You wonder what bet the odds makers in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home state of Nevada are placing on his re-election, given his sagging poll numbers and unflattering political news such as this:
Thirteen Democrats joined all 40 Republicans to block a permanent repeal of Medicare’s payment formula for doctors, with lawmakers concluding the legislation’s $247 billion 10-year price tag was too steep in an era of record deficits.
The so-called “doc fix” is a near-annual ritual in Congress aimed at preventing physicians from turning away Medicare patients because they are paid too little for the visits. A 1997 deficit-reduction law established federal spending targets that were linked to economic growth, but when medical costs continued to rise at a faster pace, the net effect was to require a huge yearly cut to doctor reimbursement rates. As of Jan. 1, 2010, doctors are scheduled for another 21 percent decrease.
While everyone in Congress agrees the payment formula is a failed model, producing the enormous sum needed to eliminate it has proven impossible. Instead, lawmakers have resorted to temporary fixes, like the one-year repeal that had been included in the Senate Finance Committee’s version of health-care reform.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought permanent repeal to the floor at the behest of the American Medical Association, whose support Democrats are courting for their health-care reform efforts. Reid said he had been reassured that GOP support would be considerable. “I was told by various people we have 27 Republican votes,” Reid told reporters Wednesday morning.
That doesn’t bode well for Reid. It sounds as if he might want to re-learn to count. (Attention Harry: 60 votes is more than all your fingers and toes.) And it doesn’t portend well for the passage of health care reform, unless Reid improves his vote counting and vote harvesting abilities.
Or is there more to this story than we see here — and is this the wrong way to view it? MSNBC’s First Read gives a different take on it:
As it turns out, 13 Dems joined the Republicans to vote against this effort. The 13 Dems come from the predictable red/purple states or the moderate/conservative wing of the party, including: Sens. Byron Dorgan (ND), Robert Byrd (WV), Kent Conrad (ND), Joe Lieberman (ID-CT.), Jon Tester (MT), Jim Webb (VA), Mark Warner (VA), Ron Wyden (OR), Herb Kohl (WI), Russ Feingold (WI), Bill Nelson (FL), Evan Bayh (IN), and Claire McCaskill (MO). It’s just another example of how difficult it is for the Democrats to find 60 votes, let alone 50, when it comes to anything regarding fiscal issues these days. By the way, some are wondering why Reid brought this bill to the floor if he did KNOW he had the votes? Was this done on purpose to signal House Dems of his issues? Was he trying to send a message? There may be more to this decision by Reid than folks realize. And quick question about the eventual health care conference committee fight: Will some Dems (particularly in the House) demand to know IN ADVANCE who is on the conference committee before committing to vote?
So is it canny Harry…or math challenged Harry?
UPDATE: Here are a few other takes on this vote.
Winners take responsibility, while losers look for scapegoats. Last I looked, the AMA doesn’t have any leadership role in the Senate. They don’t “deliver” votes, and it’s not their role anyway. Perhaps a real Senate Majority Leader would have enough pull to count his own votes and make his own case, rather than leave that to a lobbying group and then get shocked, shocked to discover that most Republicans would not allow Reid to play his shell game with $250 billion that should get counted in the full ObamaCare proposal instead of hidden from the CBO.
Besides, let’s not forget that Reid has 60 Democrats in the Senate. Why should the AMA have to deliver any Republican votes? Reid can’t even deliver his own caucus. The cloture vote wasn’t even close at 47-53, which means that a number of Democrats defied Reid and rejected the shell game, too. Reid can sob all he wants about Tonsil Vultures, but the problem is that Reid is pushing legislation so radical and dishonest that he can’t deliver his own caucus.
Vote counting is a tried and true art within legislative bodies and any competent leader would pretty much know what to expect before ever putting a bill or amendment up for a vote. In fact, Reid missed by 27 – just on the Republican side.
Apparently he wasn’t aware of the 13 Democrats who were going to vote against it as well. That’s 40 no votes in a body of 60. That’s a pretty big miss.
Then he whines about things being run by a minority – a game he was more than happy to play when he was the Minority leader.
Harry Reid – incompetent (not that I’m complaining, mind you – just pointing it out), and the opposition’s best friend.
How is it that the nation is being held hostage by a caucus of forty?
Nor is it terribly reassuring that the Majority Leader can’t keep his own caucus in line. A dozen Democrats and one independent crossed party lines and voted with the Republicans on the 53 to 47 roll call. The Democrats who voted against the party leadership were Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Bryon Dorgan of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jim Webb of Virginia, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon. Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut also joined the GOP in defeating the measure.
Still it is more concerning that the Democrats are being outwitted tactically by Senator Mitch McConnell.
And to place all of this into a larger, perhaps more politically detached context, it’s worth reading Holly Bailey’s Newsweek piece that ran Oct. 16 titled “Why Harry Reid Is No Tom Daschle” — which suggests that Reid is in far bigger trouble at home than was Daschle, a prime political trophy of the GOP which successfully worked to get him dumped at home:
For months now, Republicans in Washington have giddily eyed Reid’s numbers back in Nevada as a sign that they could take him down in the same way they brought down his old boss, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who lost his own re-election bid in 2004. Back then, the GOP and its allies put millions of dollars into issue ads and get out of the vote efforts aimed at Daschle’s defeat. No doubt, there are similarities. Like Daschle, Reid is one of the most high-profile Democrats in the country.
But there are major differences–including the fact that Daschle, for most of his campaign, led in the polls. On the upside for Reid, Republicans haven’t found their John Thune in Nevada. When Thune ran against Daschle, he was already a well-known Republican member of Congress, someone with a proven fund-raising ability and wide voter base back home. But on the downside for Reid, he’s definitely no Daschle, someone who had extremely high approval ratings back home with both Democrats and Republicans. “That was what was so shocking about Daschle’s loss,” veteran-election watcher Charlie Cook tells Newsweek. “He was beloved back home… Reid is not.”
And are Reid’s associates confident he’s going to win? Bailey ends her piece this way:
At 13.2 percent, Nevada has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, and critics have accused Reid of being out of touch—a charge the Senate Majority Leader has strongly denied. “The people in Nevada know me very well,” Reid told reporters a few weeks ago. “They know what I’ve done over the years.” Recovery, he acknowledged, has been slow, but once it hits Nevada, “I think there’s going to be a general good feeling.” But privately, his colleagues aren’t so hopeful. Senate Democrats are “scared to death” about Reid’s prospects, a top party operative, who declined to be named to speak more frankly, tells Newsweek. “If the election were held today, he’d lose. Period.” Luckily for Reid, Election Day is still a year away—an eternity when it comes to politics.
But this latest news out of the Senate is unlikely to wow ’em in Nevada: Democrats will feel Reid isn’t up to his job and GOPers will be motivated to work even harder since the former boxer appears to be on the political ropes.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.