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Will Pelosi Pay the Price?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a conference call with some bloggers and reporters on Wednesday. She spent a great deal of time exuding confidence and predicting that Democrats would fare well on Election Day. I think the word “momentum” came up more than once.

I don’t know whether she is really that optimistic. I'm certainly not. I’d like very much to see the Democrats maintain control of Congress and, I agree, there have been a few encouraging signs lately, particularly on the Senate side. (Christine O’Donnell is the gift that keeps on giving.) But the odds are still against the Democrats, particularly in the House. Then again, the last time Pelosi defied conventional wisdom so brazenly was in late January and early February, when she kept insisting health care reform would pass. Maybe she knows something the rest of us don't.

In any event, it was something else Pelosi said that really got my attention—and got me thinking. She pointed out, correctly, that this Congress has accomplished an enormous amount, from the stimulus to health care reform to financial regulation. But the record of the House, in particular, is even stronger. It’s easy to forget now, but the House did pass a climate change bill. It also passed a health care bill stronger than the final package, in the sense that it guaranteed more generous coverage and included a public option. The House wanted a bigger stimulus, too. But the House had to give ground on all of these because the Senate couldn’t, or wouldn’t, go along.

The House obviously has certain institutional advantages over the Senate: Membership more closely reflects public opinion, since small states aren’t over-represented, and there’s no filibuster to block majority rule. But it’s not as if corralling House Democrats has been easy easy. On climate change, in particular, Democrats were far from united. Members with ties to oil, gas, auto, and other carbon-producing industries had serious reservations. Blue Dogs and others representing conservative districts were nervous about the appearance of raising taxes. Passing a bill despite those divisions was no small feat. Pelosi deserves a lot of credit for that--just as she deserves a lot of credit for saving health care reform.

There are obviously a lot of people out there who really don’t like Nancy Pelosi and what she stands for. There are also a lot of people who are simply angry--about the economy, about the way Washington works--and to them Pelosi is a symbol of the status quo. Fine, fine. You expect these people to vote against her and her party. But, come November, it may be the disillusionment of progressives that keeps House Democrats from holding the majority and forces Pelosi out as Speaker. And that seems more than a little bit ironic.

It's not Pelosi's fault Congress didn't produce more liberal legislation. But she, not Harry Reid or Barack Obama, is the one most likely to lose her job because of that failure.