By Brent Budowsky - 11/09/09 11:47 PM EST
If the president gives all-out support, Reid will win a victory that will place him in the history books of important leaders of the United States Senate.
Reid, by contrast, must work with a dysfunctional Senate trapped in the obstruction of filibusters, with 60 votes needed for passage and a small group of Democrats who constantly threaten to join Republicans in obstruction, like the Claude Raines character in “Casablanca”: “Round up the usual suspects.”
With the president taking a largely hands-off approach to matters of high policy before the Congress, Reid is now, for practical purposes, the prime minister.
As the healthcare battle shifts from the House to the Senate, it is important to understand Reid’s rise to Senate majority leader and the Democrats’ rise to power in the Senate.
It is widely known that Reid is a master of the Senate rules, an invaluable tool for any Senate leader. What is less appreciated is his sheer political skill and insight taking Democrats from 40-something Senate seats to 60-something seats, while representing a diverse state that embodies the recent success of Democrats and the great pain of the economic crisis.
Reid understands the shifting dynamics of the American electorate and the balancing forces in the body politic. He is responsible to the entire Democratic Conference. He is fully aware that a large majority of his caucus and a majority of his constituents support measures such as the public option, and stronger action to create jobs, while “the usual suspects” within the caucus who threaten obstruction do not.
Reid’s “opt-out” proposal is ingenious, giving his caucus majority the bulk of what it wants, protecting the rights of states of his caucus minority and standing with the majority of voters in Nevada and the nation.
Reid also understands that whether the dealmakers are blessed or cursed depends on the deal. He knows that on issue after issue, the majority of his caucus has been asked to make the major compromises to the minority of his caucus, that the majority of states are asked by obstructionists to yield to the minority of states, and that the majority of Democrats and voters are being pushed to the limit.
It is an irony of history that one of the great change agents of the Obama years is the veteran insider and majority leader of the Senate.
Harry Reid has moved the ball, against long odds, to the 3-yard line. My bet is that the president weighs in full force and the healthcare bill crosses the goal line in the Senate.
But make no mistake, “you gotta dance with the one that brung you.” Every Democrat in Washington would be well-advised to hear the message of the man who steered Democrats to 60 seats in the Senate: Great parties get in big trouble when their core voters stay home.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at email@example.com.