Anything but Obamacare Is on Harry Reid’s Agenda

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters about the use of the 'nuclear option' with Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) at the U.S. Capitol November 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted 52-48 to invoke the so-called 'nuclear option', voting to change Senate rules on the controversial filibuster for most presidential nominations with a simple majority vote. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin
Nov. 24, 2013, 10:29 a.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans all but shouted that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id’s de­cision to go nuc­le­ar was about one thing: chan­ging the sub­ject from the troubled rol­lout of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

While Demo­crats pushed back and fo­cused on what they called GOP ob­struc­tion, it’s clear that any shift away from Obama­care is a buoy for Demo­crats, es­pe­cially those fa­cing reelec­tion in 2014.

Un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing what will hap­pen next with Pres­id­ent Obama’s sig­na­ture pro­gram and wheth­er the out­come will be pos­it­ive is mak­ing Demo­crats anxious; polit­ic­al polling jus­ti­fies that anxi­ety, and Re­id has signaled he’s pre­pared to tackle a bevy of high-pro­file bills that could dis­tract from the troubled law.

Polit­ic­ally, the prob­lem-plagued rol­lout of the new health care law ap­pears to be tak­ing a toll on Demo­crats. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has seen her ap­prov­al rat­ing drop more than 10 points in a new poll. Earli­er this month, 39 House Demo­crats de­fec­ted and voted for a bill to “fix” Obama­care draf­ted by House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Fred Up­ton, R-Mich., and Landrieu and oth­er sen­at­ors fa­cing voters in 2014 have offered their own bills aimed at re­pair­ing the le­gis­la­tion’s flaws. Obama him­self mem­or­ably ad­mit­ted dur­ing a re­cent news con­fer­ence just how prob­lem­at­ic the is­sue had be­come for Demo­crats.

Re­id, D-Nev., can mit­ig­ate the polit­ic­al prob­lems for his col­leagues by closely reg­u­lat­ing the floor sched­ule in the Sen­ate. He’s mo­tiv­ated to do it, too. For one, his pri­or­ity is pro­tect­ing his vul­ner­able mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to Jim Man­ley, a former top aide to Re­id. That in­vari­ably trans­lates to pro­tect­ing his status as ma­jor­ity lead­er too.

The sched­ule lends it­self to Re­id’s aims as well be­cause of meas­ures per­ceived as must-pass fa­cing sen­at­ors when they re­turn Dec. 9.

For one, there is im­mense pres­sure on the Sen­ate to fin­ish the $625 bil­lion de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill or risk leav­ing in­com­plete le­gis­la­tion that Con­gress has passed every year for five dec­ades.

The budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee led by Rep. Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., will also is­sue its re­com­mend­a­tions be­fore the Christ­mas break, and law­makers — ap­pro­pri­at­ors es­pe­cially — have signaled they want to act soon­er rather than later with the Jan. 15 lapse in ap­pro­pri­ations quickly ap­proach­ing.

Plus, nom­in­a­tions could oc­cupy the Sen­ate’s time when mem­bers re­turn. A seni­or Demo­crat­ic aide said Re­id plans to move quickly on key nom­in­a­tions now that they can be ap­proved by a simple ma­jor­ity vote. Those in­clude ap­point­ments that have been blocked by Re­pub­lic­ans, such as Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head a fed­er­al hous­ing agency, and nom­in­ees for the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit. Con­firm­ing Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary-des­ig­nate Jeh John­son will also be a post-break pri­or­ity, the aide said. There could still be snags: Even in the new, post-nuc­le­ar Sen­ate, Re­pub­lic­ans can still stretch the time it takes to con­sider pending nom­in­ees.

The un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing what will hap­pen after the White House’s self-im­posed dead­line of Nov. 30 for fix­ing the flawed Obama­care web­site Health­Care.gov is also gen­er­at­ing a good deal of un­ease for Demo­crats.

Rosy scen­ari­os could see Amer­ic­ans sign­ing up for health in­sur­ance in great­er num­bers, more pos­it­ive an­ec­dotes of the pub­lic’s in­ter­ac­tion with the law, and bet­ter news in the head­lines. But that’s far from a sure thing, say Demo­crat­ic strategists.

“The first thing you do is, pray it works,” said vet­er­an Demo­crat­ic strategist Tony Podesta. “The second thing you do is, draft or get on a bill that mit­ig­ates the ef­fects.”

That’s the ap­proach fol­lowed by Landrieu and oth­ers. Her bill aims at up­hold­ing the prom­ise that Amer­ic­ans can keep their ex­ist­ing health cov­er­age if they want.

If im­ple­ment­a­tion of the law be­gins to turn a corner, say strategists, so much the bet­ter for Demo­crats, but if not, law­makers will get anxious and could clam­or for a vote, Podesta said.

It’s an out­come Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers ap­pear to be bra­cing for. If mem­bers do start ap­proach­ing Re­id for a floor vote on a bill aimed at fix­ing the law, he would con­sider it, a seni­or Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate aide said. So far that hasn’t happened yet.

Wheth­er it’s too early for Demo­crats to be­gin that push, strategists are re­luct­ant to say. Jef Pol­lock of the Glob­al Strategies Group points out that the midterm elec­tion is still 11 months away. Weeks ago, he poin­ted out, Wash­ing­ton ob­sessed over the GOP’s forced er­ror over the shut­down. Now it’s the rol­lout of Obama­care.

Do Demo­crats need a vote to provide them polit­ic­al cov­er at this point?

“None of us know,” he said.

What We're Following See More »
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Source:
REQUIRES CHANGE IN LAW
Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
2 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Source:
MEASURE HEADED TO OBAMA
Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
2 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login