Progressives are all too familiar with Barack Obama’s desire, upon assuming the presidency, to want to work collaboratively with Congress. Indeed, he did have some successes with the 111th Congress (2009-2010).
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a victory, at least half a loaf. An economic stimulus package was passed, although most progressives wish that it had been for a greater amount or that there had been a follow-up to the 2009 one.
But as time went on, it was clear that the President was not in a position to effectively work with Congress. Even in 2009-2010, when Democrats almost had a veto-proof Senate as well as control of the House, Republicans were successful at thwarting most of the President’s policies. Between their forcefulness and the president’s timidity and continuous backing away from previously strong positions, he lost the ability to legislate with Congress.
The current Congress has defined gridlock. Not only has the Republican-controlled House voted against virtually every piece of legislation that the President has supported, they have openly stated that their primary legislative goal is to undermine the President so that they can defeat him in the 2012 presidential election. That strategy actually was first stated in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated several years ago that his view towards legislation would be dictated by what would be most effective in allowing the Republicans to win the 2012 presidential race.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi may have more political acumen than anyone in either chamber. Additionally, she supports a progressive agenda. With a lock-step Republican majority in the House, she fully understands that no legislation that either she or the president strongly support will pass the House. So her advice to the President: run against Congress.
She stated this on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, January 8. Host Candy Crowley was somewhat taken aback by Pelosi’s words. Pelosi clearly repeated that it is her feeling that, because this Congress has been so ineffective and obstinate, Obama’s campaign strategy should be to counter the grid-locked Congress. Congress is not gridlocked because of her; it’s because Republicans have openly stated that they would rather defeat President Obama than do the business of the country.
It’s hard to know of anyone who has more credibility about how President Obama should conduct business with Congress than Pelosi. In the 111th Congress, when she was Speaker of the House and Barack Obama was president, she was able to steer through the House virtually every significant piece of legislation that the President proposed. She not only had to deal with the Republican minority, but also with the Blue Dog Democrats, who purportedly preferred fiscal discipline over progressive reforms. The Blue Dogs did cause her frustration, particularly Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who was largely successful in forming a coalition between Blue Dogs and Republicans to remove all direct and indirect references to abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But Pelosi was able to steer a meaningful bill through the House, even though the President had backed off numerous essential progressive components of the original legislation, most particularly the public option. Additionally, she had to overcome the direct sabotaging of the bill that came elsewhere from the White House, specifically from then chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel.
One of the “what-ifs” of the difficulties that President Obama had in dealing with the 111th Congress was if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had been as savvy as Pelosi. Reid was captured by absurd requests for pork from many of his fellow Democrats. Among them were Ben Nelson, (D-NE)’s “Cornhusker Kickback” and Mary Landrieu (D-LA)’s “Louisiana Purchase.”
If Reid had been as strategic as Pelosi and possessed her the negotiating skills, it’s quite possible that President Obama would have had more confidence in Congress, would have recognized at an earlier time that time spent negotiating with Republicans was time wasted, and would have successfully steered more progressive legislation through Congress. With a clear message and record, Democrats might have stood proudly by a progressive agenda in 2010 and not been steamrolled by the Republicans in the Congressional elections.
It’s still open-season on President Obama by both the Congress and the GOP’s presidential candidates. Following his victory in the New Hampshire primary, Mitt Romney denigrated virtually everything that President Obama has done over the past three years. Humorist Andy Borowitz facetiously mocked Romney by stating, “In a rousing victory speech in New Hampshire last night, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney vowed to undo everything Barack Obama has done as President, promising his supporters, “I will make Osama bin Laden alive again.”
Nancy Pelosi has been a frequent target of Republicans because she is a threat to them. She knows how the political system works, and she is committed to advancing the needs of lower and middle income people.
When Pelosi said that President Obama should run against Congress, she was not being flip. Regrettably, President Obama has sought advice from numerous Democrats who have not been helpful to him. There are even accusations in Ron Suskind’s recent book, Confidence Men, that President Obama has not given equal respect in the White House to women and men. Listening to Nancy Pelosi could be the key to his winning a second term.
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.