WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had a message for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) amid ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations: Make the "tough" and "painful" decisions on taxes, the way she did when the House -- under her leadership -- funded a war she opposed.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Pelosi drew on her own experience as former house speaker and likened Boehner's predicament over garnering Republican support for a middle-income tax vote to the decision she faced in 2007. Just a few months into her tenure as speaker, a Democratic Congress was fighting the Bush administration over the passage of continued funding for the war in Iraq without a timetable for withdrawal, prompting a months-long standoff in Washington.
"The emotion in the  election was about ending the war in Iraq … and people thought that when the people had spoken, that something would happen to that effect," Pelosi said. She went on to explain how Congress passed a bill that continued to fund military operations in Iraq but included a timetable for withdrawal, a measure that was vetoed by President George W. Bush.
"I as speaker had to make a decision as a Democratic speaker in a new Democratic majority -- [that was] very enthusiastic about ending the war in Iraq -- to bring a bill to the floor that funded the troops," Pelosi recalled. She added that a bifurcated strategy was enacted to split the legislation into two pieces -- domestic spending and war appropriations. An overwhelming majority of 348 members voted for the domestic piece of the bill, while the $100 billion in funding for wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan passed 280 to 142, with 140 Democrats -- including Pelosi herself -- voting against it.
It's a strategy that Pelosi said could be employed by Boehner today: bring the middle-income tax bill to the floor. Pelosi said she was "certain" the bill would get the two-thirds majority in the House if it were brought to the floor for a vote.
The majority of Boehner's caucus opposes raising taxes of any kind, though most Americans want to see them revert to Clinton-era levels. The Ohio Republican has struggled with dissatisfaction from members who refuse to meet the president's demand and cave on rates for the top 2 percent.
"I had to do it as speaker -- do you know what it was like for me to bring a bill to the floor to fund the war in Iraq, a war predicated on a misrepresentation to the American people?" Pelosi said, noting that ultimately she had to make a concession that was unpopular with her caucus -- a decision from which she has not yet fully recovered among some on the left.
"So it's tough, but you have to do it," she continued. "Is the point that you don't want to put your members on the spot? Figure it out -- we did. Figure it out."
Boehner has been accused by leading Democrats of being more concerned with his speakership than cutting a deal with the president during ongoing fiscal cliff talks. Earlier in the day, House Democratic budget chief Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said he was "increasingly worried" that the house speaker was stalling on an agreement until after his reelection, when he would have more flexibility -- a charge Boehner's office immediately rejected.
According to Pelosi, taking risks is what the speakership role is intended for.
"That's what we all take the job to do," she said. "To risk it for something, not to just sit in the office."
"It's painful," she added later, "but this is the job we signed up for."
But while Pelosi declined to speculate on the delicate dance Boehner has to do to garner support from his caucus for a deal by the end of the year -- when automatic spending cuts and across-the-board tax-rate increases are set to kick in -- she called him a man of "good intention."
"He knows his responsibility to the country and there's a way to say we have to do what we have to do," Pelosi said. "We have to give a middle-income tax cut, because that breaks the chains that have confined our possibilities."