Pity the poor majority leader. When Harry Reid welcomed the 111th U.S. Congress in January 2009, his party was on the verge of having a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and control of the White House. The Democrats already had control of the House of Representatives, and in July they would get their 60th vote in the Senate as well. The sky was the limit.
Yet it turned out to be, for Reid, a curse more than a blessing. The Democrats had spent most of the previous decade smearing George W. Bush, attacking American troops fighting overseas, and indulging in base conspiracy theories. When given the chance to make their case to the American people that they should be given control of the White House, they ran easily the most vapid presidential campaign in recent memory, built around the Barack Obama personality cult and promising to control the ocean tides. As a result, they were completely unprepared to govern when finally given the chance.
They used their broad majority in Congress to pass sweeping health care reform that was expected to force millions of Americans off their insurance plans, increase unemployment, and explode the federal debt. Because Obama didn’t want to pass immigration reform, they ignored the issue, and because the president’s spending plans were almost nonsensical, Reid’s Senate had to find a way to avoid passing a budget–a basic responsibility of governance–to keep the public from realizing the mistake they had made in putting Reid and Obama in charge.
In tandem with those tactics, Reid perfected the art of obstruction and minority exclusion because Republicans had good ideas that clashed with the Democrats’ deeply unpopular ones. Enabled by a compliant media, Reid kept the minority party–and the broad array of Americans they represented–from even having input into the legislating process, deconstructing Senate precedent and procedure and abusing the rules in place.
But yesterday, Harry Reid used his time on the Senate floor to make the case that he is the victim here. Sometimes, Reid complained, some Republicans object to the subversion of the democratic process and utilize Senate procedure to participate in the political process. That may be to the benefit of the American public, and certainly to the benefit of the voters represented by Republicans, but Reid thinks it’s mean. And Reid has set his sights on a familiar antagonist, Ted Cruz:
“My friend from Texas is like the schoolyard bully,” Reid said. “He pushes everybody around and is losing, and instead of playing the game according to the rules, he not only takes the ball home with him but changes the rules. That way no one wins except the bully who tries to indicate to people he has won. We’re asking Republicans to play by the rules and let us go to conference.”
Reid was referring to the fact that Senate Democrats would like to go to conference over the two chambers’ budget resolutions. But Republicans have refused. A week ago, the Nevada Democrat tried to move a resolution to create the conference anyway — over GOP objections.
Cruz, of course, was elected not to waste his time “playing the game,” in Reid’s terminology. And of all the reasons Democrats have been complaining about Cruz, chief among them is that he has no interest in “playing the game,” which is an indictment as much of the GOP old guard as of Reid and the Democrats.
But it’s also worth pointing out that “playing the game” used to mean a tacit agreement by both parties not to filibuster circuit court nominees–until the GOP put forward an impressive Hispanic candidate destined to continue rising all the way to the Supreme Court eventually, so Reid broke the unwritten rules to railroad the career of Miguel Estrada. It also used to be acceptable for the minority party to offer amendments to legislation, so Reid perfected the tactic known as “filling the tree” to make it impossible for Republicans to offer amendments. These examples are high up on the troubling list of procedural traditions Reid has made a policy of violating to ensure that the democratic process doesn’t weaken his power.
The intellectually vacuous Democratic Party agenda is threatened by the dynamic Cruz, so they call him a bully. What they mean, however, is that Cruz has the temerity to challenge Reid on behalf of his constituents, a time-honored aspect of democracy virtually unrecognizable to Reid and his status-quo caucus.