Opponents' caricatures have become commonplace - the Republican National Committee video puts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi side by side with James Bond's villainess, Miss Galore. The Iowa Republican, a party newsletter, on Sept. 18 called Pelosi "inept at her job." Actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson labeled her "naive."
Rush Limbaugh's numerous jabs include "She can multitask. She can breastfeed, she can clip her toenails, she can direct the House, all while the kids are sitting on her lap." Washington Times editor emeritus Wesley Pruden asserted that Pelosi's speakership is "about celebrating estrogen."
On Sept. 10, master Republican strategist Karl Rove asked, "How much capital will Speaker Nancy Pelosi have" to pass health care?
Pelosi answered that in a conversation Sept. 29 at House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers' 80th birthday party, after the Senate Finance Committee had just rejected the Medicare-like public option for all by a 10-13 vote: "We will not be deterred. We will pass the bill."
The public option is still viable. The House is set to pass it. It is neither "fading" nor "waning" (New York Times) nor on "life support" (ABC News).
The House bill with a public option is strongly supported by Pelosi and all three House committees that sent the bill forward. When it does pass, compromises with the Senate of triggers and time delays and state programs will occur. That's how the process works.
According to a CBS News poll, public support for the public option rose from 57 to 68 percent after President Obama's speech to Congress last month. People understand that real reform would counter the insurance stranglehold that makes Americans pay almost twice as much as the rest of the world while we rank behind 44 other countries in infant mortality and 49 in life expectancy.
Pelosi is now blending the three House versions - all with a public option - and will bring the bill to the Rules Committee over the next few days and the floor soon afterward.
For those who doubt Pelosi's ability to pass the bill, know that she has passed every bill she has brought forward, usually with 60-plus margins, since the Democrats recaptured the House in 2006. These include the Recovery Act, Credit Card Bill of Rights, Homeowner Affordability, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) and State Children's Health Program expansion to 11 million youths.
Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he could not vote for the public option because "I can't see how we get to 60 votes." The Constitution and the law require only a majority 51. The Senate amended its rules to require a "supermajority" to end debate. This procedure, called cloture, is a pander to allow special-interest contributors (Baucus has a million dollars from insurance companies) to block bills. Pelosi is right to support Senate "reconciliation," which would allow a simple majority to pass health reform Americans want.
A true reading of her performance should brand her as the Lyndon Johnson of the House. Just as Johnson did when he served as the Senate's majority leader, Pelosi works from the inside to ensure efficient passage of bills.
Health care - and the public option - will probably be no different.
Weiner was chief of staff of the House Aging Committee and Health Subcommittee. Rebecca Vander Linde is research chief at Robert Weiner Associates.