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Pelosi Details Partisan Wrangling Over Final Budget Blueprint

April 2, 2009 at 6:35 PM EDT
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As Congress takes action on President Obama's budget plan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offers her perspective on lawmakers' spending priorities and how alternative budget proposals have fared in the debate.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our interviews with the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House of Representatives.

Today, Speaker Pelosi presided over the final hours of House debate on President Obama’s budget proposal. As members of Congress moved toward a vote a few hours ago, I sat down with the speaker in her office.

Speaker Pelosi, thank you very much for talking with us today.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the House: My pleasure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The House is poised to pass President Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget. How many Republican votes will you get? And are all your Democrats on board?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, we’ll have a good strong vote today for the president’s budget. I’m not anticipating any Republican votes, but that is par for the course. Usually, a budget is a party-line vote. And we’ll have a good, strong vote.

It’s a great budget. It’s really transformational. It represents a change, a switch, a new direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you worry about those huge, dire deficit projections that have come out of the Congressional Budget Office saying, “This is what’s going to happen if this budget passes, $9 trillion in years to come”?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I have confidence in the budget that we have. This is a five-year budget, as budgets usually are. And in the five-year period, we will reduce the deficit by at least one half by the year 2013, as a matter of fact.

I always worry about deficits, and that’s why what we have in the budget are investments to turn our economy around, investments in health care to bring down costs and reduce the cost — health care reform is entitlement reform, bring the deficit down.

So all of our initiatives are investments to grow the economy and decrease the deficit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, separately, the House Republican leaders have now come forward with their own budget. They’re saying trillions less in spending, and they are instituting tax cuts. What’s your assessment of that?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, their budget is one that I think is noted for three things: One, it gives bigger tax cuts to the wealthiest people in America. It repeals the recovery act and the investments in the future. And it assaults Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

It is, by and large, a hollow shell when it comes time to make investments to take us into the future.

This is a real contrast. I’ve said over and over again that, quoting Thomas Jefferson, that every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. And I try to be guided by that.

But some are. And this difference of opinion on this budget is a difference of opinion — of principle in terms of opportunity, fairness, security and responsibility.

A health care reform 'short cut'?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi
I would hope that we'll be able to build bipartisan support for health care reform that produces a healthier America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, there's a procedural short cut that the president would like to see go through, you, Democratic leadership, are now including in the budget to allow you later this year, in essence, to bundle all -- into one single bill all the different parts of health care reform and then prevent the Republicans from using the filibuster to slow it down or make changes. It's called reconciliation.

Do you expect to use this when the time comes?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It's a last resort. I would hope that we'll be able to build bipartisan support for health care reform that produces a healthier America with accessibility, quality, et cetera.

But if need be, at the end of the day, we must have health care reform. We would hope to do it -- it's really an issue more for the United States Senate, with the at least 60 votes that are required, with that reconciliation or to go the reconciliation route, which the Republicans did over and over again for the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest. President Reagan even used reconciliation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of that, if I'm not mistaken, back when the Democrats were in the minority in the House, you and others argued against this reconciliation procedure. So I guess my question is, now that the shoe's on the other foot, do you have any reservations about potentially using something that would disarm the opposition on such an important issue?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, the rules became what they are. And so we're saying let's play by the rules. And that is that reconciliation is one of the options that the Republicans insisted on using then and that now our way.

I mean, the overriding equity to be weighed is, how do we get quality health care for all Americans? Health care is a right, not a privilege. All of this is process. It's inside Washington talk. What does it mean to the American people?

By one process or another, we are going to get them what they want, and that is quality health care that is affordable and accessible to them, a healthier America, not just health care, but prevention and good health.

Efforts at bipartisanship

Rep. Nancy Pelosi
We are not going to turn the economy around unless we invest in education, health care, and the energy piece that are in the budget. That is why they are there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, President Obama has said repeatedly he wants, if possible, to reach across the aisle, to work with the Republican Party. He talks about bipartisanship. Would this square with that if reconciliation were used on health care?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think that reconciliation, as I said, is something that you use if you cannot achieve your goals through the regular order.

