SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:
Democrats and Republicans both tried to gain ground with women this week. Republicans launched an initiative to recruit female candidates for office. House Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, introduced an economic agenda for women and children. It's a series of bills aimed at achieving equal pay, increasing the federal minimum wage, access to childcare and early childhood education; something President Obama has long sought. Sixteen months before the next congressional election, Congresswoman Pelosi says House Democrats hope to raise enough public support to force Congress to make a move.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: We are hopeful we can make it too hot for people to handle ignoring these women's issues and get something done, even before we get into the electoral season next year.
STAMBERG: Yeah, but there is an electoral season and politics, of course, are always at the basis of so much of what gets done these days. How much is your timing - or your pressure or your focus on women - related to the fact that Republicans, too, are now going after women voters?
PELOSI: Well, I don't know if they're going after women voters, but they're going after women - that's for sure. I mean they, the Republicans in Congress, are now trying to eliminate a $12 million appropriation for the women's small business initiative. It's hard to explain to anybody why that anybody would think that is a good idea. We don't want to make this a political issue but there is the fact that women are watching, and women want to see results on a positive agenda to lift up women in the workforce.
STAMBERG: Here comes the inevitable congressional question though. The House has not been able to pass anything of late. So why would you have any hope for this series of bills?
PELOSI: I would have optimism that we could make some progress on this initiative for the same reason that the Senate passed an immigration bill. They didn't have any interest in that until 70 percent of the...
PELOSI: ...Hispanics voted Democratic. And all of a sudden, they had an epiphany about the value of an immigration bill with a path to citizenship. And many of these things - while they do not have the support of the leadership in the Republican Party - there are Republicans who care about this issue. And if we had a chance to have a vote on the floor, I believe that we would be successful in passing them.
STAMBERG: Any idea how much these programs will cost with Republican resistance about raising any sort of expenditures, and also such a fragile economy?
PELOSI: Well, there's no federal cost in raising the minimum wage. There's no federal government cost in pay equity. These are policy issues. The childcare issue probably has to be done in steps. But when children are learning, parents can be learning. And when the children are in preschool, that frees parents to earn without carrying the burden of childcare.
STAMBERG: What about the issue of party solidarity? There are members of your own party divided about how far Democrats ought to go after liberal economic policies, and at what cost...
PELOSI: We develop our policy working in consensus. So it's not as if somebody hands something down and says this is what it is. We have been united and we respect the diversity in our caucus in every way, including philosophical. But I will say this. With the last election we elected 51 new members to the House of Representatives. The first time in the history of the world I think this has happened; making our caucus a majority of women, minorities and LGBT community people.
And what we want to do is reduce the deficit, and nothing does that more than investing in education. So anybody who says, well, we've got to cut education because we have to reduce the deficit, doesn't know what they're talking about. So we will have a united position 'cause we will build consensus within our party, for what that is.
STAMBERG: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, joining us from North Branford, Connecticut where she's promoting her new women's economic agenda. Thank you.
PELOSI: Thank you so much. It's lovely to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.