Two points today on some floor rumblings... One current, and a couple of interviews I should have noted a while back.
Lots of attention devoted to Sebastian Mallaby’s piece in the Washington Post today. Mallaby claims Pelosi should stand up to two “old bulls” of the committee structure- John Dingell, and Collin Peterson (Energy Committee chair and Agriculture committee chair, respectively). Essentially, he thinks that Pelosi should let the entire House Democratic caucus write legislation on global warming and farm policy, as Dingell and Peterson simply do not reflect Democratic values:
In leading the House Democrats to victory last year, Rep. Nancy Pelosi demonstrated political effectiveness. She perfected the art of saying nyet, stomping on President Bush's attempt to reform entitlements. The question she left open was whether she could be a constructive speaker of the House. That will involve saying nyet to two Democratic committee chairs who discredit their own party…
The next challenge is farm policy. Again, Pelosi faces an entrenched committee chair, this time Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota. A decade ago, Peterson came to prominence by co-founding the "Blue Dog" Democrats to support budget discipline. Now he wants to spray taxpayers' money at farmers, even though farm country is already high on ethanol...
There are plenty of better things to spend tax money on, and most House Democrats know this. In the last farm debate, five years ago, a reformist amendment written by Rep. Ron Kind attracted 200 votes, including Pelosi's. But the question is whether Pelosi will give Peterson the Sister Souljah treatment he deserves or will bury Kind's latest reform proposal to please the porkers on the ag committee…
The absurdly short two-year election cycle encourages the Beltway disease of putting special interests ahead of the national interest. But climate and agriculture are two issues on which Democrats want to move in the right direction. The question is whether Pelosi will lead them there.
“Sister Souljah treatment he deserves”. Ouch. Not holding back at all there. We’ve written before about the role of Pelosi, the House floor, and the farm bill, so I won’t rehash it all here. Suffice it to say, Pelosi is probably the most important individual in the House farm bill process.
A few weeks ago Jonathan Singer at MyDD (where we’re doing a little farm bill blogging, but probably not as much as we should) demonstrated his interviewing prowess with Nancy Pelosi, who everyone knows, and Louise Slaughter, who everyone doesn't know. Slaughter (D-NY) is the chair of the Rules Committee in the House, and it is that committee that will set the ground rules for the floor debate on the farm bill (how many amendments will be offered, what type, etc). While the rules committee is often viewed as a mere tool of the speaker, Slaughter appears to be fairly independent and the Democratic leadership has said they will allow a much more open rules process than their predecessors.
Singer, to his everlasting credit and our everlasting gratitude, jumped on the farm bill as a hot topic with both Pelosi and Slaughter. From Pelosi’s interview:
Singer: Now thus far in the Congress, Democratic unity has been at an all-time high. A lot of this is because the issues that have been most controversial within the caucus have kind of been held out for later, perhaps. Minimum wage is an issue upon which almost every Democrat agrees. But some other issues, let's say the Farm Bill or global warming initiatives, there is more division within the party. How do you foresee and how do you intend to take these bills up?
Pelosi: These bills are coming up. These bills are coming through the committee process… But again many of the issues that we will bring up will be controversial within our caucus and within the Congress, but we will make the fight.
Read Pelosi’s whole interview here. The overall impression is one that Pelosi is open to all ideas, and will not specifically rule out any legislative proposals. Of course, she’s pretty vague, but what can you do?
Slaughter, on the other hand, gets into the farm bill on a pretty detailed level thanks to Singer’s persistence:
Singer: Some of the bills that may be coming up subsequently will have less unanimity. The Iraq supplemental was perhaps a foreshadowing. But things like, for instance, the farm bill that in previous iterations, in 2002 the last time it came up, about half of Democrats voted for it but about half of Democrats voted against it, half of Republicans voted for it but half voted against it.
Slaughter: And that will happen. I don't think anybody's going to try to control how anybody wants to vote. I certainly am not.
Singer: So do you feel that there can be an openness to allow votes on things, even when it will split the Democratic caucus in half?
Slaughter: I'm willing to go out and try for 218 votes. We get them from one side or the other I'm happy as long as we can move the agenda, because that really is my responsibility.
Singer: Specifically I brought up the farm bill because it is something interesting to me, something that I have been doing work on. There is a substitute bill, a bipartisan bill -
Slaughter: Ron Kind.
Singer: Ron Kind and Jeff Flake.
Slaughter: I don't know what the upshot of that will be. It's interesting things there on farm subsidies. And I'm looking forward, myself, to see how that's going to work out.
Singer: So it's something that you are at least thinking of considering allowing a vote on?
Slaughter: I'm considering allowing a vote on anything. I don't have any preconceived notions here on what I plan to do on Rules. We do each one of them individually. And whatever needs to be done.
Great stuff, and again, many thanks to Jonathan Singer. If you like politics, the interviews are really interesting, particularly Slaughter’s. Slaughter's interview is here. We'll see how things turn out on the floor.