Debt-limit deal puts Pelosi in driver’s seat

The debt-limit deal has put Nancy Pelosi in an awkward, and politically powerful, position.

The California Democrat has not endorsed the bipartisan accord, and without the votes of at least some House Democrats, the agreement will not pass the lower chamber.

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House Republican leaders are touting the new deal as better than the measure that they narrowly, and belatedly, passed last week. But the provisions on the Balanced Budget Act are already attracting criticism from conservatives.

Twenty-two House Republicans voted no on that bill, and it is likely that there will be more defections on the measure embraced by President Obama Sunday night. If every Democrat voted against it, Republicans could only afford about two dozen "no" votes and still pass it.

In April, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) needed House Democrats to pass the fiscal 2011 budget accord as 59 Republicans rejected it.

Yet it remains unclear how many Democrats will vote yes on the debt-limit bill. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, bashed the agreement on Sunday. Others are expected to follow his lead on Monday.

Obama said Sunday that “leaders of both parties, in both chambers, have reached an agreement that will reduce the deficit and avoid default.”


With the support of the majority and minority leaders in the Senate, the deal is expected to pass the upper chamber this week.

Pelosi, however, has not publicly endorsed the deal.

She told reporters, “I have to meet with my caucus [Monday] to see how they wish to proceed. We may not be able to support it, or none of us may be able to support it.”

The minority leader later issued this statement: “We all agree that our nation cannot default on our obligations and that we must honor our nation’s commitments to our seniors and our men and women in the military.


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“I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide.”

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami on Sunday said, “Throughout the negotiations, Leader Pelosi has presented the views and the priorities of her caucus at the table and directly to the president and will continue to do so.”

Pelosi has wanted to raise the debt ceiling, but preferred that a “clean” bill go through without any strings attached.

A few of her deputies, meanwhile, have argued that Obama should invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling.

Many Democrats in the House are exasperated with Obama for striking the deal late last year that extended the Bush tax rates. Pelosi voted against that deal, as well as the fiscal 2011 bill.

On the latter, she said, “I feel no ownership of that [bill] or any responsibility to it.”

Pelosi is fiercely loyal to her Democratic Caucus, and has heard many complaints from her members about the president. Sources say Pelosi has opted to subtly break with Obama on various issues because a public break would hamper her efforts to pass Democratic initiatives.

Still, it would be unusual for Pelosi to laud a bill that her caucus strongly opposes. Another factor is the 2012 elections.

Pelosi could argue that the onus is on the House GOP leaders to get more yes votes because they are in the majority. In 2008, Democrats and Republicans joined forces to pass the Wall Street rescue plan through the House. A larger percentage of the yes votes came from Democrats, who were in the majority at the time.

Minimizing yes votes from Democrats would force the GOP to lean on its members for what could be a politically toxic vote come November 2012.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) backed the tax deal as well as the fiscal 2011 measure. Selling this agreement could be a much tougher task.

The White House notes that there are no entitlement reforms in this agreement, which was a nonstarter for most House Democrats. But those reforms could be coming later in the congressional commission called for in the yet-to-be-released debt-limit bill.

Obama did get some Democratic cover for the agreement on Sunday night, although it was expected.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who heads the Democratic National Committee, urged her colleagues to vote for the deal.