Dean Baker
Newsday, November 13, 2018

Columbia The State, November 16, 2018
Kearney The Hub, November 16, 2018
Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2018
Butte Montana Standard Journal, November 15, 2018
Rapid City Journal, November 14, 2018
Fulton Sun, November 14, 2018
Bryan-College Eagle, November 13, 2018
Sacramento Bee, November 13, 2018
Rochester Post-Bulletin, November 13, 2018
Finger Lakes Times, November 13, 2018
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, November 13, 2018
Tribune News Service, November 13, 2018

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Since the election, many Democrats have been debating whether Nancy Pelosi should serve another term as speaker.

With no obvious second choice candidate, this is the wrong debate to be having. The better debate is over the policies that the Democrats will pursue with their new majority in the House.

First, people should recognize Pelosi’s skills in maneuvering among her colleagues to get key legislation passed. With our decentralized political system, Pelosi has relatively little ability to force recalcitrant members to support legislation.

Nonetheless, when the Democrats last held a majority she was able to push through the Affordable Care Act, the Stimulus Package and the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

She also got the House to support legislation on global warming, which would have imposed a cost on carbon emissions. This died in the Senate.

None of these bills were dream legislation from a progressive standpoint, but all represented serious progress. It’s not clear that another speaker would have been able to get them through the House.

Being elected speaker is not a reward for past performance. It is necessary to ask whether she is the best person going forward to be the face of the Democrats in Congress.

While age is a factor - she will be turning 79 shortly after taking the job - Pelosi seems to be in good health and as sharp mentally as ever.

More important is that she be prepared to promote positions that fit the times, and this means using her role as speaker to push a progressive agenda.

The Democratic caucus and the country have moved considerably to the left since Pelosi’s last term as speaker. The conservative “Blue Dogs,” who were mostly from the South and border states, are almost all gone. In their place, the Democrats have dynamic young progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib.

These newcomers have pushed policies like Medicare for All, free college, and a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Obviously, these sorts of proposals have no chance of becoming law with Republicans firmly in control of the Senate and Donald Trump in the White House, but the next two years can be a period in which the Democrats use their control of the House to build momentum on such issues.

This can mean, for example, holding hearings on Medicare for All. Such hearings would call attention to the proposal and lay out more explicitly what the program would be and what a transition would look like.

That should make it harder for Donald Trump and other Republicans to say that extending Medicare to everyone would somehow destroy the Medicare program that seniors depend upon.

The same story would apply to numerous other items on the progressive agenda. The right has long tried to scare the public away from progressive positions by lying about what they mean. As speaker, Pelosi can use truth to undercut these lies.

In addition to promoting a progressive agenda, the Democrats have to restore the House’s oversight responsibilities.

The Trump administration has already won the gold medal for corruption as top officials, starting with Trump himself, openly engage in practices that involve blatant conflicts of interests.

When the Republicans controlled Congress they basically gave a green-light to all manner of corruption, since they were mostly concerned about giving rich people tax cuts and getting far right-wingers on the Supreme Court.

The Democrats must seriously investigate issues like whether the IRS is giving favored tax treatment to hedge fund billionaire and big Republican donor Robert Mercer.

And we need to know how much the Trump family is profiting from deals with Saudi Arabia and other Trump allies.

Most of all, we need a speaker who will take the lead in pushing a progressive agenda.

We absolutely do not need the Nancy Pelosi who said the Democrats are committed to “pay-as-you-go” or paygo deficit reduction rules. This is not a good path forward at this point for either policy or politics.