Harry Reid’s moment

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could become the most historically important majority leader of the Senate since Lyndon Johnson.

First, while Reid can draw on his experience in the boxing ring to be a fierce partisan when necessary, by instinct he is a bipartisan dealmaker who prefers to get things done.

Second, in January 2009, Reid will be partnered with a new president who will make a major effort to reach across the aisle at a time of severe economic crisis when voters and markets seek leaders who solve problems.

Third, for the first time during his tenure as majority leader, Harry Reid will be dealing from a position of strength, with at least 58 Democratic senators and the prospect, with more Republicans than Democrats running for reelection in 2010, of increasing his majority again.

Last year I predicted that Democrats would have more than 60 Democratic senators by 2010. However, what matters is not 60 Democratic votes, but 60 votes to end filibusters — and on most issues, Reid will have them.

The abuse of filibusters destroyed the Senate as an institution, endangered our national economy by preventing more economic recovery programs and made a bad situation worse for Republicans.

I did not agree with every decision made by Democratic leaders, but between 2006 and 2008 Reid turned institutional failure that was beyond his control into huge political triumph.

In 2006 and 2008, Harry Reid the boxer was the Muhammad Ali of congressional politics, performing one of the great rope-a-dopes in political history. Republicans punched themselves out with filibusters, then Reid slammed them on Election Day.

Now Reid deals from strength. He has at least 58 Democratic senators and a major advantage in 2010.

Reid’s Senate Democrats will reap a huge fundraising windfall, even from groups traditionally supporting Republicans.

The most important partnership in Washington will be President-elect Obama, who seeks a post-partisan consensus with Congress, and Majority Leader Reid, by nature a bipartisan dealmaker with a strong majority and a new president facing an urgent crisis seeking bipartisan solutions.

In his book The Good Fight, Reid describes the impact of his youth, when he suffered real poverty that he has not forgotten, on his belief that government should be an agent for change and an agent for action.

With last Friday’s jobs report that showed a catastrophic loss of 533,000 jobs, the sheer enormity of the crisis and the catastrophic dangers to the economy will push the new president and Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, toward bolder actions with greater bipartisanship.

It will be hard. There is major philosophical difference between the parties. The majority leader will have to resist overplaying his strength, and his conference will have to resist huge special interests pouring money into Democratic coffers. Republicans will have to resist the urge to obstruct and to follow down the self-defeating path of partisanship during crisis.

Here is the still-untold story: the historical importance of the Obama-Reid partnership and the indescribable change that is coming to the Senate.

President-elect Obama is the ideal president for Majority Leader Reid. Majority Leader Reid is the ideal partner for President-elect Obama. It is Obama’s moment, and Reid’s moment, and the leader who ended 2008 as the Muhammad Ali of the Senate might just become the most important majority leader since Lyndon Johnson.


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net and read on The Hill Pundits Blog.