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.
Last night, Politico published what seemed like quite the scoop: members of Congress from both parties were holding secret negotiations with the aim of passing legislation that would exempt their staffers from unwieldy ObamaCare rules. The backlash was immediate, and virtually guaranteed that whether or not the Politico story got it right (it didn’t), it would at least have the effect of snuffing out whatever legislation was being contemplated.
The countdown began, and ended this afternoon when Harry Reid announced that the problem they spent months in secret negotiations trying to fix doesn’t actually exist, in his expert opinion, and thus would not require legislation that reeked of hypocrisy. So what actually happened? As Ezra Klein explained at the Washington Post, during the ObamaCare negotiations Chuck Grassley had proposed, and Congress subsequently passed, an amendment that requires congressional offices to purchase their health insurance policies from the insurance exchanges set up by ObamaCare. Grassley’s amendment was designed to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to reject part of ObamaCare as good enough for the ragged masses but not for them. Democrats, instead, accepted the amendment.
Last week I wrote about the need to fix Obamacare in the event the legislation cannot be repealed. Since Obamacare is unpopular, there would seem to be plenty of common ground on which Republicans and Democrats could meet to mitigate some of the damage the bill is set to do to the economy and the health sector. That’s not speculation or wishful thinking: Democrats have already gone on record as willing to repeal certain parts of the law, and the Senate recently passed a symbolic nonbinding resolution expressing support for repealing the medical device tax by a 79-20 margin.
The medical device tax will harm both innovation and the health-sector job market, and Democrats representing states that will be hurt by this, like Minnesota’s Al Franken, have led the charge to get rid of the tax. Republicans are happy to have located a tax cut that could pass both houses of Congress, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly begun encouraging House Republicans to take up such legislation. The resulting bill would represent a win for common sense and a boon to those frustrated by the gridlocked nature of divided government by uniting most of Congress to fix an unpopular provision of an unpopular law. But as you might expect, there is a familiar problem: Harry Reid. David Drucker reports:
President Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein are not happy with Harry Reid. The feeling is mutual. And no one is hiding it very well. The three Democratic leaders are reacting to the announcement that Feinstein’s ban on certain so-called “assault weapons” will not be included in the final Senate gun-control bill and will not be voted on. The assault-weapons ban was always going to end this way; the votes were never there for it.
And while Feinstein believes she was promised a vote and Obama isn’t thrilled about elevating this issue only to have it bow to political reality, there is something disingenuous in focusing their ire on Reid. After all, Reid’s strategy of grinding the Senate to a halt, locking out the opposition from getting votes or amendments, and obstructing even basic Senate business and responsibilities has always been about protecting Democrats from having to vote on their very unpopular, ill-considered policy ideas that the voters would surely hate.
In other words, fully aware of the absurdity of the Democratic policy agenda, Reid’s leadership has always been geared toward saving liberals from themselves–and the voters. And that is exactly what he’s doing on the gun bill. What’s more, while the White House says it’s not giving up on the ban, Reid is telling them to drop it. The Washington Post reports on Reid’s admission that a possible Republican filibuster of the bill is not the cause of its demise:
The gun control debate is good for Republicans, good for the White House, and good for Democratic presidential hopefuls, since they can all play to their respective bases. But the biggest losers of the fight will probably be Harry Reid and the handful of Democratic senators up for reelection in red-leaning states. The Hill reports:
Reid’s job is to help move President Obama’s agenda through the upper chamber, but he must also protect his five-seat Senate majority, and gun-rights groups are threatening to go after vulnerable Senate Democrats who back the president’s calls for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. …
Some Democrats think passage of the 1994 assault-weapons ban was a reason they lost control of the Senate and the House later that year.
Already, a coalition of 36 groups supporting gun owners’ rights has formed to retaliate against any Democratic senator who votes for restrictions on gun and ammo sales.
Harry Reid tried his best to undermine any assault weapons ban proposal before it saw the light of day, but the Washington Post reports that President Obama is going ahead with it. The president will release his proposals for comprehensive gun control tomorrow, including as many as 19 executive orders:
President Obama will unveil a sweeping set of gun-control proposals at midday Wednesday, including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and limits on the number of bullets magazines can hold, according to sources familiar with the plans.
