After the Republican leadership announced late yesterday afternoon that the vote on the Boehner two-step bill would be delayed, Ezra Klein sent out a tweet that channeled what I was thinking: “That sound you hear is Nancy Pelosi laughing.” Indeed, she must have been. The former speaker of the House pretty much predicted last night’s events as far back as March.
On March 16, Klein and I attended a meeting Pelosi had with a small group of opinion writers. Back then the action on Capitol Hill was focused on the continuing resolution, and the newly minted House minority leader held forth on her observations of the new Tea Party-packed majority and their votes. But my focus was on the looming fight over raising the debt ceiling, which was due to be crashed between March 31 and May 16. So my question to Pelosi was simple, “[H]ow confident are you that Speaker Boehner will be able to corral the votes to actually lift the debt ceiling?”
Her response left an indelible impression that became a blog post headlined “Pelosi not sure Boehner has votes to raise debt ceiling.” I reprise most of the March 17 piece below. As you will see, the veteran vote-counter and power player saw last night’s train wreck coming a mile away.
Discussing this week’s passage of a new continuing resolution, Pelosi observed that, in the vote, freshmen Tea Party Republicans were more interested in budget cuts while more senior GOPers were interested in policy-driven riders to legislation. And then she zeroed in on the meaning of a government shutdown. “Upon reflection...[it doesn’t matter what reason they give for voting against the CR]....there is only one question at the end of the day: Do you understand how serious it is to shut down government?” Pelosi later added, “I just think it would be a failure if we have a shutdown of the government.”
So, I asked Pelosi, “Would you describe it as a failure if debt ceiling were not raised? And how confident are you that Speaker Boehner will be able to corral the votes to actually lift the debt ceiling?”
“You gotta ask him,” she said. “You have to ask him. You know me; I’m a vote-counter. We never lost a vote. You understand. We never lost a vote. I never depended upon Republican votes, either. So, you're going to have to ask him about the Republican votes. I just don't know.”
Did you catch that? “I’m a vote-counter. We never lost a vote.” A not-so-subtle dig at Boehner’s early missteps in bringing bills to the floor that went down in defeat. A dig that raises questions whether the debt limit measure would even pass when Boehner brings it to the floor. How about “I’ve never depended upon Republican votes, either”? As we all know now, Boehner wouldn’t have gotten the continuing resolution passed without Democratic votes.....
But Pelosi went on to compliment Boehner, saying, “I think the speaker has made some very responsible statements about the debt ceiling that we cannot let it go....” That’s when I interrupted the minority leader. “But...do you think just politically speaking that the other side, that the speaker has the votes to lift the debt ceiling?”
“But, Jonathan, I’ve been watching votes, but there are 80-some members who have given them the majority, and I have no idea how those people will vote,” she said. “But I hope that they will vote in a responsible way and the speaker has made responsible statements about the debt ceiling, and I respect that.”
By her own admission, Pelosi is a vote-counter. She knows who’s voting yea or nay and why. And as speaker, she never did anything unless she was reasonably assured of knowing what the outcome would be. As I mentioned earlier, Pelosi has been paying close attention to how the new majority voted on the two continuing resolutions. Her observation that “new members [are] interested in cuts and more senior members [are] interested in riders” is a warning to me that when Congress votes on raising the debt ceiling, we might be in for a world of hurt.
As the clock ticks towards default, that world of hurt that I feared would befall us is now upon us.