JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to the budget battles here in Washington, where President Obama has embarked on a kind of charm offensive as he begins new rounds of fiscal negotiations with Republicans.
NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: The occasion was lunch with the president, and Congressman Paul Ryan was a special guest. He’s the House Budget Committee chairman and last year’s Republican vice presidential nominee.
Joining him, Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget panel. The focus was back on crafting a long-term deficit deal.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:
JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We are now engaged in a process that will allow the Congress, both houses, to move forward with budget proposals. The president will submit his budget, that he is trying to have a conversation with lawmakers who have expressed either specific or general interest in compromise and hope that that result — that that results in a positive outcome.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president’s recently launched effort was on display last night, a dinner with a dozen Republican senators at a Washington hotel. It lasted two hours, and there were generally positive reviews.
QUESTION: Senator, how did the meeting go?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: Just fine, fine, great, wonderful.
KWAME HOLMAN: For the president, it marked a departure from campaign-style events during the failed effort to prevent across-the-board spending cuts called the sequester. Republicans had insisted he should be talking directly with lawmakers.
And, today, House Speaker John Boehner welcomed the shift in strategy.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It was really kind of interesting that this week, we have gone 180. Now he’s going to — after being in office now for four years, he’s actually going to sit down and talk to members. I think it’s a sign, a hopeful sign, and I’m hopeful that something will come out of it.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also called the president’s effort important, but she said Mr. Obama is not to blame for past failures to reach agreement.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: I think we didn’t reach a grand bargain because the speaker of the House walked away from an agreement that he and the president had arrived at, probably because he couldn’t sell it to his own caucus.
KWAME HOLMAN: The more immediate concern for lawmakers is funding the government past March 27th to the end of the fiscal year. The House passed a Republican bill yesterday that would do just that. It locks in the sequester cuts, $85 billion dollars for the next seven months, but provides some flexibility in administering the reductions.
Boehner today warned Senate Democrats not to make significant changes to the House version.
JOHN BOEHNER: I would urge Democrat leaders in the Senate to not get greedy and get carried away and try to put forward the possibility of a government shutdown.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Democrats plan to pass their own version of a government funding bill, but Majority Leader Harry Reid said this week he’s cautiously optimistic about getting an agreement with the House.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our newsmaker interview with the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
I spoke with her a short time ago.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, welcome to the NewsHour.
NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So President Obama is making this very public effort now to reach out to Congressional Republicans. There was a dinner with 12 senators last night. He had lunch today with a House — House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. There are phone calls.
Is all this a good idea?
NANCY PELOSI: Oh, before we go too far with Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, as well.
Well, it’s always a good idea to bring people in and talk about what the agenda is.
I — I — the president has not been doing this in terms of formally having meals, but the Republicans certainly — and Democrats, too — have had their opportunity to share their views with the president.
In fact, in my view, a — a — I’ve served with a few presidents, two as leader or speaker, and I’ve never seen the patience, the willingness to listen, to accommodate views, as President Obama has extended to the Republicans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Would you be doing this if you were in his place, because you — you were — you were quoted today at your own news conference as saying he has already been patient.
NANCY PELOSI: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you — and you were saying it’s the Republicans who have been the obstacle.
NANCY PELOSI: Well, the — no, what I said — they asked me if — if he had had dinner with these people, would there have been a — a — a deal last year?
And I said that, you know, the president — the reason we didn’t have a deal last year is because Speaker Boehner worked — walked away from the agreement that the two of them had, I think because they couldn’t sell it in his own caucus.
But, you know, really, there are bigger issues than who he has dinner with. This having a meal is maybe what is different here.
I think with the Republican leader and the House — the Democratic leadership, as well, the president has given us all ample opportunity to share our views with him, to hear his comments on it. And he’s been very generous in listening, accommodating, trying to incorporate into proposals.
Maybe it’s important for him to go beyond the leadership now, because, clearly, the leadership is in obstructive mode and maybe the members will be more open.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the — going beyond the Republican …
NANCY PELOSI: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … leadership?
Madam Leader, is the president softening his position in — in these meetings?
Do you know what he’s saying …
NANCY PELOSI: No.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … to the Republicans when he talks to them?
NANCY PELOSI: No, well, I wasn’t there. I noticed as recent as last evening, we just know the subject matter. They talked about immigration. They talked about debt ceiling. They talked about the budget, I’m sure. I — I don’t know all the details, of course.
But it’s not a question of softening your position, it’s a question of — of having an additional approach, extending the reach that you might have had with the Republican leadership now to the — the Republican members.
JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things we know the Republicans say they very much want the president to do is give some ground on entitlements. They want cuts in benefits in benefit increases.
And, in fact, the president has talked about, in the past raising the eligibility age for Medicare, Social Security. He has talked about the possibility of means testing for higher income seniors.
Are you — are you and the president on the same page on that?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don’t actually — I don’t think going — if you say the president has talked about raising the age, he’s not put that forth as a proposal as far as I know, because that really doesn’t save any money.
