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 Dionne is somewhat liberal and the skewed perception of Pelosi as someone moving the country towards so-called "San Francisco liberalism" is purely a right-wing talking point. Nonetheless, the profile illuminates a possible Congressional road map for the rest of the year.
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 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 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 in Politico from last November said 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 towards the White House. Karl Rove ironically believes Obama is more divisive than President Bush in 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 the 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.