Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is Harry Reid Shameless or Just Unashamed?

Say what you will about Harry Reid, but he’s no hypocrite. Voter disgust at the way the Senate does its legislative business under his supervision almost cost him his seat, and his party control of the chamber, in the last election. By all the accounts, Senate and House Democrats have paid a steep political price, not only for voter disapproval of the content of their legislative output, but for the widespread perception that it lacks democratic legitimacy because of all the procedural corners they cut passing it. Under the circumstances, you might have expected a gesture or two on the part of an experienced politician like Reid signaling that he and his Democratic colleagues would be changing their ways.

Well think again. Perhaps you’re already shocked that Reid isn’t ashamed to push proposals through a lame duck Senate, like START ratification, DADT repeal the Dream Act, that he didn’t dare to bring to the Senate floor when voters could have held Democrats accountable for their votes in the mid-term election. But if you’re like me, you never dreamed that Reid had the stones suddenly to unveil a $1.2 trillion, 1924-page omnibus spending bill with over 6,000 earmarks in it and urge his colleagues to pass it (rather than a plain vanilla continuing resolution) in the next two weeks before they have much of a clue about what’s in it.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s how the bill was described in the Washington Post:
“Weeks after swearing off earmarks, many senators stand to gain tens of millions of dollars for pet projects in a massive spending bill that could be their last chance at the money before a more conservative Congress begins next month.

“The $1.2 trillion bill, released on Tuesday, includes more than 6,000 earmarks totaling $8 billion, an amount that many lawmakers decried as an irresponsible binge following a midterm election in which many voters demanded that the government cut spending.”
And here are the hyperventilating editors of the Wall Street Journal:
“In the famous formulation often attributed to George Washington, the U.S. Senate is the saucer designed to cool the drink before it becomes law. In Majority Leader Harry Reid's rush to beat the looming expiration of the 111th Congress, the Senate has become the express lane to jam through changes in military rules, a giant spending bill and even an arms treaty—and all with virtually no deliberation. . . .

"Oh, and yesterday he also dropped on his colleagues a 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2011 that no one but a few Appropriators have read, if even they have.”
That raises a couple of questions: Does Harry Reid have no democratic shame? Shouldn’t he at least have the civic decency to camouflage his determination to circumvent the will of the voters on the theory that, however regrettable political hypocrisy may be, it’s the homage that vice pays to democratic virtue?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions because the answers say something important about the civic self-consciousness of the people asking them. It only makes sense to impute shamelessness to Reid on the assumption that circumventing the institutional mechanisms of democratic accountability is something that a congressional leader really ought to be ashamed of. Yet if that’s so, he has run the Senate over the last two years without showing the slightest consciousness of guilt.

Indeed, when you think about it, the way Reid has always run the Senate isn’t all that different from the way he’s running out the lame duck session now.  Even though the Senate was working on both the 2000-page health care and financial regulation bills for the better part of a year, Reid wasn’t ashamed to put them to floor votes before his colleagues knew what was in them, or had any reasonable expectation about how the proposed regulatory scheme would work in practice. So at the end of the day, his big legislative victories—ObamaCare and the Financial Reform Bill—really amounted largely to unconsidered delegations of authority from elected Senators to unelected bureaucrats who’d decide how things would really work behind closed doors in consultation with the representatives of favored constituencies. Presiding over a legislative process that manages to be interminable and rash at one and the same time has always been Harry Reid’s modus operandi.

So maybe Harry Reid isn’t exactly shameless. Maybe violating basic democratic norms just isn’t one of the things he regards as shameful.


Lone Wolf said...

This Peter Berkowitz piece speaks to the issue of whether progressives (or the politicians like Reid who cater to them) are really committed to democracy:

Anonymous said...

What did you expect? Harry is just being Harry. Democrats are just being Democrats.