But it is an accepted practice in the United States Senate. We have put it into our legislation on health care. I would like to have had it on there on some other issues, but as a -- just to show some sign of cooperation, we just put it in for health care and education, two issues that should not be controversial and I'm very hopeful that we'll be able to reach bipartisan consensus on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think you'll get Republican support for other major legislation this year?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I certainly hope so. Whether you're talking about health care reform, the president has already called everyone to the White House, inside the Congress, outside the Congress, grassroots activists, health care providers, the full spectrum of people who have a stake in how we go forward, including consumers of health care, representatives of the American people.

And the Republicans who were there spoke in good faith about how they would want to work together. So I think that they're -- I'm hopeful that that is possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Question of overload. The president's not only working on the budget, of course, and on financial and economic recovery; he's also talking about significant health care reform, education initiatives, energy initiatives, all of it this year.

But you're hearing veterans of the Clinton administration, the Carter administration saying, "It's better to just focus on the economy," that he runs a risk of overloading the circuits. Could you be in a situation where you end up with less because you're trying to do too much?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I must have missed who these people were, but I can say to you, as speaker of the House, that we are not going to turn the economy around unless we invest in education, health care, and the energy piece that are in the budget. That is why they are there.

So it's not a question of either/or. You can't have the economic turnaround unless you make the investments.

Bankruptcy for automakers

Rep. Nancy Pelosi
I think that the president is giving another chance to Detroit, and I think that should be viewed as good news there. He has been clear about what his standard is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the auto industry, General Motors. It now appears more likely that the Obama administration will push for some sort of surgical bankruptcy. If that happened, would you support it?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes. Yes, I think that the president is giving another chance to Detroit, and I think that should be viewed as good news there. He has been clear about what his standard is.

This is what we had hoped would have happened at the end of last year, in the fall of last year, under President Bush. He took a little bit of a different course.

The president is saying, OK, here's what we need: We need a viable industry. And we're giving a lifeline, but not life support to keep an industry alive unless it has a viable business plan.

And one of the tactics to do that may have to be, again, as a -- a last resort, to have some kind of structured approach to it. I hope it wouldn't be bankruptcy, but if that's what it needs to be, then I support the president on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House did force out G.M.'s CEO, Rick Wagoner. Should they also force out the CEOs at Citigroup, Bank of America, and the other banks?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: That's a -- here we are in a very discrete situation, where these businesses -- General Motors, Chrysler, Ford -- were really coming as supplicants to the Congress to keep them alive. Ford, evidently, is surviving without another infusion right now, and that's a good thing.

The survival of General Motors is, again, very important to our industrial manufacturing base, to our economy, and has systemic implications. And I think the president was very right in what he did there.

All of these are a case-by-case basis. And it's up to the boards of directors of these companies to make a judgment about how their leadership is performing.

But I would not be averse to the government being more aggressive to the extent that we have the leverage. But, you know, in our free market system, we want to proceed cautiously in that respect, but definitely, if it is necessary.

Obama's approval rating

Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Our approval rating going up to, like, 40 percent, is a very big deal. That's giant progress for us. Congress has never been a popular institution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Politics. President Obama continues to have a high approval rating, almost 60 percent in most polls, while most polls also show that you and the Democrats in the House have almost that high disapproval. Does that put you on separate tracks, in terms of what you can get done?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, our approval rating going up to, like, 40 percent, is a very big deal. That's giant progress for us. Congress has never been a popular institution.

But in the last three months since we've come in and had the results that we have had, our ratings have gone up much higher than they were before, and we hope to improve upon that. But we have to do our job.

Congress is not a personalized institution. It's an institution that people know through their own representatives who they generally give high marks to, but like to mock as an institution.

I'm so glad that the president's numbers are what they are. He's a great president. He is a great president, a visionary, strategic thinker, great intellect, an eloquent spokesperson. Did I say a strategic thinker? How to get the job done. So we want his numbers to soar, and we're not in a popularity contest with each other or anybody else.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of his presidency, you obviously knew him, you supported him before he was elected. What have you learned about him in the two-and-a-half months that he's been in office?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I supported him since he became the nominee of the party.

A realization of what we suspected, that this was a very strong leader, values-based, intellectually driven, loves America, tied to the American people.

And he's very strong. And I love it. You know, I love working with a very strong person. So -- he's young, boundless energy, as we can see, and, really, a person who makes us all proud as Americans and couldn't be prouder than to see how he's representing us overseas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we thank you for talking with us.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure always, Judy. Thank you.