Democrats Have a Harry Reid Problem

The Senate minority leader wants to treat a key bipartisan deal like a roach at his Ritz-Carlton.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 15: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a press conference following the weekly Democratic policy luncheon July 15, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Reid spoke on immigration and women's rights issues during his remarks. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
National Journal
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
March 25, 2015, 6:43 a.m.

If Demo­crats still hope to brand Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress as the stub­born cause of grid­lock, they must ad­dress a ma­jor head­ache. This prob­lem also threatens the party’s court­ship of anti-spe­cial-in­terest pop­u­lists. It un­der­mines their claim to be cham­pi­ons of the poor.

The Demo­crat­ic Party has a Harry Re­id prob­lem.

The Sen­ate minor­ity lead­er is threat­en­ing to block or oth­er­wise undo a bi­par­tis­an, long-term plan to fin­ance health care for older Amer­ic­ans, pay doc­tors who ac­cept Medi­care, and ex­tend vi­tal health care pro­grams for chil­dren and the poor.

(RE­LATED: 5 Ways to End Hil­lary Clin­ton’s War on the Me­dia)

Re­spec­ted con­gres­sion­al cor­res­pond­ent Dav­id Ro­gers of Politico called the plan “a ma­jor break­through,” and two top re­port­ers at The New York Times de­clared the pack­age “as polit­ic­ally re­mark­able as it is sub­stant­ive.”

What is re­mark­able is Re­id’s chutzpah. At a time when most voters are de­mand­ing bi­par­tis­an res­ults from a Con­gress with re­cord-low fa­vor­ab­il­ity, when Pres­id­ent Obama barely lets a day pass without rais­ing le­git­im­ate con­cerns over GOP ob­struc­tion, Re­id stands ready to kill a deal between House Speak­er John Boehner and House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi.

“It is a role in which Mr. Re­id is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­fort­able as he ex­ploits his lever­age in the minor­ity to thwart his polit­ic­al op­pon­ents, even if that means an un­usu­al split with Ms. Pelosi,” Jen­nifer Stein­hauer and Robert Pear wrote for The Times.

(RE­LATED: Hil­lary Clin­ton Still Doesn’t Get It

Re­id and some fel­low Sen­ate Demo­crats are do­ing the bid­ding of Planned Par­ent­hood, a power­ful source of dona­tions and lob­by­ing on the Left, now ar­guing that Pelosi should not have ac­cep­ted re­stric­tions on abor­tions as part of a two-year, $7.2 bil­lion ex­ten­sion of fed­er­al money for com­munity health cen­ters.

They worry that a pro­vi­sion in the bill co­di­fies abor­tion re­stric­tions bey­ond long-stand­ing lan­guage already em­bed­ded in many health care spend­ing laws. It is a le­git­im­ate con­cern, but one that brazenly ig­nores the broad­er pic­ture and polit­ic­al real­it­ies that Pelosi laud­ably re­cog­nized.

Pelosi, by the way, is an un­matched ad­voc­ate for wo­men’s rights.

(RE­LATED: Maybe Hil­lary Clin­ton Should Re­tire Her White House Dreams

Ro­gers makes a great case against the ob­struc­tion­ist Demo­crats:

If Sen­ate Demo­crats can’t see past the trees and make this dis­tinc­tion, crit­ics say it speaks volumes about their polit­ics.

In­deed, the tep­id sup­port from Sen­ate Demo­crats also gives lie to their oft-stated con­cerns about in­come in­equal­ity. If the pack­age fails in Con­gress, the very wealthy will es­cape hav­ing to pay more in Medi­care premi­ums. The biggest losers will be low-in­come seni­ors and work­ing-class house­holds down the eco­nom­ic lad­der.

Like a green shoot in a desert, this Boehner-Pelosi deal needs to be en­cour­aged and nour­ished—not crushed like a roach at Re­id’s Ritz-Carlton. Pres­id­ent Obama needs to show some lead­er­ship and tell his buddy in the Sen­ate to back off.

Stop ob­struct­ing. Stop be­ing such a pain.

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