Almost immediately after losing his Senate majority, Sen. Harry Reid began devising a strategy to get it back. Being from Nevada, Reid opted to gamble on what he considered a sure bet – that the more conservative House majority would go frustrated by the moderate Senate’s inability to ram through their priorities. Dysfunction, he seemed to believe, was inevitable, thereby allowing him to paint Republicans as a fractured party that is incapable of governing.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that. Burgess Everett writes for Politico:
In their bid to retake the Senate, Democrats long planned to paint Republicans as irresponsible stewards of government who threatened shutdowns at every turn.
Those plans have largely been dashed — by a relatively productive Senate. And that’s left the minority grasping for a compelling case to make to voters for ousting the GOP majority.
Republicans have made high-stakes budget deals and scored wins on transportation and taxes, and the gridlock Democrats predicted under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s watch has not materialized. So now Democrats can’t decide whether Republicans are obstructive, their legislative partners or a party aiming to do nothing at all.
If anything, “relatively productive” may be an understatement. By the end of 2015 the Republican majority had racked up a series of impressive wins, many of which had long bedeviled Senate leadership from both parties. For instance, they reached a deal to permanently extend a series of tax cuts for individuals and businesses, which were previously done on a year-to-year basis; they passed a long-term highway bill for the first time since 2005; they approved a $200 billion Medicare reform package that put an end to the “doc fix” debacle; they passed a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Law, the first significant education reform since 2002, and they lived up to their pledge to put a bill that would repeal Obamacare on the president’s desk.
“[R]estoring the Senate is the right thing to do. And it’s the practical thing to do,” McConnell said at the beginning of the year. “Because we’re only going to pass meaningful legislation if members from both parties are given a stake in the outcome. That’s the genius of regular order. That’s the genius of the Senate.”
And by the end of the year, McConnell could honestly declare victory. His campaign promises to get the Senate working again proved to be more than just words. He, and every member of the Republican majority, made them a reality.
Reid, for his part, seemed baffled. Apparently stunned that Republicans had not only remained largely unified, but that they had prioritized issues where there was significant amounts of bipartisan agreement, Reid flailed.
In late December he attempted to recycle his initial approach, calling the Senate “the most unproductive Senate in the history of the country,” and claiming “facts and figures to show that.” But that strategy backfired spectacularly, spurring numerous fact-checkers to reiterate McConnell’s productivity and revisit Reid’s do-nothing Senate.
Then, hoping no one would pay attention to the switcheroo, Reid not only began touting the Senate’s productivity, he claimed ownership of it.
“We have a lot more to do for America on behalf of the American people, but we can’t ignore the progress that’s been made,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “My friend [Sen. McConnell] talks about the new Senate. There is a new Senate because you have a constructive minority.”
Then, as Politico reports, Reid came completely undone, offering up a jumbled mix of non sequiturs with no clear message.
[I]n an interview this month, Reid fired off a fusillade of themes when asked why Democrats should be returned to power: a sprinkling of Bernie Sanders’ populist rhetoric, a dash of Hillary Clinton’s middle-class boosterism and, of course, meat-and-potatoes middle-class talking points.
“We have to do something to help the middle class. Very simple. We can do that by doing something about this burdensome student debt that we have that’s crushing America,” the retiring Democratic leader said in his office. “We need to do something with infrastructure. This is not a problem only in Flint, Michigan. It’s all over the country.”
Reid can try out as many messages as he likes before Election Day. But he knows that he can’t offer up anything nearly as powerful as Senate Republicans simple, true slogan: “The Senate is working again.”
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