STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Now as they take power, Democrats say they are aware of the limits of their power. And that includes the senator we'll meet next. California's Barbara Boxer is now the chair of an important committee. It oversees federal policy on public works and also on the environment. Senator Boxer wants a big effort against global warming, which makes her very different from the Republican she replaced.
BARBARA BOXER: On the environment side, there always was tremendous bipartisan cooperation until the last, I'd say, 10 years or so. At this point, the parties have just gone separate ways. So the former chair of the Environment Committee, Jim Inhofe - he's a friend of mine, and we really enjoy working together - but we don't agree at all on the environment. So this is a very, very big change. For example...
INSKEEP: He has said that climate change is a hoax.
BOXER: Yes. He says climate change is a hoax. He is vehemently against our doing anything akin to what California has done, for example, to deal with global warming and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is causing global warming.
INSKEEP: Well let me ask, how do you get a bipartisan approach when you look across the aisle and you just have a very profound policy difference, you just see the world in a radically different way than they do?
BOXER: Well actually, the most radical view of global warming - that is not necessarily shared by every Republican. There's a few lights out there. So I've got to count the votes, I've got to write the bills. I know that my gold standard bill is one that will look like California's bill, but I'm also aware that we probably won't be able to get that through. So we will move the ball as far down the field as we can get it. And I really am optimistic that we can move something through.
INSKEEP: What do you do when you begin talking with your fellow Democrats and there's Sherrod Brown, a new and vulnerable senator from an industrial state; or John Dingell of Michigan, who's got ties to the auto industry; and they're concerned about the industries and jobs where they are.
BOXER: We will be meeting with all senators on this and, and also Congressman Dingell and I are going to get together and talk, because there are areas that we can move forward in. For example, let's say we all agree it makes sense to give incentives for flex-fueled vehicles. That's something -
INSKEEP: (unintelligible) whether it's diesel, or biofuel, or gasoline, anything?
BOXER: Yes. The fact is that something that doesn't threaten the auto industry, if it's something we do across the board. There's so many areas - energy efficiency. The experts tell us there are about 15 different ways to solve the global warming issue. So look, if we can't do all 15, maybe we do 8 or 10, or 12.
INSKEEP: You know...
BOXER: So I think this is an area where we can make progress.
INSKEEP: Senator, you mentioned energy efficiency.
INSKEEP: That does not automatically mean that people have to sacrifice, or conserve, or give up. Sometimes it can be something that people barely notice. But sometimes it does mean driving a smaller car - any number of other things. Are you prepared to ask or demand that Americans sacrifice something to reach important goals?
BOXER: See, I don't look at energy efficiency as a sacrifice in behalf of the American people. I think it's a benefit to our pocket books, I think it's a benefit to our foreign policy that we don't have to depend on countries, that frankly, don't care for us very much.
INSKEEP: Well, let's stipulate that there are benefits, and stipulate that some of the changes are painless for some people. There, nevertheless, maybe people who are asked to change in ways that they find difficult. Are you prepared to push them on that? Even if that does mean some sacrifice?
BOXER: Well, I think you're asking the question in a wrong way because I just don't look at this as a sacrifice. Business themselves know that if they're efficient, they save money. Everybody always predicts, oh, this is going to be terrible. I remember when we had the seatbelt law for safety. Oh, this is going to be awful for the automobile industry. Now, they take credit for airbags, they take credit for seatbelts, and they even take credit for fuel economy.
INSKEEP: Senator, could you help set some expectations for us? Democrats are in control for the first time in a dozen years. You do have an administration of the other party, and a powerful minority there in the senate. How much can you really get down in the next two years?
BOXER: You know, in the House it's very easy to get things done when you have a solid majority. As you well know, the Senate takes a long time and much debate. But the reason I'm optimistic is because I think - and I hope I'm right - people are watching Republicans and Democrats. In two years there's another election, and those who stand in the way of progress, I think, will feel it next election.
INSKEEP: Senator Barbara Boxer, good to talk with you.
BOXER: Same here.
INSKEEP: Democratic senator Barbara Boxer of California. And coverage and analysis of the new congress continues at npr.org.
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