By Alexander Bolton - 09/15/10 12:26 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is planning action on the hot-button issues of gays in the military, immigration reform and income taxes in the weeks before he returns home to face voters.
While many candidates try to duck difficult issues in the months before a tough election, Reid has decided to charge straight at them. Yet in doing so, Reid could be giving his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, ammunition. Polls show the two in a dead heat.
“The most important thing we need to do for the economy is protect the middle class,” Reid said. “That’s why we’re going to make permanent the tax rate for middle-class families.”
Reid has also scheduled a Senate vote on proceeding to the defense authorization bill, which includes a provision to repeal the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the military.
“In this bill we repeal the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “I think we should choose common sense over discrimination. We’re going to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in our country, everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcome.”
Reid is rounding out the campaign-season trifecta by also putting a scaled-down version of immigration reform on the Senate’s front burner.
He has decided to offer the Dream Act, legislation that would put the children of illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions on a path to citizenship, as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.
“We have large numbers of our military who are Hispanic — I think it’s really important we move forward on this legislation,” Reid said.
The legislation would enable the children of illegal immigrants to obtain green cards if they entered the U.S. before they turned 16, have lived in the country for five consecutive years and graduated from high school or served in the military.
Given the large Hispanic population in Reid’s home state, it’s possible this move could help him at the polls.
On the tax debate, which appears set to dominate the rest of this congressional session, Republicans accuse Reid and other Democrats of raising taxes on small businesses during a recession.
But Reid has indicated he’s willing to fight on the issue.
“We have two issues: One is taking care of the middle class, and the other is taking care of the millionaires. It’s pretty easy to understand where I am on that,” he said.
Reid said he would negotiate with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) over the next few weeks to schedule votes on the Bush tax cuts.
Senate Democrats, divided themselves on the tax issue, met for over an hour Tuesday afternoon to discuss their agenda and the tricky question of what to do about the expiring tax cuts. A Democrat familiar with the discussions said that lawmakers generally agree about permanently extending the middle-class tax cuts but have yet to reach a consensus on whether to attach other forms of tax relief to the package.
Some Democratic senators also believe it would be better to postpone a vote on the Bush tax cuts until after the election, according to the source.
While Reid is facing a grueling campaign ahead of his November showdown, he showed signs of staying loose on Tuesday by trading tweets with the provocative pop star Lady Gaga, who sent a message to her nearly 7 million followers asking them to contact Reid and demand the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Undeterred by the picture on Gaga’s Twitter page featuring her in a flame-throwing brassiere, Reid responded with a message pledging: “There is a vote on #DADT next week. Anyone qualified to serve this country should be allowed to do so.”
Asked about his reelection chances, Reid said he is not overly concerned about his approval rating back home, which has hovered around 40 percent.
“I’m satisfied where I am in the polls,” he declared.