GOP Tying AIG to Reid

Posted March 20, 2009 at 6:05pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) very active role in cobbling together the $787 billion economic stimulus package last month is proving to be fresh fodder for Republicans hoping to strip him of his seat in 2010.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Friday posted a new Web ad attacking Reid for assigning himself as a conferee to the committee that crafted the massive recovery bill, which bears responsibility for the provision that allowed executives at American International Group to receive millions in bonuses.

Citing a Congressional Quarterly story quoting Reid saying he wanted to “be in the room— during any deals on the stimulus bill, the ad attempts to paint Reid as complicit in allowing the bonus loophole.

To be sure, Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders participated in the House-Senate negotiations that ultimately led to the stimulus deal. But Reid, who faces a potentially difficult re-election next year, directly inserted himself in the talks by taking the unusual step of naming himself a conferee.

Peppered with questions about his involvement in the bonus provision last week, the Majority Leader told reporters that he would not “look in the rearview mirror— and assess who was ultimately responsible for the language, which was inserted by Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman and conferee Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). While acknowledging Reid’s involvement in brokering the stimulus deal, Reid spokesman Jim Manley would only say that his boss did not know the language was included in the conference report.

“Does he take responsibility for passing a much-needed stimulus bill over the objections of Republicans? Absolutely,— Manley said, before criticizing Republicans for coming out against executive compensation only after the fact. “It’s interesting that Republicans have done a 180 on executive compensation when only a couple of months ago— they opposed imposing restrictions.

Manley said his boss decided to take a seat at the table because he wanted to ensure a deal on the stimulus was cut quickly. Since the stimulus’ February passage, Reid has repeatedly touted its positives, particularly the more than $1.5 billion in funding that could find its way to his home state.

“He just felt that the best way top get this bill done was to put himself on the conference committee,— Manley said. “His role as Majority Leader was to make sure the trains were running on time. Most of his time was on negotiating with the White House and the moderates in putting the package together.—

Republicans are expected to continue to dump a lot of resources into knocking off Reid, whom they believe has been way too partisan in Washington, D.C., for a swing state like Nevada. But if they don’t come up with a real challenger, all those efforts may be for naught. Former Rep. Jon Porter, who was defeated by now-Rep. Dina Titus (D) in 2008, continues to be mentioned as a man who could carry the GOP banner, but since the elections, he has taken a job with a D.C. law firm and has been relatively quiet. Rep. Dean Heller, the lone Republican in Nevada’s House delegation, also has been mentioned.

Regardless of the candidate, NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said the GOP will continue to hit Reid on his involvement in the AIG bonus loophole, particularly if he continues to try and distance himself from it.

“It’s not exactly a profile in leadership to let a lieutenant fall on his sword while the general stands off on the sidelines, yet that’s exactly what we saw from the Senate Democrat leader this week,— Walsh charged. “The fact is that the AIG debacle is a direct result of Sen. Reid dictating that the final bill be written behind closed doors.—

But Manley called the GOP hypocritical, arguing it was Republicans who opposed imposing controls on executive compensation during last fall’s debate on the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Reid is “more than willing to take any criticism Republicans are willing to throw his way. But the fact remains he helped put together this stimulus package over the objections of House and Senate Republicans,— Manley said.

The issue of responsibility isn’t new for Reid, who, as both the Minority Leader and Majority Leader during former President George W. Bush’s administration, repeatedly excoriated the president for his involvement in variety of scandals.

While in many instances — such as the controversies involving the leaked identity of a CIA operative and the alleged political firings of U.S. attorneys — Democrats acknowledged Bush may not have had first-hand knowledge of the events, they argued the president bore responsibility for the actions of his administration.

For her part, Pelosi also was expected to be an official participant in the stimulus conference committee, but unlike Reid, she ultimately decided against assigning herself a slot. Still, Pelosi isn’t escaping charges that she could have stopped the loophole, too.

Facing questions from reporters last week, the Speaker — like Reid — was ready to point the finger elsewhere. In her case, she cast blame across the dome and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

“This is Senate-White House language,— she said last week.

“This was never brought to conference,— Pelosi continued. “… If it had come to conference, we would have had to have honored the bill that we had already passed ourselves, which was the stricter restrictions on bonuses. So this never came to the House side. You can talk to any of our conferees. It is a matter of absolute fact and record. … If you want to talk about what happened on the Senate, go on the Senate side and talk to them.—

Pelosi’s attempt to deflect blame came in stark contrast to her statements when the stimulus package came to the House floor last month. “We stand as Democrats ready to be accountable to the American people for this legislation,— she said then.

Steven T. Dennis and John McArdle contributed to this report.