or has come up in Washington over the past few days. I think we all understand that. But I'd like to start, Madame Speaker, on a slightly different tone and talk a little bit about your background. You know we're in this hyperpartisan, hyperpolitical time and I think sometimes people lose the humanity of what we do in public service. We focus on labels and titles and positions and we forget that we're all people trying to do good things.
And you have an interesting background. You're from California now but you were born an East Coast person so you have that bicoastal experience. Your father, Thomas D'Alesandro, was a congressman for eight years, mayor of Baltimore for 12 years, and then your brother Thomas was also the mayor of Baltimore from 1967 to 1971. Your mother was involved in politics so you very much come from a family business of politics and I'm curious, did you always feel that you were interested in public service? Did you know you wanted to run for elected office coming from that background?
Speaker Pelosi: Good morning everyone. An honor to be here. Thank you for the invitation to be here. Governor Hogan, Maryland, my Maryland, I always say, our Governor from California, we're very, very proud of you Governor as well. I am in awe of the National Governors Association because just the weight of all that you do is so significant, so significant and so in awe that we sent you some of our very best from the House of Representatives. Jared, his honor Governor Polis, Governor Walz, where is my, New Mexico? Don't let me take attendance I won't go any further. And of course I've known Jennifer Pritzker because she has California, J.B. Pritzker because he has California connections growing up there early time, but all of you, congratulations and thank you for what you do for your country.
And as you said, Governor, this is, we all have a commitment to public service and that's what we should respect in each other, recognizing our differences but also knowing that in any given moment we're all a resource to each other that it is, as I say to my members, there are eternal friendships but there are never eternal animosities. You never know when we're going to need each other in this kaleidoscope of public service that we are in.
I have been in awe, using the term again, of the Governor's father and I knew him when he was I guess in college at the time, advising your father then, and I'm so proud of your leadership and the tradition in your family. In your family and mine public service really, if I may on this Sunday morning, sprang from our deep faith that we had a responsibility, a sense of community, the gospel of Matthew and rest, and in our family I was never even, to your point, never thinking of running for public office. I just wanted the normal, in other words have weekend. I mean you don't understand what I mean. You have no weekends.
My brother was always interested. He became mayor. He was wonderful. Very daily communicant. His public service was an extension of his faith as well and we were all taught that public service was a noble calling. It didn't mean you had to run for office. It just meant to be engaged in public service and recognize our responsibilities to each other as Americans and in our family, again, very much part of our faith.
It was a family that was in - Governor, you have some idea of this and congratulations to your father and the public service in your family and the courage of your father.
In case you don't know, Governor Hogan's father was the only republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote for impeachment for Nixon. It was very courageous at the time. Thank you for your service of your family.
But our family was a, we grew up in little Italy in Baltimore, Maryland. We were devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian-American heritage and staunchly Democratic and we saw it all as a connection, so that's how we grew up, and in Democratic politics at the time, it wasn't any, we all knew each other, we all respected each other for our involvement in public service. It wasn't any politics of personal destruction. It was more a competition of ideas, so that was tradition. And then, I just say to this, one, you never know. Be ready. I had absolutely zero intention of ever running for office. My husband, born and raised in San Francisco, that's where we have raised our family although four of them were born in New York, Governor, so we have that connection - four of the five children - and involved in the community one thing or another and people came to me and asked me to run and then one thing and then same thing, and the leadership, I never intended to run for leadership but people came to me and asked me to run and here I am Speaker of the House.
You all, from Little Italy and Baltimore, Maryland.
Governor Cuomo: That is the American story. Let me ask you this, though. You mentioned that politics now is so difficult that you reference it's almost hard to have a normal life now and do what we try to do. Your children, some are interested in government and public affairs. Alexandra has done many films. Christine, who I've had the pleasure to work with, is a great political mind.
Speaker Pelosi: They're a big fan of yours, yes.
Governor Cuomo: If your children said now I'm interested in running for elected office, and we all want our children to pursue their dreams and be happy, but what would you say to them now? Is it so tough and so toxic that you might be careful in the advice you give them?
Speaker Pelosi: Well we used to say a long time ago, even before the way it is now - we all love our children so much we hope they never run for office. Because this is not for the faint of heart, all of you know that. It is not for the faint of heart. It is difficult, more difficult now especially for women because, as I say to them, you're in the arena. Once you get into the arena this is, again, not for the faint of heart.
