Inside the Beltway
Harry and Nancy
By Michael S. Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs
Lately, as I’ve lain awake, troubled by my vanishing 401 (k) that now looks more like a shriveled prune than a juicy plum, I’ve been pondering how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might be spending their congressional leave.
Reid is not up for office this year, and Pelosi comes from a safe San Francisco district, so neither has to press the flesh or talk the talk–at least not at home in Nevada or California. But I’ve never met a politician who wasn’t vocally or visually narcissistic, so the odds are that both of them are never far from a microphone or camera.
Here’s what I’ve imagined.
OPRAH: We’re so fortunate to have two of our nation’s political elite with us this afternoon, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and the Majority Leader of the Senate Harry Reid. Help me welcome…
HARRY: Oprah, forgive me for interrupting, but we Democrats don’t use the word “elite” to describe ourselves. Nancy and I represent the interests of the middle class.
OPRAH: I really didn’t mean to offend. After all you know I’ve been campaigning for Barack Obama. I know that getting degrees from Columbia and Harvard, as he did, doesn’t make him or anyone else with that pedigree an elitist.
NANCY: Let me just add that we Democrats remember what our roots are. We all come from immigrant families, and we identify with Main Street, not Wall Street
OPRAH: Madam Speaker…
NANCY: Oprah, just call me Nancy, it’s much more plebeian, if I dare to use such an elitist word.
OPRAH: All right, then, Nancy, you said that as a Democrat you care more about Main Street than Wall Street. Is that why you had such difficulty passing the $700 billion financial bailout package? Do you think it’s going to help Wall Street more than Main Street?
NANCY: Oh, no! I understand that liquidity is just as important for small business and the average person who wants to buy a car or a home. It’s my constituents who don’t–you know, the people who are just struggling to pay the rent, put food on the table…
HARRY: And pay those soaring medical bills, fill the tank and not have to freeze to death in the winter if you live in Minnesota or New England because you don’t have enough money to pay for home heating oil.
OPRAH: Those are extraordinarily important issues, as I think everyone in the audience would agree. So why didn’t Congress pass an energy bill this year or deal with the 45 million Americans going without medical insurance?
NANCY: Oprah, with the gridlock we faced, we couldn’t even pass any spending bills, and that’s the most important task Congress has every year–to keep the government running.
OPRAH: Last year you blamed President Bush for causing the problem. Is it still his fault?
HARRY: Nancy, let me answer that one. Oprah, we have only a one-vote majority in the Senate, and that’s if you count Joe Lieberman, who lately has been a real thorn in my side. And we need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate. So, to be honest, this year, with Republicans threatening to filibuster every bill, we just couldn’t do much.
NANCY: And let me add that in the House, I have to deal with the “Blue Dogs,” the fiscally conservative Democrats who made us adopt “pay-go” rules. You know we can’t increase spending for any program unless we cut something else or raise taxes. There were all sorts of things we just had to put on hold. One of the things closest to my heart is science and innovation, and we just couldn’t do anything about it.
OPRAH: Nancy, forgive me, but when it comes to innovation, you seem to be all talk. Your plan that’s rapidly becoming a cruel myth called for about $10 billion over 10 years. This year–correct me if I’m wrong–you passed a $150 billion stimulus bill, a $170 billion supplemental appropriations bill and the $700 billion bailout. And Senator Reid…
HARRY: Just call me Harry.
OPRAH: Harry wasn’t that bailout bill loaded with tens of billions of dollars worth of pork projects? Couldn’t you have found a way to put in a measly $1 billion for science, since it is one of Nancy’s favorite programs?
HARRY: It’s one of mine, too, but, you know we tried and we just didn’t have the votes.
OPRAH: So what about next year? Both of you expect to have larger Democratic majorities in Congress, and you’re hoping to have a Democrat in the White House.
NANCY: Well, we’re doing everything to make that happen, but the American people have the ultimate say. The problem is that even if we succeed, we will have to deal with the massive deficits we’ve been running the last eight years, and with a weak economy, we may just have to scale back our expectations. We may have to put science on hold for a few years.
OPRAH: Let’s thank Harry and Nancy for being real.
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Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Science Writing Intern: Nadia Ramlagan