By Markos Moulitsas - 12/16/08 05:24 PM EST
Sure, Senate Republicans are in the minority for at least one more cycle. And it’s true that their conference is over 10 percent smaller than it was in the last Congress. But the GOP has retained its ace in the hole: Harry Reid is still majority leader.
Reid (Nev.) took the helm in 2006 after his Democrats overcame a 10-seat deficit in the Senate, but the new majority immediately began frittering away its mandate through embarrassing displays of obsequiousness to George W. Bush and the Republican minority in Congress. From Iraq to the FISA battle to the financial-industry bailout, Democratic promises of effective governance were sacrificed to the capricious whims of an incompetent president and his congressional enablers.
Reid’s willingness to bend over backward for a phenomenally unpopular president and his allies helped drive congressional approval ratings to near the lowest point in polling history. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats — buoyed by the popularity of Barack Obama and a favorable electoral map — gained no fewer than seven seats in the 2008 elections. Would the consolidation of his majority transform Reid into the effective leader voters are demanding? Early signs are not encouraging.
The Senate’s handling of the $700 billion financial giveaway prior to the election was pathetic, with the majority handing Bush a blank check for his pals on Wall Street. Yet just a few weeks later, Senate Republicans were able to block approval of a $14 billion loan to the Big Three Detroit automakers — a bid to break the back of the United Auto Workers that recklessly threatened the health of the broader American economy.
Did Reid blast Republicans for playing chicken with the millions of jobs dependent on our domestic auto industry? Of course not. He responded by praising Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, leader of the union-busting effort.
Successful Republican obstructionism is sadly common in Reid’s Senate. An analysis by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com found that use of the filibuster has skyrocketed in Reid’s Senate to 112 cloture votes between 2006 and 2008, twice the number between 2004 and 2006 — and two and a half times the average in the previous 18 years combined.
“[Reid] can threaten to block votes on certain of the opposition party’s legislation (or alternatively, present carrots to them for allowing a vote to proceed), and secondly, he can publicly shame them. Reid managed to do neither,” concluded Silver. “Republicans are filibustering more and more often because they can get away with it.”
Yet Reid’s acquiescence flows in one direction only. When Democratic activists pleaded that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) be stripped of a committee chairmanship after campaigning for John McCain and other Republicans in 2008, Reid refused in the name of “unity.” But “unity” was easily cast aside when Reid applauded Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-Ind.) plan for a Blue Dog-style caucus in the Senate. Both moves are great news for Republicans — they keep their mole inside Democratic ranks, while Democrats fragment their majority.
A recent poll by independent pollster Research 2000 for Daily Kos found Reid surprisingly vulnerable in Nevada. Former GOP Rep. John Porter trailed the majority leader by just 46-40, and Reid sported a dismal 38 percent approval rating. Only 32 percent of all respondents, and just 44 percent of Democrats, wanted to see Reid reelected.
The year 2010 will be another tough one for Senate Republicans, and the Nevada seat may be their only legitimate pickup opportunity. But they should be careful what they wish for — if they actually win this seat, Republicans may find that they’ve ousted their best friend in the Senate.
Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .