03/16/2012 08:19 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What's at Stake for Women 2012: An Interview With Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi is a woman who makes history. Celebrating 25 years in Congress this year, she served as first female Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011. The Christian Science Monitor wrote: "...make no mistake: Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful woman in American politics and the most powerful house Speaker since Sam Rayburn a half century ago."

Pelosi is now Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. I talked with her this month on my radio show, Equal Time with Martha Burk.

MB: The last Congress, in which you served as Speaker, has already been marked by Congressional scholars as one of the most productive in modern times. The present one has got to be one of the most dysfunctional. Is that going to change in an election year, or will the divisions just dig in further?

NP: As long as Republicans stay committed to their goal, expressed by Senator Mitch McConnell, that the most important thing they can do is make sure that President Obama fails. He wasn't talking about failing in the election -- he was talking about failing as a president. Last year was obstructionism, obstructionism, obstructionism.

MB: Women are the majority of voters, and often when we hear "women's issues" people automatically think of abortion. It's important, but what else should women be thinking about?

NP: There are some issues we have to pay special attention to, because if we don't, they won't be addressed fully. No matter what the age of a woman or girl, there is a public policy impact that is not very positive right now, whether we're talking about education, or job availability for older women, or younger women who want to start a family on their own timing. At every stage of life women have a vulnerability in a special way, to [changes in] public policy. I'm very concerned about what is described as a "war on women" that is going on here. I don't know if women have any idea how much they have at risk in this election.

MB: Older women depend on Social Security more than men, and have fewer dollars in private pensions. Is Social Security going to be held hostage again this year to deficit reduction and debt ceiling talks?

NP: If we're truly concerned about Social Security being there for younger workers, let's put it on its own table. Let's not put it on the same table with trying to give tax cuts to the wealthy and balance the budget on the backs of Social Security recipients.

MB: What about Medicare? Women live longer, they need it more.

NP: What the Republicans have said is rather than touch one hair on the heads of the wealthiest people in our country, people who make ove $1 million a year, they're saying seniors should pay $6,000 more dollars a year. But please don't let us ask the wealthiest to do their fair share.

MB: Let's get to the current debate over birth control. Under health care reform insurance must cover birth control without co-pays. Churches are exempt from the requirement, but the Catholic bishops are still pushing to widen the exemption to include any employer who objects to birth control on so-called "moral grounds." National women's groups are very concerned.

NP: This is a fight we won in health care reform. It's very hard to understand why any organization that wants to lower the number of abortions wouldn't want women to be able to determine the timing and size of their families. I feel pretty good about [President Obama not giving in]. But you are right -- the Catholic bishops are pushing.

MB: During the 2010 Congressional campaigns, Republican candidates around the country ran against you, instead of their actual Democratic opponents. In some districts voters saw more images of you than the person running. According to the Washington Post, they spent at least $65 million running 161,203 ads against Nancy Pelosi. Are we going to see a rerun of that this year?

NP: I certainly hope not. But they run against me because I'm effective. They came in massively against us because they feared what we were trying to do for women and men in the workplace -- and it has an impact.

MB: A number of research studies show that women in Congress tend to cooperate with one another more than men do. Yet we're no longer making a lot of progress increasing women's numbers -- we're stuck at around 17%.

NP: This year we already have [at least] 30 great women running. I don't think there's anything more hopeful than increasing voices of women in the process. Women will lead the way -- so much is at stake for them.

Listen to Nancy Pelosi's full interview here: