Reid’s shutdown partisanship will haunt Colorado Sen. Udall
Democrats are perfectly gleeful about the conclusion to Washington’s latest budget stare-down. President Barack Obama came away with everything he wanted — a trillion or so dollars in new debt and a three-month hall pass to keep Washington taxing and spending the way it always has.
Heckuva job, Mr. President.
Polls show that the public blames Republicans more for the shutdown. That’s probably fair. Divided on an endgame and deeply split on the whole strategy in the first place, Republicans were a rambling wreck throughout. And in the end, they got nothing.
When the story of the great achievements of the Grand Old Party is told in 100 years, there won’t be a chapter on this episode.
I’m still glad Sen. Ted Cruz did what he did. Increasing the debt shouldn’t be a legislative-coronation. Cruz was right to fight. America is going broke, and the momentum of mandatory spending will sink us deeper into the abyss, until a grand fiscal bargain takes place.
It’s remarkable to me that a fiscal bargain hasn’t been crafted already. I was on a panel with former Gov. Dick Lamm before last year’s election and commented then that he and I could cut the deal over cheese sandwiches in about an hour — close a whole bunch of tax loopholes and shelters, increase the Medicare retirement age, cut discretionary spending across the board by a percent or two, whack some waste in the Pentagon.
Voilá, a grand bargain. Plain as the bald on Michael Jordan’s head.
Even though the American public is hungry for leaders to forge this kind of bargain, it just isn’t getting done.
And this is where the Democrats’ posture during the shutdown turns dicey.
While Republicans have taken a hit in the last 10 days, the enduring image from the shutdown showdown will be that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying over and over and over again, “I will not negotiate with Republicans.”
Reid, the ringleader of Washington gridlock, made the mistake of saying what he actually believes.
And if Republicans play their cards right — if they make Reid and his unwillingness to sit down and hammer out compromise the centerpiece of their argument — that shrill, partisan message from the shrill, partisan lips of the majority leader could very well sink Senate Democrats.
To understand why, consider two facts:
✔ The map Senate Democrats have to defend in 2014 is unusually challenging. Democrats have to defend six incumbent senators in red states, and six Democrats in swing states.
✔ Reid has become the most toxic leader in American politics. According to a Gallup poll that was released in late September, he had a favorable rating of 33 percent, as compared to an unfavorable rating of 43 percent. Reid’s personal approval ratings are even worse than Nancy Pelosi’s.
In light of this, the Republican strategy to win really is about as simple as it gets. In those 12 swing state and Republican-leaning states where Democrats are defending incumbents, make the race a referendum on Reid in general, and his intransigent unwillingness to even negotiate with the other side in particular.
This line of attack will be particularly effective in Colorado. First, history shows it can work. In 2010, the one thing that trumped western Coloradan’s affection for then-Congressman John Salazar’s earthy, rural ethic was their disgust at his blind loyalty to Nancy Pelosi.
Second, Reid’s “I won’t negotiate” routine isn’t who we are in Colorado. Coloradans aren’t politically recalcitrant. We’re willing to sit down and try to work something out.
And last, the Harry Reid-ification of the Colorado Senate race will work here because, of all the Democratic incumbents fighting for their jobs in red or swing states, none have been more consistently loyal to Reid than Mark Udall.
Udall’s record over the last six years has been that of a down-the-line partisan. Even fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Reid’s top political consigliore in the Senate, has loudly bucked Reid a time or two.
Udall is a different story. He has a smart routine of shucking and iving back home, but when push comes to shove and the votes get cast, Udall is on Reid’s leash.
Reid’s name won’t be on the ballot in Colorado, but it might as well be, because as long as Udall’s in the Senate, Harry Reid will be in charge, and gridlock will be king.
Did Democrats “win” the shutdown? This week, yes, but give it some time. The amplification of Reid’s partisanship in the last week will haunt Mark Udall and Senate Democrats next year.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.