How to make a jobs bill mess

Democrats are unhappy, the White House is surprised, and 60 votes are hard to find. Good work, Harry Reid!

Published February 18, 2010 7:45PM (EST)

How should we take the news, as reported by The Hill, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "lacks the votes to begin debating his targeted jobs bill" on Monday?

As a sign of massive incompetence and political bumbling? Despite a 59-41 Democratic majority and 9.7 percent unemployment, Reid can't even muster 60 votes to get started on his stripped down jobs bill? After surprising the president and discomfiting members of both parties by jettisoning the Baucus/Grassley jobs bill without warning, he's not even going to get to a vote on the bill itself?

Or is this all part of a fiendish plot to make the GOP look bad? In Time, Jay Newton-Small says Reid's strategy is to set up a series of jobs-and-economy related votes that will test the resolve of the Party of No.

The $15 billion bill would be the first in a series of smaller jobs measures Reid plans to roll out in the place of a single overarching one. The idea is to force Republicans to take a series of tough votes against generally popular measures like the tax cuts, extension of unemployment and health benefits, and popular business tax credits originally included in Baucus and Grassley's plan. To prevent GOP foot-dragging that has plagued Democratic measures all year, Reid prevented amendments from being filed to his stripped-down bill -- a controversial move at a time when the White House is touting bipartisanship.

But as Ryan Avent points out in the Economist, Reid's strategy seems to have been more successful in upsetting his own party than putting the GOP in a hard place.

Other installments should follow. Mr Reid's office is hinting that the collection will have a total value close to $80 billion. But other Democrats are concerned that by breaking up the bills, Mr Reid has increased the chance that other important items, like topping up aid to the states and unemployment benefits, may go down to defeat...

Perhaps Lyndon Johnson could have pulled off a ballsy, put-up-or-shut-up legislative showdown that resulted in a few GOP senators crossing the partisan line. But Harry Reid? If his plan really was to box in the GOP, shouldn't he have informed the White House first, and made sure his own caucus was rock-solid behind him? Instead, he's achieved exactly the opposite. No one knows what's going on, and all the Republicans have to do to make Reid look like a hapless bumbler is remain firm. The result: No bill, and Democrats get blamed for playing legislative games. If you're wondering whether your soon-to-expire unemployment benefits will get renewed any time soon, the spectacle is not encouraging.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Harry Reid How The World Works Unemployment