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Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Pelosi’

Ecomonic Warfare or Fiscal Porn?

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 10, 2009

But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do. –Barack Obama

Yesterday, Barack Obama finally got back to doing what he does best– taking his case to the people of our nation and rallying them behind policy positions that previous administrations of both stripes have considered to be “above” them, too complex to understand and thus not worth attempting to explain. Suffice it to say that you never would’ve seen George Bush (pick your iteration…) in front of a large crowd of politically unscreened citizens handed microphones to ask questions after being given a straight assessment of the problems facing our economy and the extraordinary tasks that need to be undertaken to quell them. Yesterday in Indiana and today in Florida, however, that is exactly what we have and will see Barack Obama do. Lest you think that these were randomly chosen locales, recall that Indiana and Florida were two of the toughest Red states that flipped to blue in the election, a clear reminder to the Senate and House of who they’re dealing with, politically.

Some of the questions he received yesterday were extremely critical of him and his administration– one was delivered by a woman who identified herself as “…one of those who think you should have a beer with Sean Hannity”– but they were handled with aplomb and humour as the cost of doing business for a President who knows that he will have to deal with detractors head on to gain the trust of a nation. Like him or not, that’s a refreshing…wait for it… change.

Last night Obama went before reporters for a live prime time presser and again handled everything thrown at him, acquitting himself well and making yet another strong case for his particular vision of a stimulus package and the steps needed to fix the economy.

Obama and his aides are not fools– they understand that despite the losses of the Republican Party and the seeming rejection of its philosophies by the voting public, there is still an aftertaste of the conservative fiscal policies that the Bush Admin and the House Republicans, in particular, have  told America that they were practicing for the better part of the last decade. There is a seductiveness to talking about tax cuts and limiting government while ignoring the larger issues that drive the economy and the nation; it’s fiscal porn. Why talk about having to free the liquidity of the credit markets when you can talk about the bliss of a paycheck less encumbered by taxes or the pleasures of getting government “off of your back”? The GOP has engaged in this quite literal application of bread and circuses and has done so well– give the people some extra bread in their weekly take-home while keeping them diverted with asinine wedge issues like gay marriage and putting the Ten Commandments on public property and they conveniently forget to take a look at what Fannie & Freddie are doing. It’s undeniable– and undeniably sad– that this formula has worked politically so well for so long.

What Barack Obama has been giving us, literally, is the opposite of fiscal porn– it is depressingly honest at times, featuring quotes like the above and a constant reminder that “the party is over” or “this is the worst financial crisis we’ve seen since the Great Depression”. Obama is treating us as adults and partners, not only in the problem but in its solution. Not only is this the right thing to do– our grandparents handled the Germans and the Japanese, I think we can handle Goldman Sachs and sovereign wealth funds– it is also the politically smart thing to do. As noted by David Gergen last night on CNN, last week saw the Admin focus entirely on policy and working the hallways at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. They were effective in doing so, getting a fixable stimulus package through the House and then saving a better bill in the Senate, but they also allowed public support for the bill to erode. They gave people like Jim DeMint, Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell the media floor to rally against what they saw (often mistakenly, sometimes correctly) as excesses in the bill passed by the House and attempted to make the bill a referendum whose choices were Nancy Pelosi’s “San Francisco Power Bitchery” or the Debbie Does Taxes myth of Republican fiscal responsibility featuring their promise about going down on taxes and the double penetration of cutting spending while shifting focus to social issues.

When given the choice between someone with a plan, an actual way to move forward on a problem, and someone who tells you that the best thing to do is either nothing or, worse, admits the problem and then tries to hand you another that has the illusion of being easier to solve, the choice is clear. Obama has a proactive plan of attack that he’s willing to talk about and allow scrutiny of; he’s been honest enough to say that his plan will sometimes lead into blind alleys or need to be adjusted along the way, and that pain will be felt by all as we move forward. What he describes and the way he describes it is very much akin to a war; the comparisons to FDR have already been made ad nauseum, but it is impossible to not note here the latter-day Fireside Chat ethos of Obama’s town hall events this week and his general willingness to tell us we’re in for a bad ride for the next few years– but also that there is an end to the ride in sight in the distance. The war that Obama describes isn’t a war in the sense that Mr. Bush forced us to grow accustomed to; the war that Mr. Obama lays out has clearly defined goals, a frank assessment of risks and challenges, and a strategy to overcome them. It is also explained as war without fait accompli as a component– in this war, the enemy will fight back and will even win battles. We start this war much as we did World War Two– under attack, shocked and dazed, with an enemy in the field that will be initially superior to our efforts to fight it. We are also uniquely suited to grow in strength throughout the fight and overwhelm the problems facing us as long as we do so in a progressive (little “p” progressive, note) fashion that has us methodically building a foundation and then laying successes atop it until the overall fight is won. We started World War Two with crappy and far too few airplanes, a Navy that needed to be built from the keel up, and tanks that were ten years out of date but with a strong base from which to fix those problems. We start this war similarly challenged, with a fiscal sector in chaos, with corporations running out of date models, with too few and patently lousy tools to manage Wall Street, but with the ability to fix those problems with some discipline and some reassessment and realignment of our priorities.

