Monday, March 22, 2010

Harry Reid and other Heroes of Health Care

I'm seeing a lot of praise for Barack Obama today, and a lot of praise for Nancy Pelosi.  Both well deserved.  I'm not hearing nearly enough praise for Harry Reid.

Pelosi did a very good job of using the office that Tip O'Neill more or less created.*  Pelosi, however, managed to hold together about 87% of her caucus, not counting the one she lost to the Republican conference a while ago, or the two who resigned (one from scandal, one because he didn't want to wait a bit before getting his campaign for governor fully underway).  Harry Reid had to, and did, hold together 100% of the Democratic Senators, including the one that he helped entice into switching to the Democrats earlier in 2009.  Pelosi needed to get a vote on a rule, on final passage (twice), and on the one amendment that the Republicans were allowed to offer, on abortion -- the same was basically true on original passage, with the Stupak amendment as the tough one to deal with.  Reid had to deal with various procedural motions, all of which required every single Senator to attend whatever the hour despite illness, injury, old age, and Shabbat restrictions.  But he also had to deal with amendments on abortion, on Medicare, on taxes, and on drug reimportation, most if not all designed to make it hard for Democrats to hang together.  To be fair, Reid didn't need unanimity on most of those votes, but he did need unanimity for moving to the bill despite everyone knowing that numerous tough votes were coming. 

And he had to do all that without many of the sticks that Pelosi can command -- Senators don't really care that much about committee assignments or even committee chair positions, and the leadership can't freeze them out of other goodies nearly as easily as can the House leadership.  Not to mention that he had to do it while facing an uphill fight for reelection, something that Nancy Pelosi never has had to spend five minutes on.

I don't know how much of it was Harry Reid, and how much was the president, or Rahm Emanuel, or what, but from what's on the record so far I'd have to say that Reid really deserves a much larger share of the huzzahs than he's received to date.

As long as I'm at it, by the way: also very much deserving of credit are, I'd guess, Henry Waxman...wait, I want him in a sentence by himself.  OK, continuing on...George Miller, Chris Dodd, Max Baucus, Charley Rangel.  Phil Schilero, and Peter Orszag.  Members of Ted Kennedy's staff, I suspect, whose names I don't know.  That's the people I'm pretty confident deserve a lot of praise. There are others I suspect also did very well, but I know less by reputation or good reporting, so I won't list them...what I can say is that I watched the House Democratic leadership's press conference late last night, and I was impressed that I didn't really know of any weak link among the group (which included the key committee and, I think, subcommittee chairs).  A lot of these are old-fashioned workhorses, people who aren't necessarily on MSNBC three times a week (granted, I don't watch enough to know, but I don't recall seeing, say, Rosa DeLauro on there all the time). 

 I'd love to see a few feature stories on some of these people.  Yes, Obama did a great job, and so did Pelosi, but they were not the only ones.

*It's shorthand -- modern Speakership was created by reforms that took place over roughly 1959-1975, and Tip O'Neill was the first one to really figure out and use the reforms to create a powerful office -- and until Pelosi, I think, the only one to really master it.


  1. This was a House vote. It's understandable Pelosi is getting more credit than Reid. Reid got lots and lots and lots of praise after Dec 24. As he should have. I know how much Reid has done in the last weeks to make this work, made even more remarkable by his near personal tragedy, but Pelosi was ultimately responsible for the 216, and she's getting the bulk of the credit.

    And speaking for myself, while I do appreciate the enormous effort of Reid, I can't help but ask myself how the Majority Leader of the Senate was blindsided by a crushing -- and, really, humiliating -- defeat to replace Ted Kennedy's seat. There are lots of people to blame in that loss -- POTUS, the Kennedys, Rahm/Axe/Valerie (of course!), Durbin, Coakley (obviously)... but Reid is on the line, too. The loss, and the lack of preparation for the loss, nearly sunk the whole legislation.

