Harry Reid has been reported today as telling the Conservative Democratic Senator Max Baucus (very powerful Finance Committee Chairman) to stop trying to compromise with the Republicans on the Health care public option and on the regressive tax on employer-supplied health benefits. This has surprised a lot of people who have a poor opinion of Harry Reid's spinal fortitude. If you are familiar with the way he stood up to Mob intimidation as a prosecutor, today's reported demand to Max Baucus shouldn't be a surprise. The real question ought to be "Why has he apparently let the conservatives and Republicans roll him all of this year." That's what is out of character. Here's my opinion.
Things have changed this month. Up until now this year the legislature has been involved in just keeping the government running, and the Republicans have been in the business of obstructing everything the Democrats attempt (which among other things is why so few of Obama's political appointees to fill plum book appointments have gotten votes and why Republican Senators keep putting holds on them.) But this is July. The health care bill is on the table for this month. The health care bill is the main event, unlike everything else that has come up before this month.
Obama, Reid and Pelosi between them have total responsibility to keep the government functioning in spite of the asinine and unified obstructionist actions and language of the Republicans as dominated by the talk show hosts. Obama has done a masterful job of playing the Republicans so that the only positions they could take to oppose him have been more self-destructive than effectively obstructionist on the large issues.
Between Pelosi and Reid, Pelosi has the easier job because of no filibuster. She still has to mollify the Blue Dogs who are almost as skittish as the Republicans because they fear the next primary. So Pelosi has compromised with both the Republicans and the Blue Dogs to a greater extent than any of us like at all.
Reid with only 59 Democrats until today as well as the filibuster which the Republicans are only mildly hesitant to use was in much worse situation than Pelosi. I'd bet he has been counting votes very closely and keeping the conservative Democratic Senators mollified.
But two things have just changed. Al Franken was sworn in today and the big initiative - health care - is in the balance. This is once in a lifetime, not just in a political career. I'm more and more convinced that the three top Democrats - Obama, Reid and Pelosi, have been gearing everything to powering the health care bill into enactment this year. That's the reason for the refusal to accept delays, and I think they have allowed some things to be enacted that they hate (I know I do) so as to not waste Presidential power on secondary issues. But now we are in the main bout. If I am right, then the gloves are going to come off.
We'll get only hints of the machinations because they aren't even inside the beltway. They are inside the Senate and House. and the Press mostly hasn't a clue, and the ones who have read Richard E. Neustadt's book "Presidential Power" will find that it runs counter to the permitted media narrative. But some reporter with inside connections on the Hill and the smarts to apply Neaustadt's teachings to the analysis has one Hell of a great book to write, much like Ted Sorenson's "Making of the President."
I won't guarantee this, of course, nor do I have original reporting to confirm it. But I've read Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, the first edition of which was published in 1960, and which JFK was reported to have read between the election and his inauguration. Neustadt essentially wrote the the President's power is limited, and it grows with each win that he is responsible for and is diminished by each loss. Obama has essentially kept his hands off of most of the things that come from Congress, so his loss has been minimal. On the positive side, the three of them have been setting things up specifically for health care, with the Budget powers to avoid a filibuster if necessary and the rapid schedule set so that the bill is dealt with when Obama's power as an incoming President with a solid majority is at its height. The fact that Reid has not stood for any delays in the schedule for completing health care is an indication of how the three are husbanding their resources.
I really think that the power the three have been husbanding all year is about to come unleashed. When it comes down to the crunch, the health care vote is going to be the first mandatory party-line vote this year. Up until now, the Democratic defectors have gotten a "gimme." Not this time. And for those who go with the Party voting for health care and find it damages their prospects for surviving their next Primary, the Party will provide the kinds of support needed to get a win in that primary. They did it for Lieberman, to the disgust of many of us. Is this why?
As I say, I won't guarantee this scenario, but I really think I see is coming together. If so, we are about to see it work out. I sure hope I am right.