Nancy Pelosi sticks up for Obama: We are better off than four years ago

The Democratic convention has tread lightly around the question of whether America is better off than it was four years ago. But Nancy Pelosi hit it head on Wednesday.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California, speaks at the Monitor-hosted Breakfast in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi says that the US is better off than it was four years ago because in the fall of 2008 the nation was on the verge of an historic economic collapse.

In an impassioned defense of President Obama's economic record, Congresswoman Pelosi at a breakfast sponsored by the Monitor said that she remembers the dark days of that autumn all too well. On Sept. 18, the then-speaker of the House met in her office with Bush administration Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. At the time, bank lending was drying up. The nation's biggest financial firms teetered on the edge of collapse.

Secretary Paulson described a scenario which, in Pelosi's words, included the US possibly descending into the depths of economic hell. So she turned to Chairman Bernanke, and asked for his opinion.

"If we do not act immediately, we will not have an economy by Monday," said Bernanke, in Pelosi's recollection.

The meeting was on a Thursday night.

"Are we better off than then? Yes," said Pelosi.

The "are you better off" question has bedeviled Democrats in recent days as they gather here in Charlotte, N.C., for their national convention. Republicans have adopted the phrase from the Ronald Reagan 1980 campaign, which used it to highlight US discontent with incumbent President Carter's economic record.

With unemployment stubbornly high and US economic growth sluggish at best, Democrats have struggled to articulate a response that encapsulates the idea that, yes, things aren't great, but you've forgotten the mess we inherited.

That was Pelosi's mission at the Monitor breakfast. She recalled calling Paulson to set up that September 2008 meeting and asking him to come to her office the next day.

"Madam Speaker," Paulson said, in Pelosi's recollection, "tomorrow will be too late."

Ultimately the Congress passed a $700 billion bank bailout bill pushed by the Bush administration. When Mr. Obama took office, the US was losing jobs at the rate of 800,000 per month, noted Pelosi. Over the past 29 months, the private sector has created 4 million new jobs.

"We have adult supervision, we are on a path to take us out of this," said Pelosi.

As to whether the Democrats will retake the House, allowing Pelosi the chance to once again be speaker, the California lawmaker was optimistic. Most outside political prognosticators predict the GOP will retain control of the chamber. The economic picture is too sour, and the climb too steep, in their view.

But Pelosi insisted that she can see a path to a net gain of 25 seats, which would flip the House back to her side. She sees 75 House seats, total, in play.

Currently, there are 18 House seats held by Republicans that went for Democrat John Kerry in 2004. In 2012, Democrats will take 12 of those, according to Pelosi. Forty-five more GOP seats are in districts that went for Obama in 2008. Democrats will win 15 of those, for a potential gain of 27 seats.

A number of Democratic incumbents are likely to lose, meaning the party probably needs more than a gain of 27 to net the 25 seats needed to retake power. Those further gains will occur seat to seat, in various states, as the Democrats fight "mano a mano, district to district," said Pelosi.

"We've outraised [the GOP], we've out-redistricted them, and we've out-recruited them," insisted Pelosi.

Again, most pundits think that's a very optimistic scenario. In National Journal Wednesday, political expert Charlie Cook notes that at least 15 current Democratic seats are tossups, or worse, due to retirements and redistricting.

"The partisan breakdown of the House doesn't look to change dramatically," writes Mr. Cook.

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