Executive vs. Legislative Turf Battles

In recent years the balance of power has shifted far too much in favor of the Executive Branch, but now Nancy Pelosi is trying to exert increased power for Congress. The Politico reports:

In talks with Emanuel and others, sources say, Pelosi has “set parameters” for what she wants from Barack Obama and his White House staff — no surprises, and no backdoor efforts to go around her and other Democratic leaders by cutting deals with moderate New Democrats or conservative Blue Dogs.

Specifically, Pelosi has told Emanuel that she wants to know when representatives of the incoming administration have any contact with her rank-and-file Democrats — and why, sources say.

During the Bush years, the White House set policy, and Republicans on Capitol Hill were expected to follow it. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) occasionally lashed out at former White House chief of staff Andy Card or other senior administration aides when he felt they had gone too far. But in general, Republican lawmakers followed Bush’s lead on every major legislative battle, from Iraq to tax and spending bills to anti-terror policies. With the exception of immigration reform, the House fight over the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package and last week’s meltdown over a bailout for the Big Three automakers, Bush got what he wanted from Congress, especially within his own party.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are signaling that they won’t tolerate a repeat with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.

Pelosi “is not going to allow Obama to triangulate her,” said a Democratic source close to the leadership. “It’s not going to happen to her.”

I hope they are exaggerating what Pelosi said, but she also might have put out a position knowing that the Obama administration will not necessarily always go along with her. I’d also be curious to hear how Emanuel responded, and what he said about this conversation to Obama.

Congress should definitely play a greater role than under they did under Bush, but I also don’t expect to see Obama give Pelosi everything she wants. Obama has an approval in the 70’s while Congress has an approval in the teens. Obama won the election with the support of many who have not traditionally voted Democratic. It is certainly conceivable that at times his policies will include compromises to please moderate Democrats, and even Republicans.

Not having to deal with a Congress controlled by the opposing party, I would not expect to see the same type of triangulation that was seen during the Clinton years. This does not mean that Obama should necessarily side with Pelosi on all issues.