In announcing her plans to continue leading the Democrats in the House, Nancy Pelosi stressed this morning an unusual but critical and easily overlooked political force in resolving the fiscal cliff: gender diversity.
“As we move forward to debate our economic and fiscal challenges in the weeks and months ahead, one thing is clear—our economic agenda and choices will be viewed through the perspective and eyes of our nation’s women,” the California congresswoman said at a Wednesday news conference, flanked by other women Democratic lawmakers.
It’s a sign of how identity politics will come into play as Washington scrambles to address the economically toxic mix of tax hikes and spending cuts that are slated to begin next year. Rather than accepting a changing of the guard, Pelosi—with more than a decade of time in congressional leadership—decided to highlight how she embodies an increasingly diverse caucus.
The shared goal of the negotiations starting Friday with President Obama is to avert a possible recession while locking in commitments to tame deficit spending, but partisan differences over taxes and entitlement programs are an obstacle to reaching a deal.
Much of the focus so far has been on the expiring tax cuts first enacted under George W. Bush. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, opposes any rate increase and favors broader reform, while Obama won re-election last week by campaigning on the expiration of the Bush-era tax breaks for those making more than $250,000 a year. Pelosi’s remarks indicate that the Democrats will attempt to leverage their advantage with women to gain an edge in the closed door discussions. The other congressional participants besides Boehner include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“For some people in the general public, the thought of four men at that table was not an appealing sight,” Pelosi, 72, said.
Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney among women 56 percent to 44 percent, according to the Gallup Organization. Men sided with Romney by 8 percentage points, forming the largest combined gender gap that Gallup has ever measured.
“This picture before you,” said Pelosi, referring to the women lawmakers around her, “is worth millions of votes, millions of women’s votes that it took to re-elect President Barack Obama.”
Without the additional $1.6 trillion in tax revenues over the next decade contained in the president’s plan, Democrats say that education and health care programs that women voters generally support would endure devastating reductions. Just as Democrats are leaning heavily on their base of labor unions and women ahead of the negotiations, conservative groups sympathetic to the Tea Party are pressuring GOP lawmakers to tow the ideological line.
Pelosi has previously suggested that the tax rate increases should apply to those with annual incomes above $1 million and stressed the need to shield entitlement programs such as Medicare from the chopping block. Any changes to Medicare should make the health insurance program for seniors stronger and prolong its financial stability, Pelosi said today.
But the hard compromises about the fiscal cliff will be made behind closed doors, as Pelosi declined to give any policy details.
“When we go to the table,” she said, “we’ll make decisions about how to grow the economy.”