When Harry met futility

Ian Sams

Many people know that I’m an ardent supporter of the Democratic Party. I voted for President Obama, have campaigned for Democratic candidates, and have done my fair share of espousing left-leaning viewpoints in this very newspaper.

But today, I’m going to criticize one of the most prominent leaders of my party for doing something unacceptable and unexplainable in my book.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., single-handedly killed a bipartisan jobs bill put together by Democratic Sen. Max Baucus and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Within hours of an announcement that the two senators had reached an agreement on a bill that would have strengthened unemployment benefits, cut small business taxes and created infrastructure jobs, Sen. Reid axed it for his own version.

Both Sens. Baucus and Grassley — the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, respectively — had earned the support and commendation of President Obama on their proposal, and many senators were lining up to support the bill. At the weekly Democratic Senate lunch, Reid announced that the Baucus-Grassley bill would be going nowhere and he would introduce his own, pared-down version instead.

Democrats, from Baucus to Sens. Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas and Sherrod Brown from Ohio expressed concern over Reid’s apparent unilateral decision and criticized Reid’s proposal as addressing taxes not jobs. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been tepid in her support for Reid’s version and has repeatedly touted the sweeping House jobs bill that she helped craft.

With this move, Reid effectively delivered a harsh slap in the face to Baucus — a powerful committee chairman — and President Barack Obama.

From my perspective, Reid has bolstered the Democratic leadership’s already burgeoning reputation for strict partisanship and arrogance. Politically, he’s kept a bipartisan bill off the floor that would help Democratic candidates in conservative or swing states, like Lincoln. He has shown us all exactly why he’s morphed into an ineffective majority leader.

For months, Reid, along with Pelosi, cut deals and whipped votes to put together a health care reform bill that ultimately died. It died precisely because the leadership was exclusive and showed an acute lack of boldness and inclusiveness. (Granted, President Obama showed a lack of clarity throughout the process, too.) The public cried out against the appearance of closed-door decision-making, and Democrats saw a setback.

Now, Reid has brought the kind of inefficacy that led to the demise of health care to the forefront on jobs. At a time when Democrats control both houses of Congress and the presidency, it’s inexplicable that no significant progress has been made on those two issues that many see as the foundation of the Democratic platform. If a broad-sweeping jobs bill dies, then I expect Democrats to suffer the consequences for years to come.

To me, Harry Reid must go as majority leader. He may lose his reelection bid in Nevada in November, but even if he doesn’t, the Democratic Senate caucus must realize their entire agenda is dying in the hands of their leader. It’s time for Reid to pass the baton to a stronger and more effective senator like Dick Durbin, D-Ill., or Chuck Schumer, D-NY. Both of these men represent more strictly Democratic ideals, and both have stronger across-the-aisle relationships.

But more importantly than replacing the Senate Majority Leader, the Democratic party needs to realize that many people see it as superior and truly un-democratic right now. The public is losing trust in the party that gained its current majorities by pushing that the public couldn’t trust the other party. Obama needs to step up and rein in this sort of behavior in Congress. He’s the head of our party for a reason, and the proverbial buck stops with him. He must decry this kind of action and demand more out of the Democratic leadership.

In the end, the public must see that the Democratic party is truly the party of the people — not a party of haughty leaders who shun bipartisanship and run a Congress dictatorially. That’s not leadership. Real leadership is sharing credit and fostering unity.

This majority leader isn’t doing that. The party leadership isn’t doing that. And it’s time for things to change.

Ian Sams is a junior majoring in political science. His column runs weekly on Monday.