Health care re­form could end Reid’s ten­ure

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid is not only get­ting a fail­ing re-elec­tion grade from his Ne­vada con­stituents, but zero scores in sen­a­to­rial deco­rum and U.S. leg­isla­tive his­tory, too.

In an ap­palling po­lit­i­cal at­tack against the Repub­li­cans, de­liv­ered on the Se­nate floor Dec. 7 in the midst of the health care de­bate, he com­pared his Repub­li­can col­leagues to past Se­nate op­po­nents of the move­ments to end slav­ery and en­act civil rights laws.

It was a new low in po­lit­i­cal spite, even for Mr. Reid, who has em­bar­rassed his of­fice, his party and the Se­nate on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions with his name call­ing and hate­ful par­ti­san at­tacks.

In a nut­shell, Mr. Reid charged that the Repub­li­cans were us­ing the same stalling and block­ing tac­tics that were used to pre­serve slav­ery and fight civil rights law for black Amer­i­cans.

“In­stead of join­ing us on the right side of his­tory, all the Repub­li­cans can come up with is, ‘slow down, stop ev­ery­thing, let’s start over.’ If you think you’ve heard th­ese same ex­cuses be­fore, you’re right. When this coun­try be­lat­edly rec­og­nized the wrongs of slav­ery, there were those who dug in their heels and said ‘slow down, it’s too early [. . .] things aren’t bad enough,’ “ Mr. Reid said.

“When this body was on the verge of guar­an­tee­ing equal civil rights to every­one re­gard­less of the color of their skin, some se­na­tors re­sorted to the same fil­i­buster threats that we hear to­day,” he added.

But if Mr. Reid is as ig­no­rant about U.S. his­tory as he ap­pears to be about what the pend­ing health care bill will do to Amer­ica’s med­i­cal care sys­tem and its econ­omy, this coun­try is in more trou­ble than it re­al­izes.

It was the abo­li­tion­ist Lin­coln Repub­li­cans who fought to abol­ish slav­ery, not to de­fend it or slow it down. And it was pow­er­ful South­ern Demo­cratic leaders in the Se­nate who sup­ported the fil­i­buster fights against civil rights bills in the 1950s and 1960s — men like Sens. Her­man Tal­madge of Ge­or­gia; James East­land and John Sten­nis of Mis­sis­sippi; Sam Ervin of North Car- olina; Richard Rus­sell Jr. of Ge­or­gia; J. William Ful­bright of Arkansas; and, as a Demo­crat, Strom Thur­mond of South Carolina.

In­deed, it was the Repub­li­cans — led by Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Everett Dirk­sen of Illi­nois — who even­tu­ally pro­vided the votes that broke the civil rights im­passe by Mr. Reid‘s party in the ‘60s.

His in­tem­per­ate at­tack trig­gered a tor­rent of Repub­li­can anger. “To sug­gest that pass­ing this hor­ri­ble bill is any­thing akin to rid­ding our coun­try of slav­ery is ter­ri­bly of­fen­sive and calls into ques­tion Mr. Reid’s suit­abil­ity to lead,” said Repub­li­can Na­tional Chair­man Michael Steele.

“To­day Harry Reid wan­dered far out of bounds with his ab­surd and of­fen­sive com­ments. This is in­ex­cus­able, deeply in­sult­ing and an ar­ro­gant abuse of the Demo­crat Party’s unchecked power in Congress,” Mr. Steele said in a state­ment.

Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can, said Mr. Reid’s low-road charges that com­pared the Repub­li­cans who op­pose the health care bill to those law­mak­ers who de­fended slav­ery was “ex­tremely of­fen­sive. It’s lan­guage that should never be used, never be used,” he told Fox News.

Said Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can Sen. Tom Coburn: “I think it’s be­neath the dig­nity of the ma­jor­ity leader. I per­son­ally am in­sulted.”

Ex­actly what trig­gered Mr. Reid’s ex­plo­sive racial at­tack at this point in the health care de­bate isn’t clear right now. There is a long line of Repub­li­can amend­ments still wait­ing to be taken up as polls show pub­lic sup­port for the Democrats’ mas­sive bill erod­ing, and it is far from cer­tain that he will be able to cor­ral the 60 votes needed for a fi­nal vote.

There is even more pres­sure on him back home, where a Ma­son-Dixon poll this week showed Mr. Reid’s voter ap­proval rat­ing has plum­meted to 38 per­cent.

Sup­port for his health care bill has fallen to 39 per­cent, with 53 per­cent op­posed, in­clud­ing a stun­ning 53 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents.

“Not only does this [polling] snap­shot of his per­sonal pop­u­lar­ity look lousy, Ne­vadans re­main sub­stan­tially dis­con­nected from his crown­ing achieve­ment as a leg­is­la­tor and leader: health care ‘re­form.’ A win for Reid on health care is a loss for him in Ne­vada,” said the Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal, Ne­vada’s largest news­pa­per.

Among Ma­son-Dixon’s other find­ings: Ne­vadans are op­posed to the gov­ern­ment-run health care op­tion by 55 per­cent to 30 per­cent; 80 per­cent be­lieve it will lead to higher taxes; 55 per­cent say it will re­sult in med­i­cal care ra­tioning; and by a mar­gin of 54 per­cent to 25 per­cent, they be­lieve it will lead to cuts in Medi­care ($400 bil­lion in cuts, to be ex­act).

“Reid is go­ing to be front and cen­ter car­ry­ing the flag for this re­form that few peo­ple like, and that’s not go­ing to help him in his re-elec­tion,” Ma­son-Dixon poll­ster Brad Coker told the Re­view-Jour­nal. There is a long line of Repub­li­cans vy­ing to run against Mr. Reid next year, and the Ma­sonDixon poll shows the fron­trun­ners beat­ing him, in­clud­ing for­mer state Repub­li­can of­fi­cial Sue Low­den, by 51 per­cent to 41 per­cent, with 8 per­cent un­de­cided.

With Ne­vada’s job­less rate at a po­lit­i­cally deadly 12.6 per­cent, Mr. Reid may join a long line of past party leaders like House Speaker Tom Fo­ley and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Tom Daschle who were swept out of of­fice for be­ing far more lib­eral than the vot­ers they rep­re­sented.

Don­ald Lam­bro is chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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