What Lies Ahead For The 112th Congress?

As the 112th Congress begins, Robert Siegel checks in with two representatives we first met four years ago — Republican Peter Roskam from the Chicago suburbs, and Democrat Gabrielle Giffords from Tucson. Each talks about what they see as their party's agenda in the new Congress, in particular on the subject of health care.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Earlier today, we sat down with two members of Congress whom we first met four years ago on a day much like this one. In January 2007, they were both newly arrived freshmen. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Tucson, was joining the new Democratic majority. Republican Peter Roskam, from the suburbs west of Chicago, was taking his place on the back benches of the Republican minority.

Well, now things have changed. Giffords, the Democrat, is in the minority and Republican Roskam is now chief deputy majority whip. And they're both with us. Representative Roskam in the studio with me at the Capitol. Representative Giffords from her office nearby. Welcome to both of you.

Representative PETER ROSKAM (Republican, Illinois): Thank you.

Representative GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (Democrat, Arizona): Good morning.

SIEGEL: And, Peter Roskam, let's begin with you. Your party's taking over today. What is the GOP's message to America?

Rep. ROSKAM: Well, I think it is a message that is actually reflecting what a lot of Americans began saying to their representatives about a year ago. We began a process called America Speaking Out, which was a very dynamic online initiative and two town hall meetings. And ultimately came up with an agenda, which was the pledge to America, which focuses on fiscal restraint and job creation and economic prosperity as top priorities for the United States. And so, that's the agenda that I think you're going to see rolling out in these next several months and in the 112th Congress.

SIEGEL: Representative Giffords, how do you as a Democrat read the results of the election and what it says about strategies for getting job creation going? What will you as a Democrat do as the Republicans proceed with their agenda?

Rep. GIFFORDS: First and foremost, work with the Republicans. I come from the state of Arizona, which is a pretty bipartisan state. I formerly served in the minority, know what it's like to work with my Republicans in the majority and in the minority. And that's truly what American people want. I do think it's important, though, to look back on the reflection.

I really don't believe this is a Republican mandate. This is a mandate to get America back to work. But, frankly, even looking at the health care bill, which was very contentious, when individual components of the health care bill were polled, for example, do people want to have their children continue on their insurance plans until they're 26 years of age? Yes. Do people want to see donut hole close? Yes. Do people want to have more affordable prescription drugs? Yes.

All of these things individually polled, but it's very difficult to go through such a productive, such an aggressive agenda. A lot of accomplishments, but the American people are still struggling under years and years of poor economic decisions, which almost drove us back into a great depression.

SIEGEL: Peter Roskam, I've heard your party say the exact opposite, that the election proved that the American people spoke on health care reform, the way you read the polls, they said, get rid of it.

Rep. ROSKAM: Oh, I think they spoke on health care reform very, very clearly. And you look at some of the other components. Not to parse, but Gabrielle didn't mention some of the massive expansions of government programs. For example, putting 15 million new enrollees on Medicaid, which is a classically failing program.

So I think what you're - I know what you're going to see next week. There will be a vote on the floor to repeal and a resolution to replace health care. And we will then move forward with, I think, a really thoughtful debate. And, I mean, hearing Gabrielle's tone, I accept at face value that she really does want to work with everybody in Congress to try and come up with remedies that are moving forward.

But I don't think we can actually question the fact that the current state of affairs is that the health care bill that's now the law is actually a job-killing health care bill. And I've experienced that in my district where manufacturers have said, I'm not hiring new people.

SIEGEL: Gabrielle Giffords, that's almost the Republicans' proper noun for the bill - the job-killing health care law. How do you answer that?

Rep. GIFFORDS: Well, we're the only industrialized country on the entire planet that does not offer basic coverage to its citizens. Because of globalization and the fact that we're not just competing with each other in terms of our states, but we're competing with other countries, the reality is that we provide the opportunity for health care, for not all Americans and, you know, 40, 50 million Americans are either not insured or underinsured. And the cost of health care keeps rising. This, from an economic standpoint, is just not viable.

In talking from a political standpoint, there will be a vote on Wednesday to repeal the health care bill. I'm sure it will pass the House because of the Republicans being the majority. But a political reality is that it will not pass the Senate and even if it were to pass the Senate, it would be vetoed by President Obama. So, again, I think the best thing is for us to look at where the legislation currently is today and in a bipartisan fashion, try to fix the problems with the legislation.

But, you know, again, I come from Arizona, a state with a lot of uninsured people. I voted for the health care reform bill in a Republican district. I got reelected by having numerous town halls, numerous opportunities to explain what was actually in the bill, demystify, again, all of these claims that just were not true about the health care bill, and also committed to fix the problems that do exist in the current piece of legislation.

SIEGEL: Representative Roskam, what about that? The vote to repeal health care, you know that's not going to succeed, that bill. It would never be signed by the president.

Rep. ROSKAM: It may never be signed. But I'm a little bit counterintuitive, so stick with me. If I'm right on this, replay this tape over and over, and if I'm wrong, forget I ever said it.

SIEGEL: (unintelligible)

Rep. ROSKAM: There's 23 Democrat senators right now who are up for reelection in 2012. My feeling is that many of those have watched this election cycle in 2010 and been, frankly, shocked at the level of animation of the public and the disappointment at what the public has seen and want to turn a new page.

Take, for example, in the Midwest, Russ Feingold, fine senator from Wisconsin, lost in a blue state not because he's foolish, not because he's corrupt. He's none of those things. He lost based on the merits of the issues and Wisconsin sent a new Republican here.

So, I think that in all likelihood, if the bill is called - now, that's a different question - if Harry Reid puts it on the floor, it can get to the president's desk. And then that sets the premise for the 2012 presidential election.

SIEGEL: Well, thanks to both of you for talking with us once again. Will you ever get to talk again during the next Congress or just when we bring you together?

Rep. ROSKAM: We'll talk frequently, believe me.

Rep. GIFFORDS: Absolutely. I mean, this is - it's a big place. There's 435 members, but it's a small community as well. And the issues that I face in southern Arizona are the exact same issues that Peter faces in Illinois.

SIEGEL: Well, Representatives Peter Roskam of Illinois, Republican, and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Democrat, thanks to both of you.

Rep. ROSKAM: Thank you.

Rep. GIFFORDS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: