House Speaker Nancy Pelosi covered a lot of territory in a brief visit to the San Jose Rotary’s weekly lunch meeting today—from the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy to the empowerment of young women (the subject of her book, Know Your Power, which she signed at the event). But she clearly wanted the audience to take home one message: “We must have health care reform.”
On two occasions, she listed the four goals of the Democrats’ reform package: “Improve quality. Lower costs. Preserve choice. Expand coverage.”
A longtime proponent of the single-payer plan, in which the government would administer the nation’s health insurance, Pelosi voiced strong support for Pres. Barack Obama’s alternate proposal to expand employer-based insurance. However, she said in no uncertain terms that the government would still have a role to play.
“The public option is essential,” Pelosi said, “because it enables us to increase competition.”
While a few dozen protesters rallied outside the Rotary Club’s 4th Street meeting room, Pelosi insisted that the proposals now being considered are not budget busters.
“We will not go forward with this legislation unless it’s paid for,” she said, “and also bends the curve as we go into the future. We must bring health care costs down.”
She quoted the president as saying “health care reform is entitlement reform.” And, cognizant of her audience, she vowed that if the president’s plan passes, health insurance “will be much more affordable to small businesses, to make them more competitive domestically and internationally.”
In a press conference following the event, Pelosi said “We welcome the protesters. It’s the American way. I’ve been part of protests myself.” Pelosi said, however, that the protesters should not be allowed to shut down the debate.
Pelosi, who wore a pastel gray-green pants suit and a necklace of large beads, said that the last time she saw Sen. Kennedy, she promised him that she would bring health care reform to a vote.
“We will do it—if we can—in a bipartisan fashion,” she said. “But we must do it.”
Old Democrats Club
The Rotary event was billed as a book signing, and was set up as a conversation between Pelosi and Rep. Zoe Lofgren. They were introduced by Rotary President Rod Diridon, who served with Lofgren in the 1980s on the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. Rep. Mike Honda, who later served on the same board, was in the audience, as was San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed.
Pelosi demonstrated one aspect of her considerable political skill, ladling eloquent praise on the local politicians in attendance, and the Rotary Club itself, which she called “a magnificent manifestation of patriotism and community.”
She pointed out that she received an award from Rotary several years ago, for her work on polio, which still hangs in her office. To illustrate her fondness for the organization, she pulled a dollar bill out of her purse and held it in the air (apparently it’s an old Rotarian fundraising trick—Diridon corrected her, informing her that at the high-rolling Silicon Valley club, it’s generally done with a $1,000 bill.) Pelosi then pointed out the Great Seal of the United States, which appears on the bill. “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” she read, and translated: “A New Order Forever.”
“No people in the history of the world had ever had the confidence to declare to the world that what they were doing would last forever,” she said. “But these men did. This band of brothers. And their wives.”