Thursday, April 15, 2010

How I Learned to Love Harry Reid

Over the past couple of years Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been greatly vilified by the wingnuts for marching at the head of the parade towards socialism and by progressives for his fecklessness in enacting the great progressive priorities (his poll numbers readily attest to that). I'll concern myself just with the friendly fire he's been receiving, by addressing some of the constraints he's been operating under. The oft repeated canard that he failed to deliver on progressive priorities when he had control of 60 seats in the Senate is almost willfully ignorant.

First the facts.

The Democrats emerged on the night of November 4th 2008 with the possible control of 58 seats (including two independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, who'd previously caucused with them). Let's remember that Senator Lieberman had actively campaigned for President Obama's opponent and that a lot of Democrats wanted him tossed unceremoniously out of the Democratic Senate Caucus. Senator Reid and President Obama managed to keep Joe Lieberman in the caucus (I doubt that stripping him of the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee would have kept him in the fold).

With the party switch on April 28, 2009 by Senator Specter the Democrats reached 59 seats and when the race in Minnesota was finally settled and Senator Franken sworn in on July 7, 2009 the Democrats clinched 60 seats on paper (counting on a brain cancer stricken Senator Kennedy and an ailing nonagenarian Senator Byrd). Senator Kennedy probably cast about five votes between April and his death on August 25th (his appointed successor was sworn in on September 24th).

With the GOP strategy of blanket obstructionism, Senator Reid could be (and likely was) held hostage by any member of his caucus. Speaker Pelosi could lose 39 members of her caucus and still get major legislation passed in the House. Leader Reid couldn't afford to lose one member to even bring a bill to the Senate floor. For those who argue that in the face of GOP obstructionism Leader Reid should force them to actually filibuster live on C-SPAN, please consult this explanation from David Waldman over at Congress Matters. Short version: given Senate rules he really can't make anyone do anything.

Each time Harry Reid gets the Socialist Bernie Sanders to vote with Conservadems Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln it goes down as a minor miracle in my book.

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