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Updated: 12:16 a.m.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got what he wanted from Tuesday’s elections. But it may be a case of “be careful what you wish for.”
The Nevada Democrat no doubt views the results as a major victory. His party did something that seemed unlikely two years ago, retaining the Senate majority and even picking up some GOP-held seats that seemed out of reach earlier this year. Plus, the Associated Press projects that President Barack Obama will still be working with him from just down the street.
Though the final makeup of the Senate is still uncertain, Democrats have already picked up at least three GOP-held seats, assuming Maine Independent Angus King caucuses with them as expected. The party’s ability to also hold on to Virginia’s Senate seat then put a GOP takeover out of reach.
But after a protracted campaign that was supposed to break the political deadlock in Washington, D.C., voters essentially reaffirmed the status quo — Obama and Senate Democrats lined up against Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his headstrong conservative majority in the House.
If party leaders were waiting for voters to give one side or the other a mandate to govern — and to resolve the tax and spending issues involved in negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff” — they will have to continue their battle for the upper hand.
For Reid, a major test will be whether he can generate change in the Senate that will produce legislative accomplishments for both his caucus and the president. The first question he will confront in the 113th Congress will be whether to bow to calls in his own party to restrict the rights of the minority.
After initially rejecting attempts to tighten filibuster rules, Reid earlier this year said he had been wrong and would support efforts next year to make it easier to move legislation through the chamber.
“I believe that if you look at what Lyndon Johnson had to do when he was the leader as I am, it was a different world. Why? You know how many filibusters he had to try to override? One. Me? Two hundred and forty-eight,” Reid said in a recent interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Indeed, Republican blockades of procedural votes — a tactic Reid used as Minority Leader — have become more prevalent. And in some of the Senate’s most frustrating moments this year, Reid effectively threw up his hands and conceded that some newer Democrats, including Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Tom Udall (N.M.), who pushed for filibuster restrictions in 2006 were “right.”
“The early part of the next Congress could be defined by two issues, filibuster reform and all of the tax and spending issues,” said former Reid spokesman Jim Manley.