The 113th Congress is among the most diverse in history. With 12 new senators and 67 new representatives ready to get to work for the American people, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is talking tough about the road ahead. Last week, Leader Pelosi met with a group of journalists to discuss her goals for the new Congress and her thoughts on the current environment in Washington.
Pelosi says this moment is a sea change because so many of the new members are women, LGBT-identifying or people of color, “it's thrilling if you're member of a minority or a woman or a LGBT community person, to see somebody like you have a seat at the table, whether it's generational with young people, or geographic, whatever it is, and also that they have a seat at the head of the table, because our committee chairman are 19 members. Hopefully, these committee chairmen, more than half of them are women or minorities as well.”
After the Democratic victory over the fiscal cliff and taxes, Pelosi says that while Democrats were able to protect a number of significant priorities— Social Security, Medicare, and a number of middle class tax credits— the most significant victory is the complete separation of high income tax cuts from tax cuts for the rest of Americans. “It decoupled high income tax cuts from middle income tax cuts. Big deal. 79.6 percent at the high end. That's a big deal! Insisting with 50 percent revenue and 50 percent cuts for the, putting off the sequester, adhering to that principle, a very big deal, all of those positions that the other side was never going to entertain,” said Pelosi.
Next up is the fight over raising the debt ceiling. Last year this fight took us to the brink of default, which lead to a lowering of the nation’s credit rating even though Congress was able to strike a deal just in the nick of time. After their loss on the fiscal cliff, Republicans are expressing a willingness to default, unless significant cuts are made to the social safety net. Pelosi says she’s proud of how strong President Obama was during the fiscal cliff negotiations and has no doubt he will be just as tough in a few months time. “I have really no doubt on how strong he will be on the debt ceiling thing, not only because it's the right thing to do, but I mean we're going to go—it's not like it goes away. You know, it's there the next time and the next time and the next time. So let's, you know, let's have clarity in the debate for the American people,” Pelosi said.
The 113th Congress also has a number of other important issues to tackle at the behest of American voters. Immigration reform is on the top of that list. Pelosi says that where it stands right now, Republicans are standing in the way of immigration reform and that has to stop: “The Hispanic community, the Asian community, African-American community, Caribbean, you know….the Hispanic community has the identity with it, but there are many people here from all over the world, who need a fix on immigration reform. So I think that if we don't pass immigration reform, people have to know full well why we didn't.”
Another pressing issue for Pelosi is gun violence prevention. “Because Newtown was just oh, a challenge of conscience, struck our hearts, just a horrible, horrible thing. But we all know that many children in America are subjected to that kind of violence, and I don't have to take you to that place of probable certainty…I had my real epiphany, I mean the subject has always been one that I've had my views on. But when you go to like a daycare center, and somebody pops a balloon and the kids say "duck," you know something is really wrong.” Pelosi says that this happened when she was visiting a daycare center in San Francisco.
Dealing with the debt ceiling over the next few months will be true test for the newly elected Congress and the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) who by all accounts failed majorly during the fiscal cliff. Going forward if Speaker Boehner wants anything done he will likely need Pelosi’s help and that means even as minority leader she has significant leverage. After the fiscal cliff deal, Pelosi noted that a number of colleagues joked, “Who's the Speaker around here?” Unlike, John Boehner, as Speaker Pelosi never lost a vote and certainly is showing herself to be valuable in getting things done in Washington even when not in the majority.