Nancy Pelosi’s Lonely Crusade Against Republican “Gimmicks”

House Democratic leaders derided Wednesday’s bill extending the debt limit, while the White House and Senate Democrats offer their support. Whither the disconnect?

Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Everyone in Washington seemed to be on the same page Wednesday as the House prepared to vote on a bill that would extend the debt limit until May and suspend pay for members of Congress if they didn’t pass a budget. Senate Democrats lined up to praise the bill, the White House offered its endorsement, and House Republicans, with whom the plan originated, were unified in support of it.

Everyone was on board — except Nancy Pelosi.

“It is a gimmick unworthy of the fiscal and economic challenges that we face,” House Minority Leader Pelosi said of the measure on the floor, leading 111 total House Democrats to vote against the bill.

Pelosi’s defiance represented a rare break from her party’s leadership in the Senate and in the White House — and highlighted both how little power House Democrats wield in Washington at this moment, and the lack of confidence they have in their Republican counterparts to pass legislation.

Not two hours after Pelosi remarks decrying the bill, Senate Democratic leaders gathered the press to trumpet praise for the same measure.

“In substance, this is a clean debt limit increase that will set the precedent for future debt ceiling extensions,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Democrats’ support was of particular note because the bill, which later passed in the House by 285-114, had been proposed by House Republican leaders.

The measure would also temporarily withhold pay for members of Congress if the Senate does not produce a budget resolution — but the senators dismissed that as a “gimmick.”

At a closed-door conference meeting just a few hours prior, after accepting input from members, House Democratic leaders had reached a different conclusion: that such “gimmicks” set a worrisome precedent for future debt ceiling increases and the extension until May was not enough. They decided they would oppose the bill.

The result was an awkward dynamic: Senate Democrats landing on the same side as House Republicans, who sponsored the measure, with House Democrats the odd group out.

Even the administration offered its tacit support for the measure: On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president would sign the bill were Congress to pass it and, Wednesday, called its approval by the House a “welcome development.”

“Carney probably didn’t need to go as far as he did,” one House Democratic aide complained before the vote, “but it also makes sense for them to be above the fray.”

Later, when asked if there was a disconnect between Democrats in the Senate and the House, Pelosi shrugged it off.

“I don’t think this was a big deal today,” Pelosi said after the vote.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, insisted that the White House agreed with House Democrats that “this was not the preferred approach.”

As for the contrast with Senate Democrats’ position, Van Hollen said, “We have the opportunity over here to make our preferred position known.” He added, “It is bad for the economy, the uncertainty.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a freshman Democrat from Hawaii, agreed, and voted against the measure.

“You’re seeing people who are doing what they believe is right, and I can only speak for myself,” she said when asked about the Democratic divide.

House Democrats found strange bedfellows in a few conservative Republicans, including Reps. Steve King and Tim Huelskamp, who rejected the measure because it didn’t include spending cuts to offset the debt ceiling increase.

At the Senate Democrats’ press conference earlier Wednesday, a reporter asked Reid about the apparent distance between Democrats in the Senate and House on the measure.

Reid paused for a long moment at the lectern where he stood — and when he spoke, he did not answer the question.

“We believe strongly that this is the way forward,” he said.

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