Jan. 25, 2009 -- In an exclusive "This Week" interview, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., defended the $825 billion economic stimulus package against Republicans' accusations that Democrats are ignoring their proposals.
The recovery package cleared the House Appropriations, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees this week, but the voting has been along party lines.
"Because the Republicans don't vote for it doesn't mean they didn't have an opportunity to," Pelosi told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. "The Republicans asked for a couple things. ... They didn't vote for the final bill but we voted for some of their amendments."
House Democratic leaders are preparing to bring the stimulus package to the floor next week. Following a bipartisan meeting with President Obama on Friday, Pelosi told Stephanopoulos that Democrats are "open" to ideas put forth by Republicans.
"We will judge them by their ability to create jobs, to help turn the economy around, to stabilize the economy and to see how much they cost," she said. "But we're open to them and we'll review them and it all has to be done right away because our bill has to come to the floor this week."
One Republican proposal would cut the two lowest tax brackets from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to 5 percent. But Pelosi rejected it.
"When we had the recovery package last year we brought the tax credit all the way down ... using payroll tax as tax and therefore you get a credit," Pelosi said. "We built upon that in this legislation and we prefer that route."
Republicans, however, say that approach gives a check to people who don't pay taxes rather than cutting taxes for people who do.
"But they do pay taxes. Payroll tax," Pelosi said. "And President Bush agreed with that last year and using that precedent we have built upon that."
Critics also say the recovery plan doesn't spend money fast enough to create jobs. They point to a Congressional Budget Office assessment released this week that claims that only 40 percent of the discretionary spending in the stimulus, including the highway spending bill, is going to be spent in the next year and a half.
"First of all, the Congressional Budget Office only looked at 40 percent of the investments in the bill. By their own admission. So they didn't even take a complete look at the bill," Pelosi said. "We have a letter from the administration that says 75 percent of the investments will be paid out in the first 18 months."
The House speaker made clear she is committed to using three-quarters of the combined spending and tax cuts within that 18-month deadline.
"Seventy-five percent, 18 months," she said. "We're committed to that.
"We have a lot riding on it. I don't want to have a legislation that is used ... an engine for people to put on things that are not going to do what we are setting out to do, which is to turn this economy around," she said. "The choices we are making are those that will work, that must work, that will succeed and so when that particular analysis came out it was in contradiction to what the economists had told us and then we looked at it and saw, well, you didn't even look at the whole package."
Pelosi was also asked about some of the more controversial spending in the stimulus package, including hundreds of millions to expand family planning services.
"The family planning services reduce cost," Pelosi said. "One of the elements of this package is assistance to the states. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those -- one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government."
Pelosi said she has "no apologies" for the spending.
"We have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy," she said. "What the economists have told us from right to left. There is more bang for the buck, a term they use, by investing in food stamps and in unemployment insurance than in any tax cut. Nonetheless, we are committed to the tax cuts because they do have a positive impact on the economy, even though not as big as the investments."
Taxpayers Should Have Stake in Bailed Out Banks, Pelosi Says
Pelosi told Stephanopoulos that the American taxpayers should have a stake in the banks that have received billions from the government.
"If we are going to put money into the banks, we certainly want equity for the American people. In other words, if we are strengthening them, then the American people should get some of the upside of that strengthening," Pelosi said.
She was hesitant, however, to use the term "nationalization."
"Some people call that nationalization. I'm not talking about total ownership ... would we have ever thought we would see the day when we'd be using that terminology? Nationalization of the banks," she said.
"You see the impact it has on the stock market. Just terrible in terms of the bank stocks going down. Because if you're a shareholder and you see what would be a dilution of your investment because now the federal government -- if we're putting -- if the taxpayer is putting money up, the taxpayer should have equity," she said.
Pelosi also said she is open to Obama's request for billions more from Congress to direct to the banks, but argued there has to be accountability for the first $350 billion in TARP money.
"I'm open to resolving the financial crisis in our country," Pelosi said. "Whatever we have to do will have to be clearly explained to Congress and to the American people as to what the purpose of the money is, why it is urgent, and then accountability for it as it is distributed. If they come back, there's going to have to be a justification because people will be very, very disappointed in how this money was dealt with at first."
On Gitmo Detainees: Send 'Them Home or to Another Country'
Responding to the president's executive order this week to close the detention camp at Guantanamo, Cuba, Pelosi, the longest serving member on the Intelligence Committee, suggested detainees be sent to their home country or a third country.
"I don't even know that that is a possibility. If a detainee -- using the standards that the president is putting forth, reviewing why they are there, how they got there in the first place, I think there is -- I know that there is provision for sending them home or to another country," she said. "There are all kinds of options. But I think you have to take the first step to say, 'Who are these people? Why are they here? Should they be freed and sent home? Should they be prosecuted? Do we not have enough evidence to prosecute them? And in what courts are they prosecuted, a military court, a civilian court?'
"If you look very carefully at what President Obama did this week, it was really brilliant," she said. "It's our first responsibility to protect the American people, as elected officials. And what the president puts forth was very wise. He said he's going to close Guantanamo, take the time to do it. You can't just go down there today and say, everybody out and lock the door. They're going to review the cases, narrow it down, and then go from there."
Pelosi also dismissed a suggestion put forth by Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., of the Defense Appropriations Committee, that the detainees be housed at Alcatraz, in Pelosi's own district.
"Perhaps he has not visited Alcatraz," Pelosi said. "Bill Young is a great member of Congress and I have a great deal of respect for his opinion. Alcatraz is a tourist attraction. It's a prison that is now sort of like a -- it's a national park."
Setting the Record Straight: 'I Don't Have an Uneasy Relationship With Kirsten [Gillibrand]'
Pelosi spoke out in her "This Week" interview against reports that she urged New York Gov. David Paterson not to appoint Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to fill the seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"My concern ... as speaker of the house, is of all the choices that he has, this is a district that is important to us," she explained. "We worked very hard to win that seat. And so, of course, I want to keep my numbers here. ... My concern is, can they all be re-elected, can we win this seat?
"I don't have an uneasy relationship with Kirsten," she said. "I appointed her to the Steering Committee when she came here, a very coveted position. And now just recently, the past few weeks, named her to be head of our women's leave effort, again, much coveted by other members at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee."
On Caroline Kennedy, who withdrew herself from the running earlier in the week, citing only "personal" reasons, Pelosi said the tough scrutiny she faced after throwing her hat in the ring for the vacant seat comes with the territory.
"Politics is a brutal business, it really is brutal. And once you put yourself out there as a possible candidate for an office, you know, you're in the arena, the fight begins," she said. "She is great, highly intelligent, has done so much for education in New York, written books on our Constitution, which is the oath that we take here. I think she would have been a great senator. But the fact is Gov. Paterson had many excellent choices."
But Pelosi did make clear that more women are still needed in Congress.
"I broke through the marble ceiling, forget the glass ceiling. In this Congress, it's a marble ceiling. It's over 200 years of pecking order that was very all-male and predicted long into the future," she said. "We need more women. At the rate we're going, it's going to take too long to get parity. We have to have some breakthroughs. And we have. I always said it's harder to be speaker than be president of the United States."