Sunday morning, you know I just came from mass, but nonetheless I'll say this: You're in the arena, you've got to be ready to take a punch. You've got to be ready to throw a punch, for the children. For the children, because really aren't we all about the future and how we envision the future and it's about the children and their future. And people ask me the three most important issues facing the Congress, I always say the same thing: our children, our children, our children. Their health, their education, the economic security of their families, a clean, safe environment, including gun safety violence protection in which they can thrive in a nation. A world at peace in which they can reach their fulfillment, there's plenty of common ground in all of that and I do think that we should seek as much common ground as possible.
So when women come to me and say, how do you take all these barbs? It doesn't matter to me. It's worth it for what we are here to do for the children. My daughter, Alexandra, she's a filmmaker. She's made like 13 movies, many of them about what's going on in America. But she thinks that we, basically politicians, are boring. She's only interested in the popular culture and what other aspect of it that elections have to the popular culture and what people feel and how we meet their needs.
Christine is a great organizer. She was a prosecutor, she worked with you at HUD, but she too - it's a funny thing because we really do believe in e pluribus unum: From many one. That's what our founders taught us. From many one. They didn't know how many we would be, or how different we would be from each other, but they knew our differences and they certainly had theirs. That we would have to be one as a country. So that's the politics in which I was raised and that our kids see it and so trying to pull it back to a place where everybody is thinking we're one and how do we resolve our differences to get to that place. They're more in that vein than in wanting to run for office as far as I know. But I had absolutely zero intention of running for office until people came to me and encouraged me to do so.
Governor Cuomo: Sometimes the parents are the last to know, Speaker.
Speaker Pelosi: A lot of things. Now being grandparents.
Governor Cuomo: E pluribus unum really does say it all. It's one of the great expressions, it's on the country's seal from the very beginning. I just proposed adding it to the seal of the State of New York this year, changing the seal to add e pluribus unum because it really does sum up our overall philosophy.
Let me ask you the first substantive question and then, governors, obviously we've been having a good conversation over the past couple of days and I'll turn it over to them. One of the topics that we have been talking about is infrastructure and we're going to work on getting a new word, by the way, because I think that word doesn't have the appeal that we need to seduce all our partners into the business. But, governors tend to be a practical group. They tend to be pragmatic. We have to function every day. We wake up in the morning, we have to shovel coal into the boiler to start the heat.
So infrastructure is a tremendous need. Everybody knows it. Everybody talks about it. $1.5 trillion expected deficit in infrastructure needs by 2025. Federal government has talked about a significant infrastructure program over the past 5 administrations. It's been the same basic pledge. Meanwhile the infrastructure deteriorates. The state's are stepping in but it is very hard for us because it is about funding at the end of the day. And we spent a lot of time on creative financing mechanisms and partnerships and P-3s to try to find the financing on the state side, but without the federal government really stepping into this arena we're not going to do what this nation needs. And everybody feels the shift globally and we see development all over the world and we see our stagnation.
Two part question: A. Why is it so difficult? If there's one topic that we should be able to find common ground, it is infrastructure slash transportation, economic development. Do we think there's any chance that we will get there in the near future? And what can we be doing as governors, who represent Democrats and Republicans all across the country, we would be the implementing vehicle, right, the federal government is not going to go into the business. They'll differ to the states. So we would be the vehicle of actual function. What can we be doing or should be doing to actually help get to a resolution?
Speaker Pelosi: Thank you for the question. I don't know another word for infrastructure, except perhaps growth for America. There's probably 4 trillion, maybe more, according to the Society of Civil Engineers for a trillion dollar deficit in our infrastructure. This is an issue that is not just about bricks and mortar and paving roads and the rest. It's about growth, it's about quality of life, it's about public health in terms of clean air, clean water, for getting cars off the road. More public transit. It's about clean water, some of our water systems are bricks and mortar a hundred years old. It's about broadband into rural areas, but especially some of the urban deserts as well. But into the urban areas, it's an education issue, it's a health issue, it's a commerce issue and the rest.
So this is everything and it's never going - I've been in Congress a long time - this was never a partisan issue. We all came together and worked together to build the infrastructure of America. To create jobs in the immediate but also in the promotion of commerce, quality of timing of product to market. It effects everything. And our agenda for the people in which we won 40 seats in the last election, this was for the people we're going to do three things: 1. We were going to lower the cost of healthcare by lowering the cost of prescription drugs. And I hope to have an opportunity to talk to you about that. And protecting the pre-existing conditions. 2. Building the infrastructure of America. Lowering healthcare costs, bigger paycheck, building the infrastructure of America, cleaner government by decreasing the role of big dark money in politics and having that give people more confidence in the political system. I think on the first two we had common ground with the administration. And we have been working with them on the prescription drug bill until they stopped working with us on that. But infrastructure is all about money.
