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The Hilarity of Harry Reid


 

fear the reidDon’t worry, this isn’t a controversy-type post, just a quick look at the apparent ineffectuality of U.S. Senate leader Harry Reid. What has become clear is that nobody trusts Reid to deliver the votes necessary to pass anything, partly because he’s been fairly passive about letting the Republicans filibuster everything (creating what amounts to a supermajority requirement to pass legislation) and partly because he can’t even guarantee that the members of his own caucus won’t join a filibuster. This became clear today when Joe Lieberman, former Democrat who caucuses with his former party, expressed an intent to filibuster a health-care bill with a public option.

Reid, who appalled the Washington Post’s snarky liberal-basher Dana Milbank by including the option in his health-care bill, can pass anything if he just keeps all 60 of his caucus members from filibustering (up to nine of them can vote against the bill; they just have to vote to allow a vote). The news that the Obama administration was pushing against the public option, in favour of a plan favoured by semi-Republican Olympia Snowe, was taken as a sign that they didn’t have confidence in Reid’s ability to deliver 60 votes against a filibuster. And it seems, for now, that they were right. That might change, or Reid might simply drop the public option from the bill; this way he at least gets credit for trying to put the public option in there, which can help him get liberal support for his tough upcoming re-election campaign. But for now, Reid has gained such a reputation for weakness that everything he says or does sort of re-inforces the perception that he’s weak; he’s even taken to referring to himself in the third person, Bob Dole style.

The question, then, is whether Reid is as weak as he seems, or whether this is a misconception that comes from his famously meek manner and his difficult job. He obviously has a tough job because the Democrats are a more heterogeneous party than the Republicans. But the Republicans are able to keep their members in line more than the Democrats can theirs. Snowe and Susan Collins, the only “liberal” Republicans left, often vote with their party when they’re under serious pressure to do so. The Democrats under Reid are infamous for not threatening committee chairmanships or other perks (Lieberman was allowed to keep his chairmanship after campaigning for the other party’s candidate), so they have no real reason to do anything they’re told.

Reid also kind of seems like a guy who became majority leader almost by accident. He was appointed to lead the Democrats after their previous leader, Tom Daschle, lost re-election. The Democrats were in a pretty deep hole at the time (2004) and seemed likely to be in the minority for some time. Reid seemed like the kind of guy who would be a good minority leader: from a state that went for Bush in 2004 (Nevada) with a reputation for being somewhat conservative on social issues like abortion, and well-liked. He could block certain Republican initiatives and cut deals with the majority on other things. Once the Democrats unexpectedly recaptured the Senate and he became majority leader, he had to take a role in actively pushing things through, and he doesn’t seem particularly good at it. The Republicans may have had a somewhat similar problem when they unexpectedly recaptured the Senate in 1980 on Reagan’s coattails: their leader was Howard Baker, a moderate, bipartisan-type Republican who was arguably more suited to the role of minority leader.

Worse, because Reid’s not from a reliably blue state, he has to worry that certain things will hurt his re-election chances; he’s always looking over his shoulder at the voters. Daschle, from South Dakota, had a similar problem when he was Majority Leader in 2001-2. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is from Kentucky, a strong Republican state; he had a stronger-than-usual challenge in 2008, but won by a comfortable 100,000 vote margin. He can do his job without worrying that the voters will punish him for being too beholden to his party.


 
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The Hilarity of Harry Reid

  1. "What has become clear is that nobody trusts Reid to deliver the votes necessary to pass anything, partly because he's been fairly passive about letting the Republicans filibuster everything"

    I don't understand what you mean by this because you clearly understand that Dems can't be filibustered if they stick together. There has been effective spin by Dems to make it seem like their incompetence is Repubs fault.

    I don't know the history of Majority Leaders, have they been able to corral Senators in the past? Most of the Senators put their career ahead of what it will do for party and there is nothing leadership can do about it. I don't really think it's fair to give a person a hard time because they find it difficult to herd cats.

    I forget who initiated policy but Dems made decision maybe 5/6 years ago to worry more about winning seats than ideological purity. As long as you're pro-abortion than you can be a Dem. It was good strategy to win control of Congress but Dems now have a bunch of fiscal conservatives who won't win re-election if they continue to vote for these massive spending bills.

    • I don't understand what you mean by this because you clearly understand that Dems can't be filibustered if they stick together.

      I was referring to before the Democrats had 60 members, when the Republicans could and did filibuster everything if they pulled together their whole caucus.

      • Reid can't be trusted now because he was unable to control Repub Senators a few years ago? Seems like an awfully high bar to set for trustworthiness.

        • The impression, fairly or not, was that he seemed fairly passive about letting it happen (and obviously, not passing stuff has advantages for a Senate majority; he never has to take responsibility for much of anything) and didn't do much to make it harder for them to filibuster. Whereas when the Republicans had the majority, they were more aggressive about blocking filibusters, and tried to change the rules to prevent Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees. (The Democrats probably now wish they'd allowed that rule change to happen.)

          • Jaime Is American politics an interest of yours? Seem to have lots of knowledge about it. I liked your point about Reid having to worry about getting himself re-elected while trying to keep base content. Interesting conundrum for Reid to solve.

            The next few elections could be interesting. Repubs are having their opening skirmishes in the civil war to begin next cycle of deciding who controls party and Dems could split as well if base if they are not mollified soon.

  2. Jaime Is American politics an interest of yours? Seem to have lots of knowledge about it. I liked your point about Reid having to worry about getting himself re-elected while trying to keep base content. Interesting conundrum for Reid to solve.

    The next few elections could be interesting. Repubs are having their opening skirmishes in the civil war to begin next cycle of deciding who controls party and Dems could split as well if base if they are not mollified soon.

  3. While I, of course, oppose nearly everything you stand for and often disagree with your conclusions, I have to say that this is a far more clear-headed survey of a particular moment in American politics than John Parisella has shown himself capable of, lately. Can you maybe trade assignments with him, or something?

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