Much of the democratic world employs a parliamentary system in which the majority party legislative leaders also act as the leaders of the executive branch. Our founders thought it wiser to separate the legislative and executive branches as a restraint on government overreach, and an effort to ensure individual liberty against Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. Perhaps more than ever, we now have a House Speaker who dominates both the legislative and executive branches on domestic matters.
Nancy Pelosi grew up in politics, with a father who was a member of the US House of Representatives before becoming mayor of Baltimore. She moved to San Francisco with her financier husband Paul in 1968, became a member of the powerful Burton Machine which later spawned Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom, was first elected to Congress in 1987, became Democratic leader in 2003, and has served as Speaker when the Democrats were in the majority from 2007 to 2011, and since 2019. She has excelled as a fundraiser, sprinkling the sugar around to needy colleagues campaigns, and as a machine politician, dispensing favors and retribution with a long memory.
Pelosi's most relevant rehearsal for the current avalanche of spending and government expansion policy bills was her central role in passing Obamacare in 2010 over the tactical objections of President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who would have settled for a more incremental approach to healthcare expansion. At the time the Democrats did not want to challenge the filibuster and needed 60 votes in the Senate, used reconciliation to repurpose an unrelated revenue bill, and let Harry Reid design the final bill in the Senate. Pelosi threaded the needle with a final 219 to 212 vote in the House.
Pelosi's greatest challenge in keeping her caucus in line came in 2018 with the arrival of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had defeated James Crowley, the number four ranking House Democrat in a "safe" Bronx primary. More worrisome to Pelosi was that AOC had been recruited to run by Saikat Chakrabarti who had the vision that secure inner city House districts should be represented by left wing activists rather than aging machine politicians who make up a significant portion of Pelosi's caucus. While tension remains, an accomodation was reached in which Chakrabarti was fired as AOC's chief of staff, and Pelosi adopted large swaths of AOC's Green New Deal which was more about transforming the country than about environmental issues.
The coronavirus relief legislation was largely outsourced to Pelosi by Trump (who wasn't much concerned about deficits, but understood the political threat threat the virus posed), and by Biden. Starting in March 2020, Trump signed five coronavirus bills totalling over $3.5 trillion. originated by Pelosi's House with very little discussion. With Biden she added another $1.9 trillion.
Other Pelosi bills designed to permanently tilt the country Democratic - expansion of voting rights and District of Columbia statehood - which have been symbolically introduced every two years are now seriously in the queue. Next $2 trillion for "infrastructure". Next $1.8 for "families". Everything on her wish list, and the list which she adopted from AOC. With financial bills originating in the House, and Chuck Schumer unable to originate anything in the Senate, nothing dealing with the great transformation of the nation gets to the President except by the will of the leader of the House. And all that stands in her way are the filibuster, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema.
Trying to understand who controls foreign policy (or the border) is a different matter. But Pelosi can pop up when she sees political benefit.
Joe Biden's decision to diverge from the posture of all presidents since Ronald Reagan by calling the Ottoman Turk treatment of the Armeinans in the waning days of World War I "genocide" represents an "Aha! moment". Did Biden see some geopolitical strategy relative to Iran or Russia? Nope. Is this part of some complex negotiation with Erdogan, the Kurds, the European Union, and Israel. Hardly. It is about domestic politics, and more particularly politics in California where the killing and displacement of over 1,000,000 Armenians in 1915-17 has been a rallying cry for the vibrant, politically active California Armenian community of over 200,000 for a century. A long time Angelino, Reagan understood. One can bet that Californian Pelosi helped President Joe understand that there were donors and votes to be had at no political cost by stating a truth.
Whatever happens in the Senate, and whenever the presidential reigns get turned over, the next elections most likely to stop this madness are for the House in 2022. Team Pelosi currently has a 218 - 212 majority; Nate Silver's Democrat leaning 538 web site claimed in November that "Republicans Are On Track To Take Back The House In 2022"; the decennial census has moved a handful of seats to the Republicans; and Republicans control the resistricting process in a majority of states. The Domestic Prime Minister has clearly decided to strike while she can, giving Republicans a long list of target districts and Democrats a growing list of retirements.
Pray for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
bill bowen - 5/6/2021