Has Pelosi been marginalized?

Time’s Jay Newton-Small asks this question after former Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked a question that made her appear completely out of touch in the debt-ceiling debate.  Despite losing the midterm elections on the issue of spending and deficits, Pelosi wondered aloud in a White House strategy meeting why debt-ceiling negotiations had to involve spending cuts at all, surprising everyone else in the room:

At Thursday’s White House meeting between President Obama and congressional leaders, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner laid out in stark terms the awful economic repercussions of allowing the debt ceiling to lapse. Everyone in the room agreed that defaulting on U.S. debt would be disastrous and that something must be done. At that point, Nancy Pelosi asked: Why couldn’t the debt ceiling be decoupled from deficit reduction?

Her query, after so many weeks of reports and talks centered on deficit reduction tied to a debt ceiling deal, visibly surprised some leaders in the room, several Republican and Democratic sources say. Obama politely informed the House Minority Leader, those same sources say, that that train had left the station weeks ago.

As the leader of a House caucus in a clear minority, Pelosi has already become largely irrelevant, especially after losing the midterms in such spectacular fashion.  Now Newton-Small says that Barack Obama might make her even more obsolete by directly dealing with her lieutenant, Steny Hoyer, to get the moderate Democrats on board any deal:

But some Republican and Democratic sources point to Pelosi’s question in Thursday’s meeting as one that highlights how out of touch Pelosi has become on policy as she crisscrosses the country fundraising and recruiting candidates, working to regain the majority and her speakership. The President, these same sources suggested, could rely on House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to deliver moderate Democrats to help pass the debt ceiling, thus circumventing Pelosi.”I think it’s clear she is not taken seriously by White House, Senate and Republican leadership,” said one Democratic member on the condition of anonymity. …

Boehner will likely need Democratic votes to get a debt ceiling increase passed, which is why Pelosi last week demanded a seat at the negotiating table. She has drawn a line – and made it clear to the President – that she would vehemently oppose cuts to entitlement benefits. Of all the participants in negotiations, Pelosi has the most to lose if Boehner and Obama pass a sweeping grand bargain. Such a move would burnish Boehner’s credentials as someone who can get things done, while shoring up his Tea Party support by cutting trillions of dollars from the budget. His success would undercut her argument that America would be better served with Democrats running the House.

True enough, although that train left the station long ago, too.  Pelosi and the DCCC tried using a Republicans-are-Tea-Party-extremist-nutjobs campaign in 2010, and it didn’t exactly work out too well for them the first time. Republicans managed to craft a deal on the FY2011 budget within weeks while only controlling one chamber of Congress, something Pelosi couldn’t do all year with total Democratic control in Washington.

Still, I expect that this report from The Hill that provides some corroboration of Boehner’s increasing stature will make a lot of conservatives … nervous:

The relationship between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama is building as they head into a critical meeting aimed at ending the impasse over raising the nation’s debt limit.

Since their high-profile golf outing last month, Boehner and Obama have held two private meetings to discuss a debt-limit remedy. Details of the meetings weren’t leaked to the media, and the White House has even refused to confirm they occurred.

After successfully navigating the first major legislative battle over a measure to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, the two men have been “building” their relationship, according to a source close to Boehner.

“They are getting to know each other better, they’re talking more often,” the official told The Hill.

Shouldn’t this be good news?  After all, Republicans only control the House.  In order to get any of the GOP agenda enacted, it will have to get Obama’s signature, as well as passing the Senate.  The House cannot dictate policy, after all, and Republicans need cooperation at some point to succeed in getting spending reductions and other major goals of the party in this session.  In order to get that kind of cooperation, Boehner needs to build a relationship with the President, who is never irrelevant, as Democrats discovered in 2007-8 when they controlled both chambers of Congress.

Still, Boehner has never really enjoyed the full trust of conservatives, not even when he held the Republican House caucus in unity against the Obama agenda in the first two years.  The perception will be that Boehner is likely to get rolled rather than accomplish the rolling himself.  People will point to the resolution of the FY2011 budget and their dissatisfaction with the meager level of cuts, and not without some justification, but it’s also true that Boehner has led a sea change in the terms of the debate on Capitol Hill.  The debate is no longer whether to cut, but how much and where.

I’m neither encouraged nor discouraged by this development; I’d call it expected.  Boehner needs to get cooperation from the White House before he can accomplish anything, and he’s doing his job — and it’s the changed political environment that has Obama suddenly seeking a cross-aisle relationship.  Pelosi’s downfall demonstrates how effective Boehner has become in avoiding marginalization himself.  Indeed, Democrats seem more suspicious of this development than perhaps conservatives are:

Democrats, meanwhile, have been growing more frustrated with the president for not consulting them more.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a respected member who rarely speaks out against the White House, warned the administration this week that it should not take Democratic votes for granted.

In an interview with The New York Times, Whitehouse said called it “a risky thing for the White House to basically take the bet that we can be presented with something at the last minute and we will go for it.”

Some Democrats are very worried that Obama will blink in his negotiations with the GOP. Some of them contend that Boehner got the best of Obama in the negotiations on tax cuts late last year and the fiscal 2011 budget showdown.

Well, he did, in large part because the terms of the debate changed among voters.  The midterms delivered that unmistakable message, and Obama needs to respond to it in some credible manner.  Democrats in the Senate ignore that reality at their peril, including Whitehouse, who has to stand for re-election in 2012.  Rhode Island is usually a reliable Democratic stronghold, but even there voters may be tiring of the spendthrift federal government and those who continue to enable it.

What do you think about the allegedly budding friendship between Boehner and Obama?  Take the poll: