Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn't going quietly into the night.
The Nevada Democrat and former professional pugilist is racking up legislative victories in his final days on the job, ahead of what is likely to be another tough re-election campaign in 2016 and at least two years with "minority" in his title.
In recent days, Reid notched a victory in his never-ending fight to keep Yucca Mountain from becoming the nation's nuclear waste dump, and he is maneuvering to pass a series of land bills that have long been a priority for him and other members of the Nevada delegation.
Reid also helped secure reauthorization of the Travel Promotion Act in the catch-all spending bill known as the “cromnibus.”
All are important to Nevada, and that could benefit Reid when he faces the voters two years hence.
"It's partly an attempt to demonstrate his clout for Nevada in Washington, [but] also part and parcel of his job as a senator from Nevada to try to deliver for his constituents, while at the same time dealing with the [cromnibus] and all these other issues," said former top Reid aide Jim Manley.
Reid on Tuesday pushed lawmakers to come together to pass a series of get-out-of-town bills, including the cromnibus.
The "American people certainly shouldn't be facing another government shutdown, but I guess that's what we're facing," he said. "No one wins from these cliffhanger fights that we're having. People that lose are the American people."
It "leads to a lot of chicanery," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "No one really knows what's buried in this [cromnibus] because you don't have a whole lot of time to look at it. There's some legitimate objections to what's been put in the bill, how the bill has been processed. We have to balance that against the outcome of not passing a bill, which is shutting the government down."
The Senate still needs to clear a retroactive tax deal, the bill funding the government beyond Thursday and the National Defense Authorization Act, which will carry the lands bills.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is expected to be chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the next Congress, said Reid shouldn't claim victory.
"I certainly wouldn’t view the NDAA as a victory," McCain said. "I would view the NDAA as a symptom of the problem with the way he ran the Senate. For 51 years, we would take up the bill for a couple of weeks, there would be plenty of debate and plenty of amendments the final passage. Now we are doing it on the next to last day of the session."
The measure includes almost 100 lands provisions from across the country, including eight in Nevada.
By design, the bill has many provisions supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in order to help ensure its passage.
But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. , who has long opposed lands bills, signaled he intends to force the Senate to jump through procedural hoops because of the bundling of the unrelated lands bills in the defense bill.
Coburn's leverage may be limited because the bill should arrive from the House in a fashion that would allow it to get through the Senate only requiring one debate-limiting cloture motion and an accompanying 30 hours of debate.
Reid also filled a spot on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is vital to his effort to keep the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada a dead issue.
The confirmation of Jeffrey M. Baran to fill the spot of retiring NRC Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane has increased speculation the president would nominate Stephen Burns to be NRC chairman, who would have the power to keep the agency from taking up the Yucca issue.
Burns, who was confirmed in September, has been silent on the Yucca issue during the confirmation process. But he was previously the chief counsel to former NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko, a former Reid staffer and staunch Yucca opponent whom Reid helped install at the NRC. Both Reid and Sen. Dean Heller voted for Burns' confirmation.
Reid's biggest setback in the lame duck came when the White House put the kibosh on a massive tax package he was negotiating with House Republicans, including a permanent tax break for sales taxes, a key for Nevada.
"Myself, I've never seen anything quite like it where a White House preemptively issues a veto threat before a deal is announced," Manley said. "From my perspective, I think Sen. Reid was trying to do what he could to try and clear the deck before next year, but the White House had other ideas."
There has been tension between Reid and the White House since the elections. Reid’s Chief of Staff David Krone went on the record in a Washington Post article calling out the White House for not doing all it could to help keep the Senate majority.
But Manley downplayed any rift, noting that it is typical for the White House’s interests in the last two years to diverge with party colleagues in Congress.
"I think from Reid's perspective, he is not going to spend too much time dwelling on what happened,” Manley said. “That was a couple of weeks ago. Now he's got to figure out how to get the rest of it done."
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