Some in the pundit class are falling all over each other with predictions that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi – and the Progressive forces she leads – have somehow been banished to irrelevancy by the outcome of the mid-term elections. Wrong.
In fact the actual political dynamics have moved Pelosi and her troops to center stage in the battles that loom in 2015. The fight over the Wall Street bailout provision in the recent budget bill – that featured Congresswoman Pelosi and Senator Elizabeth Warren -- was just a small preview of coming attractions.
Since Democrats lost control of the House majority in 2010, the principal protagonists in major political battles have been the President and Democratic Senate on the one side, and the House Republicans on the other.
From his post as Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid could stop the radical initiatives of House Republicans and could take legislative initiatives of his own to define the debate as he did by passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2013.
But things will fundamentally change in 2015. With Republicans in charge of both houses, the President – wielding his veto – will be locked in battle with the Republican leadership of both houses of Congress. His ability to project progressive values into the legislative debate will rest entirely on the ability of Democrats in at least one House of Congress to sustain his vetoes.
Senator Reid and his skillful whip, Dick Durbin, will certainly do their best to provide a veto-sustaining thirty-four votes in the Senate. While the Democratic Leadership in the Senate will likely be successful sustaining Presidential vetoes in most cases, Senators are notoriously hard to corral – and much more prone to legislative enticement than their colleagues in the House. To override a veto Republicans in the Senate need 67 votes. Republicans have 54 votes in the new Congress. Assuming that they maintained the support of all GOP members, and all members vote, they would need 13 Democrats to support the veto override. Tough but always inconceivable.
Pelosi’s legendary ability to maintain discipline in her caucus will make the Obama-Pelosi nexus the primary source of Presidential – and progressive power – in the next two years. Republicans in the House need 290 votes to override a Presidential veto, if all 435 members are present and voting. That would require the defection of 43 House Democrats – and that isn’t happening.
That power was clearly demonstrated during the budget battle where Pelosi would have easily sunk the so-called “CRomnibus” had not the White House decided that the risks associated with defeating the appropriations deal (and GOP retreat to a 3-month continuing resolution) was simply too high.
And Pelosi’s power will be enhanced by the fact that in order to pass pretty much anything that has even a ghost’s chance of getting a Presidential signature, House Speaker John Boehner will clearly need Democratic votes. He simply can’t rely on his expanded Tea Party wing to engage in anything resembling negotiated agreements with the Administration even though his ability to pass anything that will become law will require it.
Pelosi’s influence – and the influence of the House Progressives she leads – will be amplified by the fact that progressive, populist positions are not only popular with the progressive base -- they are overwhelmingly popular with swing voters and with the great preponderance of middle class Americans. In fact, progressive positions are the center of American politics.
The same can’t be said of the positions taken by the Tea Party fringe that Boehner will be forced to accommodate. What’s appealing to the far right is anathema to swing voters – whether we’re talking about social issues like women’s reproductive rights, or immigration, or tax cuts for the rich.
The House Democratic Leadership will join the President in making increasing wages for ordinary Americans the central goal and yardstick for action over the next two years. That goal is massively popular with most voters. Pelosi’s unvarnished advocacy for that goal will appeal to the broadest group of swing voters – and it will ignite the base of the Party.
In fact, on the opening day of the new Congress, Pelosi’s troops used procedural means to force votes on two provisions that they labeled “Better Infrastructure, Bigger Paychecks”. Expect that to be the continued Democratic drum beat for the next two years.
The net result: far from being consigned to political irrelevancy, House Leader Nancy Pelosi will be right in the thick of every major issue facing the country for the next two years whether the punditry likes it or not. And the country will be far better off as a result.
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