Nancy Pelosi’s latest power grab in the House

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Robert No­vak

As­tory told in cloak­rooms of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives shows how ironic life on Capi­tol Hill can be. Jim McCr­ery, the lowkey, hard-work­ing rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, has spent all year try­ing to es­tab­lish good re­la­tions with the tax-writ­ing com­mit­tee’s first Demo­cratic chair­man in 12 years, Charles Ran­gel. He suc­ceeded, only to dis­cover that Mr. Ran­gel does not re­ally run Ways and Means. Nancy Pelosi does.

Mr. Ran­gel, a crafty New York politi­cian, so far looks like the weak­est Ways and Means chair­man dur­ing my 50 years in Wash­ing­ton. That’s only be­cause Mrs. Pelosi so far is the most pow­er­ful speaker of the House dur­ing that same pe­riod, a re­al­ity ob­scured by her his­toric role as the first wo­man to hold that of­fice. She does not con­fer with or de­fer to stand­ing com­mit­tee chair­men, whose pre­de­ces­sors made pre­vi­ous speak­ers dance to their tune.

On both sides of the aisle, the beau­ti­ful 67-year-old grand­mother from San Fran­cisco is re­ferred to as the “Com­mit­tee of One” who rules the House. Many speak­ers over the years re­lied on their ma­jor­ity leader, as Repub­li­can Den­nis Hastert let Tom De­Lay han­dle day-to­day op­er­a­tions. But not Mrs. Pelosi, who ac­tu­ally op­posed Steny Hoyer’s elec­tion as ma­jor­ity leader.

Rul­ing ab­so­lutely does not mean even Democrats think she rules well. Her mis­guided ef­fort to pass a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the 1915 Ar­me­nian holo­caust con­sti­tutes a rare pub­lic blun­der, but be­yond that she has not crafted a co­her­ent Demo­cratic mes­sage. This month’s Har­ris Poll puts her na­tion­wide job dis­ap­proval (“fair” or “poor”) at 57 per­cent. But she is an icon at the Demo­cratic grass roots, and none of the com­mit­tee chair­men who have been down­graded by her — cer­tainly not Char­lie Ran­gel — ut­ters a word of pub­lic crit­i­cism.

Mr. Ran­gel’s mas­sive pro­posed tax re­form re­leased two weeks ago gets less re­spect than what is nor­mally ac­corded a Ways and Means chair­man’s plan, be­cause Mrs. Pelosi is not on board. Mr. Ran­gel’s de­sire to com­pro­mise with the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion on in­ter­na­tional trade agree­ments has been frus­trated be­cause the speaker de­fers to Mr. Ran­gel’s trade sub- com­mit­tee chair­man: San­der Levin, who fol­lows or­ga­nized la­bor’s pro­tec­tion­ist line.

Much the same treat­ment has been ex­pe­ri­enced by John Din­gell, the se­nior mem­ber of Congress, as En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee chair­man. In by­gone days, Mr. Din­gell de­ferred to nei­ther Demo­cratic pres­i­dents nor speak­ers. But Mrs. Pelosi is de­ter­mined to pass an en­ergy bill this year even though it means cross­ing Mr. Din­gell, who as a Detroi­ter op­poses Cal­i­for­nian Pelosi on mileage and emis­sion stan­dards. A sage old pro­fes­sional, Mr. Din­gell knows there is no po­lit­i­cal profit in pub­licly clashing with Madame Speaker.

No com­mit­tee chair­man wants to take the risk of go­ing pub­lic against Mrs. Pelosi, in­clud­ing one who sought her ad­vice — and, hope­fully, sup­port — on a con­tro­ver­sial mat­ter of House busi­ness. This anony­mous chair­man was re­buffed by the speaker, who de­clined to talk to him, ei­ther in per­son or over the tele­phone.

Be­ing the “Com­mit­tee of One” does not mean Mrs. Pelosi is with­out lieu­tenants. She is close to two fel­low Cal­i­for­ni­ans, both fiercely par­ti­san, who head com­mit­tees: Ge­orge Miller (Ed­u­ca­tion and La­bor) and Henry Wax­man (Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form). Mr. Miller is re­garded as her con- sigliere, al­ways at her side. She is also con­sid­ered close to mod­er­ate chair­men Ike Skel­ton (Armed Ser­vices) and John Spratt (Bud­get), plus lib­eral chair­man Bar­ney Frank (Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices).

How­ever, that does not mean she al­ways takes their ad­vice, as wit­ness her big blun­der as speaker. Mr. Skel­ton, a sea­soned stu­dent of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, told her the Ar­me­nian res­o­lu­tion would an­tag­o­nize Turkey and thus con­sti­tuted a for­eign pol­icy de­ba­cle in the mak­ing. Rahm Emanuel, the House Demo­cratic Cau­cus chair­man, also op­posed it (as he had when serv­ing as Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s po­lit­i­cal aide). Mrs. Pelosi in­sisted un­til some 45 House Democrats — in­clud­ing Mr. Skel­ton — op­posed her.

The Ar­me­nian episode sug­gests a Pelosi de­ci­sion has to approach the brink of dis­as­ter be­fore Democrats speak out. Her pop­u­lar­ity in the party be­yond Capi­tol Hill is too great. When I asked one es­teemed Demo­cratic oper­a­tive whether Mrs. Pelosi’s author­ity is with­out re­straint, he called that a sex­ist ques­tion be­cause I never would ask that about Sam Ray­burn or Tip O’Neill. In­deed, I would not. They were not that pow­er­ful.

Robert No­vak is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.