Commentary: Nancy Pelosi hasn't been helping Democrats

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

I'm getting the idea that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is making preparations to retire — not that she will. But how else can you explain her seeming lack of concern for House members who must run in districts more conservative than her liberal San Francisco district?

If the House goes Republican in November, you have to wonder if Pelosi will be content to be the minority leader.

It remains a longshot for the GOP to regain the House, but the momentum is with the Republicans and they'll get very close. The GOP needs to gain 39 seats to get control of the House.

Pelosi, 70, became the first female House speaker in January 2007, after Democrats took over Congress the previous November. For Democrats to keep their majority, Pelosi must give her members in rural districts some help. Pushing policies that are embraced in liberal enclaves will cut into her majority — a coalition of liberal, centrist and conservative Democrats.

She could start by maneuvering out of the tax-cut box that the Democrats find themselves in. She and the president should consider renewing all the Bush tax cuts — at least until the economy recovers. That would be a stimulus package that would help the economy because most of the money would be spent by taxpayers. Even if it costs $700 billion to give the tax cuts to the wealthy, it would be cheap by Obama stimulus standards.

Tax policy is a fundamental issue because of the "jobless economic recovery" the Democrats are presiding over. Democrats, such as Valley Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza, are in enough trouble in their districts without their party forcing tax increases. If a compromise can't be found, taxes will go up on everyone.

Costa is among more than three dozen House Democrats who support renewing the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers, even the wealthy. Cardoza supports a middle-ground position of middle-class tax cuts. His office said he would consider tax-cut extensions for the wealthy, but is concerned about "borrowing money to pay for them."

The Obama/Pelosi position may make sense policy-wise, but is troublesome politically for House Democrats — a notoriously timid bunch. Obama wants the tax cuts extended for families earning under $250,000 annually.

The president says the Republicans are "holding middle-class tax cuts hostage." That may be, but if the tax cuts expire for everyone at the end of the year, the Democrats will never recover.

The longer this debate goes, the more it will hurt Democrats. Costa's plight is a good case study on the Democrats' problems. In a normal year, he would coast to victory. But voter anger is not his friend. A poll done in Costa's 20th District by Republicans illustrates the problem. Let's acknowledge that the poll has a GOP bias, but the results seem to make sense.

"The political environment is also working against the incumbent at this point, as fully 84% of voters say the state is off on the wrong track," say the pollsters for the National Republican Campaign Committee. "President Obama's job approval is down to a 1:1 ratio (48% approve, 46% disapprove). Nancy Pelosi has a 51% unfavorable image, with only 31% favorable toward her."

But even in this GOP poll, Costa leads 51% to 44% for Republican Andy Vidak. The problem for Costa is that he needs to regain political momentum to maintain his seat. The Republicans think they can win by tying him to Pelosi.

Here's a theme the Republicans have been testing: "Jim Costa has voted with Nancy Pelosi and liberals in Congress 95% of the time." That could be one reason that Costa embraced the Bush tax cuts.

Impartial experts think Costa won't lose in this district dominated by Democratic voters. But if he does, you can bet it will be part of a huge Republican sweep in November.