Obama is our Roosevelt; Geithner & Summers our Marshall & Eisenhower. The fight will be long, but it is on. If that doesn’t sound like fun, though, Ann Coulter is going down on your tax bill over at FoxNews LateNight. Your choice.


Posted in American History, American Politics, CongressCritters, Economy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Breaking Nancy

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 5, 2009

pelosiNancy Pelosi’s autocratic streak is, to be modest, several miles wide. The Speaker is very proud of the coalition she has built that catapulted her to power and she is not afraid to drive legislation down that broad avenue at breakneck speeds. Unfortunately for the Speaker, her speeding Congressional Cadillac seems to have struck a Blue Dog in the road.

Regular Order is the lifeblood of most legislative bodies; it is the full process by which a bill makes its way through the subcommittee-committee-floor process, with amendments and rewrites attached by the Members. Through Regular Order a bill is, in the best cases, refined and improved through numerous changes and the introduction of differing viewpoints into its fabric. In the worst cases, it turns a good and concise bill into a bloated disaster of contradiction and fat. Running bills through Regular Order is the most inclusive, fair way of moving legislation– it takes some power out of the hands of leadership and allows the rank and file to have input on a bill. It also adds time to the progression of a bill and causes leadership aides to age prematurely and drink copiously.

Regular Order is also something that was dispensed with out of hand by the former Republican Majority and also something which Ms.Pelosi had promised time and again to redress and reinstate as a part of a return to bipartisanship in the House. There’s a little glitch, though– running outside of Regular Order is really fun for Leadership– no annoying amendments offered by Members whom they don’t totally control, program bills fly through mark up and reach the floor when the Speaker wants them to, the Speaker’s vision being not only the only one that reaches the floor but also is the only one that even is allowed to exist within the limestone walls.

Now, someone has called the Speaker’s bluff and demanded a return to Regular Order. Worse from Ms. Pelosi’s point of view, they have found a champion, and that champion is possibly the only person in the entire city that she fears, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

The Blue Dog Coalition, the group of conservative Democrats who are a consistent pain in the ass of the far left of the Democratic Caucus, were, well, mildly disturbed by the process in which the stimulus package was shoved down their canine gullets. The package was shot through the process with very little opportunity for input from the rank and file (read: no chance of input) to the point that most legislators were forced to vote without so much as a chance to have staff read the thing in any meaningful way. Pelosi insisted that this was done at the behest of the President and the nation– the stim package was needed and needed quickly with no time for legislative detours. This may or may not be true according to your personal beliefs, but Pelosi had the protective cover and she was damned well going to use it.

The Blue Dogs saw it somewhat differently, as just another broken promise from Leadership that resulted in a flawed bill full of the Speaker’s fondest wishes and lacking the gravitas of a bill to deal with an emergency situation. The lack of input from those in the building feeling the crisis most acutely– the individual CongressCritters whose office phones were ringing off the hook and who were watching interns spontaneously combust after reading through their seven thousandth email on the topic– is a death blow in the opinion of the Blue Dogs, who always bring a sense of having been disrespected to everything they do.

Having endured one indignity too many on the one bill too important to screw up, the Blue Dogs penned a letter demanding a return to Regular Order as being integral to the Congress being able to correctly do the people’s business. Moreover, they backhanded Pelosi across the chops with a reminder that if she failed to do this, she’d be no better than the Republican Congress that caused so much of the mess we’re in to begin with due to their fiscal irresponsibility as fostered by the Speaker’s ramming bills through the House with no input from the Minority or dissenters within the Majority. That, as they say, is going to leave a mark.

