The Winter of Harry’s Discontent
The Senate’s majority leader is in for a difficult 2013.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid


Daniel Foster

For nigh on four years, Reid has been able to run the Senate in contravention of existing law by refusing to pass a budget. Reid likes running government on an endless series of continuing resolutions because it dresses up bloated post-stimulus levels of spending to look like legitimate fiscal policy and has protected his members from casting unpopular votes in two straight election cycles, whereas a traditional budget process would force an actual conversation about priorities into the sunlight. The no budget/no pay thing is gimmicky, but it’s not a gimmick that will dissuade the president from signing the House plan as is. This puts Reid in a dilemma: Pass a budget, or work pro bono.

He’ll have to stand apart from the White House on gun control

As recently as 2010, Harry Reid was shooting skeet at a Nevada gun park (built with federal dollars that he helped secure) within hailing distance of Wayne “Yes, That Wayne LaPierre” LaPierre, who called Reid a “true champion” of the Second Amendment. Now Reid has to decide if, when, and how he’ll bring gun-control measures backed by his president and much of his caucus to the floor of the Senate.

Particularly vexing will be Senator Feinstein’s effort to reanimate a scary-guns ban. Reid has cast votes both in favor of and against past incarnations of the “assault weapons” ban, but the new model might be the most stringent yet, and would annoy a goodly number of Nevadans. More importantly, it would annoy a goodly number of purple-state constituents of purple-state members that Reid needs to hold his purple-state-driven majority. I can’t say how this will play out. And if Reid’s noncommittal statements — “We’re going to have votes on all kinds of issues dealing with guns. And I think everyone would be well-advised to read the legislation before they determine how they’re going to vote for it” — are any indication, neither can he.

Chuck Schumer is stealing his sunshine

Meanwhile, as Reid deals with all this unpleasantness, Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s number-three Democrat and Reid’s number-one rival, quietly plots, his reading spectacles dangling ever more precipitously from the end of his nose as a smile slowly spreads across his face. While Harry puts out fires in his caucus, Schumer — the ultimate camera hog — is tag-teaming with Marco Rubio, a smart-money prospect to be the next Republican president of the United States, on comprehensive immigration reform, the issue most likely to bring an interval of bipartisan free love to an otherwise gridlocked year.

Senator Reid has always been a moody chap, quick to offend. He has insulted, on the record, everyone from Senate colleagues (“can’t stand” John McCain) to Supreme Court justices (Justice Thomas the “embarrassment”) to chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the “incompetent” Peter Pace), and reserves a special scorn for the big-and-tall set — calling his staffers, and even President Bush’s dog, fatties. Some enterprising Senate Republican staffers have even started compiling a list of Reid’s top insults. If the majority leader’s lashing out is a function of frustration, we can expect a few additions this year.

— Daniel Foster is NRO’s news editor.