New House Speaker Shows She's Boss

The Associated Press
Monday, January 22, 2007; 8:25 AM

WASHINGTON -- Sworn in just over two weeks ago as the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi wasted no time showing who's boss.

The California Democrat rammed six major bills through the House at breakneck speed, stomped out smoking privileges near the House floor, partially sidelined a powerful Democratic committee chairman and decided she liked traditionally Republican office space so much she claimed it for herself.

By Democrats' timekeeping, she did it all in far under the 100 legislative hours she had allotted.

"We did what we promised the American people we would," Pelosi declared on Friday, pledging it was "just the beginning."

Pelosi's initial agenda, completed Thursday, included measures with wide popular support: increasing the minimum wage, broadening stem cell research, allowing government bargaining on Medicare drug prices, cutting student loan costs, putting in place terrorism-fighting recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission and rolling back energy company tax breaks.

Each bill passed with bipartisan majorities and Pelosi triumphantly gaveled down the votes, at one point banging the gavel so enthusiastically that it left a small dent in the podium.

Now Democrats will have to move on to thornier topics such as reconciling their conflicting views of President Bush's Iraq troop escalation plan, overhauling immigration laws and fixing the alternative minimum tax. That will be the true test of Pelosi's leadership, congressional observers said.

"It's sort of like a meal in which you eat your dessert first and then get the broccoli for the main course," said Rutgers political science professor Ross Baker. "It's a great debut, but it's the overture and there are three or four acts to go."

Still, in the view of many Democrats, Pelosi's opening performance bodes well. She seemed to recover from postelection stumbles such as backing the losing candidate in the contest for House majority leader.

She also is getting a honeymoon from the public. Pelosi is held in higher regard than the president or her colleagues in the Congress. An AP-AOL News poll taken Jan. 16-18 put her approval rating at 51 percent _ much higher than that of Congress (34 percent) or Bush (36 percent).

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a close ally, called Pelosi's performance "spectacular."

"What the Democrats in the caucus are telling me is that this is the best three weeks of their life," he crowed.

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