By Steven T. Dennis
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pinning the blame on Republicans for a lack of bipartisanship in Congress and plans to bypass them if they continue to oppose efforts to enact near-universal health care.
“A constitutional majority is 51 votes,” Pelosi said in an interview Tuesday with Roll Call. “If in fact the Republicans are going to say nothing can be done except by 60 percent, then maybe we all should be elected with 60 percent. It isn't legitimate in terms of passing legislation.”
Pelosi has been wary of publicly giving advice to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) or President Barack Obama, but it's no secret that House Democrats have been increasingly frustrated at the dysfunction on the opposite side of the building.
“There is some unease when you talk about, well, what's happening to the initiatives to help the American people?” Pelosi said. “Is there never anything that can be done without 60 votes?”
The shattering of the 60-vote Democratic Senate supermajority with the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has revived talk among Democrats of bypassing filibusters, and Pelosi has forcefully argued for doing just that to complete work on the party's stalled health care package.
The Speaker, who oversaw her chamber's passage of a $1.2 trillion health care bill last fall, has repeatedly balked at White House suggestions following Brown's election that the House merely accept the Senate's version of the overhaul and has been pushing the Senate to adopt a host of changes through a separate, filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill.
In her interview with Roll Call, Pelosi stopped short of saying the filibuster should be done away with altogether, but she used some of her bluntest language yet to defend the use of reconciliation as something that has been used with regularity by Republican and Democratic presidents alike.
“We have set the stage for that. It's important for us to remind the American people of the inconsistency that the Republicans have in saying this is unusual. No, five times President Bush used it. ... This is what the Republicans did to pass their bills, their tax cuts for the rich,” Pelosi said.
“It's up to us to make sure the public knows that this is not extraordinary. And the public knows that a constitutional majority is 51. It would be a reflection on us if we could not convince people that this is not an unusual place to go.”
And Pelosi complained about the never-ending filibusters by Senate Republicans going far beyond the health care debate.
“Yes, the filibuster has its place, it may even have its place in health care -- it's a very big issue. But does it have its place on every appointment and every piece of legislation? We have over 200 bills over there that haven't been taken up. Most of them, 70 percent of them, were passed with over 50 Republican votes in the House. ...
“We haven't gotten as much done as we should and one of those reasons is because of what the Republicans are doing. ... The American people have to make a judgment about the conduct of the Republicans in insisting on that on every vote, and the Democrats in the Senate have to deal with the challenge that they have.”
She declined to criticize Obama, who many rank-and-file House Democrats have complained hasn't pushed the Senate hard enough during the health care debate.
“We want a bill,” she said. “Without the president's leadership we would not be as close as we are. We are in the red zone.
“This is very doable. ...
“Our responsibility is to be ready for compromise, to find common ground so we can move forward with health care, and I think that we will.”
Pelosi also said she is open to Republicans presenting new ideas at the Feb. 25 bipartisan health care summit called for by Obama, but she said she's already seen the Republican health care alternative offered on the House floor and said it only provided insurance for an additional 3 million people instead of the more than 30 million in the Democratic bill.
Pelosi also defended her party's record on bipartisanship, saying Democrats accepted 15 Republican amendments to the House health care bill.
“Whatever the good idea comes from if it works for the American people, we are receptive to that,” she said. But she said Democrats did not plan to “throw our people to the wolves when it came to their health.”
Beyond health care reform, however, Pelosi said Democrats have shown they know how to work across the aisle. For instance, she said it was Democrats who helped President George W. Bush get some of his top priorities done including an energy package, a stimulus tax credit bill and the Trouble Asset Relief Program.
“This whole thing of bipartisanship is sort of a new thing for [Republicans], because they weren't even for their own president on the TARP. A minority of the minority voted for that,” she said.
Still, Pelosi was confident Democrats and Republicans will align on a jobs package.
“It's easier to find common ground because everybody wants to create jobs,” Pelosi said. “Clearly everybody does not want to have, believe that we should have universal access to quality health care for all Americans,” she said.