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November 26, 2014

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Reid’s influence on debt deal hidden by his role behind the scenes

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Tom Williams

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun in his office in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Debt crisis

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., holds his hand up as he whispers to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio,  during a photo opportunity in the House speaker's office before a meeting on the debt limit increase on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday, July 23, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Reid: We Brought Our Economy Back From Brink Of Disaster

Reid: We Brought Our Economy Back From Brink Of Disaster

Barely two days after passing a historic agreement to avoid defaulting on the national debt, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is one of the few lawmakers left on Capitol Hill.

It’s vacation time in Washington, but not quite yet in Reid’s office, which on Thursday was still a pulsating nerve center of legislative appointments and activity. Despite that, Reid seemed happily relaxed as bustling aides shifted him through a busy schedule, at ease and in control of his familiar dominion.

It’s a mood that was absent during the last week of negotiations over how to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling. It was a week when Reid appeared publicly sidelined while the White House brokered a deal with Republican leaders.

But Reid says much of that was for show.

“I was involved in all of it,” he told the Sun in an interview at his office in the Capitol. “A lot of times I didn’t want it to be public because I didn’t want my caucus to think I was driving that lousy deal.”

There are myriad unanswered questions about where the final agreement will lead the country. One senior White House official described it as “the most complicated legislative Rubik’s cube ever invented.” Congress will spend months hashing out how to make all the deficit reductions required of itself.

But the wrenching political process leading to the final deal — a partisan machination that left Americans wholly unsatisfied with politicians — has also raised questions about how effectively congressional leaders will be able to wield their influence.

Reid was the first man in Washington to announce there was a deal to end the debt-ceiling crisis, put his endorsement behind it, and officially called on his caucus to support the compromise.

Although Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, lauded the deal for representing “90 percent of what we wanted,” Reid put it somewhere on the spectrum between “unfair” and “lousy.”

He’s got a very simple explanation as to why.

“Revenue,” he said “The Republicans would not allow any kind of revenue. We’re not talking about tax increases. Revenue.”

•••

But that’s the conclusion of a complicated back story.

Reid started off at the center of the formal process of talks to raise the debt ceiling, a months-long process that kicked into concentrated, high gear in the past six weeks.

Reid, Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi — and at times, their seconds-in-command — spent much of July going back and forth to the White House to negotiate a strategy to raise the country’s borrowing authority while reducing the deficit.

But by the second-to-last weekend before the default deadline, group talks at the White House had devolved and the parties were almost completely divided, according to a senior White House official.

“The group meetings took us as far as they could,” the official said. “Beyond that, shuttle diplomacy was the only way forward.”

Click to enlarge photo

President Barack Obama meets with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, and House Speaker John Boehner, in the Cabinet Room of the White House July 23.

Although the White House maintains the decision to disband was made by mutual consent, negotiating with President Barack Obama as Democrat-in-chief, instead of Reid, was clearly the GOP’s preferred strategy.

It made it look like Reid had been relegated to the sidelines.

“We’re doing our very best to keep a sense, on top of what’s going on,” Reid said when reports emerged that the president was speaking to Boehner to try to craft a grand bargain. “A lot of what’s going on, we don’t know. I haven’t been in the day-to-day negotiations.”

A few days after Boehner departed those talks, the spotlight shifted to McConnell.

“I think we all know, if the president decides to reach an agreement, the rest of the Democrats will fall in line,” McConnell told reporters of his negotiations with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Reid reinforced the impression: “I haven’t heard anything from the Republican leader,” he said.

But throughout that period, Reid says, he was maintaining steady contact with everyone: sometimes in his office, sometimes in McConnell’s, sometimes even in Boehner’s, and on the phone with the White House — according to their aides, a half-dozen times a day, on average.

•••

The particulars of this deal aside, Reid was, and is, fording uncharted waters in his role at the helm of the Senate. Ever since there’s been a majority leader’s position in that body, there’s never been a Democratic majority leader sandwiched between a Democratic White House and a Republican House of Representatives.

Not so long ago there was a parallel situation, when the parties were flipped. In fact, the 1980s — when Republican Ronald Reagan was president and Democrat Tip O’Neill was speaker of the House — are roundly treated like the glory days of congressional diplomacy; they are an especially common reference these days, since one of the most significant deals they struck was to reform Social Security.

Click to enlarge photo

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, to talk about debt ceiling legislation.