The announcement, to be delivered at the White House, is also expected to include a slate of up to 19 executive actions that the Obama administration can take on its own to attempt to limit gun violence. The White House has invited key lawmakers as well as gun-control advocates to appear at Wednesday’s policy rollout, according to two officials who have been invited to the event.
With gun control still in the news and Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on legislation expected to come tomorrow, it is increasingly clear the country’s political class is engaged in two different debates. Members of Congress seem to be conducting an entirely different argument than officials at the state level, especially governors. In Congress, not even the Democrats are united in their enthusiasm for more gun control legislation; Harry Reid and Joe Manchin have both thrown cold water on the idea while Republicans in Congress don’t seem to fear the debate at all, believing it poses no risk electorally. (They believe, with history to back them up, that either no serious gun control legislation will come to the floor of either house of Congress or that the Democrats will overreach, enabling the GOP to gain seats in the 2014 midterms.)
Meanwhile, governors are dividing along traditional party lines. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley are diving in with both feet, while Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Texas’s Rick Perry criticized the rush to use the school shooting to enact tougher gun laws. The exception in this case, and the one that proves the rule, is Biden. Gun control is fast on its way to becoming the first major issue of the 2016 presidential election.
If reports filtering out of Washington are to be believed there is a fair chance that a compromise will be reached sometime over the next three days that will head off the most unpopular aspect of the impending financial crisis: across the board tax increases for all Americans. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the compromise which may be crafted between the White House and the leaders of the House and Senate will avoid dealing with the spending cuts mandated by the sequestration process including devastating decreases for the nation’s defense.
President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have given every indication that they think it is in their interest to see the nation head over the fiscal cliff making any sort of compromise appear like a last minute rescue no matter how unfortunate its terms might be. Most Americans are of the opinion that any deal that would limit the scope of a tax increase is better than no action at all. They are right about that but the fact that it appears impossible to do anything about spending either in the short term or the long right now represents a massive failure on the part of the government. While up until now much of the public still appears to be blaming the mess on recalcitrant Republicans who oppose any tax increases, the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to budge on entitlement spending even in the shadow of potential disaster may eventually lead to a shift in opinion.
For the past few days, the focus of coverage of the budget negotiations has been on the House Republicans who torpedoed Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B proposal. The hardliners determined to fight any tax increases, including those on millionaires, have helped create a situation where the deadline may well expire before Congress and the president can agree on a deal that will avoid an across-the-board tax increase as well as devastating spending cuts. Though their argument that the country’s problem is about spending, not taxes, is right, allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff is irresponsible and will cost the GOP dearly in terms of public support. But now that the House has failed to advance Boehner’s compromise measure, it is up to the Senate to act and that means the media needs to turn its attention from the intransigence of a minority of House Republicans to the equally unproductive behavior of the majority of Democrats in the upper house.
For all of the country’s justified concern about the inability of the Republicans to make a deal, the fact remains that the Democratic-controlled Senate is even more of an obstacle to an accord. For Majority Leader Harry Reid and his party to act to avoid the fiscal cliff, he will have to do something that he has failed to do in the last three years: pass a budget plan of any kind. The Democrats have sat back and enjoyed the brickbats thrown at the GOP for their dysfunctional behavior, but have done nothing themselves to make a deal other than to play the role of cheerleaders for the White House’s class warfare rhetoric. With only days left for action to avoid the automatic enactment of measures that could potentially devastate an already weak economy, it’s time to for Reid and his caucus to put forward a bill that could actually pass. If not, their reliance on public opinion only blaming Republicans for the impending debacle may ultimately wind up a colossal misjudgment.
Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley lost a close election for Senate last week. Although it was a Senate campaign, Berkley was coming from the House, which meant her opponent, Dean Heller, had had an easy weapon to deploy against her: Nancy Pelosi. Tying candidates like this to Pelosi has been a favorite tactic of congressional Republicans and their supporters. When Fred Barnes profiled Harry Reid in September, he asked GOP operatives why Pelosi was constantly invoked but Reid wasn’t.
Pelosi is “toxic” with voters, he found; Republican strategists described her as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Barnes continued: “In focus groups conducted by Republicans, swing voters respond negatively to any mention of Pelosi. It’s clear she’s a drag on Democrats. But when Reid is raised, the reaction is weak.” And so it is that Pelosi compounds the Democrats’ “Obama problem,” so to speak: the punishment voters have meted out to Democrats, especially in the House and in gubernatorial elections, for the array of unpopular big-government excesses of the Obama administration. House candidates are particularly susceptible to the mood swings of the electorate, so you would think Pelosi would step down as House minority leader and give the Democrats a fighting chance as they head into the often-difficult second-term midterm elections. But you would be wrong.
Remember this story the next time you hear Democrats lament the “philosophy of obstructionism” in the “extremist” Republican-controlled House:
“Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his ‘severely conservative’ agenda is laughable,” Reid said in a statement released by his office.
“In fact, Mitt Romney’s tea party agenda has already been rejected in the Senate. In the past few months, we have voted down many of the major policies that Mitt Romney has run on, from the Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it, to the Blunt Amendment to deny women access to contraception, to more tax giveaways for millionaires and billionaires, to a draconian spending plan that would gut critical services for seniors and the most vulnerable Americans.”
Reid added: “Mitt Romney has demonstrated that he lacks the courage to stand up to the tea party, kowtowing to their demands time and again. There is nothing in Mitt Romney’s record to suggest he would act any differently as president. As governor of Massachusetts, he had a terrible relationship with Democrats, cordoning himself off behind a velvet rope instead of reaching out to build relationships. And in the near-decade that Mitt Romney has spent running for president, both his words and his actions have shown that pleasing the far right is more important to him than working across the aisle.”
When outgoing GOP Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock earlier this year, there was an unusual amount of disingenuous garment rending over the supposed death of bipartisanship due to the increasingly conservative nature of the Republican Party.
Yet there will be no sad songs for outgoing Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler. While the media was focused on the dwindling of moderate Republicans, they missed the fact that pro-life Democrats and moderate Democrats virtually disappeared completely. Yet Shuler’s retirement from Congress is notable in that he was the last remaining Democrat willing to challenge Nancy Pelosi. And his defeat at the hands of my-way-or-the-highway liberalism should have been a far bigger story—if the media’s concerns were at all honest—than the defeat of an eighty-year-old officeholder.
Politico reports that on his way out the door, Shuler shows actual concern for bipartisanship:
After months of being taunted on the issue by Democrats and even some of his Republican primary rivals, Mitt Romney is releasing more information on his tax returns this afternoon. The candidate’s 2011 return will be released in full along with a 20-year summary of his tax rates from 1990 through 2009 (he’s already released his 2010 returns). While you can bet this won’t satisfy partisan Democrats who will call for more information, it ought to not only put this issue to rest but give voters another reason to think well of the Republican.
Is it really possible to characterize a man who paid a tax rate of over 14 percent on his income in 2011 a cheat? Even more to the point, Romney gave away to charity double — $4,020,072 — the amount of his very hefty $1,935,708 tax bill in 2011. And since it is almost completely investment income, it needs to be pointed out that Romney had already paid tax on the money when it was first earned. Over the 20-year period, he paid an average of 20.2 percent in taxes and gave away 13.45 percent to charity.
This paints a picture of a man who is not only paying his fair share of taxes, but is also a model of civic virtue in his dedication to sharing his bounty with those who are less fortunate. That’s especially true when we realize that neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden have ever given anywhere close to that percentage of their incomes to charity. The release also should give Romney a much-needed shot in the arm after a couple of shaky weeks. Having done their best to demonize Romney as a heartless plutocrat, Democrats have probably made his tax information a much bigger deal than it may have been.
Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.
The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:
The hulking budget cuts now facing the Pentagon were initially pitched to Harry Reid by the White House, which saw them as a way to leverage a tax-increasing “grand bargain” from Republicans, according to Bob Woodward’s latest book. Politico reports:
The book The Price of Politics, by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward, makes it clear the idea for the draconian spending cuts originated in the White House – and not in Congress.
According to the book, excerpts of which were obtained by POLITICO ahead of the Sept. 11 release, President Barack Obama’s top deputies believed the prospect of massive defense cuts would compel Republicans to agree to a deficit-cutting grand bargain.
