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Reid's Move Away From Spotlight on Cliff Deal Could Shield His Caucus

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Reid ended up getting most of what he wanted in the fiscal cliff deal.

But Reid’s deference to the Biden-McConnell negotiations, and his decision to play the good soldier upon completion of the deal, should not be mistaken for being outfoxed, Democrats cautioned. Reid was being “intractable” on some tax issues that were sticking points for Republicans, a Democratic lobbyist said, so he allowed the White House to engineer the compromise, which provided him and his fellow Democrats the necessary political cover. “He’s all about getting a deal done,” a former Democratic Senate leadership aide said. “Whether Reid liked the sausage McConnell and Biden were making, it’s ridiculous to think he didn’t know what was going on every step of the way.”

A Republican lobbyist with relationships on both sides of the aisle said Reid played his role masterfully. “As a Republican it pains me to say this, but leader Reid completely outplayed McConnell and the House Republicans,” the lobbyist said. “The final deal reflects about 90 percent of Reid’s final offer to McConnell. So round one goes to Reid and the president.”

Of course, Democrats on and off of the Hill insisted that Reid could have achieved a better agreement for their party than Biden. These Democrats argue that the White House “blinked” because it was afraid of the repercussions of failing to reach a deal, despite the administration’s post-election bravado.

Though the deal received overwhelming Democratic support on the floor this week, Democratic Senate aides said there was “deep resentment” among members. Liberals were upset about what the administration negotiated with Republicans on taxes and moderates grumbled about the agreement’s effect on the federal deficit. Reid knew this, which is why he left it to Biden to twist arms and address blowback from members.

Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York didn’t confirm those details, but he told CQ Roll Call: “No one knows the pulse of the caucus better than Harry, and he held the line on our members’ priorities.”

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