Majority Report

Salena Zito
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Posted: Aug 01, 2010 12:01 AM
Majority Report

Just over a year ago the Tribune-Review sat down separately with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, to ask about their goals for the 111th Congress.

Pelosi presented a lofty case for passing a comprehensive health care bill, taking on Wall Street and “big banks,” and finally instituting serious immigration reform.

Boehner, with not enough GOP members in the House to stop her agenda, was blunt: He wanted Pelosi’s job.

Surprisingly, both are on the verge of achieving their goals.

Gallup’s most recent generic congressional ballot test, which measures voter preferences for a Democrat- or Republican-controlled Congress, shows Republicans leading with a sample of registered voters; Democrats lead with a sample of “adults.”

This gives Boehner at least a 50-50 chance of getting Pelosi’s job but it would come on the heels of her fulfilling nearly every one of her ambitious goals.

In the heart of the Rust Belt last month, Boehner spent time raising money for House candidates in critical swing districts. Walking along a downtown Pittsburgh sidewalk, he was recognized by lunchtime pedestrians.

Greetings of “Good job!” and “You gonna win this?” from scores of people, along with handshakes and back-slaps, greeted him outside a city office building.

Pelosi and Boehner both grew up in Democratic households but the similarities between them end there: She was the daughter of a larger-than-life congressman and Baltimore mayor; he was one of 12 children of a tavern owner outside of blue-collar Cincinnati.

Any fair analyst understands a “Speaker Boehner” is a very real possibility. Yet since the House is on the electoral bubble, it would be foolish to predict more than that today.

As of now, Republicans likely will pick up 32 House seats; they need 39 for Boehner to become speaker. A dozen or so seats could move either way.

That movement largely rests on unemployment numbers, President Obama’s approval ratings, and any late breaking (or continuing) scandals such as the ethical issues of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

The White House revealed rather clumsily last month just how aware it is of Boehner becoming speaker – not by having its press secretary, Robert Gibbs, admit that Democrats may lose the House but by elevating Boehner in importance in a presidential speech.

Referring to the financial reform bill, Obama mocked Boehner’s “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon” quip about Democrats' regulatory overkill.

Boehner welcomed the platform that the White House gave him by firing back: “For someone who asked to be held to a higher standard, President Obama spends an awful lot of time making excuses and whining about others.”

The true test of who will win the next House majority begins late this week, as Congress heads home for its summer recess.

Late last week, Boehner held a special House Republican conference meeting to outline plans for the August recess. At the heart of the party's efforts is its “America Speaking Out” project, an ambitious part-multimedia, part-hands-on effort to engage in a two-way conversation with constituents.

Members received an August work-period packet that laid out a GOP message, a contrast with Democrats, and GOP solutions on five key issues: jobs, government spending, government reform, national security and health care.

Democrats’ messaging right now is that Republicans are the “party of no.” But this may just be the year that “no" is enough.

The main source of Main Street’s frustration is that few Americans think government is working. The political class (elected officials, media and staff inside the Washington beltway) often does not hear that discontent until long after the tide has already formed.

If Republicans win, however, they better move past “no” pretty darned fast.

Boehner and Pelosi are fundraising rock-stars for their parties, each netting more than $30 million for candidate campaigns – and both have had rocky moments in their relationship with the president.

Purdue University political science professor Bert Rockman speculates that if House Republicans win a majority in the fall, the Boehner-Obama relationship will be all business: “Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is not a hail-fellow-well-met kind of person. Clinton would make you believe he cared about you. Obama doesn’t pretend.”

That’s not oh-so-different from his relationship with Pelosi who, unlike Senate counterpart Harry Reid, completed her agenda.