Reid grants a strategy role to senior Democrats

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised senior Democrats they will have more say in setting caucus policy.

Reid told a caucus retreat at the Kennedy Center this month that he will give more authority to ranking members of committees and will rely less on ad hoc methods of consultation than did his predecessor, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who was defeated in November.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised senior Democrats they will have more say in setting caucus policy.

Reid told a caucus retreat at the Kennedy Center this month that he will give more authority to ranking members of committees and will rely less on ad hoc methods of consultation than did his predecessor, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who was defeated in November.
patrick g. ryan
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will rely on ranking members of committees to formulate policy.

The new minority leader also plans to discontinue the use of task forces, which Daschle occasionally employed.

“He ruled out the use of task forces and said he would be relying on the ranking member [of the] committee of jurisdiction instead,” a Senate leadership aide said.

“The best way to help drive forward the Democratic agenda is to empower the ranking members,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “That’s where the expertise lies. That’s where the staff is.”

The aide said that Reid “hopes to tap into that knowledge to help drive forward the Democratic agenda.”

Reid plans to unveil the top 10 agenda items for the caucus next week, based on a wish list worked out with various ranking members. Republicans also plan to unveil their legislative priorities next week.

Senate sources said Reid decided to make the change on his own, but a Democratic lobbyist said Reid acted in response to senior Democratic colleagues who grew frustrated at the tight strategy control employed by Daschle and his top policy aides.

Under Daschle’s leadership, many key decisions were made by a trio of staffers: policy director Mark Patterson (who left the Hill last year and was replaced by Phil Schiliro), chief counsel Mark Childress and chief of staff Pete Rouse.

“Ranking members are not shrinking violets,” an aide to one of them said. “They make their desires and needs known.”

Comparing Reid’s style to that of Daschle, the aide noted that Reid likes to spend time on the Senate floor — a task he did not relinquish when the Senate reorganized to certify the presidential election last week.

“Reid is more of a hands-on person,” the committee aide said. “It’s a way for the Democrats to give everybody a voice.”

Daschle also took a personal hand in conducting some of the most sensitive negotiations on the Senate agenda, working to hammer out deals on asbestos legislation and an energy bill. The energy bill also was a top political concern of his, since it contained ethanol provisions that were an issue in Daschle’s losing race against Republican John Thune.

Reid also plans to delegate some authority to his successor as minority whip, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). A Durbin spokesman said that if Reid is “captain” of the caucus, Durbin is “first mate.”

And Reid has retained his longtime chief of staff, Susan McCue, who plays a central role in policy, strategy, staff decisions and communications.

Reid developed close relationships with many ranking members as whip. Part of the whip’s job is working with ranking members and chairmen to sort through dozens of amendments offered to pending legislation. Reid is close to fellow westerner Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the ranking member of the Finance Committee who frequently clashed with Daschle on tax and health matters.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, could cause Reid a few headaches this year as Democrats try to maintain unity on a number of issues.

Conrad, who is up for reelection in 2006, recently penned an op-ed with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Social Security and could face a tough opponent in a GOP-leaning state. He and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), ranking member on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, could end up negotiating with Republicans on Social Security reform.

A Senate Democratic source said Reid is likely to interact with K Street differently than Daschle.

“It’s going to be a completely different style,” said the aide, who asserted that many downtown firms had “no relationship with Daschle’s office.” The aide predicted that Reid’s staff would stay in closer contact with lobbyists, saying Reid had “a number of relationships” on K Street.

Some Democratic ranking members have enough clout that they maintain their influence no matter what formal role Reid establishes. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) made headlines last week with a speech at the National Press Club and media interviews aimed at influencing the Democratic agenda, and even pointed to a few areas in health and education where bipartisan compromise is possible.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the Senate’s most senior member, maintains an independent role as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and is considered close to Reid. Byrd put forward Reid’s name for nomination after Daschle lost his reelection bid.

Meanwhile, Childress, Daschle’s former chief counsel and one of his closest confidants, will not be in Washington to observe the early days of the President Bush’s second term. He plans to fly to Australia on Inauguration Day with his wife.

But Childress denied that his trip had anything to do with President Bush’s reelection. “I’m just a guy whose boss lost and [is] kind of taking a trip,” he said.

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