In political gamble, Reid holds Senate votes he knows he'll lose

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wanted Republicans to be on record as blocking the bills he had put up for votes.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wanted Republicans to be on record as blocking the bills he had put up for votes. (Alex Wong)

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By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Wednesday afternoon, the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate did something that sounds odd: He set himself up to lose an important vote.

Then he did it again, on another key issue.

And Thursday he'll do it two more times.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) planned votes where his favored bills were expected to fail. For Reid, failure is actually the point. He wants to put Republicans on record as blocking all four.

On Wednesday, he took up seniors' benefits and collective- bargaining rights for police and firefighters' unions, and on Thursday he will call votes on an immigration bill that would assist people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and legislation that would provide health-care benefits for responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

These "test votes" are a sign of the sclerotic state of Congress, clogged by filibuster threats. Usually, it is the people out of power who resort to grand, futile gestures.

Now - in a political gamble - it's the guys in charge.

"Just because the party of 'Just say no' has been blocking all these initiatives, it doesn't mean we're not going to try," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid. "At some point, you've got to take a stand, and let the chips fall where they may."

Senate Democrats, who hold a majority in the chamber, held their last "test vote" on Saturday - two, actually. The first proposal called for an end to tax cuts, passed under President George W. Bush, on income greater than $250,000 for a family.

Democrats needed 60 senators to agree. They got just 53.

Then Democratic leaders staged a vote to let the tax cuts expire only for income of more than $1 million per year for a family. That failed, too.

In theory, these votes were supposed to demonstrate that Republicans were favoring the rich at the expense of the middle class.


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