By David Rogers
It's a goal the
The five-year farm bill now before the House is a greater challenge, since the choices can be painful and make it harder to hold different factions in her caucus. The same sort of change-versus-status-quo trade-offs are repeated in continuing negotiations over energy legislation and auto-fuel standards, and as Ms. Pelosi weighs her options, she reveals more of her leadership style.
In the case of the farm bill, freshmen Democrats elected from rural districts last year need some assurance that loan and subsidy programs important to their farmers will survive. But to move a bill forward with urban support also demands cuts from some programs and new payment limits -- which can upset powerful commodity groups -- to placate those demanding more reform.
A Democratic political memo last month predicted that rural
In the House today there are fewer of the rural Southern Democrats who helped Mr. Burton; in the
To navigate these hurdles, Ms. Pelosi has allied with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, pressing him to be more open in his bill to changes in federal farm programs, but also promising to support him against amendments on the House floor.
Mr. Peterson, from a huge
'Peterson made some surprising moves' in the bill, an administration official said.
The chairman credits Ms. Pelosi for giving him the support needed to make change. 'She has been our greatest ally, trusting us, backing us,' Mr. Peterson said. 'She was sending us a message that we needed reform. We know that.'
Many activists argue the bill still falls short. Despite high corn prices, those growers would get billions in annual subsidies -- at a time Ms. Pelosi has asked tax writers to come up with $4 billion in new revenue to meet House budget targets.
'I am personally a longtime fan of Nancy Pelosi,' says Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. 'But at every turn all the decisions were given to the subsidy lobby. This is an unwelcome surprise that she has put her fingers on the scale so heavily.'
Philosophically, Ms. Pelosi is much closer to those who want more change, but on the farm and energy bills she has proven to be more pragmatic than many expected.
There is a fierce, often religious-based idealism about her: 'Seventeen centuries ago,
But she also sees herself as an executive who must make decisions or watch her options disappear. Impatient with the drift of a party meeting on the
Decisions also mean this first-ever woman speaker must rein in the House's old bulls who were her superiors when she was a junior member. 'It's a new order,' she says. 'I don't think, 'How can I ask David [House Appropriations Committee Chairman Obey] to do this when he was my chairman?' I don't think that at all. I'm the speaker.'
Nonetheless it isn't easy, as seen in the protracted public sparring between her office and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D., Mich.), an outspoken auto-industry ally in the fight over fuel-efficiency standards. 'We're doing fine,' Ms. Pelosi insists. Moments later, she lets out a laugh that is part yelp.
'It's a rough place I'll tell you that,' she says. '
Coalitions aren't just building blocks toward power, she insists, but a way to teach different elements of her caucus to listen to one another. Her model isn't the famously bullish Mr. Burton -- 'a big humma humma' she says -- but rather her father, a quieter figure who served in the House before becoming mayor of
When she came to Congress, he gave her some things that had been in his House office, including a stone figure of a coal miner. Early in her career, the figure caught the eye of Rep. John Murtha from
'Jack Murtha saw this coal miner carved out of stone and said, 'What is that?' I said, 'It was about understanding we have national responsibilities and the coalition building you have to do.''