Remember former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? She’s now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. And she appears to be enjoying her new role as leader of the opposition — especially now that her successor, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has run into trouble securing votes from his own Republican Party’s conservative factions.
This week, Boehner had to rely on Democratic votes to pass a three-week stopgap spending bill after 54 of his Republicans broke ranks and refused to go along with a compromise measure the speaker had agreed to.
Pelosi called reporters into her new, smaller offices to warn that Democrats may not be as helpful on a longer-term spending bill unless Boehner moves further in their direction.
She knows the new speaker is in a tough spot: With every step he takes toward the center, the bigger the rebellion he risks from “tea-party” conservatives on the right.
“We have offered him a hand of friendship,” Pelosi said, smiling. “I don’t know whether he saw that hand of friendship as a plus or minus.”
Part of this is a game of chicken over federal spending for the rest of the current fiscal year. Each party wants to be seen as the voice of reason — and wants the other side to look like the villain if an impasse leads to a government shutdown.
And part of it is a chance for Pelosi to rally her troops and begin trying to undo the damage to Democrats’ standing that led to their drubbing in last November’s congressional election.
The San Franciscan is still an unapologetic big-government liberal, as fiery and partisan as ever.
“The fight that we have to fight is one of values, not of dollars,” she said. “People talk about seeking the middle ground. Well, they’re kicking 6 million homebound seniors off Meals on Wheels. Does that make the middle ground 3 million? No, we’re not going to that place.”
She said she wasn’t dissatisfied with President Obama’s relatively limited role in the fight over federal spending so far, but she’d like to see him do more. “There’s no underestimating the power of the bully pulpit,” she said.
What went wrong for Democrats in 2010? One word: “Unemployment. .. It’s a red-hot stove that our members put their hands on every time they go home.”
But she blames former President George W. Bush for the unemployment rate, not President Obama. “A president whose only job-creating agenda was tax cuts for the rich, and they don’t create jobs,” she said.
“Unemployment didn’t go up under the Democrats,” she insisted (although the calendar says otherwise). “That unemployment is what we got from the Republicans.”
The Republican drive to weaken last year’s financial regulation law? “Laissez, laissez, laissez, laissez faire!” she said, rolling her eyes.
Pelosi, who’s about to turn 71, says she’s confident her Democrats can take the House back in 2012, in part because she thinks Boehner’s Republicans are already overstepping whatever mandate they won.
“Nothing we said is as eloquent as seeing what they will do,” she said.
“It’s going to be a struggle, but I’m optimistic because the president is on the ballot,” she said. “I think the president is clearly going to win the election.”
She gestured at the bare walls of her new offices on the second floor of the Capitol — smaller than the speaker’s rooms but still grand — and laughed.
“I don’t want to put too many pictures up on the wall,” she said, meaning she plans to take her old office back soon.