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Pelosi Focused on Fiscal Cliff Fight

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Pelosi says Democratic unity on economic issues will help Democrats prevail in swing districts in 2014, even though the electoral landscape promises to be challenging because of redistricting changes.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the subject of retirement rumors as recently as a month ago, is asserting herself in the battle over the fiscal cliff and readying for battle in the 113th Congress.

“In the course of this Congress, we have voted for the Budget Control Act and we have voted for a few hundred billion dollars more in cuts. That’s over the next 10 years: $1.6 trillion in cuts. That’s enough,” the California Democrat said in an interview Wednesday.

Pelosi’s emphasis that Democrats have signed off on spending cuts follows her statements on the House floor Tuesday, when she challenged Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to reach a deal minutes after he was on the floor to advocate for more specific cuts from the White House on a fiscal deal.

While careful not to draw a firm line against new spending cuts in President Barack Obama’s budget that are on the table in fiscal cliff talks, Pelosi’s focus on the size of spending cuts already enacted sets her apart from other Democratic leaders.

“He has $400 billion in [spending cuts] in his budget,” Pelosi added, regarding the breadth of the cuts already agreed to before the elections.

Pelosi’s assertive positioning there might presage an aggressive minority stance in the next Congress, assuming the fiscal cliff saga comes to an end.

The Democrat is already preparing new legislation to address the long voting lines on Election Day, part of a larger push on campaign finance reform.

“We have different elements to our plan, and they all happen to have the support of the American people,” Pelosi said, suggesting she will go around probable Republican opposition by mobilizing public support for the bill.

And showing a feisty side on the House floor Wednesday, Pelosi called out incoming House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas for “smirking” at her proposal to bring up an extension of the “middle-income tax cut” that Democrats support under suspension of the rules.

“Do I detect your smirk to mean you don’t think Republicans will vote for middle-income tax cuts, Mr. Sessions? Should I take it to mean that you will continue to hold middle-income tax cuts hostage?” she asked.

In a press availability afterward, Pelosi showed little patience for the difficult position Boehner is in politically.

Comparing the situation to her decision as speaker to allow passage of funding for the Iraq War despite her vehement opposition to it, Pelosi asked, “Do you know what it was like for me to bring a bill to the floor to fund the war in Iraq that was predicated on a misrepresentation to the American people?

“Is the point that you don’t want to put your members on the spot? Figure it out. We did.”

In the interview from her Capitol office, Pelosi said the top Democratic leadership team — herself, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Obama — remains unified in cliff negotiations and that the leverage that each holds ensures their mutual respect for their positions.

“Whether it’s the president of the United States or the leader of the Senate, we all have shared values. We understand each other’s views. We respect each other’s leadership. And we need each other’s votes, or signature, as the case may be,” Pelosi said.

However, the situation requires her trust in Obama. For example, Pelosi had not been briefed on a GOP counteroffer sent on Tuesday to the White House, the details of which remain concealed from the public.

“I don’t think we saw it,” Pelosi said when asked about its details.

“He knows our views. We trust his judgment,” Pelosi said later of Obama.

Facing a challenging electoral landscape in 2014, in part because of redistricting changes made at an apex of GOP power in 2010, Pelosi said Democratic unity on economic issues will help bring victory in swing districts that are key to her party regaining a House majority.

“You know, there’s some issues, whether it relates to guns or social issues or maybe a woman’s right to choose or the rest, which we have diversity of opinion in our caucus. But our unifying principle is that we are here for working families. So once you have a shared value, it’s not a question of someone going over to the other side, because they certainly do not share the value of being here for working families,” Pelosi said.

What’s needed to appeal to moderate districts isn’t a moderate leader, she said.

“We have to have a leader [who] can attract the resources, mobilize the forces, calm some elements in our caucus, curb the enthusiasm for some who might take us a different place and recognize that this carefully woven fabric that we call the House Democratic Caucus depends on the strength of every strand that is there,” Pelosi said.

“So we listen to our, we listen to our members. And that is how we develop what our message is. It’s not from any one corner of the caucus.”

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