Then-OMB Director Jack Lew, now the White House chief of staff, and White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors pitched the idea to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Woodward writes. Under the deal, which Republicans accepted after several rounds of bargaining, the federal debt ceiling was raised — staving off a potential financial crisis.
Seth Mandel wrote this morning regarding the Obama campaign letter to Romney offering not to ask for more if he releases five years’ worth of tax returns, “What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies ‘outside’ the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.”
Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign senior advisor and former White House press secretary, on Fox News Sunday yesterday morning, confirmed that almost in so many words. He said,
And I think if Mitt Romney proposes to be president of the United States and lead us through tax reform, shouldn’t the American people understand the offshoring and the outsourcing, and the tax havens that he takes advantage of in his tax return and understand how those values would govern the tax reform decisions he might make as president?
After accusing Mitt Romney of being a tax cheat failed to get results, the Obama campaign has written an open letter to Mitt Romney asking very nicely to see the last five years of his tax returns. Maybe they should have tried this approach in the first place. At this point, it’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for telling them to take a hike:
“Thanks for the note,” [Romney campaign manager Matt] Rhoades wrote. “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”
Rhoades wrote that Messina and his campaign could continue talking about Romney’s tax returns – but that his team would focus on the economy.
“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days,” Rhoades wrote. “In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”
Fact-checking website Politifact — which has had a mixed record refereeing the election so far — gave Sen. Harry Reid a “pants-on-fire” rating for his charge that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.
In an Internal Revenue Service study of nearly 4 million 2009 tax returns of filers reporting more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, 20,752 of these taxpayers — or just 0.529 percent — had no U.S. income tax liability. About half of those did have income tax liability in other countries. …
To gauge tax patterns for even higher-income earners, the best we can do is to look at another IRS study detailing the taxes paid by the top 400 earners in the nation in 2008. To make this list, you would have to have earned roughly $109 million that year. Among those 400 top taxpayers, 30 — or 7.5 percent — had an effective tax rate of between 0 and 10 percent. Given how the statistics are calculated, it’s impossible to know how many paid no taxes, but it’s safe to assume it’s well below 7.5 percent.
Neither study directly addresses Romney’s situation — he falls somewhere in the middle of the two studies — but the data does show that for earners both below and above him, it’s unlikely they paid zero taxes for one year, and it’s even more far-fetched to think they did so for 10 years.
Democrats are starting to throw their support behind Sen. Harry Reid’s completely unsourced attacks on Mitt Romney’s tax returns. While the Obama campaign hasn’t endorsed Reid’s comments explicitly, it’s been using them as an opening to smack Romney for his failure to release more than two years of his tax information. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is defending Reid’s credibility, calling his allegations “a fact”:
“Harry Reid made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact,” Pelosi told The Huffington Post in a Sunday interview. “Whether he did or not can easily be disposed of: Mitt Romney can release his tax returns and show whether he paid taxes.”
Both Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus came out swinging against Reid on Sunday over his claims about Romney potentially not paying taxes. Asked to respond to Priebus calling Reid “a dirty liar” over the situation, Pelosi initially responded, “Who?” She went on to say that Priebus doesn’t know what he’s talking about since he wasn’t part of Reid’s conversations.
“Well he doesn’t know that,” Pelosi said. “Harry Reid is a person who is, as we know, A, is a fighter, B, he wouldn’t say this unless it was true that somebody told him that.”
Pelosi’s comments will at least help extend the news life of this story, giving the Obama campaign more time to hammer Romney to release his returns. But are Democrats also taking a risk with this attack?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continues to accuse Mitt Romney of ducking taxes for 10 years without a hint of evidence. This morning, Reid released a statement about the “controversy” (that he created) insisting that his “source” (who he refuses to name) is “extremely credible”:
There is a controversy because the Republican presidential nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, refuses to release his tax returns. As I said before, I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for ten years. People who make as much money as Mitt Romney have many tricks at their disposal to avoid paying taxes. We already know that Romney has exploited many of these loopholes, stashing his money in secret, overseas accounts in places like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. …
It’s clear Romney is hiding something, and the American people deserve to know what it is. Whatever Romney’s hiding probably speaks volumes about how he would approach issues that directly impact middle-class families, like tax reform and the economy. When you are running for president, you should be an open book.