Last night I had planned to leave the office early to read and get a
little extra sleep before the big health care day. I am reading Fighting Bob La Follette’s
biography, at the suggestion of Fighting Dave Obey, Chairman of the Appropriations
Around 10:30, my phone rings.
“Are you available to talk to the Speaker?” Of course!
There is a long pause. And then
an even longer pause. Our Speaker is
working the phones at 10:30 at night, and I suspect I’m not going to be the
An apology that it’s taking so long.
Speaker Pelosi comes on, apologizing to me for calling so late!
While she comes to the point of her call, it is done in a thoughtful and
gracious manner, as if she has all the time in the world to discuss the
matter. Luckily, by absolute chance, the
last item I had worked with before leaving the office was just what she wished
to discuss – health reform. I feel like
a fourth grader proudly racing through the times table at the front of the
class, or more accurately, being called on in law school to explain a case on one of those rare
occasions where I had actually briefed it the day before. I feel a mixture of pride and relief.
The Speaker continues, and I am compelled to ask if there is any other
way I can help in her efforts. She
responds with three suggestions that are appropriate to my skill set. She concludes on a positive and gracious note
and is quickly off the line to the next of, what I imagine is an endless list
of calls and meetings. As she moves onto
her next assignment, I am brought back to the present and the historic day
I am thinking about the stunning gap between the image of the sad
screamers on the Mall during the week, with the strangest and cruelest
depictions with harsh words and how it contrasts with the leadership I have seen
exhibited in this House. Despite the
most intense pressure ever inflicted on a person in leadership and her office, and
with dire national circumstances, the Speaker has lead with determination.
Much has been made of our new President inheriting the most difficult
set of circumstance of, perhaps, any president in history; two wars, an economy
in freefall handed off to him and 12 consecutive months of job losses. What is not appreciated is that those same
set of circumstance that face our President are also Speaker Pelosi’s set of
She has the task of managing the House of Representatives, the cornerstone
of legislative activity, the People’s House.
The Senate remains a mystery,
even to the Senator’s themselves due to the impact of special interests wildly
magnified, the role of a handful of politicians representing a tiny percentage
of America, and greatly exaggerated by rule, convention and the structure.
And, for the first time in modern history, Speaker Pelosi has assumed
her position with a complete collapse of responsible Republican
participation. John Boehner famously declared last winter,
shortly after the House geared up for operations, that since they couldn’t impose
their will and get their way, it was decided that they were not going to be
legislators; they were going to be communicators. They have communicated, in the most
inflammatory and unproductive manner.
Despite the personal attacks and the pressure, the Speaker continues to
have much more favorable rating than Mr. Boehner. Despite the fact that some of her negatives
are from the other side of the spectrum by those who wish that she would have
been more aggressive and more dramatic in her approach to health reform, she
continues to move this country forward.
We have begun what may be a long day or a long weekend to take one of
the most important steps in healthcare and government action in history,
probably more meaningful than the decision to have government organized and
paid-for health care for our seniors or, 44 years ago, government health care
for our veterans. This may be even more
It’s time for reform. Let’s get
this done. Millions of people have no
health insurance and are suffering. The federal budget will be bankrupt if we
don’t modernize Medicare. Our families
are strugging in these difficult economic times, which means more and more will
lose their increasingly inadequate and expensive insurance if we don’t act.
I began this day feeling encouraged and optimistic; encouraged because
this year we have put together the most comprehensive health reform in history,
despite the pressures. Optimistic because amongst all the leaders that I have
been able to work with who have invested so much in this process, there is a
Speaker who is tireless, focused, idealistic and pragmatic and is committed to
do whatever is humanly possible – and maybe some things that aren’t – to
deliver for the American people.