Politics & Policy

Leader Losing It

Senate meltdown.

There was a remarkable exchange on the floor of the Senate this past Thursday between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It offers pretty stunning evidence of how personally petty Reid is, as well as his penchant for defining “partisanship” as anything that keeps him from getting his way.

The particulars here aren’t terribly important, but what happened was this: The Senate was voting on a Medicare bill bloated with new spending. The bill was also an attempt to prevent cuts in payment rates to doctors who treat seniors on Medicare, and Democrats wanted to pay for that by taking the funds from Medicare Advantage, a private fee-for-service plan. The president would likely have vetoed the bill in its current form and Senate Republicans opposed the gutting of Medicare Advantage, so Senate Republicans blocked the bill. The trouble is that if the Senate doesn’t resolve the issue very soon, doctors will stop receiving Medicare funds. So Republicans proposed a 30-day extension to allow more time to hammer out a compromise. Democrats blocked the proposed extension. The impasse here caused Reid to go apoplectic on Mitch McConnell (I’ve highlighted the juicy parts):

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): “I have said we are all here by virtue of being elected by our respective States. I had out here earlier today our Velcro chart, 79 filibusters. Is it any wonder that the House seats that came up during the off year — Hastert’s went Republican, a Republican district that went Democratic; a seat in Louisiana that was a longtime Republican seat went Democratic. Is it any wonder that the State of Mississippi sent us a Democratic House Member? It is no wonder because they see what is going on over here. . . . Mr. President, I am sure it was a Freudian slip — 59 Democrats voted for this. But next year at this time, there will be 59 Democrats at least.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.6233, 06/26/08)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Here we are a few days before the doctors receive this unconscionable cut, and the majority is saying it is more important to play politics with this issue, to brag about the fact there are 59 Democrats who voted to go forward, to talk, of all things, during the Medicare debate about who won special elections for the House of Representatives in Illinois, Mississippi, or Louisiana. What in the world does that have to do with the subject matter?

The subject matter before us is not playing political games. . . . And the reality is that the refusal of the majority to approach this issue on a bipartisan basis, as has been typically done in the past, will lead to a Presidential veto, a reduction in the reimbursement rates for doctors, an expiration at the end of the week. There is a way forward to get back together like we have typically done on this, and that is to approve a 30-day extension.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): “A veto by the President? Gee whiz, who would be afraid of him? He has a 29-percent approval rating. How in the world could anybody be afraid of him vetoing a bill? I cannot imagine why anyone would care about that. . . . I say to my friend and I say I don’t know how many people are up here for reelection, but I am watching a few of them pretty closely, I say to all these people who are up for reelection: If you think you can go home and say, I voted no because this weak President, the weakest political standing since they have done polling, I voted because I was afraid to override his veto — come on.”

There’s also a YouTube video of part of the exchange here. So basically what we see here is, yet again, Reid is not at all interested in compromise, even with the threat of a presidential veto and a deadline looming that could adversely affect the health care of ordinary citizens.

Reid has done this time and time again: notably last fall, when he refused to open the floor to votes on Republican tax cuts — even though doing so meant that, despite months of warnings, the Senate wouldn’t get around to “patching” the non-inflation-adjusted Alternative Minimum Tax so that middle-class families wouldn’t get socked with a monstrous tax bill. The AMT did eventually get patched, but — because Reid dithered after being warned for months about this problem — the IRS ended up delaying tax refunds by ten weeks because changes in the system couldn’t be processed that late.

Reid’s unbecoming tantrums also led to the embarrassing stunt in which he forced the Senate into an all-night session in a lame attempt to withdraw nearly all forces from Iraq in 120 days. He further demonstrated his pettiness by ordering the Senate into 30-second “pro forma” sessions over the holidays to keep the president from making recess appointments — this despite the fact that there was a backlog of nearly 200 appointments the Senate was basically refusing to vote on.

As for his sniffing about being afraid of Bush’s low 29-percent approval rating, Reid would do well to remember that Congress’s approval rating is currently 18.5 percent. Reid’s personal approval rating back in Nevada is 43 percent and has been as low as 32 percent, late last year. For him to ridicule the president’s low ratings is unbecoming.

Nonetheless, an unhinged and unchecked Harry Reid illustrates how dire things could become if Republicans take such a heavy electoral loss in the fall that they can no longer cobble together the 41 votes needed for a filibuster. Republicans would do well to get the message out that if you disapprove of how Congress is being run — and who doesn’t? — the lion’s share of the blame belongs to Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership’s excessive partisanship.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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