But nobody ever really talks about what Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker — a Republican known as the “Great Conciliator” — was doing behind the scenes.

But out of the public eye is where Reid sees his greatest strength. “I’m a behind-the-scenes guy. That’s how I’m able to get things done,” Reid said, describing his own role in these and previous rounds of legislative negotiations. “That’s how I’m successful.”

•••

Historical comparisons can only go so far as the persons though, and Reid doesn’t talk about Boehner the way most people talk about Tip O’Neill.

“It was a long, hard process, and what slowed it up so much was Boehner trying to get that thing of his passed,” Reid said, referring to Boehner’s cuts-heavy, balanced budget amendment-based legislation he struggled to get past the House the last week of July.

Since that vote, Reid has taken great pains to come up with euphemisms that describe his distaste for Boehner’s bill. But earlier, he took even greater pains to separate the speaker from the element of the Republican Party Reid has always treated as its scourge: the Tea Party.

“I did a much better job of separating him than he did himself,” Reid said of Boehner. “I didn’t think that he was as pulled into the Tea Party folks as he ultimately proved to be. But he obviously is.”

•••

If the extent to which Boehner is beholden to the Tea Party is changing Reid’s impression of the negotiating partner he has across the aisle, there’s a similar metamorphosis happening among GOP leaders as they assess Reid.

“If Sen. Reid had said to the president last Sunday night: ‘This is the bill you’re going to get, I hope you can sign it,’ it’s a different conversation from ‘Are you OK with this?’ ” one GOP leadership aide said. “If he wants to stand up to the president, he reinstates himself as the go-to guy, but if you’re going to defer to the president ...” and left off with a shrug.

Reid, behind-the-scenes worker that he is, doesn’t himself seem fully satisfied with the extent to which Obama employed his renowned powers of public persuasion in the debt-ceiling debate.

“I’d like the president to be more aggressive. But he is who he is. That’s his style and I can’t change that,” Reid told the Sun.

But, he said, the debt ceiling posed the president a Solomon-esque quandary.

“What the president was faced with is they were willing to cut the baby in half,” Reid said; the baby-splicing being, in this situation, the equivalent of the economy defaulting.

“It was a long, hard process ... we were within an hour, maybe an hour and a half of not being able to do a bill,” Reid said. “Obama, I think, did a lot with nothing.”

•••

And part of what he, and they, produced, included many marks of the majority leader.

Click to enlarge photo

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks with reporters as he walks to the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi Sunday, July 31, 2011.

The 12-lawmaker Joint Committee that will meet over the next three months to draft a budget of deficit reductions was Reid’s brainchild, first drafted under a backup solution he was hammering out with McConnell to give the president borrowing authority over a congressional disapproval. The reflexive mechanism of disapproval motions and vetoes they focused is also a fundamental part of the final compromise bill.

“The reason I liked (my proposal) so much is that it was so simple,” Reid said, adding that had he been calling all the shots, he would have gotten the president and congressional members meeting in ad hoc committees to ditch their dreams of a “grand bargain” much earlier than they did.

“I thought it became so repetitive, and why waste time on it? The Republicans aren’t going to do anything on revenue. I think we should have stopped that a long time ago,” he said.

White House officials said Reid — along with Pelosi — pushed to reduce the effective cut to Medicare providers in the worst-case scenario, across-the-board triggers that kick in if Congress can’t approve the committee’s compromise by Christmas, from 4 to 2 percent, and spare Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and Medicaid any chop at all.

But the bill seems to have split the jury of economic opinion. On Friday, Standard & Poor’s rating agency downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time in history, criticizing Congress for “delegating to the Select Committee” decisions on anything more comprehensive than “relatively modest savings on discretionary spending.” S&P complained, like Reid, that “for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options.”

“The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy,” S&P’s statement read.

•••

But it’s not just to the debt-ceiling standoff that the critique applies.

The debt-ceiling crisis is only the most recent experience these congressional leaders have had coming to the absolute brink of an existential crisis: Before this, there was this spring’s shutdown showdown, and before that, a massive tax compromise during last year’s lame-duck session.

Most of those face-offs pundits have awarded as strategic victories to the Republicans.

“I think they’ll declare a lot of victories, that doesn’t mean they’re victories,” Reid said, declining to draw patterns about what past practice would mean for future negotiations. By law, the next round of the cuts vs. revenues deficit fight takes place in the Joint Committee; but everyone expects there will be a role for the White House and these congressional leaders at every step of the way.