  2. That Nancy Pelosi looks better than Harry Reid is only natural--the structure of the House is more amenible to a strong leader than that of the Senate. So even though my heart says Harry Reid is a weak leader, my head knows its mostly not his fault.

    What I do blame Harry Reid for is the Cornhusker Kickback and associated deals. How the heck did he (and Ben Nelson) not see the disaster they were walking into? My theory is that times have changed. In the old day this kind of transactional politics was normal. The people back in Nebraska would have been stoked to get a special deal. But in our 24-hour news-cycle era special deals are looked at with scorn. Reid and Nelson are old-school and didn't understand how the world has changed. Thats the theory anyway.

  3. Yeah, Reid handled his much larger legislative challenges really well.

    But really, it's this story about Pelosi that blows me away:

  4. And maybe at some level the decision to push forward after MA was obvious. It certainly was to me and to you as well, Jonathan. But something weird was going on in peoples' heads in DC for a while there, as we all saw and the story makes clear. Obama really seems to have been confused for a while. Nobody saw the path forward as clearly as Pelosi, and I shudder to think what would've happened without her.

  5. The credit that Pelosi is getting feels like it's about more than just the House vote, it's about the whole enchilada. The role she played after the MA election, she deserves that. But the whip challenge she faced really does pale in comparison to Reid's. And I think he got it done in the only way possible, with the bribes. IIRC, those happened right after the White House (Rahm, I think) reached their limit with the Senate process and told him to do whatever it took to get it done. And so he did.

  6. evietoo: It can be difficult to understand just how little time senators spend thinking about their own seat, let alone those of others. Once they're in there, they're pretty much there for life. This is one of the big reasons why senators can have a difficult time using their position as a springboard into governorships or the Presidency; they become complacent and lose touch. Even LBJ, a man who's mastery of the Senate was so great that the Senate literally changed its rules to ensure no one could control it the way he did, the man who practically invented the national party funding mechanism, and the man who knew more about the condition of the states and their districts than perhaps anyone else of his time, couldn't effectively use his senate career to compete with the private fortune and connections of the Kennedy family(though, admittedly, his personality had allot to do with this). That Reid could be caught with his pants down on the Massachusetts race isn't too surprising when you really consider the nature of the Senate and the people who serve in it.

  7. This House vote never happens if the Senate fails to pass its health insurance reform bill by a 60-40 vote before the Massachusetts special election, which was no easy task given the cast of career politicians, egomaniacs and selfish losers who held Votes ##54-100.

    If Ted Kennedy had been alive and healthy, they would have peeled off a few GOP votes and maybe even passed a public option or voluntary Medicare expansion for people aged 50+ and young people agred 18-25. But in this Senate, with a few blue dogs, and a united fascist . . . I mean Republican . . . party going "all in" on destroying the Obama presidency by derailing health insurance reform, getting 60 votes in favor of legislation this broad ranging and controversial was nothing short of miraculous -- a much more impressive accomplishment than has ever been acknowledged. It should also be underscored again and again that the final legislation included hundreds of GOP amendments that were adopted in the bill, so that, even though all of the Republicans voted against the final bill, the bill itself was decidedly bipartisan. I think (1) history will show that this was the only way it could have been passed, flawed though it may be, (2) in Obama's second term, which this helps guaranty, the Congress will adopt a public option or Medicare expansion with overwhelming public support (the economics are just too compelling), and (3) we will, in my lifetime (and I am 52), have a single payer system which is an expanded version of Medicare, with certain private enhancements available or permitted if you want to pay for them. It is inevitable -- just difficult given the vested interests that exist in maintaining a for-profit health system. But that will give way to the fiscal imperatives of reigning in costs, which a profit-driven, private sector approach is especially ill equipped to accomplish.

  8. Don't forget Pat Toomey. Without him, the Dems never would have had 60 votes. Toomey should be a hero for the Left.


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