Pelosi: Midterms Not A Referendum On Health Care

The Republicans have taken over the majority in the House of Representatives. Republican John Boehner is now the speaker, and Democrat Nancy Pelosi is now minority leader. Boehner has promised to repeal the health care law, shrink government and the federal deficits, and bring in more transparency to Congress. Pelosi tells NPR's Robert Siegel she has no specific advice for Boehner, but wishes him well in his new job. She talks about the upcoming vote to repeal the health care law, as well as ways Congress can tackle the ballooning budgets.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

There is, of course, another far bigger political transition under way today on Capitol Hill. The Republicans have taken over the majority in the House of Representatives. That means they will set the rules, they'll have majorities on committees and they'll elect the chairman of those committees.

And it means that the leaders of the parties in the House have changed offices, figuratively and literally. Republican John Boehner is now the speaker, and Democrat Nancy Pelosi is now minority leader.

Our colleague, Robert Siegel, visited her yesterday in her new digs.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Leader Pelosi, welcome to the program once again.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Minority Leader): Thank you. My pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: Speaker Boehner told The Wall Street Journal that he intends to give the minority more say, a greater say in the House. For you, what would be a meaningful example of having a greater say?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, one example hasn't happened. And that is the Republicans have cut the number of members on committees unilaterally. Can you just imagine when I came in as speaker if I said I will determine how many members there are on committees? I would have thought that would have been a bipartisan effort.

But having said that, you know, I would hope that as we have had many hearings on legislation coming before the Congress where both parties have participated and have been part of the product, including health care reform.

SIEGEL: Speaking of health care reform, the Republicans intend to repeal it. The House Republicans should do that easily.

Given the degree of public criticism of the health care law, which evidently has surprised Democrats, are there some parts of the law, some substantive parts, that perhaps should be changed or repealed?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, I think any bill should be subjected to scrutiny to make sure it fulfills its original purpose and its implementation - solve problems for the American people.

Having said that, you can't just say, well, I'm for having pre-existing conditions not be a cause for loss of coverage, unless you have the comprehensive bill.

Individual parts of the bill are very popular: pre-existing conditions, no cap on coverage, caps on premiums, having your child stay on your policy until he or she is 26 years old, initiatives for America's seniors. What is important, though, to know is in order to have those provisions, you have to have comprehensive health care reform.

SIEGEL: But this was part of the test that the parties just went through in the midterm elections. And although people approved of certain aspects of the health care law, on balance, the country is very divided. And those who are against that law, won the majority.

Rep. PELOSI: Well, I think that this election was about 9.5 percent unemployment. It wasn't a referendum on health care reform. If we had never passed the bill and had 9.5 percent unemployment, we would have the same result in the election, I believe.

SIEGEL: Republicans say they'd like to cut $100 billion of non-defense spending from the budget. You've been in the Congress for a while now. Can that be done?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, it'd be interesting to see what they are going to suggest. If they're cutting education, it's a false economy. If you're talking about letting defense contractors off the hook, which I think that they have eliminated from their freeze, then I don't think that that's a very good idea.

We want our men and women in uniform to have what they need to fight in battle and the quality of life they and their families deserve for the sacrifice they make to our country. That does not necessarily apply to defense contractors. I'm sure they could find substantial savings there.

SIEGEL: If you included defense contractors, I mean, if you were sitting in a room right now on the back of an envelope, could you come up with $100 billion if that's...

Rep. PELOSI: I don't think anybody can do it on the back of an envelop without seriously considering the ramifications.

Yes, we know there's important savings to be made in terms of defense contractors. We have said over and over; waste, fraud and abuse - and I've told my chairman, now ranking members, subject every federal dollar to harsh scrutiny as to whether it delivers what it's supposed to deliver, whether it's duplicative or obsolete.

So we all have to be honing our skills in terms of sharpening our pencils in terms of deficit reduction.

SIEGEL: Having been speaker and now trading places with...

Rep. PELOSI: Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...Minority Leader Boehner, what's your advice? What would you - and in your - in the most non-partisan spirit you could muster, what's your advice to the new speaker?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, first, let me congratulate Speaker Boehner for his victory and the Republicans in the Congress for their majority. I wish him success. And I hope that he will proceed, as he has said, in the open manner that he has suggested.

I believe that the American people expect and deserve us to find our common ground. If we don't, though, we have to stand our ground. And I know that he knows that. Far be it for me to give him advice. He's been looking for this opportunity for a long time.

As I've said, if he has suggestions that will be - solve problems for the American people, he will find in the Democrats a willing partner.

SIEGEL: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much for talking with us again.

Rep. PELOSI: Thank you. My pleasure. Thank you, Robert.

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