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Voices of Power: Nancy Pelosi

Interview By Lois Romano
Friday, July 24, 2009 5:06 AM

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Welcome, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Thanks for joining us today on such a very newsy day.

I understand that you just came out of a two-hour meeting with White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel and the Seven Blue Dogs who have been holding up the legislation, health care legislation.

Tell me--tell me about that meeting and if you made any progress.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, first of all, I don't how long it was because I was in and out.

I was meeting with the Prime Minister of Iraq in the course of the meeting, and so that we had had a meeting, and it isn't holding up the legislation. Our Blue Dogs, and many other Members, have positive, constructive advances to the legislation. I'd say we're making progress.

MS. ROMANO: Can you be a little specific about this particular meeting and, you know, if you kind of moved the ball up the field a little bit today?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, no.

[Laughter.]

SPEAKER PELOSI: Hence, we moved the ball of the field. We always are.

But this is one of a series of meetings that we're having today. We'll have a group come in a little bit later to talk about regional disparities and how reimbursements are made for Medicare and the rest, and so it's a series of meetings all day, and I was not in the meeting for two hours.

But I did participate in the meeting.

MS. ROMANO: You were there--okay.

SPEAKER PELOSI: But then I'll have--we'll have meetings in the course of the day, and this is one of them.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Are there any particular sticking points that might have gotten resolved today?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, when we--when that gets resolved, then we'll probably have some kind of announcement to that effect, but it's all also just part of all of us in all of our meetings, no matter what the group is, to try to continue to cut cost in the--in the reform

MS. ROMANO: So you have--you have these Seven Democratic Blue Dogs in Energy and Commerce who had some issues that they would like resolved before the bill is marked up.

What more are you prepared to do to sort of satisfy some of their interests?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, the--this is one group. In the course of the day, I'll be meeting Members who are concerned about regional disparities. All of our Members are concerned about cost, that we bend the curve, that we are going to lower the cost of health care in America for families, for companies, for the Federal budget, and for our economy.

So, while they are in the lead on some of these issues, they are--some of those concerns are shared by other Members, and they have other issues. So this is typical of when you come to the end of a bill where the finer points are addressed and the consensus is built. I'm very, very optimistic, though [inaudible].

MS. ROMANO: Senator Reid today said that there will not be a vote before the August recess. Will that affect your schedule at all?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I would hope that the Senate Finance Committee would put out a proposal that will have the direction they are going on. We are all very eager to see what that is because, at the end of the day, we are going to have to go to conference with the Senate bill.

We've seen the health bill from that committee, and we are eager to see the Finance Committee bill, and I would hope that we could see that in committees, not as the Senator has said, as the leader has said, not on the floor.

MS. ROMANO: So you're hoping to see that, is that what you're saying, before you would bring the House bill to a vote?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, I didn't say that.

MS. ROMANO: Okay.

[Laughter.]

SPEAKER PELOSI: I said we'd like to see-the Senate move in a forward direction.

SPEAKER PELOSI: We've had two of our committees report out. We are waiting for Energy and Commerce to report out--and I'm optimistic that they will, and we would hope to see the Senate Finance Committee bill as we go forward. Members, I think, are curious to see what the proposals are on Senate Finance.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. But the question was the fact that they're not going to vote before the recess. Is that going to impact your schedule because you wanted to have a vote before everybody left?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I hope--and our plan is--to have a vote before we leave. It will depend on how ready our bill is less than on where the Senate is.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. At bottom, when I talked to some of the Blue Dogs--and they'll tell you this kind of off the record, but they didn't want to vote before the Senate vote. They are a little worried about it because they don't want to get out there with a House bill that is going to be dramatically different in conference. Are you--

SPEAKER PELOSI: That's fair. That's fair. And I don't think the bills will be that dramatically different. They are about 75 percent the same-- of what we know.

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, but we are respectful of what the Senate will do.

MS. ROMANO: You said that it was fair for them to be concerned about the Senate bill and what they were. o are you willing to, you know, wait for a Senate bill before you bring it to the floor, so that everybody can kind of be on the same page?

SPEAKER PELOSI: You can make a judgment day to day to see where the Senate is and what we are going to do. We promised the President that we would have a bill before we went home on the recess. The American people expect and deserve action on our part, and when we are ready, we will go to the floor, and when we go to the floor, we will win.

MS. ROMANO: One--one Member said to me, "We are being asked to walk a plank on these votes, and we're not assured of what the Senate is going to come up with."

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, we're not assured, and that's why we want to see what they're going to do in committee, but it's--when you go first--now, this didn't necessarily have to be this way.

The Senate, we thought, was going to go first in June and then early July and the rest, and now we may have to go first, but if we are all waiting for somebody else to go through the door first, the American people are losing. 14,000 of them a day are losing their health insurance.

We have an obligation to them, more than we have to who goes first in the Congress.

MS. ROMANO: One of the--one of the things that also comes up is--is the energy bill, and why it was brought up before the health care reform bill because they used a lot of political capital on that, and so now there's nothing going on in the Senate.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, there's--there's something going on in the Senate. They're preparing to mark up their bill in September, and they're--

MS. ROMANO: On the energy bill?

SPEAKER PELOSI: On the energy bill, and some of the people who are saying that didn't even vote for the energy bill.

MS. ROMANO: But some--some of the Members that did vote who went home, as you know, have been getting a really hard time.

SPEAKER PELOSI: I think that's more about the health care bill. I know--I think that the industry and the forces of the status quo on this issue of health are loaded for bear. I told Members--be prepared for carpet bombing and shock and awe because they're coming at you and they represent major, major change in the lives that every person in America. So that is universal, and they'll do anything to stop it, and that--and, obviously, they want to use August to stop it.

I'm not afraid of August, as I have said. It's just a month, but--

MS. ROMANO: Oh, you're talking about the opposition and the ads that they're running. You said it's about health care and not about the energy bill?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I said that.

MS. ROMANO: Okay.

SPEAKER PELOSI: 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.

I think they, many of them, are just taking a good, hard look at what is in the bill, have we squeezed the cost out that we can, and that's very fair. We all want to do that.

I respect every proposal that has come forth to do just that, to lower cost, to improve quality, expand opportunity and choice for America's families, and that's--in a very constructive way, our Members have done that, and they have--I think all of them want to pass health care reform, health insurance reform. I'm certain of that. So nobody is holding up anything. They're trying to advance in a way that they think would work better

MS. ROMANO: Do you--could you accept a conference report that didn't have a public option?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't think the House Democrats would.

MS. ROMANO: Okay.

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't think so.

But it has to be a level playing field. It has to be a public 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.

MS. ROMANO: The White House and the Senate made some side deals with some industry folks, the pharmaceuticals and the hospitals, and Chairman Waxman said that he doesn't feel bound by those regulations--I mean those deals. What do you say?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, when we're trying to cut cost, certainly we know that there are more costs to be cut in hospitals and pharmaceuticals, for two examples, and--and so we'll be subjecting everything to some very harsh scrutiny as we see whether we can get more savings.

MS. ROMANO: So do you--do you think those deals were a little premature? I mean, can some more money be extracted from the corporations?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, they may not have been premature at the time.

MS. ROMANO: Right.

SPEAKER PELOSI: But I do think that as we look, that there may be some more--way to get money out of--out of pharmaceutical companies.

I think the Senate had one proposal about a tax on the manufacturer of pharmaceuticals. I don't know for sure because we hadn't seen the--

SPEAKER PELOSI: --Senate--but, in any event, let's just put it this way. We are going to have whatever savings we can squeeze--out of the system, so that we have--we have cut cost to the maximum extent, that the investments that we make will save the American people money.

MS. ROMANO: Just to--just so I understand your answer, you do not feel bad by these deals. Is that what you're saying?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't, no.

MS. ROMANO: Some of the Senate Democrats are--are expressing frustration that nobody knows anything that's going on with Max Baucus' bill. They're calling it the "black hole." Do you feel any of that frustration? Would you like to see something pretty soon on this?

SPEAKER PELOSI: We're all eager to see what the Senate Finance Committee will do, and I believe that in a bipartisan way then they have proposals that could be something that we can conference with in a very positive way. So I'm optimistic about that.

MS. ROMANO: Is your caucus prepared to put off the recess a bit, so to get this done?

SPEAKER PELOSI: My caucus is, yes, but I'm not sure that--I've said to them if we are here and the Senate isn't, then what have we accomplished?

But, yes--no, they very much want to get a bill passed before we leave, and so--and some are saying until we see what the Senate does, we don't want to pass the bill--

MS. ROMANO: Okay.

SPEAKER PELOSI: --and the Senate isn't here, you see that complication. So we'll just have to act on our best information in our bill that we have and go to the floor.

MS. ROMANO: Did you--did somebody bring to your attention Chairman Rangel's quote? I guess a microphone picked it up, said nobody wants to tell the Speaker that she's rushing the legislation.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, that committee has had its work done. They're--they've marked up their bill, and they have put it out, and they worked very hard and long for many, many months.

They also said nobody wants to tell the President, either--

MS. ROMANO: A couple of political questions.

So you've been in the job two--two and a half years, and I've noticed in the last three, four, five months, your job approval numbers have gone down. They were in the 50s, and now they're in the 30s.

SPEAKER PELOSI: In the 50s? I missed that.

MS. ROMANO: Yeah.

[Laughter.]

MS. ROMANO: Well, they were in 2007 and part of 2008.

So what's going on now? You know, what do you think is going on with that?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I believe that we have been very effective in getting the President's agenda passed in the Congress, and it's a heavy lift. And being Speaker of the House is not something you go into as a popularity contest.

You have to make very difficult decisions, and you make people unhappy on the right and on the left. And that's really--that's it, but I'm--it goes with the territory. I have no complaint about it. It's not--what I want is the legislation to pass, and our success legislatively is driving the Republicans to distraction. And their distraction has to be to make all the big attacks on me.

MS. ROMANO: Mm-hmm.

SPEAKER PELOSI: And that's okay. That's okay. If I were not effective, they wouldn't be making the attacks. Even if they have an impact on my ratings, what I want are those votes on the board to pass the legislation for the President to sign legislation that affects the lives of the American people, their health, their education, their economic security, their future for their children, and to preserve this beautiful creation that God gave us, the planet.

MS. ROMANO: 2010 elections, you have a 40-seat majority right now. Some of those districts should not be Democratic. If you had a crystal ball, how many seats are you going to lose in 2010?

SPEAKER PELOSI: I don't even think of losing. That never crosses my mind.

What I do think about is winning, and I do know that historically the party of the incumbent president has lost seats in the off election year, but we're prepared for that. And we're just thinking in terms of good policy, again, to improve the lives of the American people and the politics that will follow, but we're ready.

MS. ROMANO: What will be--

SPEAKER PELOSI: [Inaudible] ready.

MS. ROMANO: Looking positively, what will be your majority in 2010?

SPEAKER PELOSI: We'll have a good, strong Democratic majority. I can assure you of that, come the elections of 2010.

MS. ROMANO: Okay, great.

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