Can Reid’s Shutdown Strategy Hold?

Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, D.C. 
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Michael Catalini
Oct. 1, 2013, 4:19 p.m.

With Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans squab­bling fiercely over how to re­open the gov­ern­ment, it’s Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id — the former box­er — who com­pares law­makers’ bick­er­ing to a school­yard brawl.

“We are not go­ing to be bul­lied,” Re­id said Tues­day. “We have done everything we can, and we’ve done it very reas­on­ably.”

As Re­id’s 54-seat ma­jor­ity is tested to the lim­it by the first gov­ern­ment shut­down in 17 years, the Nevada Demo­crat’s strategy has been simple: Do not give in to Re­pub­lic­an de­mands to undo, ex­cise, or delay any part of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

It’s a strategy that has pres­sure-tested unity among Sen­ate Demo­crats, who have so far stood fast in a series of high-pro­file votes to turn away House pro­pos­als that would have ended the stan­doff but handed Re­pub­lic­ans something to brag about.

“This is a demo­cracy. This can­not be how we gov­ern,” said Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren, D-Mass. “And I think that has been one of Harry Re­id’s strongest mes­sages: We can­not hand them the stick to beat us with.”

Wheth­er Re­id can hold Demo­crats to­geth­er as the shut­down drags on — there is no sign that it will end in com­ing days — re­mains un­clear. But House Re­pub­lic­ans have already scaled back their of­fers, go­ing from a full re­peal of Obama­care, to a full delay, to a delay of a piece of the pro­gram. Re­id, backed by his caucus and Pres­id­ent Obama, has re­mained steady in his in­sist­ence that House Re­pub­lic­ans ad­opt the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion the Sen­ate passed on Fri­day.

The latest House sug­ges­tion in­volves ad­opt­ing a piece­meal ap­proach to fund­ing gov­ern­ment, with in­di­vidu­al res­ol­u­tions to fund na­tion­al parks, Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, and the Dis­trict of Columbia. Re­id shot that idea down, too.

“Here’s their plan: Some of the rabble-rousers over there have said what they want to do is take little pieces of the gov­ern­ment “¦ and this will go on for weeks, but what won’t get fun­ded is Obama­care,” he said, adding that “this is not ser­i­ous.”

Re­pub­lic­ans say Re­id re­fuses to ne­go­ti­ate and com­prom­ise, and that he’s mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for some Demo­crats fa­cing reelec­tion next year. But if any Demo­crats are sweat­ing, they have non­ethe­less stood by Re­id.

“I think he’s been very clear and ab­so­lutely right about what’s at stake here,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “So I give him very high marks. It’s clear we have the votes here in the [Sen­ate] to keep the gov­ern­ment open. The House won’t al­low a vote on it. I think Sen­at­or Re­id’s been very ef­fect­ive in point­ing that out.”

Sen­ate Demo­crats in­sist that House Re­pub­lic­ans will ul­ti­mately shoulder the brunt of pub­lic an­ger over the shut­down, but that’s a tide that could run both ways. Thus far, Re­id and his al­lies don’t seem to fear any back­lash.

“He’s done a really good job,” War­ren said. “He’s held every­one to­geth­er.”

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