How Senate Republicans can seize agenda from Reid

(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

As good as 2014 looks, the frustrating fact is that Republicans should be in actual control of the Senate right now.

In 2010, a year in which ObamaCare created a control-shifting tsunami for House Republicans and 2012, another year in which congressional Republicans did well, despite the messageless void at the top of the ticket.


Yet, Republican performance in Senate races was the continuing dark spot for the GOP.


Contrary to the MSNBC narrative, it was not as a result of the ideology or even the competence of the candidates. In fact, establishment candidates lost in Montana, North Dakota, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. At the same time, conservatives did well in the mega-states of Florida and Texas.

The central problem is that unlike in other times, the GOP Senate leadership has been unwilling to challenge Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) in ways that would clarify the differences between the two parties and set up campaign themes for challengers to Democratic incumbents.

In the other chamber, Minority Leader Nancy Peloisi (D.-Calif.), constantly uses discharge petitions to force votes onto the House floor that national attention to issues where the Democrats do well, and where Democratic challengers to Republicans poll well.

In today’s Senate, the strategy should be to rally Republicans to oppose cloture on filibusters of legislative motions to proceed every time the underlying bills are political tools to help the Democrats.

This is especially effective because Reid has manipulated the rules to block all GOP amendments and virtually all floor votes on Republican bills.

In one period stretching from July 2013 through the end of the year, Republicans got only four floor votes in the Senate.

Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.)
Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) (Courtesy)

Since he took over in 2007, Reid has ruled the body with an iron fist, has rigorously controlled the agenda, and most importantly, has used his control to stage a succession of politicized votes brilliantly calculated to consolidate the Democrats’ base—the very thing conservatives need the Republican leadership to do.


In the 1970s Senate conservative repeatedly forced roll call votes on controversial issues and repeatedly lost to lopsided majorities. But, by the 1980s, those losing issues winning elections for Republicans.

In the early 1990s, a group of senior Senate staffers perfected the strategy dubbed “Hammondian,” after we destroyed the agenda of then-majority leader George Mitchell, a Democratic senator from Maine.

There are two areas the Republicans should sow and harvest: ObamaCare and gun rights.

Since President Barack Obama rose to the presidency, and prior to Newtown, there were only two legislative votes explicitly mentioning guns – one, a wildlife and sportsman bill, staged by Reid to reelect Sen. Jon Tester (D.-Mont.) and the other staged by Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky), which would have banned the government from using the Patriot Act to access private gun records.

It should surprise no one that the Tester bill was dropped from consideration the day after Tester was reelected and that Sen. John S. McCain III (R.-Ariz.) led the fight to kill Paul’s modest effort.

Republicans need Senate votes to define issues and organize their base and in 2014 there are Democrats up for reelection on the ropes, like senators Alaska’s Mark Begich, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu.

Each of these senators can be caught up as they pretend to oppose Obamacare and pretend to support gun rights—Hagan even went so far as to sponsor a do-nothing gun bill that Pryor, Begich and Landrieu jumped onto and cling to like the piano top from the Titanic.


Similarly, Senate Democrats should be forced to make ObamaCare votes.

The first vote to force is on the House’s mandate delay, H.R. 4118, which would expose the Democratic narrative that there is nothing they can do to grant Americans relief from or fix Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

There are tricks to doing this, and I am not spell them out here because there are conservatives on Capitol Hill who know how to do it if the GOP leadership gave the green light.

Of 36 Senate seats up for grabs, the Democrats are defending 21 seats, while all 15 GOP seats are safe. This should be another tsunami year for Republicans.

Senate Democrats have bet that Republican leaders will allow them to ignore the pain caused by ObamaCare without suffering at the polls. They also are betting that the GOP will give them a hall pass on gun rights—even as the gun rights movement is rebuilding into a political juggernaut. 

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