I gotta tell you, I have listened to a lot of Nancy Pelosi interviews over the last couple of years in this job, and her demeanor during a post-health-care-decision interview with Scott Shafer today was about as relaxed and unprogrammed as I've heard here. (Jump straight to the interview here.)
With good reason, perhaps. In 2010, Pelosi was instrumental in reviving the health care bill when it seemed all but dead. Before the final House vote, The New York Times recounted her pivotal role:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi was at her wits’ end, and she let President Obama know it. Scott Brown, the upstart Republican, had just won his Senate race in Massachusetts, a victory that seemed to doom Mr. Obama’s dream of overhauling the nation’s health care system. The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, once Ms. Pelosi’s right hand man on Capitol Hill, was pushing Mr. Obama to scale back his ambitions and pursue a pared-down bill.
Mr. Obama seemed open to the idea, though it was clearly not his first choice. Ms. Pelosi scoffed. “Kiddie care,” she called the scaled-down plan, derisively, in private.
In a series of impassioned conversations, over the telephone and in the Oval Office, she conveyed her frustration to the president, according to four people familiar with the talks. If she and Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, were going to stick out their necks for Mr. Obama’s top legislative priority, Ms. Pelosi wanted assurances that the president would too. At the White House, aides to Mr. Obama say, he also wanted assurances; he needed to hear that the leaders could pass his far-reaching plan.
“We’re in the majority,” Ms. Pelosi told the president. “We’ll never have a better majority in your presidency in numbers than we’ve got right now. We can make this work...”
That Mr. Obama has come this far — within a whisper of passing historic social legislation — is remarkable in itself. But the story of how he did it is not his alone. It is the story of how a struggling president partnered with a pair of experienced legislators — Ms. Pelosi and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Reid — to reach for a goal that Mr. Obama has often said had eluded his predecessors going back to Theodore Roosevelt. (Full article here)
But the feeling of ecstatic victory among Pelosi's House Democrats after the bill finally became law turned to one of bitter defeat after her party was swept out of power in the 2010 election, costing her the speakership. A sense of foreboding about its prospects only deepened with polls showing the public mostly opposed to "Obamacare" even two years after its passage, perhaps in part because of intense negative advertising by opposition groups. After what appeared to be skeptical questioning during the oral arguments from a majority of justices -- including Anthony Kennedy, widely expected to be the swing vote -- the once-unthinkable become very much a possibility: that the law was going to be struck down, giving Republicans a huge victory on the eve of the presidential election.
So, many may have thought Pelosi was whistling past the graveyard when she recently predicted the court, conservative majority and all, would uphold the law 6-3.
The decision was 5-4. She almost had it right.
An edited transcript of Scott Shafer's interview with Pelosi follows the audio. In it, Pelosi says the law will help people of an artistic bent to change jobs and careers, that she never doubted its constitutionality or Chief Justice John Roberts' vote, and that she doesn't care if Roberts calls the penalty for not buying insurance that the law imposes a "tax," because whatever its name it will eliminate the "free riders" in the health care system who have a responsibility, she says, to obtain coverage.
SCOTT SHAFER: What are your thoughts about the impact of the decision, especially in California?
NANCY PELOSI: It's a very California-oriented bill. It's innovative, it's about wellness, prevention, and the good health of our people in addition to good health care.
California has been an intellectual resource and an inspirational resource in terms of the spirit of entrepreneurship that is supported by people having the freedom to change jobs, create a business, be self-employed, play music, write poetry, whereever their aspirations or talents take them.
Our state and in particular San Francisco is blessed with many creative people, and their creativity sometimes is constrained by their need to hold down another job just to keep health benefits rather than fully dig into their artistic and creative pursuit.
And some small business owners I know, they have to have another job in order to get health insurance because they can't afford to get it themselves.
I wasn't surprised that it was upheld. I always said it was going to be 6-3. I gave one of the justices more credit than I think I should have.
SCOTT SHAFER: If someone said the decision was going to be 5-4 and it's written by Roberts, you'd think it was bad news...
NANCY PELOSI: I always had confidence in Roberts in this respect. His decision is consistent in his writings on the extent of the court's role, and he was true to his beliefs, his writings, and his statements on the subject. I always felt confident that if this were fair and square, if justice were to prevail, we had a very good shot. Not regarding what he thought of the policy but what he thought of its constitutionality.
SCOTT SHAFER: They did say this is a tax, and that's why it's constitutional.
NANCY PELOSI: I don’t' care. I mean I shouldn't say it quite that way. What we wrote in the House is similar to what he described.
I would say it's goodbye to the free riders. There are people who are free riders who now have a responsibility to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
If you're a healthy younger person, you have resources, you just decide you're not going to apply for health insurance. You get sick or in an accident, your health care costs are a burden to everybody else. You go to the emergency room and that increases everybody's costs.
That's just not fair, especially if you multiple it by many many people. The ones who can opt out because they feel invincible – I've had them blowing through my office. People who thought they'd never be in an accident or get breast cancer or never thought they'd get a diagnosis of rare blood this or that. And then they're up the creek.
The point being you can call it whatever you want, but it is a penalty for free riders, who get health care without paying for insurance, increasing the cost to others.
SCOTT SHAFER: You and your party paid a huge price for this in 2010. Do you now see it as a plus going into 2012?
NANCY PELOSI: Let me disagree with that. I think we lost the election because there's 9.5 percent unemployment. I defy you to show me any circumstance except for maybe Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression where incumbents do well with 9.5 percent unemployment. It was hard to get any message through. We didn't lose that election because people voted for health care.
SCOTT SHAFER: Here we have John Roberts, who was the subject of a bitter confirmation fight, bitterly opposed by most Democrats, including Senator Obama, upholding this law. Is there any lesson to be learned here about partisanship and the way Congress does its job for the American people?
NANCY PELOSI: I don't think this is about bipartisanship. I think this is about the Constitution of the United States. I think we also have a situation where Republicans do not believe in a public role, so they're not going to be for anything. Not Medicare, health care, Medicaid, Social Security, clean air, clean water, food safety, public transportation, none of it. they have a very fringe element, an anti-government orthodoxy. And they're true to what their beliefs are, and their beliefs are to oppose any of those initiatives.
- Nancy Pelosi: Respecting the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court (Chicago Tribune op-ed)