If Democrats still hope to brand Republicans in Congress as the stubborn cause of gridlock, they must address a major headache. This problem also threatens the party's courtship of anti-special-interest populists. It undermines their claim to be champions of the poor.
The Democratic Party has a Harry Reid problem.
The Senate minority leader is threatening to block or otherwise undo a bipartisan, long-term plan to finance health care for older Americans, pay doctors who accept Medicare, and extend vital health care programs for children and the poor.
Respected congressional correspondent David Rogers of Politico called the plan "a major breakthrough," and two top reporters at The New York Times declared the package "as politically remarkable as it is substantive."
What is remarkable is Reid's chutzpah. At a time when most voters are demanding bipartisan results from a Congress with record-low favorability, when President Obama barely lets a day pass without raising legitimate concerns over GOP obstruction, Reid stands ready to kill a deal between House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"It is a role in which Mr. Reid is becoming increasingly comfortable as he exploits his leverage in the minority to thwart his political opponents, even if that means an unusual split with Ms. Pelosi," Jennifer Steinhauer and Robert Pear wrote for The Times.
Reid and some fellow Senate Democrats are doing the bidding of Planned Parenthood, a powerful source of donations and lobbying on the Left, now arguing that Pelosi should not have accepted restrictions on abortions as part of a two-year, $7.2 billion extension of federal money for community health centers.
They worry that a provision in the bill codifies abortion restrictions beyond long-standing language already embedded in many health care spending laws. It is a legitimate concern, but one that brazenly ignores the broader picture and political realities that Pelosi laudably recognized.
Pelosi, by the way, is an unmatched advocate for women's rights.
Rogers makes a great case against the obstructionist Democrats:
If Senate Democrats can't see past the trees and make this distinction, critics say it speaks volumes about their politics.
Indeed, the tepid support from Senate Democrats also gives lie to their oft-stated concerns about income inequality. If the package fails in Congress, the very wealthy will escape having to pay more in Medicare premiums. The biggest losers will be low-income seniors and working-class households down the economic ladder.
Like a green shoot in a desert, this Boehner-Pelosi deal needs to be encouraged and nourished—not crushed like a roach at Reid's Ritz-Carlton. President Obama needs to show some leadership and tell his buddy in the Senate to back off.
Stop obstructing. Stop being such a pain.