Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) embrace of a more aggressive approach toward GOP obstructionism may be winning him accolades from junior Democrats, but more senior members of his Conference are divided.
Some Democrats, like Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), warned that Reid’s decision is a dangerous provocation that could poison relations in the chamber, making bipartisanship impossible.
“Then it’s difficult to back off and find common ground,” Nelson said. “There’s already too much partisanship.”
A veteran aide to another moderate Senate Democrat agreed, arguing that being more aggressive will further slow action in the Senate — and that Democrats will pay the price in November.
“This is an audition to see if Democrats can govern. … Let’s get some wins on the board. Then, when we’re chock-full of gridlock, then we can fight,” the aide said.
The aide added, “Fully partisan bills give you situations like you had on health care [last year], where you have to cut ugly deals … because these measures aren’t appealing enough on their own to pull some of these moderates on board.”
But other Democrats disagreed, arguing that the number of procedural filibusters mounted by Republicans has made the current situation untenable.
“I’m sort of torn here,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said Wednesday, noting that Republicans’ use of filibusters has become increasingly irritating. “I’m one who likes to work across the aisle and try to get things done. … Having said that, like a number of my Democratic colleagues, I get frustrated with these faux filibusters,” Carper said, referring to the use of procedural objections to block legislation without having to remain on the floor for days at a time.
“When Republicans are being disingenuous, we ought to call them on it. … A filibuster should be a real filibuster. There should be some pain and discomfort,” Carper said.
A senior Democratic leadership aide said Reid and the newer Members pushing him to be more aggressive understand the risks. However, this aide, who acknowledged that some Democrats are uncomfortable with the strategy, argued that moderates — particularly incumbents in tough races — could reap significant electoral benefits if Democrats can break Republicans of their filibuster habit.
Carper and other established Senate Democrats have warmed to the approach pushed by newer Members because “they know the gridlock is going to hurt them” and that forcing victories — like Democrats’ successful end to Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) filibuster of unemployment benefits — will help prove they can be successful, the leadership aide said.
Indeed, Reid appeared to have fully embraced the strategy by Wednesday. During a meeting with liberal bloggers, he vowed to take up reforms to the filibuster rules during the next Congress.
“The filibuster has been abused. I believe that the Senate should be different than the House and will continue to be different than the House,” Reid told the bloggers, according to the Huffington Post.
“But we’re going to take a look at the filibuster. Next Congress, we’re going to take a look at it. We are likely to have to make some changes in it, because the Republicans have abused that just like the spitball was abused in baseball and the four-corner offense was abused in basketball,” he added.
Reid joins Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) as the third member of the Democratic leadership to back filibuster reforms. Proposals to curb the use of filibusters have become increasingly popular among liberals and the chamber’s 22 members of the freshman and sophomore classes. Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has also proposed reforms, among other veteran lawmakers who support changing the rules.
And during a meeting Wednesday afternoon with the chamber’s freshman and sophomore members, Reid, his leadership team and the Senate’s newest Democrats planned to discuss a framework for putting his new aggressive philosophy into action.
Republicans argued that while the demand for a more aggressive approach is understandable, it is ultimately unwise.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) noted that while the 2006 and 2008 elections turned in large part on Democrats’ successful exploitation of anti-Bush and anti-Iraq War sentiments, the political dynamics have changed. And as a result, a partisan, hard-charging approach like the one lawmakers used in those years to get elected will backfire.
“A lot of these guys came in campaigning against Iraq, campaigning against Bush,” Graham said. He added that an overreliance on those tactics results in “you becoming tone deaf. So I think anybody who thinks the Democrats will do better by fighting harder and being harder-headed probably needs their hearing checked.”