It is all about pay for, and that takes us to another place which is the national debt is growing at such a rate that we have to pay as you go. And that is one of the issues that I have within my own party frequently. Pay as you go, you want something new, either substitute it for something, take something away, or find a revenue source. But we have to pay as we go. That does not mean that certain aspects of building the infrastructure of America don't have an impact of bringing money back in. But by and large, to go to $2 trillion as the President said he would be willing to do, we have to find revenue sources. Some of them are from within, for example harbor maintenance fund, or there are some pockets we can put our hand in, but others we are going to have to pay as we go. That is really the obstacle because we have talked about all of these things, whether it is transportation, roads, mass transit, even high speed rail, issues that relate to infrastructure and water and the rest of the grid - all of that. We have to do that.
But when it came down to talk about paying for it was when the President walked out of the room. We do have, my Chairman Richie Neal would say that some of things that we can do and we did successfully in the stimulus bill. Build America Bonds, Governors, Democrat and Republican mayors, came to us and said we got a lot out of that because the interests rates were low - now even more so - so that we could use Build America Bonds, so we have to be entrepreneurial, transformative really in our thinking about how we pay for it. But we have in my view, we have to pay for it. And we have in the past. So this is nothing new. But is not usually political. We agreed to this big plan, we did not agree on how to pay for it yet, but we are going to arrive at that together. We didn't have two different points of view, we just didn't arrive to a conclusion. But then they sent us over 200, we want a $200 billion dollar bill and this is what was painful. I mean first of all it was so small. It wasn't meeting the challenge in any way. It wasn't meeting a trillion dollars. And in it they reversed the formula, the formula used to be 80 percent federal, 20 percent state or local. They reversed that formula and said it is going to be 80 percent outside and 20 percent federal. And again, I am a budget hawk, I want to reduce the deficit, but who is going to come up with 80 percent to really get the job done unless it is just small initiatives. So this is something that we can all work together on.
The mayors are very bullish on doing infrastructure as well. You all could be a tremendous resource on this. And we chose those two things, reducing the cost of prescription drugs and this because they were things the President was advocating for. So we were finding our common ground on two areas that he was advocating that we thought we could work together, and get what you get, results for the American people. But we don't have a big choice, because here we have this whole issue of climate and there's some exuberances even in my own party about that, but building the infrastructure in a resilient, green way is a way to help preserve the planet. So it is a common ground place for us to go.
Another part of it that you are all in the lead on, if you are going to do this and you are going to do it big, you have to have the talent. You have to have the development of the talent for all of this. So, education, training, tasking schools to train people to be able to do it, workforce development is a critical part of building the infrastructure. Workforce development, you know so much about that in terms of education. So it is a real opportunity. See everything, don't see everything as a fight, see everything as an opportunity. How can we make the most of this for the good of the American people, to get results, and to do so in a way that does not add, as the tax scam did, $2 trillion dollars to the national debt? This is unsustainable and by building the infrastructure we create jobs, again in the immediate, promote commerce to create more jobs. And that brings revenue in, increases paychecks, and with bigger paychecks they are more confident in their consumer activity. And with all of that, they inject demand into the economy which produces revenue. So it has a full circle of advantages for all of us to do that.
So I hope that, as much as nonpartisan it always used to be, that we can get to a place where we have to make decisions. And if the decision is we are not going to pay for it or whatever, then we have to understand the consequences of that as we way the equities of it all. But I am optimistic because we must do it and it is one thing the public appreciates and wants. They do not necessarily like the word infrastructure, I will agree with you. But if you say we need to have some revenue that costs - we are going to repair the bridges - this is a safety issue as well. We are going to repair the bridges in your area. There will be more facilitation of transportation. People see the impact in California, Governor as you know, we had a gas tax. They assaulted the gas tax, but when people saw what it meant in their areas it was sustained overwhelmingly. And thank you for your leadership.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much Madame Speaker. Let me turn it over to my colleagues, I think our Chairman Governor Hogan had the first question.
