Senate Majority Leader Harry Reids (D-Nev.) leadership will be under a microscope during the crucial five-week work period ahead as demoralized Senate Democrats look to restart their stalled agenda on multiple fronts.
The caucus is looking for our leaders to do a better job leading, but theres no panic because were putting everything in perspective, one senior Senate Democratic aide said. The problem were having is not because of our performance. Its the [economic] situation Republicans have left us.
Several Democratic aides with knowledge of leaderships thinking said that help from Reid and the White House is on the way in the form of jobs legislation and a renewed push on health care reform, but they acknowledged that Members are concerned about the drumbeat of bad news over the past two months and the lack of response by Congress.
Democrats had hoped to address voter angst over the nearly 10 percent unemployment rate by quickly pivoting to a jobs agenda after an unsettling January in which they lost their filibuster-proof supermajority and saw their health care bill stall. But Reid created some turbulence when he decided the week of Feb. 8 to scrap a bipartisan jobs bill and move a narrower measure.
Then Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) last week took shots at Democratic leaders in his retirement announcement and subsequent interviews for what he sees as their unwillingness to pursue deals with Republicans, and he specifically mentioned Reids gambit on the jobs measure.
Following that, Democrats got word that 86-year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) is battling a treatable stomach tumor and his availability for votes will be uncertain for the next couple of months. Democrats have already had trouble identifying one Republican to help their 59-member majority reach a filibuster-proof 60 votes on most bills, and Lautenbergs absence would put them one more vote in the hole.
Aides said the anxiety among Senate Democrats is palpable.
Its every Senator for himself at this point. People are just trying to survive, another Senate Democratic aide said. The aide added that many Democrats have been increasingly wary of attempting to forge bipartisan deals with Republicans, given that attempts by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on health care yielded few results. Additionally, Reid ditched Baucus bipartisan jobs bill agreement with ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Many Democrats were angry with Reid for letting Baucus take on the jobs measure in the first place. Several Democratic aides said Baucus jobs bill had too many favors for lobbyists.
The idea that we would leave the jobs bill to Baucus didnt sit well with a lot of Democrats after health care, the aide said. We dont have time for that anymore.
However, Reids move on the jobs legislation also angered some in his caucus, who said it opened up Democrats to claims of partisanship.
The senior Senate Democratic aide called it a totally unnecessary debacle. ... We cant go back in time and turn the economy around, and we cant control Evan Bayh being Evan Bayh, but we can prevent things like that.
The aide added, Theres a sense that no one was in control of the thing that was the highest priority of the caucus.