News analysts and politicians are in a tizzy because House Democrats have done what seems to be a very strange thing. How, they ask, can House Democrats elect current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as their new minority leader, when they lost sixty house seats on November 2nd? Isn’t this counterproductive? Isn’t it rewarding failure?
These critics are looking at the wrong set of goal posts. To news analysts and pundits, the goal is to control power. To people like me, the goal of government is to work for the best interests of its people, even if in the process you must lose power for a while because you dared to do what was right and stand up against special interests. By that measure, Nancy Pelosi was a sterling success. Rarely has a Congress been as productive as this current congress, and Democrats in the House led the way. The usually recalcitrant Senate provided the breaks on so much progressive legislation that first was approved by the House. Even so, the 111th Congress passed an amazing amount of progressive legislation. Moreover, Pelosi’s leadership skills were instrumental in marshaling House Democrats, as fractious as their Senate colleagues into a strong and effective force.
Consider some of the legislation passed by this Congress and compare it with any congress in your living memory:
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. No longer will women have pay discrimination lawsuits thrown out because 180 days have elapsed.
- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This act drew plenty of scorn from Republicans and certainly did add greatly to our national debt. However, it also saved two to three million jobs and held our economy together. Skeptical? Our nation’s Number One investor Warren Buffet says it’s true. Without it and the bailout, it seems certain that we would now be mired in a depression instead of the effects of a lingering recession. Instead of 9.6% unemployment, it is likely the unemployment rate would be 15% or higher. Like the auto companies or loathe them, the bailout kept them afloat and even GM is returning to profitability. In some cases, taxpayers are making a profit from these bailouts, while saving large numbers of jobs right here in America.
- Credit CARD Act. The act ended a host of egregious and abusive practices by credit card companies who were charging usury interest rates and fees. The act makes shopping for credit cards much less complicated and much more straightforward.
- Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act. For the first time, the FDA is allowed to regulate cigarettes as the dangerous and controlled substance that they are. Coming soon to packs of cigarettes: graphic pictures of the effects of smoking to help dissuade smokers, courtesy of an empowered FDA, albeit fifty years later than necessary.
- Worker, Homeowner and Business Assistance Act. Provided fourteen extra weeks of unemployment insurance for the longest unemployed Americans in the worst 24 states. The act has kept millions from destitution and homelessness.
- Statutory Pay as you Go Act. Reinstated pay as you go budget rules that Republicans discarded in 2002. Ensures that most new spending is offset by cuts elsewhere or by new taxes. It’s a law any Republican should love, which make you wonder why they were the ones to abandon it.
- Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Health reform. While not perfect, for the first time your health insurance company cannot end your insurance because your condition is unprofitable for them. The act covers the health insurance needs of young adults under their parents’ policies through age 26. It squeezes real cost savings and efficiencies from Medicare and Medicaid. It opens health insurance plans to all comers and does not allow any health insurance company to reject you. The Act makes significant and meaningful changes that will lower the rate of growth in medical costs by ending much of the shifting of costs to others and state and local governments.
- Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act. Closed the donut hole for Medicare Part D recipients. It also allowed the government to make student loans directly to students, taking away the profit from the middleman.
- Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This act puts in place governance that should preclude much of our latest financial disaster from happening again.
Time and time again, Pelosi stood in the firewall and organized House Democrats to pass progressive legislation. Through her raw power, guile, persuasion, strong-arming, nudging and probably some backroom deals she made things happen. No shrinking violet, she was one liberal unafraid of critics and unafraid to intimidate them.
Pundits will say she pushed through legislation America did not want. Others will say that she should have spent all her time creating jobs for Americans, although many of these same critics expected her to do it without spending any money. It was largely Democrats that kept the economy from collapsing altogether. Despite the higher unemployment rates, the Obama administration and the Pelosi/Reid 111th Congress has still created more jobs in two years than President Bush created in eight.
That’s of little comfort though to the unemployed. I am sorry that the public took out their wrath on a Democratic congress, and I am sorry for the sixty or so Democratic House members who lost their seats. They fell on their swords, but they did so nobly. They moved crucial progressive legislation. They kept an economy from collapsing and bought us time to recover. They all deserve our thanks, respect and honor. They are true patriots. The problems we face are engrained and long standing. There is no silver bullet for any of these. If they can be solved at all, it is only through the application of a lot of time, money and quality legislation. By that standard, and not by the artificial one of who controls power after an election, the 111th Congress and Speaker Pelosi were great successes.
We progressives may have lost a battle on November 2nd, but this war is far from over. To win the war, we need proven leaders who can chart a way forward. Nancy Pelosi is such a leader. House Democrats did the right thing by making her their minority leader in the next Congress. Those who are angry with her have their anger misplaced. I would rather have a Republican 112th Congress than a Democratic 111th Congress that accomplished nothing of note. With courage, conviction, spunk and determination, Pelosi showed her mettle and that she has the right stuff. Let’s hope she stays in Congress long enough to inflict some revenge. I think she will live to see it.