What Reid Has Wrought

“As of today, the Senate effectively has no rules. Congratulations, Harry Reid.
Finally, something you will be remembered for.”

November marked a stunning reversal of fortune for President Barack Obama and his Administration. After the government shutdown in October, President Obama and the Democratic Party appeared politically secure heading into the 2014 midterm election season, whereas the Republican Party, instigators of the shutdown and consumed by an ideological civil war, seemed in utter disarray. Nevertheless, volatility remains the byword of contemporary American politics and the disastrous rollout of the Obamacare website has left the Administration reeling. In the space of a year, Obama’s approval rating has essentially flipped, with most of the damage occurring in the past three months (RealClearPolitics, below).  In a mid-November, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found Romney would best in a rematch, 49 percent to 45 percent. As president, Obama cannot escape responsibility.  In the background, however, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, has inexplicably avoided scrutiny, despite being the noxious nexus of liberal perfidy today.

Elected in 1986, Reid partook in the re-taking of the Senate by the Democratic Party during President Ronald Reagan’s second term.  Reid won re-election easily in 1992, but only narrowly in 1998. From 1999 to 2005, Reid served as minority whip.  In 2005, the Democratic conference elevated Reid to minority leader after Senator Tom Daschle lost his re-election bid in 2004.  

During the 26 year period between 1987 and 2013, Reid shifted between the majority and minority four times, serving a total fifteen years in the former and eleven years in the latter. (From that Congress, only John McCain, Charles Grassley, and Barbara Mikulski remain.)

In the aftermath of the 2006 Republican “thumpin’”, Reid finally became Senate Majority Leader.

Reid, until then a moderate Democratic with some social conservative positions, immediately established himself an orthodox liberal.

In April 2007, Reid culminated years of liberal Democratic hypocrisy regarding the war in Iraq by declaring “this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing”. Like twenty-nine of his Democratic colleagues, Reid had voted for the authorization to use military force against Iraq, only to join a long list of Democratic leaders, such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and John Edwards, in repudiating their vote as soon as public support began to ebb.

After Obama won the presidency, Reid shepherded the Administration’s agenda through the Senate.

In February 2009, Reid sponsored and secured passage of the Administration’s $831 billion stimulus plan, garnering only three Republican votes (one of which was Arlen Specter, who later opportunistically defected to the Democratic side in a failed attempt to win re-election).  The Administration’s principal aim was to create or “save” jobs, of which many were advertised as “shovel-ready” by the president.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus boosted economic output and prevented wider unemployment, but it did not achieve the Administration’s promised goal of reducing unemployment below 8 percent.

In December 2009, Reid committed thirteen hours of negotiations to secure the support of remaining holdout, Sen. Ben Nelson (Democratic, Nebraska), for the Administration’s Affordable Care Act. Reid acceded to numerous Nelson demands:  tighter restrictions on abortion funding, eliminating the federal antitrust exemption for health insurers, rewriting a proposed fee on insurance companies to exempt nonprofit firms (a change that would benefit Nebraska firms), and, most egregiously, provisions to exempt Nebraska from the costs of expanding Medicaid.  

This last concession entailed a cost of approximately $100 million and was immediately denounced as the "Cornhusker Kickback". Obtaining this sixtieth vote, Reid ensured the legislation's passage. After Republican Scott Brown won an open seat election in Massachusetts and ended the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority, Reid and then Speaker Nancy Pelosi resorted to using the reconciliation process to pass the legislation.  The Cornhusker Kickback did not survive reconciliation, but after another round of party-line votes, the Congress under Reid and Pelosi passed the Act.  

Now, Reid has dismantled a key feature of American constitutionalism that protects the rights of minority dissenters against the tyranny of the majority. On November 21, Reid led the Senate chamber in changing the rule whereby federal judicial nominees and executive-office nominations would advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than a sixty-vote supermajority.  

Initial political commentary focused on the move as a means to distract from the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act website.  However, upon closer inspection, observers noted the rule change would facilitate the confirmation of presidential nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the locus of federal regulatory rulings, like those relating to the Affordable Care Act.  

More pointedly, “Reid acted outside the formal rulemaking process, leading his colleagues to overrule the Senate president in the middle of a contentious debate. Reid thus created a new precedent in which a simple majority can dispense with Senate rules on any vote, including legislation covering any aspect of life in America.” [Emphasis added]

While the House remains Republican and the move has only galvanized normally somnolent moderate Republican Senators, President Obama and Majority Leader Reid now possess the means to govern more overtly on behalf of its base by confirming even more stridently liberal appointees and approving onerous regulations.

As has been noted extensively, the maneuver will only backfire if and when the Democratic Party returns to the minority. Nevertheless, the audacity of the act only reiterates how negotiations with liberals always amounts to a sucker’s bet.  

When the Republican majority contemplated the same rule change, liberal Democrats were unmatched in their shrill denunciation. The video clips from that episode make for amusing viewing, but the conclusion is all but forgotten -- the Republicans retreated in a tacit admission that such a step would undermine the integrity of the Senate.

Charlatans like Reid have no such inhibitions.

As noted in a 2010 New York Times magazine profile, “By reputation and appearance, Reid, who is 70, is one of the blander elected officials in Washington. Upon closer inspection, he is deeply and deceptively interesting.”

Very apt. After all, Reid was the first major Democrat to counsel then Senator Barack Obama to take on the party’s all-but-uncrowned frontrunner Hillary Clinton in 2008, out of fear the latter would lose. If Clinton had run and lost, Reid might have been the senior Democrat in the country, but what is that worth when everything you pass is vetoed? That would have just been another sucker’s bet.

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