Meeting with a small group of reporters in her Denver office, Congresswoman Diana DeGette said the right wing of the Republican Party is not doing what voters sent them to Washington for.
“Their agenda has nothing to do with jobs,” she said, noting that Republicans seem hell-bent on passing a series of laws to attack women’s reproductive health, public broadcasting and climate change science among other things.
“It’s frustrating. That’s not what people elected them to do,” she said of the Republican majority.
DeGette said she could understand Tea Party anger over the economy, the deficit, unemployment and taxes but that she doesn’t see those issues being addressed by Congress.
“People are really frustrated. They elected Republicans because they were concerned about the economy and government spending. They want to see job creation and they want to see a real effort to balance the budget, but that is not what they are getting,” she said.
She said that so far all people have gotten from the Republican Congress is political posturing. “We can’t even talk about cuts to military spending. We can’t even talk about cutting agricultural programs.”
Moreover, she said moderate mainstream Republicans are afraid to vote against these largely symbolic right-wing measures. “There are 65 Tea Party people in Congress but they are running the show because all the rest of them have Tea Party challengers waiting for them in their next primary.”
DeGette said things used to be more collegial on Capitol Hill and that she has always tried to work with Republicans, sponsoring bills together, etc. “You get better legislation when you work together,” she said, even though she also noted that the public does not want a Congress that agrees on everything. “We need to stop bickering like this if we want to get anything done. I think we can do it in a civil way,” she said.
“We used to have 30-40 pro-choice Republicans and another 30-40 anti-choice Democrats.” Today, though, she said Republican leadership has instructed members to vote a party line on social issues. “They think that is the best way to win the mid-terms. Democrats never have unity on anything,” she noted.
Instead of trying to overturn Roe V. Wade, she said Republicans have decided to simply take measures that will reduce or eliminate people’s access to reproductive health care. She said they are doing this by trying to make it impossible to use insurance to pay for abortion services and by defunding Planned Parenthood.
“They are chipping away at availability and putting women’s health care in jeopardy,” she said.
Asked how it was she managed to have time in the middle of the week to meet with reporters in Denver, she laughed and said that Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is giving the House a week off every month.
“I’ve been in Congress 14 years and I can tell you that when the Republicans are in charge we don’t work that hard. When the Democrats are in charge, they kill you,” she said.
She said the public supports health care reform and that support is rising as more of the bill comes into effect and as people understand it better.
In calculating the cost of the Affordable Care Act, she said that some things that are seen as costs are also benefits, such as the fact that securing better health care for people who are currently uninsured enables them to have longer healthier lives. She also said that the ability of people to receive end of life counseling, referred to by some as “death panels” could save the nation billions of dollars.
She said most people don’t want to be kept alive through heroic measures after their quality of life has deteriorated. “If we could get more people to create living wills it would save the country billions of dollars and give people a more dignified end to their lives,” she said.
“Americans now understand the health care act better and they are beginning to like it. They like the elimination of pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny coverage. They like eliminating gender disparities. The bad things that people feared have not happened.”
Talking about Colorado’s budget woes, she counseled against trying to balance the budget on the back of education. “Cutting education costs jobs. It is foolhardy to cut education to save the budget. When you do that, you are taking away from your future.”
On immigration, she said she was encouraged by legislation recently passed in Utah, and thinks America needs to pass the Dream Act. “I think it is urgent,” she said.