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When Speaker Nancy Pelosi returns to the Capitol in January, she'll likely continue as House Democratic leader. Her loss of power as Republicans assume control of the House will be accompanied by an almost Dickensian reduction of circumstances—by Washington standards, anyway. Gone will be the spacious office suite with its federalist decor, the rides home aboard a military plane, and a good chunk of her staff. "It's a profoundly humbling experience," says Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist.
Pelosi seemed to enjoy the perks that came with a job that made her second in line for the Presidency. Soon after becoming Speaker in 2007, she secured use of a military aircraft for nonstop travel between Washington and her San Francisco home. She banned smoking in the Speaker's Lobby, an ornate room next to the House chamber where members gather between votes.
As she prepares to swap jobs with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), she'll lose the right to authorize overseas congressional trips and dole out prime office space to lawmakers. She will also shed 10 percent of her $5.1 million office budget and lose nearly half of what records show is a staff of over 50. A Capitol Police security detail will still shuttle her around Washington in an SUV, but she'll have to go back to flying commercial. Nadeam Elshami, Pelosi's deputy communications director, says the Speaker doesn't care about any of that: "This job is not about the size of the office, it is about America's middle class."
The biggest change will be her workspace. The Speaker's suite of offices adjacent to the Capitol rotunda is rich in history and architectural detail, such as decorative mantels and murals. A balcony provides an unobstructed look down the National Mall—one of Washington's finest views. Artifacts in a separate ceremonial office include a tall case clock and a Federal Period sideboard donated by a family that once lived near George Washington. The Minority Leader's suite, by contrast, was added in 1959. Its view is of the Library of Congress. The suite comes with a conference room and two staff offices; other aides work in windowless quarters a floor below.
Only three of the 52 House Speakers later served as Minority Leader. The last time was in the 1940s and '50s, when Democratic Leader Samuel T. Rayburn and Republican Joseph William Martin Jr. repeatedly swapped offices as power shifted. After 1954 elections that would have returned Rayburn to the Speaker's suite, he told Martin to stay put. The offices stayed with the Minority Leader until Newt Gingrich reclaimed them in 1995. While Boehner has no plans to pull a Rayburn, he does plan to keep Pelosi's smoking ban—and to fly home on commercial planes.
The bottom line: House Speaker Pelosi, who is likely to remain House Democratic leader next year, is about to see her Capitol lifestyle downsized.