I’m hoping to write some on the historic enactment of health care reform in the coming days; I just got done with my first week of chemotherapy, round two, and so I’m a bit wiped out at the moment.
There are many politicians to thank for getting this done, but one stands out above all others. No, not Barack Obama, though he has now permanently shaken off any accusation that he’s another Jimmy Carter — and though he is now inarguably the most consequential Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson.
No, the politician who deserves the thanks and support of Democrats is Rep. Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro Pelosi, D-Calif., the 60th and current Speaker of the House of Representatives. If not for Pelosi’s firm resolve in the wake of Scott Brown’s election, it is entirely possible that action on health care may have stalled, that the White House may have backed down and offered a politically palatable mishmash of minor proposals and moved on.
Pelosi didn’t want to back down, though, and she used her muscle as Speaker to get the bill through, finding 219 Democrats willing to support an imperfect Senate bill. This was no easy task; this was as impressive as anything Johnson did as Senate Majority Leader. This was the stuff of legend.
According to many reports, there were 68 wavering Democrats coming down the stretch. When presented with the names of the Democrats, Pelosi didn’t divvy them up among her leadership group. She simply said, “I’ll take all 68.” Certainly, she didn’t get all 68. But she got enough of them to get this bill over the line. She made hard deals and massaged egos and acceded to a legally meaningless but symbolically difficult executive order on the Hyde Amendment because that’s what it took to get health care for tens of millions of Americans. That’s a Speaker’s job, and Nancy Pelosi has wielded her gavel more effectively than any in my lifetime, even more effectively than the legendary Tip O’Neill.
Quite simply, Pelosi’s work here has to place her up with the likes of Sam Rayburn – as one of the greatest Speakers of all time. She would have been memorable simply as the first woman to hold the office. She will now be remembered as that, and far more.