Governor Hogan: Well first of all Madame Speaker, on behalf of America's governors we want to thank you very much for joining us here this afternoon. And thank you for giving the economic development plug for Little Italy in Baltimore. I hope everyone gets a chance to visit while you are here in town. Actually, Governor Cuomo stole my first question. I wanted to talk about infrastructure, but I'll do a follow up if could. You know as Chairman I have been leading a yearlong initiative on rebuilding our infrastructure. The governors at the table have been working together really in a bipartisan way to try to come up with some common sense solutions. We've been trying to address these issues in our states and have been trying to come up with some recommendations that we can come to Washington with...
Speaker Pelosi: Wonderful, that would be good.
Governor Hogan: To give advice to our leaders here about how we might reach an agreement because it seems as if everyone says that is the top priority, in both houses of Congress and on both sides of the aisle and in the administration and all of us here believe it's an issue that needs to be addressed. I guess - and you've discussed this a lot already, and I want to get to the other governor's questions - realistically, what do you see as the possibilities of us actually getting something done in this election year, or is it possible to move forward on this issue?
Speaker Pelosi: Thank you, Governor, and thank you for your leadership on this issue. If you promise not to tell anybody, Richie Neal, our chairman of Ways and Means will be having breakfast with Secretary Mnuchin on Tuesday. They basically said to us during the U.S.-Mexico Trade agreement, "You get that done, we'll talk about funding on infrastructure," and so they're going to be meeting about what the possibilities are. And again, it's not just about adding to the appropriations - there's never going to be enough appropriated funds ever to meet the needs that we have. We have to be more entrepreneurial and creative in how we come up with it, but Build America Bonds would be one of them. I think it is really honestly within range and we want to make sure that it is, and we keep saying to people, "It's going to be a compromise, remember that - it's a negotiation - but weighing the equities justify whatever you're suggesting and justify however you think we should be paying for it." So I think there's a real chance. The President wants it, but again, the deficit - the deficit this year, I'm not talking about the national debt, the deficit this year is a trillion dollars. Now again, I'm a big believer pay-as-you-go - if I may just be allowed a moment, the Republicans say pay-as-you-go for any initiatives that you have on the domestic side, shall we say, but don't pay-as-you-go when you do tax cuts at 83 percent of it going to the high end, adding enormously to the debt. Just think if we had that money for infrastructure - we could be well down the road which will bring much more money into the economy than what they're doing. If I may, Governor, just thank you for your and Mrs. Hogan's presence at Elijah Cummings' service. He was a hero to so many of us, and it was long - but you stayed which was just lovely, and if I may segue from that, we held him in such high esteem that we named H.R. 3 the "Elijah Cummings Lower Healthcare Cost Now" legislation, so hopefully we get a chance to talk about that again. I look forward to working with you on the infrastructure issue. Mrs. Hogan, lovely to see you.
Governor Cuomo: He was an extraordinary gentleman, and we all miss him. Governor Pritzker?
Governor Pritzker: Thank you. Thank you, Governor, and thank you for your leadership and your service, Madame Speaker.
Speaker Pelosi: Thank you, Governor.
Governor Pritzker: I wanted to ask you about the Census. First, to thank you for your leadership in making sure that funding was available and making sure that the Census is moving forward - is there more that Congress will do with regard to the Census, and how can we as governors be supportive of that effort?
Speaker Pelosi: Well I think that - thank you for that question - this is in the Constitution, United States of America, who are we? An accurate, thorough count of who we are without any limitation in terms of citizenship or the rest, and that was unfortunate that that was in there because it had a chilling effect on some people participating. I believe, you correct me if I'm wrong, that it's in everybody's interest here at this table that you have the biggest count for your state in terms of what it means, in terms of service - I don't have to tell you that but just saying that and then of course, it relates to your representation in Congress as well, but we're always most interested in what it means in the lives of the people that we're here to serve, and they're better served if there's an accurate count of how many they are. One of our, shall we say friendly negotiations with the caps was that we had a big increase for the Census. I know in our state our governor put up $150 million to remove obstacles to it. It's just - respect yourself. Be counted, we keep saying to people. Don't avoid this, for some fear that you may have. This is about who we are as a country, so we did win in that - more than you want to know on the subject, but part of it was we didn't think it should be counted in a regular domestic spending thing because it's an exceptional expenditure just for this period of time when we have it, so we didn't want it to cannibalize anything we might be doing for Title I, schools and that on the side, so it was part of our debate, we kind of split the difference and we came up with a good number for that. But thank you for asking because that is the DNA, that is who we are, the people, and we want the full reflection of who that is in all its beautiful diversity in numbers. Sometimes, maybe to the disadvantage of one state or another, we're watching carefully in California, we may lose one, but whatever it is it has to be the accurate count, but thank you for your question and thank you for your leadership on this subject, which gives people real confidence that they are important. They count. Sign me up.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you, I think we have time for one more - we've run a little bit overtime - we'll go to our Dean, Madame Speaker, of the Governors is Governor Herbert. Governor?
