With John Boehner continuing to (publicly) rule out a hike in tax rates for the rich, Nancy Pelosi fired back today by drawing her own hard lines. She told reporters that another round of big spending cuts is unacceptable, and in an interview with NPR, she rebuffed the idea of raising the Medicare eligibility age.
Which raises a question: Does Pelosi have any leverage in the talks to begin with?
The Beltway chatter holds that she doesn't -- Politico describes her as a "bit player in the unfolding drama." It's certainly true Pelosi's influence over the outcome will likely be minimal. But there are factors worth considering that render this a bit of a simplistic take.
While Pelosi will have little sway over the final deal Obama and Boehner reach, she may have some influence over Obama's handling of the talks. A sizable number of House Dems will be required to get a final deal through the House. Unlike the debt ceiling and government shutdown deals, this final deal will include tax increases -- almost certainly through a hike in tax rates. This could mean large Republican defections. After all, the debt ceiling deal required dozens of Dems; this time more could be required. Dem aides believe as many as 100 House Democrats or even more could be required to pass the final legislation. Will Dems back the president no matter what? Probably, but this time, many Dems see it as a desirable outcome if the deal fails and we go over the cliff.
What Pelosi is doing in publicly drawing a hard line against spending cuts and a rise in the Medicare eligibility age is signaling to Obama what will and won't get significant support from her caucus. "She's let him know that these are the things she thinks are really important to her caucus," one House aide told me in describing the dynamic. "She's saying, Now you know what we need; go cut the deal with Boehner.'"
Democratic aides are under no illusions that this gives her significant influence, but they hope Obama will take her signals into account as he crafts a deal with Boehner. Recent history suggests Dems will fall in line behind the president no matter what. But perhaps Pelosi can still have a positive influence of sorts on the final deal by publicly giving Obama a reason (he can remind Boehner the deal needs House Dem support) to hold firm on core Dem priorities while that deal is being put together.