June 19, 2019
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the Budget Committee Hearing, “Poverty In America: Economic Realities of Struggling Families,” which also featured testimony from Reverend Dr. William Barber, Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharris, and leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity.
I thank the bipartisan leadership of this Committee for the unanimous consent for the Speaker to be allowed to participate, to listen to the testimony and to share a few thoughts with you.
Mr. Chairman, you really – ‘Poverty in America: the Economic Realities of Struggling Families’ – that being the title – I thank you so much for making this opportunity available for us to hear.
And, with all due respect to the distinguished Ranking Member, after listening to his opening statement, all the more reason we need to hear from our witnesses as to how public policy affects them.
The hearing is distinguished by the testimony of leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign. We are grateful for the opportunity to listen and learn from Reverend Dr. William Barber, Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharris and others.
I associate myself with your welcome to them all.
Last fall, the Poor People’s Campaign sent a letter to Congress calling for a hearing on policies harming America’s children. They wrote, ‘Somebody has been hurting our children and has gone on far too long and we won’t be silent anymore.’
We didn’t get that hearing then – we had our own rump hearing – but now, today, thank you Mr. Chairman for making this hearing possible.
As the Chairman said, my motivation for being in politics – my why for being in government and politics – is that one-in-five children lives in poverty in America.
I have – my husband and I have five children. We see what it takes to raise a family and, even under great circumstances, there are challenges and it just bothered me so that one-in-five children go to bed hungry. How could this be in the greatest country that ever existed in the history of the world that one-in-five children, at least, lives in poverty in America?
And so, we must have public policy that does better. And, as the distinguished Ranking Member said, we still have challenges even though we had a War on Poverty, but just think what the challenge would be if we had not had that War on Poverty.
And here we are in the Budget Committee. A federal budget should be a statement of our national values. What is important to us as a nation should be reflected in how we allocate our resources, and we have to stand for the health, education and well-being of all of the American people in the budget we put forth.
We must fight for investments in economic justice and human dignity, recognizing as Dr. King did, that ‘our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.’ Dr. King’s words ring with the same resounding moral force today: ‘What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?’
Those words are echoed in the Poor People’s Campaign’s Moral Budget, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to live.’
We thank the Poor People’s Campaign for conducting their audit of injustices, ‘The Souls of Poor Folk,’ which presents a stark reminder of the challenges that remain today.
Fifty-one years after Dr. King launched a Poor People’s Campaign to fully, finally end poverty; fifty-one years after workers of every background marched for their dignity, bringing the priorities of America’s neediest families to the nation’s capital; fifty-one years later, America is still a land of stunning injustice.
Our work is far from done, when 140 million Americans live in poverty. Our work is far from done, when 140 million Americans are poor in our country.
As Members of Congress, we have an urgent moral duty to make good on the promissory note of the rights enshrined in our Founding documents.
Our nation’s Founding ideals – ‘liberty and justice for all’ – can only be fulfilled if we have economic justice, led by a government that is in the public interest, not the special interests.
And that is why we are grateful for the consideration here of a budget, just to remind, education is so central to the economic well-being of America’s children and working families. Nothing brings more money to the Treasury – nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investments in education, early childhood, K through 12, higher-ed, post-grad lifetime learning for our workers.
This is the investment that people want to make in their children – that our country must make in our future – and it is an investment that has a return. Medicare, Medicaid, initiatives that have helped meet the needs of America’s working families are so important and should not be undermined in any budget.
The distinguished Ranking Member mentioned increasing the national debt. We certainly should not have a budget that gives a tax break to the – 83 percent of the benefits to the top one percent while adding two trillion dollars to the national debt – adding to the debt that will be incurred by our children.
Our children. Our children. Our children. When people ask what are 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 success, security of their families and a safe environment – environmental justice, so important that we focused on in our last hearing, environmental justice – clean air, clean water for them to thrive and a world at peace, in which they can reach their fulfillment.
And so, I am proud to be here to offer some element of concern, confident in our commitment to ending poverty in America, led by our distinguished Chair of our Committee, Barbara Lee, Member of this Budget Committee. Confident about what we believe in and what we want to do, humble enough to listen to how public policy has an impact, and to listen to more, newer, fresher ideas – fresh eyes on the subject, from where it is most felt.
So, we want to, again, thank the Chairman and also call upon our Republican colleagues to help us with raising the minimum wage, lowering the cost of prescription drugs – issues like that, which raise the paycheck, lower the costs for family.
In our work, we must be one, coming together in a spirit of ‘unselfishness.’ The Congress cannot succeed in our inside maneuvering without your outside mobilization.
We will make our legislation for the good of the American people and our children that is being rejected by the Senate, too hot for them to handle by the public – believing in and having confidence in the public sentiment to make the Senate accountable, as well, when it comes to meeting the needs of America’s working families and reducing the level of poverty in our country and reducing the number of poor people in our country.
Your contribution – intellectual contribution – to us today is immeasurable. I am grateful to you for it but, more importantly, for the work you do every day to meet the needs of America’s working families, especially those who are on the borderline, live in poverty or on the border line of being poor in our country.
It is an injustice. We must address it and we must address it in a way that is respectful of the dignity and worth of every person – the spark of divinity that exists in every person – so that we are respectful of other views.
And, Mr. Womack, I say to you that I am guided by the words of our Founders, ‘E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one.’ They couldn’t have imaged how many we would be or how different we would be from each other, but we know, that in striving for solutions, we have to be unifying and not dividing. And, it is in that spirit of ‘dangerous unselfishness’ that I welcome our guests.
Thank you Mr. Yarmuth, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Womack for providing us with this opportunity.