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Pelosi Demands Seat at the Table in Debt Limit Talks

Nancy Pelosi gets a profile today in the Washington Post, and it’s mostly politically oriented, though she does seem to be carrying the right message for taking back the House in 2012:

“I feel comfortable about our ability to win it back,” Pelosi said in an interview, as she approached the six-month mark of being in the minority again. “I have a sense of responsibility to win it back, a plan to do so, and a confidence that it is very much possible to do so.” […]

Instead of having to defend Democratic seats in Republican territory, her party will be playing offense, Pelosi argued, zeroing in on the 60 GOP members who represent districts that Obama carried in 2008.

And in the GOP efforts to revamp the program that provides health benefits to the elderly, Pelosi thinks she has been handed a gift. “Our three most important issues: Medicare, Medicare and Medicare,” she said.

If the Democrats can win the 24 seats needed to retake the House, Medicare would be the victory slogan. That’s why it’s so important to her that Medicare not be used as a bargaining chip in the debt limit talks. So that message and her desire to play a role in those talks are connected:

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will demand a seat in the table for the final talks on the national debt limit, putting a strong liberal voice in the room.

Pelosi stayed out of the talks on crafting a continuing resolution funding the rest of 2011 that included $38.5 billion in spending cuts because House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) expressed confidence they would pass it without Democratic help.

But, in the end of that debate, the Republican votes fell short, and GOP leaders needed help from House Democrats. Democrats went along with a deal they had almost no part in negotiating because they wanted to avert a government shutdown.

The experience left a bitter taste in their mouths, and Pelosi won’t let it happen again.

Pelosi’s right that any debt limit vote will need members of her caucus, just as was the case on the 2011 appropriations. About 20 or so Democrats could be expected to side with Republicans on the vote no matter what. But Pelosi still has some leverage here, and she wants to use it. For political purposes I would guess she wants to use it to make sure no Medicare benefit cuts get included in the deal. But she also said on CNN this weekend that revenue would have to be included in any deal that gets the support of the caucus.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Pelosi’s top lieutenant, described the White House relationship with House Democrats as “Not good.” The President is meeting with Mitch McConnell today, a Minority Leader in one of the chambers whose minority would have to supply votes for any deal’s passage. Pelosi has a role to play here as well, and needs to be in the conversation.

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David Dayen

David Dayen