Pelosi puts two issues aside to press forward on healthcare reform

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has put the lid on two
of the more contentious issues that last week were threatening to divert
critical attention away from healthcare’s home stretch.

At the beginning of last week, Pelosi was facing the return
of a Caucus that was as fractured over the $15 billion jobs bill as it had been
over any other issue before the House last year.

{mosads}And at the same time, a year’s worth of questions about the
future of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) came to a head when the Ethics Committee
admonished the New York Democrat for accepting corporate sponsored trips in
2007 and 2008, a violation of the House rules put in place by Pelosi.

Rangel’s immediate insistence that he would remain chairman
of the Ways and Means Committee quickly put the spotlight on Pelosi herself. But in a matter of days – and before
she endured too much damage by again sticking with her chairman – Rangel’s
resolve yielded to the reality that he would have to relinquish his gavel.

That decision only resulted in yet another problem for
Pelosi, though, when she faced a near-revolt from the Caucus over the
possibility that she would allow Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) to assume the chairmanship.

While the Rangel-Stark uproar dominated the headlines – and
nearly overshadowed President Barack Obama’s mid-week speech, in which he
implored Democrats to finish healthcare reform and blessed the use of
reconciliation rules allowing the Senate to pass a package of healthcare
amendments by a 51-vote majority – Pelosi also found herself needing to whip a Senate-passed
jobs bill that was on the verge of collapse.

Yet by Thursday night, Pelosi had overseen the quick
transition from Stark to Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who many Democrats
believe has enough of the Caucus’ confidence to remain in place as interim chairman
until at least the completion of healthcare reform, and had locked down the votes of
conservative Blue Dogs and quelled a second revolt from the Congressional Black
Caucus over the jobs bill.

The warding off of those two issues will likely go a long
way toward helping the Speaker focus on a more positive priority — working on
bringing the healthcare bill home.

And the timing couldn’t be more crucial. The White
House has laid down an end-of-the-month marker for completing healthcare, and
House Democrats are by all accounts short – by anywhere from a few to perhaps
more than a dozen – of the votes needed to pass the Senate bill and a second
package of “fixes” that the Senate and White House will agree to.

With so much work ahead of them, House leaders can
ill-afford another week of distractions.

The horizon is not completely cloudless, however.

Pelosi could potentially be drawn into another ethics
scandal over Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.). On Friday the freshman Democrat
announced his intention to resign on Monday, acknowledging that a pending
Ethics Committee investigation into allegations that Massa made inappropriate
comments to a male staffer “would tear my family and my staff apart.”

Massa’s resignation ends the inquiry, but Pelosi faced
questions on Thursday about when she learned of the charges against one of her
members. She responded that her staff never informed her.

That put her opposite Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.),
who was told about the allegations and instructed his staff to give Massa or
someone from his office 48 hours to report the incident to the Ethics Committee
before the Majority Leader’s office did it for him.

On Thursday, Pelosi brushed off a question about why her
staff chose to keep her in the dark.

“A one, two, three person removed rumor that had been
reported to Mr. Hoyer’s office that had been reported to my staff, which they
didn’t report to me, because, you know what? This is rumor city,” she
said. “Every single day there are
rumors. I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors.”

Tags Barack Obama

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