McLEAN, VA. - Americans have historically low views of Congress, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says Republicans have fueled that disgust for political reasons and Democrats can win elections by highlighting GOP obstructionism.
"Nothing deters voting more than confusion, 'a pox on both your houses,' and that confusion is one of the successes of the Republican Party, to make it look equivalent in terms of who is holding up jobs. It's not equivalent, and we have to make that clear to the American people," Pelosi said Tuesday at a roundtable with USA TODAY editors and reporters.
Heading in to confrontations with Republicans this fall on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, funding the government, and raising the debt ceiling, Pelosi said congressional Democrats and President Obama are positioning the party as the bipartisan, cooperative alternative to what she described as the "anti-government ideologues" in the Republican Party.
"One thing that is amazing that I don't have an answer for people for is, why is it there can't be a bipartisan jobs bill passed that is significant?" she said. "One (reason) is, they don't want this president to have any successes."
Pelosi praised Obama as "one of the most practically non-partisans I have seen in the White House" who is intent on finding bipartisan agreement, particularly to head off another round of fiscal crises. She said she is willing to support the president's efforts to reach a broad bipartisan agreement with Republicans, and praised the White House proposal Tuesday to overhaul the corporate tax code -- a GOP priority -- in exchange for more spending on infrastructure projects to spur job growth.
"I think that there's some glimmers that there's a possibility of coming to a grand bargain, and the grander the better," she said.
Pelosi said Democrats will continue to seek additional revenues in fiscal negotiations to reduce the deficit, and she said Democrats were willing to consider changes to Social Security and Medicare that do not fundamentally alter the entitlement programs by, for example, privatizing retirement accounts.
Painting the GOP as unwilling to cooperate to solve problems is key to Democratic efforts to win back control of the House next year, Pelosi said. "I see a revival of bipartisanship, of people saying, 'What is this thing that they are opposed to everything?' This is not a manifestation of most Republicans in the country. This is an ideological wing.
"There's really a heightened awareness (from voters) of Republicans' obstructing, obstructing, obstructing everything that comes down the pike," she said. "They see these extreme measures and they realize that this is different ... this is an over-the-edge crowd that is unlike any other."
Pelosi was harshly dismissive of the House GOP agenda, particularly an effort this week to pass a series of bills intended to reign in the federal government and increase transparency. "These - what I would call 'cheap shot agenda' things - are nothing. We should be voting on a jobs bill," she said. "This is a waste of the taxpayers' money, all this stuff. Is there occasionally an appealing idea that may creep in one place? Maybe. But it's really not worth the business of the House to call that an agenda to reduce the size of government."
Pelosi said Republicans are resistant to agree with Democrats on any issue, noting that she and 181 Democrats sent Obama a letter Tuesday pressing the administration to respond to ongoing concerns about National Security Agency surveillance programs. While Republicans have led efforts in the House to end the surveillance, no Republican House members signed the letter.
A spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., defended House Republicans against Pelosi's criticisms. "Minority Leader Pelosi has voted against every jobs bill we've put forward this Congress, including construction of the Keystone pipeline, the SKILLS job training bill and the Working Families Flexibility Act, which offered working parents a more flexible work schedule. Rather than obstruct and play politics, perhaps she is ready to constructively work with us as some in her conference appear eager to do, and drop the extremism," said Rory Cooper.
Cooper further defended the GOP's agenda this week on reining in the federal government. "Rather than waste taxpayer money, this legislation is specifically designed to protect it by making agency heads approve lavish conferences and allowing public employees to be put on unpaid leave when they are under investigation for serious ethical abuses. Who could oppose that?" Cooper said.
Democrats face significant headwinds in 2014. Historically, the "six-year itch" for a second term president has hurt his political party in Congress. In addition, a 2012 process redrew congressional districts and made fewer seats competitive for either party, so there are fewer chances for Democrats to unseat Republicans.
Republicans have made clear they intend to make the Affordable Care Act a defining issue of the 2014 elections as the two parties continue to battle over the merits of the health care law that has open enrollment starting in October.
Pelosi, who played a critical role in passing the law in 2010 when she was speaker, acknowledged that the government faces a challenge in getting people to sign up because of negative attitudes toward the health care insurance industry. But she dismissed criticism that the law is unworkable, despite the administration delaying enforcement of the employer mandate for one year.
"There's no bill that's ever been written that you could say that every single thing in it, on its timetable, and in its specifics, should never be changed," she said, ""It's a good balance and it's going to help people's lives."
She also dismissed the notion that Democrats would suffer at the polls as the law goes into effect. "Why are we here? We are here to do the job for the American people. Social Security. Medicare. Health care for all Americans as a right not a privilege. Who of us is more important than that? Elections? Let the chips fall where they may."