Nancy Pelosi: A Legacy of Consistent Agitation for Middle America
As pundits gushingly celebrate the string of legislative victories that President Obama racked up over the last few weeks of the lame-duck Congress, in spite of the GOP Congressional Leadership’s hitherto seemingly impenetrable wall of obstruction and opposition, the heroine of the latest liberal revolution, interestingly, continues to wallow in relative neglect and obscurity.
Granted that Obama, in his characteristic style as a political pragmatist, took action on many occasions to broker deals with conservatives on his administration’s key legislative initiatives, amidst unrelenting Senate Republican intransigence and antagonism, posterity will, in due course, acknowledge Madam Speaker Pelosi’s unwavering commitment to traditional middle class democratic ideals.
Upon assuming the gavel back in January 2007 as the 60th and first woman Speaker of the United States House Representatives, Pelosi embarked on an extraordinary, breathtaking course of legislative action that over time earned her considerable admiration and respect from supporters and critics alike.
The list is nothing short of stunning. Notable scholars, historians and pundits have observed, and rightfully so perchance, that the 110th and 111thCongresses under Pelosi’s most genial and adept leadership easily stand out among the most productive in history.
From economic recovery and reinvestment, to education, health care, financial reform, energy independence and justice, Pelosi worked indefatigably to unify the House Democratic caucus around a core set of mainstream values seeking to improve the lives of average Americans and protect the interests of vulnerable segments of the population.
The historic health care reform legislation that provided coverage for over 30 million more Americans, strengthened Medicare, eliminated known insurance industry abuses and instituted more consumer protections (ended heartless pre-existing condition clauses and extended coverage to children through age 26) while containing costs and guaranteeing more affordable, quality health care options to citizens could certainly not have been possible without Pelosi’s steadfast guidance.
Then there was 1) the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which brought the economy from the brinks of total collapse, saved dozens of state/local governmental authorities and two flagships of US private industry (Automotive and Finance) and, by so doing, millions of American jobs while providing tax relief to 95 percent of working Americans and much needed unemployment compensation benefits to millions out of work; 2) the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act that reformed the federal student loan program and made college more affordable; 3) the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act which offered a comprehensive attempt to create clean energy jobs, arrest climate change and usher in a clean energy economy; and 4) the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Reauthorization which provided health care for 11 million American children including 4 million kids that were previously uninsured but eligible.
Pelosi also championed other initiatives that strove toward a kinder, more humane society. A hate crimes legislation was crafted to protect Americans against violence based on sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or gender identity. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act safeguarded the ability of all workers, especially women, to fight discriminatory pay practices. The controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy barring openly gay and lesbian soldiers from serving in the US military, was also recently overtuned.
Not to be forgotten were two landmark consumer protectionist measures that also garnered Pelosi’s interest and dedication: 1) the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act which cracked down on the duplicitous practices that created the housing bubble that caused millions of families to foreclose on their homes and 2) the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act which provided crucial protection from unfair and arbitrary practices long-employed by credit card industry to fleece American cardholders.
On national security, Pelosi led efforts to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and pass the START Treaty with Russia. She also threw her weight in full support of several national defense and foreign affairs authorization acts and other supplemental appropriation bills in support of the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Astounding as the foregoing happenings are, what is even more remarkable, which in the main makes Pelosi a masterstroke of legislative genius worthy of note, is the fact that the versions of these policy initiatives that initially passed the House of Representatives were consistently true to core Democratic principles.
As was the case with health care reform, the debate around whether or not the Bush tax cuts should be extended to the wealthy or super rich, finance reform, and a host of other hotly contested, ideologically divisive matters, Pelosi was always successful lining up the votes necessary to pass bills that more closely aligned with the party’s declared liberal agenda.
Regrettably and quite infuriatingly, these bills characteristically suffered dilution, if not death, once they got to the Senate; in part because of that chamber’s notoriously arcane procedural rules and in part due to Democratic Senators’ inability to achieve a shared sense of duty or purpose which was often further exacerbated by their near phobic reaction to the ever-present threat of the Republican filibuster.
Although the reigns of leadership for the US House of Representatives for the upcoming 112thCongress formally changed hands from Pelosi to John Boehner yesterday, it is necessary, even as the latter and his band of right-wing extremists embark upon their sworn but caustic course of reversing some of the most magnificent undertakings of the past two years, to recount the former’s esteemed accomplishments not simply as a deserved postscript to posterity but, perhaps more importantly, a reminder to the battle she must, unfortunately, now continue to wage as the House Democratic Minority Leader.