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Top Senate Democrats are competing to influence not just the fiscal cliff talks but also the man who is leading them in the debt and deficit battles to come — Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The result has been a series of major policy speeches by the Nevada Democrat’s leadership team that have at times revealed discord underlying the party’s preferred approach to short-term and long-term budget battles. And while it’s not yet clear who has captured Reid’s attention, sources said more details of the fiscal cliff talks will come to light in the next few days as lawmakers in both parties and chambers test the numbers and scenarios they’ve been running behind closed doors.
Over the past few months, Reid’s trusted allies, one by one, have delivered high-profile speeches on fiscal issues as they attempt to draw bright lines on policy prescriptions for the fiscal cliff and beyond. Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Max Baucus of Montana put their stamps on the fiscal debate over the summer. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York delivered his address in October, and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois joined the debate Tuesday with a speech at the Center for American Progress.
The public showings are just a small part of how these players are positioning themselves inside closed-door leadership and caucus meetings, but even if each is acting in accordance with his or her policy beliefs, they are simultaneously measuring themselves and their efficacy against each other.
“At big moments, that’s always in the backs of their minds,” one off-Hill Democratic operative said of the deputies’ relative sway with Reid. “What you want to demonstrate is not just being the first to run to the microphones or throwing things to the wall to see if it sticks, it’s about being thoughtful, working behind the scenes and showing if you can be a consensus builder.”
The operative, who tracks Senate Democratic leadership, noted that getting an idea or provision included in the final fiscal cliff deal could be a trophy for any of the players, and set that person or persons up to be a bigger player in major budget debates next year.