Thursday, November 12, 2020

Pelosi's Professional Managerial Gamesmanship Under The Iron Law Of Institutions

billmoyers  |  This is known as the Iron Law of Institutions: “The people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself.” McConnell wants to retain power personally, and is thinking past the upcoming loss of power for the party. (I’ve noted how he’s setting up for a re-run of post-Obama Republican dominance as well.)

What’s been less understood is how the Iron Law of Institutions is affecting Nancy Pelosi’s decision-making as well.

Pelosi’s appearance with Wolf Blitzer was an absolute train wreck, with her blasting him for being a GOP “apologist” when all he said over and over again was “people are hurting, can’t you come to a deal?” When you get in a fight with someone so unintelligent that he broke the record for negative dollar amounts on Celebrity Jeopardy, and you lose that badly, something is wrong with your messaging. Yet Pelosi proudly displayed the transcript on her website anyway.

What was she really doing in that interview? She was defending her committee chairs, who she has put out front and center as objecting to this and that part of the White House’s $1.8 trillion counter-offer. Writ large, your macro-economic pundit might see the objections as pretty trivial. But I guarantee you they’re important to one committee or one sub-caucus or one bloc of Democrats. For example, money for child care, which Pelosi has consistently called to light, is critical for women of color, who make up a near-majority of providers. Things like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit (which Pelosi wants increased and made useful for the pandemic tax year) are pet projects of Ways and Means Committee members. These are things that Pelosi can point to and tell House Democrats that she’s fighting for their objectives.

Underlying that is the fact that this is a purely theoretical exercise. Pelosi taking or not taking the deal will not matter as to whether stimulus reaches the American people. McConnell is the roadblock, and the mission is doomed. So the only thing Pelosi needs to protect is her status among the Democratic caucus.

So far, practically nobody inside the caucus has disagreed with her position. One of the truly terrible after-effects of the pandemic has been the dissolution of Congress as a legislative body. All lawmaking has funneled up to the Speaker; the bulk of the House has been prevented from governing. There’s something darkly comic in progressives fighting so hard to upset incumbents and gain additional members of the Squad, so they can sit around too until Pelosi tells them to vote for something.

But it’s up to the caucus to be mad about that, not me. And all indications are that they’re not mad. Pelosi’s imperiousness may have been a problem at points during the pandemic. But people have short-term memories, and on this negotiation, Pelosi is trying pretty hard to show that the objections are caucus-wide, and picking out little provisions that likely matter to key members.

The other backdrop to all of this is that Pelosi wants one last term as Speaker with a Democratic trifecta, one last chance at a burst of policymaking. She made a deal in 2018 that earned her the Speaker’s gavel in this Congress, but only for two terms. And in that second term, she needs two-thirds support of the caucus to win the Speaker’s race. It took a lot of hustle for Pelosi to secure majority support in 2018. So, in keeping with the Iron Law of Institutions, she’s tending to her caucus as well.