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George Miller Looks Ahead to Democratic Wish List


The democratic majority in Congress won't be official until January, but the party's top brass is already writing its legislative wish list. There are a lot of big ideas. But how will they translate into actual policy? To get the specifics on the Democrat's agenda, I spoke to California Congressman George Miller. He's one of the closest allies of presumed Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the man she tapped to head up some of the party's top policy initiatives.

Representative GEORGE MILLER (Democrat, California): Well, I've been the chair of the Democratic Policy Committee which, you know, worked with the members of the caucus and the steering and policy committee and others in the Democratic House, to work on this agenda for a new direction. And now, of course, the responsibility falls to us to get it implemented.

SEABROOK: So what exactly will you do? What policy will you bring forward?

Rep. MILLER: Well, we have some early initiatives which leader Pelosi talked about - the 6406, which is immediately passing the minimum wage increase that people haven't had for ten years. The lowest paid workers in this country have not received a raise in the last ten years.

SEABROOK: What will it be raised to nationally?

Rep. MILLER: It will be raised to $7.25 over a two-year period of time. It's very important. The Republicans have resisted that this entire time. You know, again, America recognized that this was a question of fairness. The Republicans chose not to do it. We will choose to do it and we will get it done. They chose not to give the Health and Human Services Department the right to negotiate for lower pharmaceutical prices. We will pass legislation to give them the authority to negotiate those prices, just as Wal-Mart or Costco or the Veteran's Administration has the right to negotiate.

SEABROOK: This is in Medicare Part D.

Rep. MILLER: Right.

SEABROOK: The Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Rep. MILLER: For the Medicare prescription Part D.

SEABROOK: What else will the Democrats be doing? Let's talk about college affordability.

Rep. MILLER: The cost of college, we've seen it go up 40 percent in the last five years. We have a number of things that we want to do. We want to cut the interest rate that was increased because of the action of the Republicans in the last Congress. We'd like to cut that in half. We'd like to make sure that the Pell Grant really starts to gain back some of its purchasing power so that those low income students that use this grant, that it will pay for a significant part of their cost of college. And we'd like to make sure that parents have the ability to deduct a decent amount of the cost of college tuition, books, what have you, that they're borrowing money for, that they're saving for, for their children that are in college.

SEABROOK: Democrats only barely control the Senate, though, and control of the Senate is almost an oxymoron. Do you expect to run into any problems trying to pass these big pieces of legislation you have to do in the first hundred hours?

Rep. MILLER: I'm honored by you giving me responsibility for the Senate. But you know what we'll do...

SEABROOK: Hey, you're the one saying you're going to do all this.

Rep. MILLER: My job and my colleagues' jobs and the desire of the caucus is to pass legislation in the House and get it to the Senate. And then we can work on it there. None of this is going to be easy. But I think, again, you're starting to see people respond that they want something done. These are achievable, they're important, and they have huge ramifications for people, whether they're paying for their kid's college education or their prescription drugs or their energy costs. And I believe they will have bipartisan support. We had bipartisan support, but we didn't have the leadership of the Congress's support on prescription drugs. We had bipartisan support on energy but we didn't have the leadership of the Congress, the Republican leadership's support on the energy changes. We had bipartisan support on college costs, but we didn't have the Republican leadership's support on college costs. We had the minimum wage, bipartisan support, but not the Republican leadership. There's a difference. You know, there's a new team in town and the American public has made it very clear that they want these issues addressed.

SEABROOK: Democratic Congressman George Miller of California. I imagine you're going to be the chairman of education and workforce?

Rep. MILLER: I hope so. I'm asking my colleagues to elect me in the Democratic caucus. I've been on the committee for a long time and I'm the senior Democrat and I'm very excited about the possibility of being the chair of the committee.

SEABROOK: Thanks for speaking with us.

Rep. MILLER: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.