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A Chat With Rep. Donna Edwards

Maryland Politics sat down yesterday with Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) at her Capitol Hill office to talk health care, the partisan divide in Congress and life at National Harbor. In short, the public option remains a line in the sand for Edwards, and she thinks the thud with which the much-anticipated bill by Sen. Max Baucus's committee fell this week helps the chances of including the option in a final bill. She's also pleased about the formal disapproval the House handed Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

Some highlights:

Q: So what did you think of the Baucus bill?

A: Middle class and poor people are bearing the burden and the brunt of this failed health-care system, and in my view, the bill that Senator Baucus is introducing really cuts at the core of the very people we're trying to help. ... This idea of cooperatives as an alternative, I think most experts have completely debunked those as any kind of alternative to a robust public plan, and I agree with that. ... [The bill] has no Republican support, and it's bad policy. ... We have three bills in the House that are far stronger than the Baucus proposal. I think we're on solid ground here. ... Our job in the House of Representatives is to get our work done. We can't worry about what the Senate is doing. Our job for the people is to get the strongest bill possible out of the House. That's how we create legislation. ... One of the things about the president's speech last week [to Congress] ... and the town hall meeting speeches that he's held since then, is the president has been very clear: "If you all have better options out there to alternatives to meet the goals of lowering costs and increasing competition and providing accountability for the insurance companies, I'm happy to hear them." The thing is, nobody has put any of those ideas on the table, and the idea that we have on the table that will meet those goals is the public option.

Q: Speaking of that speech, I caught you on the Kojo Nnamdi show the other day [audio, around 21:30] calling for Mr. Wilson to be censured for his headline-grabbing outburst.

A: It's a disapproval is what it was. ... Actually when I said "censure," I was actually talking in the generic, the word censure: to express disapproval, that's what we did formally. When I was speaking on Kojo, I actually wasn't speaking of whatever the formal action [for censure is] but that there would be some kind of sanction against him under our rules.

Q: So you are satisfied with what the action the House took?

A: I am, very much so. I think it was important for us to do and to maintain the rules and the order of the House, and that we continue to move on with our business which we've done.

Q: You've been a stalwart supporter of the public option. If a final bill arrives without one, will you vote against it?

A: Well, that's the question of the day. I mean, look, there are a couple things that I do know. One is that a bill has to get out of this House that has a public option, because otherwise we don't stand a chance of getting one out of the Senate. ... I also believe that a public option, in my view, really is essential to reform.

Q: But if the final bill doesn't have the public option, do you vote for it?

A: Well, I've joined with 60-some of my colleagues who signed a letter to the president and to our leadership saying very clearly that if there's not a public option in the final bill then I won't support that bill. I haven't changed my position.

Q: How are you finding Congress? You're on the inside now, in your first term. What's surprised you about it?

A: I've lived here and worked in and around the Hill for many years and on public policy and stuff ... so the procedural stuff and the process stuff doesn't really surprise me. ... But I think there's actually more, you know, sort of respect across the aisle than one has a perception of from television. The members that I've met, whether Republicans or Democrats, whether they've been here for a long time or a little bit of time, are really respectful to one another, and I think sometimes ... you don't necessarily get that perception. ... There are clearly partisan divisions on policy. They're not personal divisions.

Q: Yeah it does seem personal.

A: I don't think that's true. I don't think that's true at all. ... There are a couple of members on the Republican side that I have a really great relationship with, and I look up [at vote counts] and they're a "yes" and I'm a "no," and they're a "no" and I'm a "yes" all the time.

Q: Where do you live in Maryland?

A: I live in Fort Washington, well, actually now I just moved. I still have my house that I'm cleaning out in Fort Washington and I recently moved over to National Harbor.

Q: You were really involved in the debate over how National Harbor should turn out, and the push for a residential component. What do you think of it now?

A: I think the residential component is the best thing that we could have done for that project. Had we not done that, and only been relying on restaurants and some conventions, in this economy? I think it would be bad. I'm glad that the county has the ability to reap the benefits of ... property taxes from people who live at National Harbor, and I think it's actually made it a better ... more integrated environment. ... One day I just, I had some time, and I took a book out ... it was the early, early days of spring, I hadn't even moved over there yet. ... I took my book and I was sitting out ... and I watched and I saw and I could just see it was families, and you know, lovers -- it was beautiful to watch that and to see people really enjoying that, and I think [the residential units] turned it into something that was really part of the community, and not just kind of a tourist destination.

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  September 18, 2009; 11:47 AM ET
Categories:  Health Care , Jonathan Mummolo , Montgomery County , Prince George's County  
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