Nancy Pelosi might be the most powerful Speaker we’ve seen in decades in terms of her ability to rule by fiat and the fear she’s instilled in much of her Caucus. Nobody has been willing to take her on directly in a meaningful way; for the most part the best we’ve seen are pinprcks from people like Kirsten Gillibrand and the like trying to buck seniority in committee placements and against Leadership wishes. The Blue Dogs circulating this letter, which as of tonight is starting to get a lot of support from other groups within the Majority, is the first crack in Nancy’s dam.

Yet the letter isn’t addressed to her as Speaker. And that is where this gets very, very interesting from a tactical point of view.

Calling for a change to the way bills are moved is a serious business, no matter how you cut it. Doing so by very publicly appealing to a power outside of the Speaker’s office– particularly this Speaker’s office– seems shocking to me. The Blue Dogs, bless their cyanotic little hearts, are involved in something that they’re hoping is going to be much bigger– they addressed the letter to the Speaker’s number one frien-emy, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Worse, Hoyer publicly supported the letter. Very publicly.

Hoyer came out strong in talking to reporters about the letter, being careful not to criticize Czar Nancy but also leaving no doubt at all that she was in the wrong and he was championing the cause against her, implicitly signing on to the “you’re no better than Coach Denny” snark of the letter. The only question at this point is if he’s being opportunistic or if he drafted the thing in the first place. The Blue Dogs, for their part, aren’t making any bones about why they chose to send the letter to Hoyer– “… because this group has no better friend in this fight”, said a widely quoted yet markedly anonymous aide to a Blue Dog.

There’s no love lost between Hoyer, who wanted to be Speaker, and Pelosi, who acceded to the job in 2006. Steny has been a good soldier for these past few years, doing as Pelosi required, but there’s been a palpable sense that he’s doing it out of duty, not belief. Pelosi is the manager-as-king type– hell, she’s freezing her own people out of the process, much less the Republicans– whereas Hoyer is a “Member’s Leader” in much the same way you’ll hear a baseball manager referred to as a “Player’s Manager”. As anger coalesces around Pelosi’s freezing out of even senior Democrats, the Blue Dogs and Hoyer may have just broken the reign of terror that Nancy has used to keep her people in line and quiet despite her excesses. Many of her Democratic Members were appalled — outraged may be an even better word– at how the Speaker, at the helm of a wildly unpopular institution with Members who were going to have to run in a mid-term, publicly kicked the crap out of a Patrick Fitzgerald-gagged Rahm Emmanuel and by extension then President-Elect Obama a couple of months back. Telling Emmanuel that his opinions were not needed in selecting members of the House leadership and that if Obama himself wanted to talk to a Democratic Congressman he was to call her first for permission and then call her afterwards for a debrief were not wise and were not well received by a Membership that wants to grab as much of the Obama glow as they can for their own re-election purposes. It showed the Speaker at her very worst, deluded into thinking that she is the only powerbroker in DC with any claim to leadership of the Democratic Party and thus the nation. You know and I know that doing that to Obama, and especially doing it to Obama through the baddest bad ass in all the land, Mr. Emmanuel, would not go unnoticed and unpunished.

As I wrote last month, that punishment started with the snub of Pelosi-pal Diane Feinstein when the Intelligence leadership was named without consulting her as the incoming Chair of Senate Select Intelligence despite conferring with her rank and file committeemen. As I see it, that was the opening shot. This Blue Dog maneuver needed a boost from somewhere in its defiance of Nancy, especially now that we’re seeing so many others signing on to it– they must, absolutely must, have been assured cover from someone who they believed could cover them. That someone has a funny shaped office just down Pennsylvania Avenue and employs the dissed Mr. Emmanuel.

Tonight Pelosi is coquettishly running up the white flag– she’s making all the right noises about returning to Regular Order and is trying to save face by claiming that’s what she intended all along, just as she’s been saying for the last two years… but not acting on. She’s between a rock and a hard place, which could make her very dangerous or could make her a squishy paste of CongressCritter roadkill in a few months time.

No matter how you cut it, the power dynamic within the House has changed dramatically within the last 48 hours, most likely for the benefit of the nation at a time when we truly need to step past rhetoric and work together, a lesson which the current Speaker is unwilling to take to heart.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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