That’s why they call her ‘Speaker’

THAT’S WHY THEY CALL HER ‘SPEAKER’…. When you listen to House members talk about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to set the legislative calendar and count votes, they speak with a certain reverence. There’s an implicit understanding: the Speaker knows what she’s doing.

Ezra Klein had a good item this afternoon on this point, highlighting the fact that Pelosi oversaw House passage of a cap-and-trade bill back in June.

Many considered it a huge, unforced error. The Senate wouldn’t consider the bill for many months, if it ever took it up at all. Health-care reform was in full swing. And Pelosi had just forced her most vulnerable members to take an incredibly difficult vote. The House legislation would languish as it waited for the Senate, and angry House Democrats would be less willing to take a second hard vote on health-care reform.

Talking to congressional Democrats over these past few months, Pelosi’s decision to push cap and trade came up in almost every conversation. Coaxing support from vulnerable members who hadn’t yet forgiven the leadership for cap and trade had, according to some of these sources, become one of the biggest obstacles to health-care reform.

But health-care reform passed the House. And so, too, did cap and trade, all the way back in June, when most eyes were on health care and the Republicans hadn’t yet found their voice in opposition (eight Republicans, in fact, voted for cap and trade). Pelosi’s decision to move on climate change as soon as she had the votes now looks, well, a little bit genius: It’s virtually impossible to imagine the House passing cap and trade in the coming months, not after the exhausting health-care reform battle and not as the midterm election draws closer.

Likewise, it’s hard to imagine the House trying to pass health care reform next year, when nervous lawmakers feeling that much more jittery. But Pelosi put together a plan, stuck to it, and assembled a majority. There have been a lot of House leaders who’ve come and gone over the decades since health care reform became a national priority, but Nancy Pelosi is the first to actually bring a reform bill to the floor and pass it. Getting it and energy reform onto the floor and finished in the span of less than five months is no small task.

In the larger context, it helps to lead a caucus with 258 members. It gives a Speaker some leeway and room for error. Nevertheless, Pelosi doesn’t have the biggest majority ever, and leading a very diverse House Democratic caucus is about as easy as herding cats. Blind, stubborn cats.

Time will tell what future cycles hold, but let no one doubt that Nancy Pelosi wields that Speaker’s gavel as effectively as anyone in quite a long time.