Pelosi, Health Care, and Effective Leadership

By Ryan Powers

Matt Green has a new book on the speakership and has been blogging at the Monkey Cage about Speaker Pelosi’s tenure in particular. He finds that by a number of historical metrics Pelosi’s leadership on the health care package does not look especially remarkable. He writes, “even speakers who wouldn’t make anyone’s top five list of most powerful speakers did at least a few things that subsequent historians believed were worthy of attention.” He concludes:

Pelosi’s role in the legislative process (such as her strong and successful push to avoid passing a more limited bill, which she dismissed as “Kiddie Care”), indicate that she clearly is an influential speaker: her leadership was critical to the final outcome (whether you agree with that outcome or not) and was impressive enough to be included in future histories of Congress and public policy. Nonetheless, her actions should be evaluated in comparison to what other speakers have done, and are expected to do, as part of their job; and in this respect, I do not think they were themselves sufficient to put Pelosi on a list of the greatest speakers in history.

I don’t pretend to be a congressional scholar, but I want to ask one question. I wonder if there is some way to factor in the media context in which each speaker has had to operate. Given the rapidity of today’s news cycle versus that of Rayburn’s or even O’Neill’s it seems like the legislative strategy game is different today than it was 30 or 40 or 70 years ago. Perhaps it is because we’re so close to it, but short-term legislative set backs seem to burn with much greater intensity in the media today than they might have in years past. While Pelosi seems particularly able to ignore the day-to-day chatter and keep her eye on the prize, I wonder if some of her less electorally secure colleagues can say the same thing.


I am, however, looking forward to reading Green’s book. You should too.