Spending bill cleaves Pelosi from Obama and Senate

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2014 1:18 PM
Spending bill cleaves Pelosi from Obama and Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi was the odd person out when the Democratic-led Senate and the Democratic president joined most House Republicans in backing a $1.1 trillion spending bill she opposed.

It was an unusual spot late Thursday for the veteran California lawmaker, who did as much as anyone to help President Barack Obama enact his landmark health care law and wind down the war in Iraq.

Pelosi, like many other House liberals, called the spending bill a sop to big banks and big political donors. She said she was "enormously disappointed" the White House backed it.

But she stopped short of going all out to block it, which would have involved "whipping" her fellow Democrats.

Less than three hours before the government was to run out of money, Pelosi found herself the leader of a liberal faction outnumbered by a combination of pragmatists in her party, in the GOP and in a White House that's bracing for further compromises with a Congress soon to be controlled by Republicans.

The 219-206 House vote saved Obama from embarrassment and a quick renewal of bitter partisan fights over short-term spending bills. But it couldn't hide his strained relations with Democrats who largely blame his sagging popularity for their Nov. 4 midterm election setbacks. They lost the Senate majority and a dozen House seats. Pelosi's defiance followed highly unusual public criticisms of Obama by the top aide to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.

But Pelosi said on Friday it's absurd to suggest there's a rift between her and the White House, pointing out that they worked together "respectfully" on a complex, multifaceted bill that contained provisions for almost any lawmaker to like and dislike. "Anyone who's taking that as a rift," Pelosi said in an interview, "doesn't understand the commonality of interests" between Obama and House Democrats on most major issues.

Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest strongly praised Pelosi. He told reporters that Pelosi "is a champion for middle-class families and for basic American values," who "has the same priorities as the president." Earnest said Obama is confident "the effective, productive working relationship that we've had over the last six years will continue for the next two."

On Thursday, however, many prominent House Democrats rebuffed the White House's last-minute lobbying efforts for the spending bill.

"The president and the vice president are free to make their calls, but they don't have a vote on the floor of the House," said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who headed the Democrats' election efforts this year.

The spending issue split Pelosi's House leadership team. The second- and third-ranking party leaders — Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland Jim Clyburn of South Carolina — voted for the bipartisan bill. So did the national Democratic Party chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

The 57 House Democrats who voted for the $1.1 trillion measure nearly offset the 67 Republicans who voted against it, averting huge problems for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

In a final statement before the vote, Pelosi sounded like a parent letting her rebellious children know how much they will disappoint her.

"I'm giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do," Pelosi said at the end of a two-hour closed caucus meeting before the vote, according to an aide. "We have enough votes to show them never to do this again," she said, referring to Republican-backed provisions to loosen restrictions on banks and big political donors.

Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, rushed to the Capitol for the closed Democratic caucus, where he "made a pretty good case," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. "He said it's only going to get worse" if the $1.1 trillion bill failed, because Republicans will control both congressional chambers next year.

Pelosi made her feelings known without completely boxing herself in.

Emerging from the closed Democratic caucus meeting before the vote, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said Pelosi made clear that "she was not going to vote for it, and she's not going to whip to bail them (Republicans) out. But she was very evenhanded."

Pelosi, a veteran of countless political struggles, already was smoothing the way for future dealings with the White House. When McDonough left the still-crowded caucus meeting, in a hallway hidden from most reporters and lawmakers, Pelosi stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.

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Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.