How Nancy Pelosi may save America
Dad's gone now, but at least he didn't have to witness what a mess term limits have made of our political system.
Times columnist George Skelton wrote Thursday on a report by the Center for Governmental Studies titled "Citizen Legislators or Political Musical Chairs?"
The answer, in short, is musical chairs.
"California's term limits have not created an environment in which citizen legislators temporarily serve in the state Capitol and then return to the private sector," the reports says. Rather, "professional legislators ... continue to seek careers in other government positions -- a form of political musical chairs for governmental office."
Or, as Bob Stern, president of the think tank that produced the report, said of the state's politicians:
"Once they get into government, they find they are good at it, and they like it."
Or, as Skelton wrote:
Well, not all are good at it -- at least not the governing. But they do tend to like the perks and the power.
And that's it in a nutshell. We now have the worst of both worlds: too many politicians who are so unseasoned that they can't deal with the state's problems -- but who are not so clueless about the game of padding their own pockets and promoting their No. 1 priority: themselves.
Thankfully, the term-limit disease hasn't spread to Washington. For all the gridlock there, it could be so much worse.
Want proof? Take the debt-ceiling talks. Firebrand freshmen Republicans in the House are insisting that they won't vote to raise the debt limit.
The solution? Old-fashioned political deal-making by veteran lawmakers: John Boehner in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate on the GOP side, and Harry Reid and -- surprise -- Nancy Pelosi on the Democratic side.
Now, you can't get much further apart politically than those folks. But as The Times reported Thursday, with Boehner struggling to rein in his restive "tea party" Republicans, Pelosi may hold the key to a deal in the House through her command of Democrats.
As the clock ticks down toward a possible government default, it appears to be less and less likely that a package can be crafted that will appease the large bloc of House conservatives who either oppose raising the debt ceiling on principle or won't vote to hike it without massive cuts in federal spending.
That means that Pelosi, the former speaker who presides over a shrunken Democratic minority in the House, likely will come into play. Any plan that passes the Senate, be it the fallback option by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or a more ambitious proposal like the one being crafted by the so-called Gang of Six, will only be able to pass the House if Democratic votes push it over the finish line.
And how will that happen? As the story concludes:
Pelosi said that, like just about everyone on the Hill, she has no idea what form a final package might take -- just 12 days away from a potentially catastrophic default. But instead of the Democratic voice in the House wilderness that she has become of late, she sounded more like the pragmatic arm-twister she once was.
"What the bill looks like," she said, "will depend on who can vote for it."
Only a veteran, assured lawmaker could talk that talk and walk that walk.
Sorry, Dad, I've seen the mountaintop -- and your beloved term limits just don't work.
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds up a penny during a news conference on Capitol Hill earlier this month. Credit: Harry Hamburg / Associated Press