Women’s Voices for Change spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about issues before Congress and her perspective as Speaker. Our questions and her responses follow below. Please add your comments at the end.

Women’s Voices for Change
: Based on the presidential primary results so far, what is your take on the public’s response to the field of candidates? What campaign messages do you think are resonating most?

Nancy Pelosi: If anyone thought of young people as apathetic or disinterested in their government, the presidential primaries this year proved them wrong. Young people turned out to vote in record numbers and strongly influenced the outcomes of the races.

We saw this across the country, starting in Iowa where youth turnout at the polls tripled compared to 2004 all the way to Tennessee, where youth voters quadrupled their turnout. Americans, regardless of their age, are excited about the Democratic field because they offer a break with the policies of the past seven years.

WVFC: What are your top legislative priorities for 2008?

Pelosi: First and foremost, we must strengthen our national security by rebuilding our military’s readiness and reestablishing America’s moral leadership in the world. Both have been undermined by the Iraq war. We will never stop fighting to bring an end to the war.

Equally important is America’s economic security. We are working on a stimulus package right now to put our economy on more solid footing. We also need to work on strengthening our economy for the long term, which we can do by protecting homeowners during the subprime crisis, making the tax code fairer for the middle class, investing in our competitiveness to create and protect American jobs.

We also have to do more to improve quality, cost and access in health care for all Americans.  Providing health care to 10 million children under our State Children’s Health Program is part of this, but we need to do more to reduce the ranks of the uninsured and make health insurance more affordable.

Congress and the president must also take overdue action on the global emergency of climate change. Our energy independence bill was a big step forward, but we must do more next year to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming and protect our planet for our children.

WVFC: What do you consider the key successes and failures of Congress over the past year?

Pelosi: Our energy bill was a major victory. For the first time in 32 years, Congress increased fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. That will save the average driver as much as $1,000 a year, which is critical with gas prices so high and middle class families and small businesses trying to make ends meet. It will also go a long way toward reducing our dependence on foreign oil and begin to combat global warming, which will continue to be a focus for Congress next year.

My greatest disappointment is that we have not been able to bring an end to the war in Iraq. A majority of Americans and of the Congress oppose the war. The House has repeatedly passed legislation to bring the troops home, but it’s been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

I expected that, having heard the voice of the people in the last election, Republicans in Congress would have responded to their wishes. Instead, they have dug in and continue to support the president’s plan for a 10-year, $1 trillion war. But we will never stop fighting to bring an end to the war in Iraq.

WVFC: Most economists believe that the U.S. will undergo a recession or a profound economic slowdown. Is there something that the Congress can do to either prevent this or shorten its duration?

Pelosi: Americans have been feeling the squeeze of falling wages and rising prices for some time, not just the past few months, so we need both a short-term stimulus to get the economy headed back in the right direction as well as a long-term strategy to create jobs here at home.

The House has already acted on a plan that is timely, targeted and temporary that will provide a recovery rebate to 117 million families and tax relief to businesses that will immediately create jobs. I am proud that we were able to work across the aisle to move this legislation and I am hopeful that it will soon reach the president’s desk.

Democrats are also developing a long term strategy by charting a new direction for our economy that creates new, knowledge-based jobs as we tackle major challenges, such as bringing innovation to education, expanding access to health care, rebuilding our infrastructure and addressing the climate crisis.

WVFC: According to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, 51 percent of women without health insurance haven’t had a mammogram in two years, compared to 23 percent of women with insurance. Do you see Congress taking any steps to improve access to critical medical services?

Pelosi: Last spring, we passed the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act, which the president signed into law. This initiative provides free and low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings to low-income, minority or uninsured women and provides education and outreach services to women. More women are surviving their battle with breast cancer thanks to this effort.

With the next great advancements in personalized medicine, we can ensure that every breast cancer patient receives the treatment that is tailored to her physiology and offers the best chance for success. I also strongly support the nationwide health tracking system to collect, analyze and report data on the rate of diseases such as breast cancer and the presence of relevant environmental factors and exposures.

WVFC: You have been in and around politics your whole life. What challenges have you met as Speaker of the House that have most surprised you? What adjustments have you made to the way you had planned to do business?

Pelosi: We set a very high water mark in the House and we achieved much of our agenda. What these successes reinforced was the need to set big goals, build bipartisan consensus and stay focused on the lives Americans lead, not the politics of the day. That’s what made our successes possible.

All of the work we do in the House begins from the premise that it must be bipartisan, and that is why almost three-quarters of our agenda passed with broad, bipartisan support. I live by the adage that we must find our common ground where we can, and where we cannot we will stand our ground.

: Have you detected any impact on Congress, the quintessential "old boys’ club," by there being a female Speaker of the House?

Pelosi: I was not elected Speaker because I am a woman, but I believe women bring a unique perspective to leadership. It is crucial that women seek leadership roles because as when women are not a part of the discussion, they are not part of the policy.

WVFC: Who would you consider a rising star in Congress, and who are some of the new political candidates who have caught your attention?

Pelosi: I couldn’t single out just one or two, but I am dazzled by many of our young woman members who are both raising families and pursuing their careers in politics. It is a balance that we are all trying to achieve. What I tell all the new House members is that politics can be an insatiable beast and that they need to take the time for their family. That time away from the office and with your family renews you and makes you stronger at the job.

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  • SMALL-TOWNAMERICAN May 17, 2008 at 5:02 pm