By Frank James
Message discipline, thy name is Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
If you've been paying attention to congressional Democrats since the Affordable Care Act website failed to launch as planned in early October, you probably didn't hear much new from her interview with Robert Siegel, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered.
Not because Robert didn't try; he's the consummate interviewer. But as good as Robert is at trying to get politicians off their canned messages, Pelosi is equally good at staying on hers.
Pelosi, a California Democrat, relied on the three main arguments Democrats have used to defend Obamacare during its rough rollout: 1) Major features of the law are already working despite the hinky website. 2) The Medicare Part D prescription drug program's start was bumpy too. 3) There's enough time to iron out the Obamacare website’s wrinkles.
As to Point 1, she ticked off the parts of the law now operating, including children being allowed to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26 and no more insurance company rejections for pre-existing conditions.
"All of this has been working just fine and those responsible have been implementing it just fine," Pelosi said.
When Robert remarked on the centrality of the website exchanges to consumers' ability to shop for and purchase health insurance, Pelosi resorted to the Medicare Part D defense.
She read news headline after headline from 2006, reporting on the snafus in that program. Medicare Part D passed largely on the strength of Republican congressional support and was signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.
After Robert politely interrupted her litany, she said: "The point is this is what happens when you do something big. And at the time, the Republicans' statements were exactly that. You're not letting me go on. And you shouldn't because I have pages ... [of stories critical of the Medicare Part D rollout]."
You got the sense she wasn't kidding, and she just might have tried to read them all if Robert had let her run out the clock.
When Robert asked her if she would favor delaying the enrollment deadline if the federal website isn't fixed by November's end (he noted that some congressional Democrats, like Sen. Jeannne Shaheen of New Hampshire, have called for just that), Pelosi sounded impatient.
"I don't even know why we're spending so much time talking about 'if it doesn't work.' Let's spend our energy and time making it work. And then, as I say, you view it and review it as time goes by. But I don't think you have it be a self-fulfilling prediction that it's not going to work ..."
Other subjects covered in the brief interview were the upcoming Senate-House budget negotiations and Pelosi's shift to saying that Democrats can win the House now that GOP approval ratings have fallen through the floor, post-government shutdown.
Pelosi again was on message. For Democrats to consider entitlement cuts during the talks, tax increases will need to also be on the table.
She seemed to drop her partisan armor, however, and go beyond the message when Robert asked her if she thought that Democrats had to win the Tampa, Fla., congressional seat of the recently deceased Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, a longtime Republican congressman, to have a chance to win the House.
"I really just returned from his funeral," she said with a catch. "I'm not even really thinking in terms of the election yet. I don't even know if they've set a date for it yet. Bill Young was a beautiful, lovely statesman. I was honored to serve with him. He was my chairman on Appropriations."
Once Florida does announce the special election to replace Young, however, she indicated it would be game on in the Democratic effort to retake the House.
"And remember one thing," she said at the interview's end, firmly back on message. "When women succeed, America succeeds," said Pelosi, who was the first woman to become speaker of the House in U.S. history. "We have many women candidates in the field that we're promoting."
"I'll keep that in mind," Robert said.