E.J. Dionne's column in today's Washington Post sheds a quite divergent view of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. It should be noted that Dionne is somewhat liberal and the idea of Pelosi as someone moving the country toward so-called "San Francisco liberalism" is a right-wing talking point. Nonetheless, the profile illuminates a possible congressional road map for the rest of the year.
Pelosi, in the article, lauded Republicans for voting with their convictions. The speaker is in a seemingly conciliatory mood as Congress heads into recess. It also helps that she will spend Easter at her Bay Area home before visiting the Commonwealth Club next Wednesday.
Pelosi told Dionne, "'The priority, of course, is to pass health care,' Pelosi said without blinking." The American Prospect's Ezra Klein notes in his blog that this is the first indication Pelosi sees health-care reform as a top priority over cap-and-trade.
To my knowledge, Pelosi hasn't said that before. More to the point, she's not signaled it. At a recent Maria Leavey breakfast, she implied just the opposite, and many folks I've spoken to on the Hill have suggested that her priority was energy rather than health care.To reverse that specific perception, Pelosi seemed to be giving Dionne a lesson on congressional parliamentary procedure by saying she could muster 51 percent of the votes on health care under the rules of "reconciliation" where committees receive technical instructions on where and how funding will be budgeted. In effect, it's a promise that health care will be legislated but without specifics. Under the procedure, a bill only needs a simple majority, whereas a bill without reconciliation needs a more problematic 60 votes in the Senate. Pelosi also referred to the diversity of the party that also has the support of some coal-producing states. She showed Dionne a statue of a coal miner in her office given to her by a West Virginia congressman.
Dionne also mentions the recent relaxing of Republican attacks against Pelosi. With President Obama's post-election popularity too strong to spar with, Republicans targeted Pelosi without abandon. An article on Politico from last November claimed that the tactic has failed every time it has been utilized: "It didn’t work in 2006, and it’s not working this year, yet many Republicans continue to use Pelosi power as the ultimate threat to American governance."
Presumably, with a bit less than 100 days of the Obama presidency to work with, Republicans are turning their criticism toward the White House. Karl Rove ironically believes Obama is more divisive than President Bush (according to today's Wall Street Journal).
Despite the constant attacks on her leadership, Pelosi has proven to be a speaker unfazed thus far. Whether Pelosi can help th president push through Democratic-themed legislation like health-care reform is unclear, but it shows that it takes more pieces of the puzzle to assemble than one might think.
You can hear Pelosi in person at The Commonwealth Club on April 15 in San Francisco.