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Voices of Power: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with Washington Post reporter Lois Romano about health-care reform. Video by Jennifer Crandall and John JohnstonEdited by Akira Hakuta

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By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she doesn't feel bound by the $235 billion in deals that the White House and the Senate Finance Committee cut with hospital and pharmaceutical companies to defray costs of a new health-care plan, stating that she thinks the industries could do more.

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"When we're trying to cut costs, certainly we know that there are more costs to be cut in hospitals and pharmaceuticals. . . . So we'll be subjecting everything to some very harsh scrutiny as we see whether we can get more savings," Pelosi said in a late-afternoon interview, shortly after she left a marathon negotiating session with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, who have put the brakes on the House version of the health-care reform bill. "As we look, there may be some more ways to get money out of pharmaceutical companies."

The nation's hospitals have agreed to forgo $155 billion in government health-care reimbursements, and drug companies promised $80 billion, to help keep the cost of President Obama's health-care reform plan under $1 trillion.

Pelosi said she is eager to see the Senate's version, which is currently held up in the Finance Committee, and she indicated she is sympathetic to House Democrats' concerns about voting on a bill before the Senate shows its hand. Conservative Democrats say privately that they worry about being asked to spend political capital by voting for a measure far too liberal for their districts -- when the final bill hashed out by the House and Senate could be dramatically different.

"That's fair. That's fair," she said. "And I don't think the bills will be that dramatically different. Now, we don't know the rest of the Senate proposal, and we're eager to see that, but the House sets the pace at ground zero a good deal of the time."

Asked if she could accept a final bill that didn't have a "public option" -- or government-run health insurance plan -- she said, "I don't think so."

"But it has to be a level playing field," she added. "It has to be an option that is administratively sound -- actuarially sound, too -- and that it's sustainable in every way, has to pay back to the government any start-up funds that it has, so that it can be a true competitor and not a subsidized entity."

Pelosi declined to comment on the negotiations, which ended Thursday without a deal.

She dismissed the notion that some House members are skittish about voting for health-care reform because they are already facing a hard time in their districts over their recent votes supporting energy legislation. Republicans have framed that issue as a tax increase.

"The Chinese have an expression: 'Shoot the chickens to scare the monkeys.' They use one issue to scare you on another issue, and I don't think they're scaring our members," she said. "I think they, many of them, are just taking a good, hard look at what is in the [health-care] bill, have we squeezed the cost out that we can, and that's very fair. We all want to do that."


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