Governor Herbert: Thank you Governor Cuomo and Madame Speaker.
Speaker Pelosi: Nice to see you again.
Governor Herbert: It's good to see you here and thanks for coming to the meeting our nation's governors. And whether you plan on it or not, we thank you for your many years of service.
Speaker Pelosi: Thank you.
Governor Herbert: I do remember when we met last time, me along with a couple of other governors had the opportunity to talk about issues of the day, and you quoted one of our favorite quotes from Judge Brandeis who said "States are the laboratories of democracy," and we are, and we're doing some really good things. Every state here is doing some wonderful things to help solve the people's problems, we work with the federal government many times as a partner - sometimes we feel like we're the junior partners as opposed to co-equals - but we have this ability to work with the federal government and provide programs for the people. We sometimes don't feel like we have quite the flexibility or the latitude to do what we need to do, as we learn from each other what works and what doesn't work. What can be done and what can you do and what can we do together to provide more flexibility and latitude on these programs to give the states some wiggle room to find better ways to innovate and create better solutions to the problem.
Speaker Pelosi: Well as you recall we have had conversations on this before, and thank you for your leadership. I do believe that it's important for us to have as much dialogue as possible because as you know with the best intentions in the world there can be ramifications, unforeseen consequences. So the more information we have going in, the better. And let's try forgetting the barriers of partisanship, we have differences of opinion on the role of government and what the extent of it should be from the federal government, what should be local and what should be state and local. But I am, I think it would be not smart for us to ignore what you may have to say. So, let's try to increase up front what some of the concerns may be, recognizing that we do have a difference of opinion. There are some people in the Congress who are anti-governance. There are also the same people who are anti-science, so it's a hard thing because if you don't want to know and you don't want to do, then it's hard to negotiate when there's no interest in governance or science to make an evidence-based decision. So again, you're on the front line, you're the laboratories we learn from the governors, from the states. You have to make ends meet, we should too. You can have a capital budget, we can't, maybe we can learn that from you.
But one place that really will make a difference and that we have worked really with the administration up until now is on H.R.3 - lowering the cost of prescription drugs - and it means something to you. So if I may, what we do in that legislation is to give the secretary the authority to negotiate for lower prices. The negotiation is the leverage. The negotiation is the leverage. So that's what can bring down the cost of prescription drugs. And the formula for it is that the, we want the price to be no more than 120 percent. Right now our folks are spending four, five, six times what people in other countries similar to our economy, that would be Australia, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Take the average of those countries and we should not be paying any more than 120 percent of that. That is billions of dollars, hundreds of billions of dollars in savings, and in the legislation that savings would be used to improve Medicare, dental, visual, vision and hearing by like a half a trillion dollars - a benefit that is more significant for Medicare than anything since its inception. Very important to America's seniors, and it would put a cap of $2,000 on what seniors pay, they have no cap on what they pay in the Medicare program that some of them are in. So it lowers costs, it also says that this advantage is not just for Medicare, it is for all those who get their drugs in private insurance as well. So it's a savings to the federal government, it's a savings to other government, it's a savings to business who are footing a lot of this bill and it's a savings to individual families. Again, having them have more discretion over their spending. I've seen grown men cry on the campaign trail because they cannot meet the cost of prescription drugs. People have testified, I was in New Jersey yesterday, and the person testified and said sometimes we don't pay for electricity or heat, anything because we have to pay for prescription drugs in the freezing cold.
So this is, again, transformative into what it means at that kitchen table of America's working families as to how they make ends meet. So we think that combination of lowering healthcare costs as we protect the pre-existing condition benefit and building the infrastructure for America to increase paychecks is a fabulous combination for growth in a way that protects our planet because we'll do infrastructure in a way that is about the future and not wedded to the past.
Now I put that out there, if you have suggestions, ideas and all the rest of that, that's kind of where the debate is on some of these issues. But again, to be fiscally sound, promote growth, to create good-paying jobs, increase the purchasing power for America's families and decrease the national debt. Thank you all for what you do. I'm so honored to be here with all of you and I wish you very well in your deliberations. And let this be the place that helps reduce any of the partisan barriers to finding solutions for the American people. E pluribus Unum.
Governor Cuomo: Well thank you very much Madame Speaker. Thank you very much for being with us today.