What I would say is that we’re, I think, all on the same page in saying that we want to keep our promises to our seniors and their families, whether it’s about health security and Medicare and Medicaid, whether it’s on Social Security.
In order to do that, we must make sure that as the baby boomers have arrived and continue to arrive on a — in the over 65 — 62, 65 category, that we have — that we can keep those promises and that these initiatives will be fiscally sound well into the future.
So how do we look at those and what changes can we make as we go forward?
But that doesn’t mean cuts in benefits. It means strengthening the stability by, perhaps, raising the — well, I won’t go into any specifics, because if you name one, then they’ll say you didn’t name another.
But there are ways to put this on the table, Medicare on its own table, and say how do we strengthen Medicare?
Social Security, how do we strengthen Medicare?
And we already have taken important steps to strengthen Medicare in the Affordable Care Act. It’s one of the beauties of it.
Already, we’re seeing the benefits in the down — in the decrease in the rate of increase in health — health costs. Before Medicare, it was 0.4 percent — 0.4 percent, a half — almost a half a percentage point only in terms of a rate of growth. That’s important.
And, in Medicaid, there was no increase.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you see — just in a word, do you see progress being made on the entitlements?
NANCY PELOSI: Yes, I do. But I make a distinction. If you — if you want to come to the table to talk about how we strengthen these pillage — pillars of health and economic security for America’s middle class, then let’s talk.
If you want to take trophies and say we’re going to raise the age, which doesn’t produce money, then — then if you want to — if you want to subscribe to the notion that some Republicans, but not all, do, that Medicare should wither on the vine, that Social Security has no place in a free society — these are some of the things they have said, but not all.
And so, I think that if the subject is to make these fiscally sound and so that we go forward with honoring the guarantee, let’s talk.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A quick question about the sequester. The White House spent a lot of time, the president did, talking about the dire consequences …
NANCY PELOSI: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … once the sequester kicked in.
Did the president — did the White House over — or underestimate, I should say, the Republicans’ determination not to give any ground on — on taxes, on revenue?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, the what’s important — what’s important about this discussion is why we’re here. We’re here because the Republicans will not — will not close any special interest tax loopholes in order to reduce the deficit, none. They say we may do it to reduce some rates.
Now, again, I don’t paint all Republicans with that brush. Some Republicans have said we may have to close some loopholes to reduce the deficit.
And what do they want to protect?
They want to protect tax breaks for corporate jets, and now we lose four million Meals on Wheels. They want to protect big tax breaks for big oil and what do we lose? The education of — our little children suffer, big oil gains.
They want to protect tax cuts for sending jobs overseas while we lose 750,000 jobs here.
The point is — the point is, is, this is spending — these tax — these are called tax expenditures. There is this spending as much as any other spending that you do in the budget and when you spend on tax cuts for special interests in these loopholes.
So that’s really what part of it is.
And don’t take it from me. The chairman of the Fed has said, because of the sequester, we’ll lose at least 750,000 jobs. We’ll slow down our recovery and we will not reduce the deficit.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something where there does appear to be common ground. Rand Paul, the senator, yesterday …
NANCY PELOSI: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … held a long, all day — almost all day long …
NANCY PELOSI: Thirteen hours.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … filibuster, 13 hours on the Senate floor, on the question of unmanned drones, the administration policy toward Americans. The White House clarified today, it will not target Americans, it doesn’t have the authority to target it — target Americans on U.S. soil.
I presume you agree with that.
But what about the overall administration — Obama administration policy, anti-terrorism policy, the use of unmanned drones?
NANCY PELOSI: Well, the – the, I believe in their — you know, the prerogatives of Congress to have oversight over all of these kinds of activities of the executive branch. And I’ve been a fighter for the Congressional prerogative under a Democratic or a Republican president.
So the — Rand Paul – Sen. Paul said that he didn’t have enough information. I don’t know what he had.
But I don’t know that the — unless somebody is launching an attack on the United States from within the United States, that the administration is not going to be using any drones on them, nor do I believe they have the authority to do so.
But I don’t — I — I don’t think that’s really the issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Internationally, though, I mean — I mean the — the broad policy, though, do you have a — a — are you comfortable with the administration policy …
NANCY PELOSI: Yes, I am — just to make a point about it, what they talk about is what is the imminence?
This — that’s the word, the key word, what is the imminence, what is the imminence of a person’s being a threat to the United States?
Is it something that he’s plotting and planning in the next five days or five years?
What — what is the imminence of it?
And the timing is really important as to whether you would act to curtail right from the start or whether you would take a chance and wait longer.
But our responsibility is between freedom of the American people and security and that’s the balance we have to strike. And — and if it’s an American overseas who has imminent plans to harm the United States, I think the American people want us protected.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I have a couple of more questions I want to ask you for online, but for now, let me say thank you very much …
NANCY PELOSI: Oh, my pleasure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
NANCY PELOSI: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
So, online, you can find out what Leader Pelosi said about the prospects for immigration reform and gun control legislation.
For the record, we have invited Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to talk with us. We hope to bring you a conversation with one of them next week.