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I found some comments by republicans/conservatives who claim she said this*, some indicating it was in regard with Obamacare, but I haven't been able to find any context or primary source.

So the question: Did Nancy Pelosi say this? And if yes, when and in what context?

*Some examples:

  • here the author says about something else that it's "Kind of like Nancy Pelosi saying we'll have to pass the bill to find out what's in it",
  • or here someone saying that "We also recall the incredibly arrogant statement by then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that ‘we’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.’"
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    I quite strongly remember reading an extremely similar question, it's either here or on Politics SE. I can't find it, perhaps it was deleted. – gerrit Feb 10 at 9:16
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    Considering the GOP tax cut bill had hand-written parts in the margins, it's not an unusual or partisan practice to have parts "up in the air" until the last minute, not to mention the uncertainties imposed by the other chamber's acceptance process, including amendments, markups, riders, etc. In short, it's not over until it's over. – dandavis Feb 10 at 19:20
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She said a similar sentence, but in a broader context, which results in a different meaning than the misquotation in the question:

Imagine an economy where people could follow their aspirations, where they could be entrepreneurial, where they could take risks professionally because personally their families [sic] health care needs are being met. Where they could be self-employed or start a business, not be job-locked in a job because they have health care there, and if they went out on their own it would be unaffordable to them, but especially true, if someone has a child with a pre-existing condition. So when we pass our bill, never again will people be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition.

We have to do this in partnership, and I wanted to bring [you] up to date on where we see it from here. The final health care legislation that will soon be passed by Congress will deliver successful reform at the local level. It will offer paid for investments that will improve health care services and coverage for millions more Americans. It will make significant investments in innovation, prevention, wellness and offer robust support for public health infrastructure. It will dramatically expand investments into community health centers. That means a dramatic expansion in the number of patients community health centers can see and ultimately healthier communities. Our bill will significantly reduce uncompensated care for hospitals.

You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention–it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting.

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.

So basically, she was saying that there was so much disinformation going on, and that the actual benefits would be evident in use rather than reflected in sound-bites, that people needed to experience it to realize just how beneficial it was. "The proof is in the pudding," so to say. And it wasn't a matter of having to pass the bill so that the government could see what was in it, but to pass it so that the public can see.

She made a follow-up statement in 2012:

“In the fall of the year,” Pelosi said, “the outside groups … were saying ‘it’s about abortion,’ which it never was. ‘It’s about ‘death panels,’’ which it never was. ‘It’s about a job-killer,’ which it creates four million [jobs]. ‘It’s about increasing the deficit’; well, the main reason to pass it was to decrease the deficit.” Her contention was that the Senate “didn’t have a bill.” And until the Senate produced an actual piece of legislation that could be matched up and debated against what was passed by the House, no one truly knew what would be voted on.

“So, that’s why I was saying we have to pass a bill, so we can see, so that we can show you, what it is and what it isn’t,” Pelosi continued. “It is none of these things. It’s not going to be any of these things.”

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Yes.

Let's break this down in context, from her address:

Imagine an economy where people could follow their aspirations, where they could be entrepreneurial, where they could take risks professionally because personally their families [sic] health care needs are being met. Where they could be self-employed or start a business, not be job-locked in a job because they have health care there, and if they went out on their own it would be unaffordable to them, but especially true, if someone has a child with a pre-existing condition. So when we pass our bill, never again will people be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition.

We can imply from external context that this means this bill is trying to regulate insurance to prevent coverage from being denied in this circumstance, but there's really very little meat to this assertion - it says almost nothing about how we'd achieve that, even with context external to this communication.

We have to do this in partnership, and I wanted to bring [you] up to date on where we see it from here. The final health care legislation that will soon be passed by Congress will deliver successful reform at the local level. It will offer paid for investments that will improve health care services and coverage for millions more Americans. It will make significant investments in innovation, prevention, wellness and offer robust support for public health infrastructure. It will dramatically expand investments into community health centers. That means a dramatic expansion in the number of patients community health centers can see and ultimately healthier communities. Our bill will significantly reduce uncompensated care for hospitals.

OK, this bill is happening right now, and she's updating us that it will, accomplish all of the above, but again, she says nothing at all about how it will do any of that. There is no meat to this at all, this is just what the legislation is trying to accomplish.

You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention–it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting.

This now acknowledges criticism and doubt, but doesn't actually address any of it in any way. So our speaker has asserted that the mechanism of the legislation hasn't been effectively communicated to the public, and instead of addressing that here, or anywhere above, we revisit (abstractly) what the legislation wants to accomplish.

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.

So, here it is, she now claims the public will see the merit of the bill post-facto, after acknowledging that there are concerns and criticisms and failures of communication, but without attempting to address any of it.

The characterization of this quote as an attempt at justification for misleading the public is definitely a stretch bordering on an outright lie.

However, to characterize this as an outright dismissal of concerns about the content or any concerns about the ambiguity of said bill, is definitely accurate.

So, ultimately, Yes, she dodged talking about a bill by claiming it would have positive effects, and that we'd all see this to be true after it was passed.

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    Welcome to Skeptics! This post is very rich in political opinion. There are many web sites that welcome answers and content based purely upon opinions. Skeptics Stack Exchange is not among them. Feel free to answer based on specific, referenced, empirical evidence, but personal opinions and anecdotes are not methods to obtain definitive answers. – Oddthinking Feb 11 at 5:22
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    @Oddthinking It's the same source as SeanDougan's answer? He's just broken it apart and added a bit of analysis of what she's saying in the quoted text. – nick012000 Feb 11 at 12:01
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    I disagree with this answer because the phrases are subtly different. When I read the question, I thought she was talking about her own understanding of the bill, but the quote is about the listerner understanding. – lvella Feb 11 at 13:20
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    This is incorrect. The quotes were not about whether she didn't explain how all of the ACA would work in the same discussion. The sources portrayed Nancy as deceptive and asking people to vote on a bill people didn't know about. That's not what happened and it take a lot of (politically-motivated) squinting to say that yes, that's an accurate way of reading that quote. – vdelp Feb 11 at 20:20
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    "Yes" is too strong. “We'll have to pass the bill to find out what's in it” is understood as "Literally, neither I nor my fellow Democrats will actually read through the whole bill before voting for it", with "what's in [the bill]" meaning the actual words on the paper. "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it", in-context, means "You, the voters, will appreciate the benefits of the bill once you experience them first-hand". The misquote is an announcement of either massive incompetence or deliberate conspiracy in government; the real quote is just a sales pitch. – MJ713 Feb 13 at 1:12

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