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Back in May of 2018, Nancy Pelosi, then the House minority leader, stopped by the Globe to talk about the Democratic effort she was spearheading to win control of that body. She had already served four years as the history-making first female speaker, but Democrats had lost the majority in the 2010 midterms, and subsequent efforts to regain it had fallen short.

I wrote a column saying that if House Democrats didn’t prevail in 2018, it would be time for Pelosi to go. These days, I’ll be sad when she does. In 2019, Pelosi became speaker again, and now, with a Democrat in the White House, we are watching a dazzling display of legislative legerdemain.


In Washington, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is considered a master strategist because of his skill at obstruction. But blocking bills with the aid of the Senate filibuster is easy. It’s getting things passed that takes skill — and that’s where Pelosi excels.

With her wafer-thin majority in the House exacerbated by a deep divide between the progressives and the moderates, Pelosi has now managed to pass both the $1 trillion infrastructure plan and the Democrats’ $2 trillion or so Build Back Better climate-and-social-agenda bill.

We have also learned, courtesy of Carl Hulse’s piece in the Sunday New York Times, that in addition to her efforts herding persnickety House cats, Pelosi has also been working sedulously behind the scenes to get Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona aboard the social agenda. Hulse’s story sheds some light on another matter: How could it be that congressional Democrats spent two long summer months somehow thinking they could get a social agenda bill of $3.5 trillion or more when, in late July, Manchin and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer had signed a memo of understanding in which Manchin had said $1.5 trillion was about as high as he could go. No close Pelosi observer believes she would have wasted week after week rowing toward an unobtainable goal. She was terse about that, saying only: “I would have liked to have known that. However, it was what it was.”


Her meaning, however, was clear: Blame that debacle on Schumer.

With the social agenda now in the Senate, the bill and the ball are in Schumer’s court. The intraparty ideological tug of war there is substantial as well. It ranges from Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders on the left to Manchin and Sinema in the center.

If only the Senate majority leader possessed Pelosi’s skill.

Meanwhile, there will be two lines of attack from the GOP. The first is that this is socialism of the sort that will render the United States another Cuba or Venezuela. Conservatives use the terms socialism and communism to mean, essentially, anything that raises taxes on upper earners or corporations or expands services and supports for the middle and working classes.

But what makes actual socialism a worry — and often renders real socialist countries economic basket cases — is a hard-left government nationalizing key industrial sectors (the “means of production”), taking control of the banking system, and centrally directing or running the economy. None of that is even close to happening here.

The second line of attack is more accurate. That is, that this agenda could actually cost well in excess of its advertised price. That’s true if one assumes the new or enhanced programs, which are currently scheduled to sunset, are continued on a long-term basis, as Democrats hope they will be.


This, obviously, is not a particularly transparent or straightforward way to make policy.

That said, the GOP takes the same approach with tax cuts. Almost two dozen individual income tax aspects of the 2017 tax cuts were written, and are supposedly slated, to expire in 2025, the better to keep the projected effects on the deficit lower. But one can count on the fact that the GOP will push hard to extend those breaks.

Further, when the opposition party is intent on using the structural advantage the filibuster gives them to oppose almost any sizable piece of social legislation — thereby forcing the Democrats to get 60 votes or use the reconciliation process — it’s hardly an unacceptable tactic to offer a happy-hour policy smorgasbord.

Pelosi’s political prestidigitation notwithstanding, the social agenda is hardly a done deal. Senate Democrats should now follow the adage of skilled policy makers everywhere: Just get it to conference — that is, a House-Senate conference committee. There, cooler, more pragmatic heads can take charge. Ultimately, they’ll be able to present the line-in-sand types on both sides with an offer that’s hard to refuse: Take it or leave it — but remember, it’s this or nothing.


And that will put Pelosi in an even better position to work her magic.

Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.