Senate Democrats are poised to pass their massive health care bill early Thursday. It's a feat many doubted could be pulled off, given how divided they are on key issues. But in the end, all 60 members of the Democratic caucus closed ranks behind the bill. And the man getting the credit for bringing them onboard is the leader of the Democrats' supermajority, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.
Reid got a hero's welcome Tuesday as he walked into a rally at the Capitol. Applause came from health care advocates gathered for an early celebration of the all-but-certain passage of the overhaul bill.
"Harry Reid has the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the endurance of Samson," Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin told the audience. "He has hung in there day after day, has put this together, and he is about to achieve what has eluded so many majority leaders going back over half a century. Truly with the passage of this bill, Harry Reid will have earned his place in the Senate's history."
Reid, as usual, tried deflecting the praise, saying he was simply batting cleanup.
"I appreciate the nice words everyone has said to me, but by the time that this thing got to me most of the hard work had been done," he said.
Reid also sought to shoot down Republican charges that he'd simply pursued a win for Democrats. "This fight isn't about politics; it isn't about partisanship," he said. "It's about people, real people."
The Art Of Compromise
Indeed, it has been about people — people like independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who threatened to join a GOP filibuster of the bill because he strongly opposed the public option Reid had included in his first version. Lieberman said Reid knew where he stood.
"He called me before the motion to proceed to the debate on health care reform, said that he had to include the public option in his merged bill," he said. "He knew I was against it, but hoped I would vote to start the debate, and I said of course I will. But I said, 'Harry, if it's still in there, I have to do everything I can to get it out.' "
Connecticut's other senator, Christopher Dodd, led the Health Committee's drafting of a health care bill, one that did include a public option. Dodd said Reid agonized over how to lock in 60 votes.
"I remember several conversations where the first words out of his mouth were, 'This bill's dead.' And we'd have to regroup and spend hours going back over ground, and I — that happened more times than I care to recall."
In the end, Reid removed the public option and won Lieberman's support. Another holdout, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, got the tougher guidelines on abortion he'd sought, as well as a promise that the federal government would permanently pay for an expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska. On Saturday, the day Nelson announced he'd be the 60th vote for Democrats, Reid defended granting concessions to garner support:
"I don't know if there's a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them," he said. "And if they don't have something in it important to them, then it's — doesn't speak well of them. That's what this legislation's all about: It's the art of compromise."
But it also proved a turnoff for the only Senate Republican who'd voted for an earlier version of the bill. Maine's Olympia Snowe said Reid did not deliver on the policy changes she needed to vote for it.
"We were about crafting good policy, but in the meantime, they were negotiating sweetheart deals in the dark of night," she said. "Little did I know."
Senate Republicans don't have the votes to stop the health care bill, but they've made "sweetheart deals" their new refrain.
"Americans are outraged by the last-minute, closed-door, sweetheart deals that were made to gain the slimmest margin for passage of a bill that is all about their health care," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
University of Nevada political scientist Eric Herzik doesn't think cutting such deals will hurt Reid, who is expected to face a tough re-election bid next year.
"Harry Reid is the ultimate kind of power politician, the backroom deal maker, again, which is why many people don't like him," Herzik said. "But at the end of the day, Harry Reid's about getting the deal done. Getting things done in Washington, D.C., and you know, sometimes that's not a pretty process."