The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pelosi dismisses portions of Sanders’s tax and health-care agenda: ‘It’s not going to happen’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) updates reporters on Democratic reaction to the bipartisan, $1.1 trillion omnibus bill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

BALTIMORE — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed portions of Bernie Sanders’s agenda Wednesday, welcoming the Vermont senator’s energetic support for his presidential bid but declaring that some of his deeply liberal ideas were unrealistic.

Kicking off a three-day retreat of House Democrats in her childhood home town, Pelosi said that the party’s agenda would not include a call to raise taxes and would continue to embrace the Affordable Care Act that Democrats bitterly fought for in 2010. Pelosi’s remarks came two days after Sanders, in an Iowa town-hall gathering, explicitly endorsed higher taxes to fund a sweeping revision of health laws.

“We’re not running on any platform of raising taxes,” Pelosi told reporters inside the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, less than a mile from her childhood home. While the liberal House leader has remained publicly neutral in the Democratic primary process, Pelosi’s position echoed some of the themes that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has hit on in trying to say that Sanders’s ideas, while appealing to liberals’ instincts, are out of touch in an era when Congress is so sharply divided.

She reiterated her previous remarks embracing Sanders’s surge in recent weeks — “God bless all the people who have gotten enthusiastic” — but stressed that Sanders needs to bring those voters into the Democratic fold in the November general election.

“The fact is that Bernie Sanders is enlarging the universe of people who are paying attention to the election, and we hope that he will bring them to the polls in November to support the Democratic nominee,” she said.

President Obama will appear before the Democratic caucus Thursday night over dinner, following his own meeting with Sanders on Wednesday in the Oval Office. It was only the second time the two men have met one-on-one in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden will appear here in Baltimore for a Thursday luncheon meeting with the Democrats.

[Read about the Obama-Sanders relationship]

With 188 seats, House Democrats gather here this week in their deepest minority standing since the late 1940s, with little hope being expressed by even the most optimistic of party leaders that they can win back the majority anytime soon. That’s left most leading congressional Democrats concerned first with protecting the laws that were enacted in Obama’s first years in office, when he had bulging Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

Clinton, in debates with Sanders and in speeches, has increasingly made her pitch to voters on that same theme, embracing Obama’s legislative agenda and saying that she is best positioned to win a general election and, therefore, protect those policy gains. The critique of Sanders is that his ideas, including a Medicare-for-all policy for health care funded through large tax hikes, are out of the mainstream and might lead to a Democratic defeat in November.

Without commenting on how Sanders would fare in a general election, Pelosi said the health-care agenda ahead was protecting the ACA rather than pushing a bolder new health proposal.

“So we have, I think, a very realistic plan that is out there. Can it be improved upon? Everything can. But it’s no use having a conversation about something that’s not going to happen. … Again, we’re very proud of the Affordable Care Act.”