By Alexander Bolton - 02/07/12 10:15 AM EST
Some Democrats are grumbling over how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has run the floor this year.
The frustration is felt mostly among junior lawmakers, who want more of a role in decision-making and have yet to resign themselves to the traditional pace of the Senate, where seniority rules and lawmakers often have to wait years to have significant influence.
Colleagues have second-guessed Reid’s decision to greenlight a deal with Republicans on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill.
Some have questioned his call to speed to the floor legislation prohibiting lawmakers from using non-public knowledge to benefit financially, which needed last-minute revision.
They are also grousing about the aborted plan to schedule a controversial proposal cracking down on Internet copyright infringement.
Senators credit Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Democrats’ chief message guru, with doing a good job of keeping the caucus on message. Members of the Democratic caucus have been loath to criticize their leadership during a tough election year, when control of the chamber hangs in the balance.
But complaints have bubbled up after leadership decisions in the first two weeks of the session left lawmakers scratching their heads.
A spokesman for Reid said the leader is sensitive to concerns from members, but is pleased with actions taken by the Senate in the first weeks of its session this year.
While Reid quickly backed down on the Internet piracy bill, known as the Protect IP Act, the fast action on insider-trading legislation —the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act — was seen as a win for Senate Democrats.
Reid might have secured another victory on Monday with Senate approval of the
FAA authorization, which allows him to claim credit for passing jobs legislation.
“While he is and will continue to be sensitive to concerns voiced by members and interested parties across the spectrum, he is pleased that in recent weeks, Democrats and Republicans have come together to pass a long-term Aviation Jobs bill that, after 23 short-term extensions, will save approximately 280,000 jobs and prevent another FAA shutdown, along with legislation to prevent members of Congress from using insider knowledge for personal financial gain,” said Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman.
But while Reid’s decisive action could help him check off accomplishments and pressure House Republicans, some Democrats feel like he’s sometimes running ahead without them.
“There’s a brewing frustration about how the last few things were managed,” said a Senate Democratic aide, who added that some senators have felt shut out of leadership decisions. “There’s a discontent with the rank and file that people have not been read into the process.”
Some Senate Democrats and their union allies feel their leadership did not do enough to consult with them on the FAA bill, which included several anti-union provisions.
Some labor unions were outraged when they found out the aviation reauthorization conference report included legal changes that will make it harder for thousands of transportation workers to organize. It requires that union organizers collect the support of 50 percent of workers to hold an election, up from the earlier threshold of 35 percent.
Union leaders say they were caught unawares and that the Senate leadership should have done more to apprise their colleagues and allies of what was happening.
“We’re operating in the dark here,” said Richard Michalski, general vice president at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “No one consulted us.”
Another Senate Democratic aide said Reid’s staff has acknowledged the union’s concerns but told the offices of rank-and-file members that the unions didn’t weigh in with their views soon enough.
Michalski took strong exception to that assertion.
“We’ll get to the bottom of who created this sham. It is a sham. Somebody is lying to someone. Someone is lying to Harry Reid or lying to Jay Rockefeller,” he said in reference to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
“This is the second bill in as many weeks that was not ready to come to the floor,” said a second Democratic aide.
The fast-moving bill has sowed confusion and caused some tempers to flare.
The AFL-CIO sent a letter to lawmakers Monday to make it clear they did not support the FAA compromise.
“The AFL-CIO and [Transportation Trades Department] did not agree to the [Railway Labor Act] reforms included in the conference report and had not seen legislative language until the deal between the Senate and House leadership was announced on Friday, January 20,” wrote Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, and William Samuel, director of the AFL-CIO’s government affairs shop.
“There is no disagreement that the RLA provisions are flawed and should have been handled differently,” they wrote.
Some Democrats thought Reid brought the STOCK Act to the floor too quickly. They point to the initial version of the bill, which was written in a way to cause some lawmakers such as Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to worry it could create unintended consequences.
Levin worked on the substitute amendment to ensure that the drafting of the bill would not cause new problems.
“The bill was not ready for primetime if you’re doing that,” a Senate Democratic aide said of the last-minute revision.
A Democratic leadership, aide, however, said it’s not unusual for the Senate to rework a bill on the floor.
“That’s pretty par for the course. The whole point of the amendment process is to fix things that people become aware of in the process of dealing with the bill. Shows the process works as it’s supposed to,” said the aide.
The Internet bill, however, might have caused the roughest patch for Reid. He pulled it from the schedule after Google, Wikipedia and other high-profile voices generated a massive public protest in response.
Some Democrats think Reid and his leadership team should have anticipated the uproar, or at least been better prepared in case of strong opposition.
“It was not well thought out and planned,” said a Senate Democratic aide. “PIPA took on a life of its own. It was brought to the floor without a theory of the case of what would happen if the other side emerged.”
A Senate Democratic leadership aide acknowledged the leadership was caught by surprise, but noted that the Internet bill had been available for review since May and received little pushback.
“The bill had been publicly available since May. If anybody saw the wave of backlash of the Internet coming, they certainly didn’t tell us. Everyone was a little bit flat-footed,” said the aide.