“Each set of facts are different and call for different conclusions,” he said. “I wish I could go someplace else, but ... at the end of each of these big problems, there have to be adults trying to work out the solution.”

The White House seems pleased enough with how that’s going for Reid.

“The best measure of his leadership on the issue is the overwhelming support he got from his caucus on the final bill,” a senior White House official said. Reid did pull together the largest percentage of any caucus or conference to support the bill: Almost 87 percent of Senate Democrats backed the legislation, topping the 72.5 percent of House Republicans, almost 60 percent of Senate Republicans, and exactly half of House Democrats that also supported the compromise bill.

“He has a tough job holding a broad caucus together,” the senior White House official said. “It was extraordinary under the circumstances.”

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  1. Harry and the Democrats should simply have offered Boehner and his thugs the middle finger. Both should have understood the debt ceiling issue and the debt itself should never have been tied together in the first place.

    Under Reagan the debt ceiling was raised some 17 or 18 times with out a peep from the Republicons. Under the "administration" of the illegal illegitimate occupant of the White House circa 2000/2008 it was raised 7 or 8 times without a thought. Now with a skinny black guy in the White House the Republicon's can't stop being obstructionists.

    The middle finger guys,...you need to stop caving in to every damn thing the Con party and its flea bag cohorts seem to demand. If they want to play dirty and it seems its the only way Republicons play then its how the Democrats need to play too. The radical right are destroying this country and the Democrats sit by as it happens doing very little to stop it.

    In the end this agreement is a piece of crap. It cuts the wrong things for the wrong people and Harry knows its garbage,...fact is everybody knows it is. We can't cut ourselves out of the disaster Bush left us,...we need to TAX THE WEALTHY at levels prior to Reagan's screwing with them, STOP these insane expensive wars we were lied into,...negotiate prescription drug prices and not pay top dollar.

    The middle finger and add to it communication Harry. What should have happened was demanding tax hikes on the wealthy creating revenue. If Boehner balked then its HIS party that crashed the economy and the Democrats need to point it out, and repeat it showing the country who is to blame. Sitting on your hands while your head bobs up and down gets us crap like this.

    Grow a spine and say no to the insane, America is dying and junk like this adds to its painful death. Middle finger Harry,...you gotta use it!

  2. Didn't Harry take to floor of the Senate last weekend to declare that McConnell overstated his pull in the negotiations? This was reported in this paper was it not?

    Next day we learn McConnell and Joe Biden worked it out in private. (Harry was no where to be seen and Harry was wrong) This was reported in the eastern newspapers.

    Just a reality check for the Sun. A couple of old pros worked it out and Harry was not one of them.

  3. The only good thing that has occurred is the downgrading of our credit rating and we'll more than likely be downgraded by Fitch and Moody's in the near distant future.

    There isn't a thing that a liberal can do to help this out except to slash their social programs enabling their no good for nothing lazy pathetic gene pool sucking off the freebies for generations. America simply can't afford to allow the liberal gene pool to sit at home demanding everything for nothing from those of us who choose to wake up and become productive members of society. The excuses and lies have caught up to the income/debt ratio, our debt has surpassed the income and we're sick and tired of enabling their gene pool. Your gig is up, it's time for liberals to get off their lazy bungers and stop using others for their poor choices they made in their life, and it's your fault, its time you are held accountable for your choices and your actions. Personally speaking, I could care a less what happens to you or your offspring, it's a choice you made, now enjoy the earned consequences of your choice.

  4. I don't pretend to know what is happening inside, but I know enough about Harry Reid to know this: he is so much shrewder than most people realize, anything is possible. As for Mr. Wiggin, I commend him. Not everybody is willing to sign his name when saying something so utterly ridiculous and hateful, and he should be commended for it.

  5. Mr. Green, as you've sated; "I commend him. Not everybody is willing to sign his name when saying something so utterly ridiculous and hateful, and he should be commended for it."

    Lmao, another liberal flapping ones lips, the truth remains the same; the liberal gene pool and their offspring are fighting to keep all the freebies around. Nothing hateful, speaking the truth, nothing more, nothing less.

