If it wasn’t painfully obvious already, it became quite clear this week that Harry Reid prefers playing partisan politics to passing substantive legislation.
The majority leader on Thursday used the proposed economic stimulus package to try to embarrass vulnerable Senate Republicans, in the process delaying potential refund checks to millions of Americans.
In the end, Sen. Reid was forced into a humiliating retreat, but not before he relished plenty of time in front of the microphones portraying the opposition as hostile to old folks and disabled veterans.
This bad beltway theater began after House leaders and the Bush administration each compromised late last month to put together a tax rebate designed to head off a recession and the measure was sent to the Senate for quick approval.
Senate Democrats, however, insisted on larding up the bill with millions in new spending — including additional heating oil subsidies and an extension of jobless benefits.
The add-ons also included rebate checks for senior citizens and disabled veterans who don’t pay taxes, which Republicans said they could support. But Sen. Reid insisted on coupling the expanded rebate base with the additional spending in an effort to force GOP senators to go on the record opposing checks for seniors and veterans.
When the Democratic bill failed to muster the necessary 60 votes, Sen. Reid predictably ran to the cameras to hammer his Republican colleagues for their insensitivity, insisting that would be their only chance to vote in the issue.
Within hours, though, he was facing pressure from House Democrats and executed a quick flip-flop. Sen. Reid agreed to allow a separate vote on a measure that would expand the House package by simply adding senior citizens and disabled vets to those eligible to receive “rebate” checks.
That passed easily, but not before the Senate had dithered for more than a week on a measure that could have been handled in a matter of hours.
All in all, it was not Sen. Reid’s finest hour.