Reid, Pelosi Expected to Keep Tight Rein in Both Chambers

By Charles Babington and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 10, 2006

After two days of watching Rep. Nancy Pelosi hailed as a political pioneer and the toast of her party, Sen. Harry M. Reid joined her yesterday atop the first Democratic-controlled Congress in a dozen years thanks to a razor-thin election in Virginia.

What seemed almost unthinkable a year ago -- Pelosi as House speaker and Reid as Senate majority leader in the 110th Congress -- suddenly is reality, sending the two into overdrive as they approve committee chairmen, set priorities, and referee disputes between colleagues who are planning to hire more staffers and move into larger offices.

The Democrats' success in the Bush presidency's final two years will depend largely on the compatibility and forcefulness of the two barely tested leaders, according to some lawmakers and political experts. Reid, a former boxer from Nevada, is a camera-averse Senate insider who has used rear-guard tactics to bedevil Senate Republicans on Social Security, nominations and other issues in recent years. Pelosi is a wealthy San Franciscan who grew up in a Baltimore political family and now has reached the highest elected post of any American woman.

They know that voters will expect results. But the Democrats' majorities in the House -- and especially the Senate -- are so slender that they will have to make at least modest accommodations to President Bush and Republican lawmakers on many matters. Reid and Pelosi are not particularly close, associates say, but they are disciplined realists who value party loyalty and are unafraid to tell colleagues or supporters not to overreach in a still-divided political climate.

"Both have shown how good they are at counting noses and enforcing party discipline," said Bruce Reed, a former Clinton White House aide who heads the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Under their leadership, "the House and Senate Democratic caucuses have been more united than ever," he said. "They'll need that trait even more in the majority because they can leave no nose behind."

Yesterday, Reid echoed Pelosi's earlier assertion that Democrats will push an agenda to help middle-class families and reduce the deficit while also treating Republican lawmakers more generously than the GOP had treated Democrats during their years in the minority.

"The election is over, and it's time for a change," Reid told a cheering throng of Democratic aides outside the Capitol. They assembled shortly after Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) conceded defeat to James Webb, handing Democrats their 51st vote in the 100-member chamber.

Aides and friends say Reid and Pelosi are strongly partisan people who fumed under the heavy hand of GOP majorities, especially in the House, and who made no secret of their distaste for Bush's handling of the Iraq war and other policies. But the sources said the two also realize they must minimize differences within their caucuses. And they know they must balance the stridently anti-Bush sentiments of some liberal constituents against the more pragmatic pocketbook concerns of moderate and unaffiliated voters who were crucial to this week's election results.

"You have to govern from the center," Pelosi said yesterday. "We are in a completely different place now. We are setting our legislative agenda."

At the outdoor rally, where Reid was joined by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the future majority leader stuck to generalities about his party's intentions.

"It's time for bipartisanship, it's time for open government, transparency, and it's a time for results," Reid said. "There must be a new direction in Iraq," he said, along with more affordable college tuition and health care, greater energy independence, and smaller deficits.

Reid did not say how Democrats would shrink the deficit while boosting college aid, and insiders said such challenges will be the test of the effectiveness and savvy of a Reid-and-Pelosi-led Congress. Both leaders agreed on the "Six for '06" priorities, which include relatively popular measures such as raising the minimum wage.

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