    Under Obama the only benefactor to his policy is the liberal gene pool, more people on food stamps than in the history of America, unemployment at all time high, government employment reaches highest level ever, credit rating downgraded to third world country status, illegal immigrants preferred import, same sex preferred marriage is marriage of choice, and all other forms of sick repugnant lifestyle choices one could imagine is at an all time high, crime is on the rise; work for paycheck isn't preferred income, welfare or unemployment is preferred income, Obamacare. Obama and clan are determined to force the working class out and create a welfare country.

    I am not ashamed let alone shy to speak the truth; liberals have no use to most of America unless you fall into one of the categories:

    a. Gay -- lesbian
    b. Lazy
    c. Welfare preferred method of support
    d. Gang Banger
    e. Environmentalist
    f. Government employee
    g. Illegal immigrant
    h. Baby Making welfare machine
    I: Criminal

    To put simply, there isn't a liberal or a liberal policy that I support let alone believe in, liberals are the problem not the cure.

  6. I just hope the USA makes sure all the Multi-national oil companies keep their tax breaks.
    I hope that all the Wall street brokers keep their
    15% tax rates. We need to cut children off of food stamps according to its2hot. The Elderly need to pay their fair share also.
    Hey maybe we could lock everybody up that doesn't agree with the Tea Party and the GOP.

    We will all be prisoners and lackies of the Corporations,if its2hot gets his way.

  7. Mr. Wiggins, please stop believing Republican talking points. Almost every claim you make is patently untrue, yet you choose to believe your own reality. I do wish you well, though, and I hope that you get the mental help you need, even if it is government-funded.

  8. Florida has already expanded their prison labor industries. This is all part of the Right Wing policies to destroy the Middle-Class. Ronald Reagan started it and now the SCOTUS helps the destroy our electoral freedoms. The Roberts Court will go down as the worst court in history.

    This why Americans have to keep Democrats in the White House and the Senate so they can check the Corporatists power and the USA will not be bought and sold and remain free.

  9. Another liberal spouting off more garbage "We need to cut children off of food stamps according to its2hot. The Elderly need to pay their fair share also."

    Here's a thought for you nutcases, how about all the gang bangers, welfare baby making machines, and all the other pathetic freeloading liberals start earning their keep and they begin doing something for the system that they love so much. they can start off with waking their lazy bunger up before the sun rises and earn their freebies and we'll reduce our payroll costs from the system by all of them and replace what others are being paid to do; they can pick up trash in the public right-of-ways, clean public offices, donate time to the system, wash windows, mow parks, pull weeds, wash vehicles, and whatever else the public agencies requires of them where they're not a burden to society as they are now and stop sucking off us for generation after generation after generation. We can also close the boarders and enforce the laws that already exist, deport the illegal's and their offspring and stop them from sucking off school budgets, welfare, public housing, medicaid -- medical and learn the American system, you have to earn it, nothing is free in life.

    Americans who don't fall into the liberal gene pool don't have a problem taking care of people truly in need or the elderly, it is the fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer funds that we're sick and tired of supporting. Liberals don't want people to work; they want their mindless lazy pathetic trolls to remain codependent upon their system and to have all their offspring march to the same old drumbeat, expect everything for nothing. Poor little me syndrome is a liberal way of life and frankly, American's are sick and tired of it; America simply can't afford the liberal way of life.

  10. I'm glad I didn't have breakfast this morning, I would have lost it while reading this story.

  11. The Big elephant in the room is Tax breaks for Huge corporations and Wall street traders.
    Throwing Mothers and children off of welfare is not going to amount to a hill of beans.

    Every person that is on welfare will be off in three years. It is called welfare reform.

    We need to educate people and they need to get worthwhile employment.

    Welfare recipients are short termers and Employers won't hire anybody who doesn't have work experience and a valid work history.

    Everybody wants the private sector to pick up the slack, but without government aid (UI benefits, SNAP and WIC)there would be a lot of mothers and children begging on the strip and downtown.
    Is this the type of society that the Right Wing Tools want?

    Are we going to resemble Calcutta India in the next decade?

    Now GangBangers: There has been a concerted effort to marginalize and dis-enfranchise the poor minority youth in this country.
    This was started during the Reagan Administration.
    Now we have a sub-culture of a permanent under-class. This population needs to be given decent jobs and opportunities, so they will not continue on the revolving prison door routine.

    Prison cost money! The Taxpayers have to pay for the prisons.

    Productive Workers add to society and Prisoners subtract from Society.

