Senate Republicans are still seething over Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) strong-arm tactics, but Reid and other Democratic leaders say they feel vindicated by their ability to corral enough GOP votes to jump-start debate on their first job-creation measure this year.
Two weeks ago, Republicans howled in protest over Reid’s decision to shelve a bipartisan jobs measure crafted by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in favor of a trimmed-down bill. But Democrats say Reid’s maneuver proved that keeping their legislative goals simple will force bipartisanship to materialize.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Reid’s plan to pursue a series of small, focused job-creation measures was justified by Monday’s vote in which five Republicans joined all but one Democrat to advance a bill that is likely to move to final passage today.
“I think the lesson there for us is … we should keep our bills very clear. And this was very clear,” Boxer said. “We had two items in the bill that dealt with tax breaks for business, for investment and for hiring, and two bills that dealt with the infrastructure of our country, keeping it strong, building it and saving jobs. And so the message was very clear.”
Reid’s win on the jobs bill helped to quell, for now, a debate in the Democratic caucus over whether to pursue bipartisanship or charge forward with pure party priorities.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged: “That debate was raging in our caucus. But the fact that five Republicans stepped up and joined us gave us some encouragement to try to work to find moderate Republicans who will join us in passing important issues. If it breaks down again into the endless filibusters and no progress being made, then I think the wing of the caucus that’s arguing for contrast and show where we stand and where they disagree is going to prevail.”
One senior Senate Democratic aide said, “Passing smaller, targeted legislation gives us a better chance of winning, keeps our message clean and it puts Republicans in a corner.”
Democrats appear on the cusp of another bipartisan deal to take up a nearly yearlong extension of unemployment benefits and a continuation of tax extenders, among other things. Aides said Tuesday that they believe Republicans are close to agreeing to a longer extension of jobless benefits than the three months included in the Baucus-Grassley measure. The longer extension would assuage liberals who balked at extending business tax cuts for a year and unemployment benefits for only three months.
Reid axed the tax extenders and jobless benefits from the bill he pushed Monday, calling the tax provisions a sop to lobbyists that had little to do with job creation. Of the $85 billion Baucus-Grassley bill, only $15 billion was directed squarely at job creation.
Initially, Democrats and Republicans alike accused Reid of pulling the rug out from under a genuine bipartisan effort. But now many Democrats say they are happy he stuck up for Democratic priorities and resisted attempts to lard the bill with GOP sweeteners.
“The leader made a gutsy call and showed we didn’t need those things” that Grassley and Republicans were asking for on the first jobs bill, another senior Senate Democratic aide said. “Republicans are finding it much harder to oppose a targeted approach.”
Still, GOP lawmakers said Reid’s handling of the jobs bill left a bitter taste. “It seems to me that it squelched bipartisanship rather than encouraged it,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.
“I think it’s got to make it harder when … [we’re] basically shut out by the majority,” he added.
Grassley agreed, saying, “It’s going to make me more cautious and questioning in the future.”
But Republicans emphasized they will continue to try to find areas where they can work with Democrats, including Baucus and other bipartisan-minded lawmakers.
Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said that while the drama surrounding the jobs bill may make bipartisanship more difficult, Hatch and other lawmakers continue to see it as their duty to work with Democrats as much as possible. Hatch was a supporter of the Baucus-Grassley compromise, and the narrower bill Reid pushed forward Monday included a Hatch-authored tax break for companies that hire the unemployed.
“Sen. Hatch will continue to work in good faith with those Democrats like Chairman Baucus who want to reach responsible, common-sense compromises. It’s up to the Democratic leadership to decide if they will choose to honor them,” Ferrier said.
A senior GOP aide said that while Republicans are frustrated, many believe they need to continue to work with Democrats whenever possible. “There really is a lack of trust on our side of the aisle. … [But] there is an obligation of Senators on both sides of the aisle to try to work together,” the aide said, warning that Democrats should understand the implications of Reid’s actions.
“It’s not a good thing and they know it. What happens when it happens to them?” the aide asked.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) indicated he believes the flap will blow over because Reid has made clear he will not undercut bipartisan deals in the same way again.
“Our leader’s made it clear that’s not what we intend to do and that’s not what we would have done this time through had he been assured that Republicans were not going to rope-a-dope us. He just felt like we were being set up,” Carper said.
“People tend to get mad, and then they get over it,” Carper added. “Around here, I learned a long time ago that sometimes the person who is my adversary on a particular issue next week might be my best ally on a different issue.”
Even so, Democrats indicated that the votes they are targeting are not necessarily those of Grassley and Hatch, who negotiated on health care with Baucus for months last year only to decline to sign on to any bill.
“There are a number of Republicans who engage in long-term negotiations, lengthy and, in the end, pointless negotiations, and so now you’ve got these guys saying, No more,’ while others of their colleagues are voting for bipartisan bills,” the second senior Senate Democratic aide said. “I think votes speak louder than monthlong negotiations.”
The five Republicans who voted with Democrats on Monday, Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), George Voinovich (Ohio), Kit Bond (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), are largely centrist.