Harry’s rules

Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader uses po­si­tion to make pow­er­ful leg­isla­tive de­ci­sions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN AND S.A. MILLER

Harry Reid is one of 100 sen­a­tors, but so far in 2014, he’s been re­spon­si­ble for one-third of all the amend­ments pro­posed on the Se­nate floor — a num­ber that un­der­scores just how much one man has come to dom­i­nate the leg­isla­tive process.

More so than House Speaker John A. Boehner or even Pres­i­dent Obama, it is Mr. Reid, a Ne­vada Demo­crat in his eighth year as ma­jor­ity leader, who has the most sin­gle-handed power to shape what gets done and what falls to the way­side in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Reid is in­creas­ingly bullish on us­ing that power, de­cid­ing what bills make it to his cham­ber floor, what amend­ments will be al­lowed to those bills that do get there and whether the de­bate will be­come a se­ri­ous pol­icy dis­cus­sion or a po­lit­i­cal tool de­signed to rally his party’s sup­port­ers and an­noy his tea party op­po­nents.

His con­trol has been of in­cal­cu­la­ble ben­e­fit to both Mr. Obama, who is able to avoid em­bar­rass­ing leg­isla­tive re­bukes, and to Se­nate Democrats, who are some­times able to avoid hav­ing to take tough votes that could cost them the sup­port of vot­ers back home.

Repub­li­cans, though, at­tack Mr. Reid as a tyrant who is si­lenc­ing their voices and those of the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans the GOP sen­a­tors rep­re­sent.

“It is quite dis­grace­ful,” Sen. Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, fumed on the cham­ber floor ear­lier this year in what has be­come a run­ning de­bate with Mr. Reid. “But it’s no sur­prise ei­ther, since the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity clearly ran out of ideas a long time ago. Their re­fusal to en­gage in se­ri­ous de­bate is just an­other symp­tom of that.”

Mr. Reid counters that Repub­li­cans have got­ten hung up on Se­nate rules rather than work­ing on the is­sues he’s of­fered for the cham­ber’s agenda.

“They’re fo­cused on pro­ce­dure,” he said late last month in the lat­est floor bat­tle with Mr. McCon­nell. “What the Amer­i­can people want [is] they want us to do things. They want the min­i­mum wage raised. They want un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits ex­tended.”

The ev­i­dence of a shut­down in the Se­nate is overwhelmi­ng.

Just 14 Se­nate bills have been signed into law so far this year. That’s nine fewer than at the same point in 2013, which it­self is the most fu­tile com­pleted year on record, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Times’ Leg­isla­tive Fu­til­ity In­dex.

Through the end of June, just 41 mea­sures have been re­ported as be­ing out of com­mit­tees and gone to the Se­nate floor, which puts sen­a­tors on pace for their worst year in more than three decades. To­tal bills con­sid­ered are also down, as are roll-call votes on amend­ments.

But it’s Mr. Reid’s own per­sonal record on amend­ments that stands out.

Be­fore him, the most amend­ments any pre­vi­ous ma­jor­ity leader had been re­spon­si­ble for was Sen. Bill Frist, who ac­counted for 7.5 per­cent of amend­ments in 2006.

The aver­age over the 25 years or so be­fore Mr. Reid took of­fice was slightly more than 2 per­cent. For­mer Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Howard Baker, who passed away late last month, ac­tu­ally av­er­aged less than 1 per­cent dur­ing his four-year ten­ure.

Mr. Reid’s num­bers are just the op­po­site: In 2007, his first year as leader, he ac­counted for 3.2 per­cent of amend­ments. That jumped to 12.4 per­cent in 2008, 5.3 per­cent in 2009, 19.3 per­cent in 2010, 14.2 per­cent in 2011, 18.4 per­cent in 2012, 12.8 per­cent in 2013 and a stun­ning 33.6 per­cent so far this year.

It was ac­tu­ally closer to 40 per­cent just a few weeks ago, but Mr. Reid agreed to al­low his col­leagues to of­fer a few amend­ments to a bi­par­ti­san job-train­ing bill, which ended up pass­ing over­whelm­ingly.

‘That’s too bad’

Mr. Reid has been un­apolo­getic. “If that makes me too pow­er­ful, that’s too bad,” he told re­porters ear­lier this year. “The only rea­son that we’re do­ing this is be­cause for 51⁄2 years, ev­ery­thing that this pres­i­dent’s tried to do, they’ve stepped in the way.”

Mr. Reid also ar­gues that even when he agrees to give Repub­li­cans a vote on some­thing they want, they change their stance and ask for more, thereby pre­sent­ing a mov­ing tar­get.

Dur­ing a de­bate on an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill ear­lier this year, Repub­li­cans wanted a vote on a pro­posal to build the Key­stone XL pipe­line. Mr. Reid said he would al­low a vote on a stand-alone bill as long as the GOP al­lowed the en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency leg­is­la­tion to clear un­mo­lested.

But Repub­li­cans said in ad­di­tion to Key­stone, they should be al­lowed to of­fer other amend­ments. One pop­u­lar one would undo the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed reg­u­la­tions that tar­get coal-fired power plants.

One of the ma­jor stick­ing points is whether the Se­nate should in­for­mally adopt a new stan­dard that ev­ery bill

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