WASHINGTON (AP) — Their votes required to pass a budget for the year, House Democrats expect a bigger role in the upcoming fiscal showdowns and other matters in which House Speaker John Boehner can't muster a GOP majority, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday.
Republicans "don't have the votes to pass some of these bills," Pelosi, D-Calif., said during an interview with The Associated Press. "If we're going to have to supply the votes, we're going to have to be at the table."
It was a warning to President Barack Obama as much as to Boehner, two of the three negotiators who crafted the spending plan that Congress passed Thursday to fund the government through September and avert a government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid completed the trio.
Pelosi and House Democrats were largely absent from the talks as the clock ticked toward what would have been the first government shutdown in 15 years, chilling Obama's relationship with the caucus. The California Democrat, once a towering figure shadowed through Capitol Hill by swarms of reporters, left town last week to deliver a speech in Boston on a pivotal evening in which late night talks yielded the first outlines of a deal.
It was an unaccustomed removal from power for the former House speaker who muscled through Obama's health care overhaul last year and was subsequently cast during the 2010 election campaign as the face of an overreaching, single-party government. Voters put Republicans in charge of the House and ushered in an era of divided government just ahead of the 2012 election year. Between now and then, major fiscal debates over the nation's debt limit and next year's budget confront Obama and Congress.
But Obama's and Pelosi's goals diverge somewhat. The president is running for re-election and looking to regain credibility with the vote-rich political center after Republicans framed his signature health care reform as a liberal big government power grab. Pelosi, meanwhile, is her party's biggest fund-raiser and favorite of the Democrats' liberal base. She's also got her eye on winning back control of the House.
Much rides on the sweeping fiscal debates dominating congressional business. In a prelude to a summer showdown, the House on Friday passed the GOP's budget blueprint for 2012 that would slash social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid and restructure taxpayer-financed health care for seniors.
Pelosi said Friday she hopes Obama and the House Republicans take a lesson into those debates from the one just resolved by the passage of a spending plan for the rest of 2011.
"We were completely cut out" of negotiations," Pelosi said. "They (Obama, Boehner and Reid) were just going where the votes were, except they weren't there."
The House passed the spending bill Thursday, 260-167. Fifty-nine of Boehner's Republicans voted no. Eight-one Democrats more than made up for them by voting yes and helping push the bill to passage.
"I think it's very important that it not go unnoticed," Pelosi said. "It tells us that if there's an agreement, we should be part of it."
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