  12. Enjoyed the article.

    This is nothing new. Senator Reid is one helluva behind the scenes type guy. His actions show he only works for US, not only Nevadans, but all Americans. Quiet and non-descript. Low key. All business. I like his style.

    For some reason, the Republicans differ. They like the form of politics where someone stands in front of cameras and microphones, jumps up and down like they gotta pee, and spout pure utter nonsense. (Witness Speaker Boehner: "HELL NOOOOO, YOOOOOO CAN'T!!!!!") And this has done nothing for America. Except for downgrading our national credit rating. And taking us the wrong way.

    Senator Reid don't go for that crap. He's a behind the scenes type of guy, gets the votes, negotiates, actually knows the art of compromise (OH NO, REPUBLICANS!!!! There's that damn word! noooOOOOOOOOOoooooooo! Not the "C" word!). He don't make up stuff to pander for votes. He doesn't resort to playing party politics all the time. Nor does he play before an audience. He quietly rolls up his sleeves and gets the job done. A job we elected him into office to do.

    Now I know why I voted for him.

    And I know why I'm an active participant and a fully committed member of the GROHAH* Movement here in Nevada.

    I'm sick and tired of the Republican Party. Especially the ones that infect Nevada. They do more things to show they clearly hate me and you. You ain't rich? YOU DON'T MATTER TO THEM! You don't own a corporation? TO HELL WITH YOU! The middle class are just victims waiting to happen for the predatory Republican Party of Nevada.

    I say throw all the bums out. They need to be outside looking in for at least a few generations.

    After the 2012 elections, I would rather have it where you'll have a hard time spotting a Republican politician anywhere around. I know I'm doing my part to complete that picture.

    *Stands for Get Rid Of Heck And Heller.

  13. The Tea Party reminds me of something that has an analogy to old time casinos which operated in Havana, Cuba before Fidel Castro came into power.

    The following is a true story.

    A Los Angeles attorney was gambling at the Sans Souci, one of the better known nightclub casinos in Havana, Cuba in April, 1952. After attending a floor show, he found himself pushed over to a gaming table by people. Before he knew it, he was hunched over a gaming table with a large crowd gathered around him, dice handed to him.

    The game he ended up playing was called "Cubolo," an eight-dice variation on craps that was popular with grifters and bunco artists in the Havana gaming circles. "Cubolo" was a catch all phrase used to describe the numerous local games created to confuse and eventually fleece tourists.

    The game was basically incomprehensible. Whenever the attorney/tourist asked clarification of what he was doing and betting on and strategy, he would be excitedly told by people surrounding him that he can't lose if he doubled down on his bet.

    So the tourist kept throwing the dice and doubling down, getting caught up by the excitement from everyone around him. When asked more about the rules, the people would clap, cheer, get excited, spur him on, but no one explained a damn thing to him. It was contagious.

    And he kept losing. To the tune of $4,200.00. He wasn't happy about it, but he wrote out the check. He felt he was lured into a game and skinned under false pretenses.

    The game was nonsense. There were no rules to it, made up as you go along with the con. But the people surrounding him were paid by the casino to steer "whales" over. In order to fleece them.

    Back in those days, that was considered a classic "razzle dazzle" con game.

    THAT is exactly what the Tea Party is all about.

    They are doing a razzle dazzle. Saying they are providing America with something, but it is only a Republican Party led effort to drive this country even more into a ditch, make the job employment rate go higher, while at the same time protecting the filthy rich by keeping the Bush tax cuts going.

    The Tea Party are willing participants in the razzle dazzle to get the Republican Party to achieve their goal of the complete and utter destruction of President Obama and his entire administration"the only people who can ever be counted upon to fix this country.

    Don't let these idiots razzle dazzle you. They are using you. And they will chuck you to the wayside after the dust settles and they get their way.

    Wake up, Nevada. We need to get rid of the Republicans here. They are doing the ultimate razzle dazzle.

  14. Wiggin, you need to stop watching Fox your turning into a cluck. Whats the Koch Bros pay per post now,...you get a check, cash or is it direct deposit?

  15. Dear Ms. Demirjian and Strange Commenters,

    I assume you are aware that the "historic agreement" means we will borrow 39 cents of every dollar the Federal Government spends instead of the current 42 cents. It is irrational to believe that to be a success. Very weird.

    Good luck.

    Regards,
    Purgatory