Is Senator Harry Reid the worst majority leader of the past one hundred years? Recent data seems to indicate that he is in the running. Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest state unemployment data and Mr. Reid’s home state of Nevada clocked in at 14 percent—compared with the U.S. average of 9.7 percent. When Mr. Reid took the top job in the Senate in January 2007, Nevada’s unemployment rate was only 4.4 percent, slightly lower than the U.S. rate of 4.7 percent.
When President Obama—and a filibuster proof Democratic majority in the Senate—took office, the unemployment rates for Nevada and the United States was 9.6 and 7.7 percent respectively. One of the first things the Democratic president and Congress did was pass a nearly one trillion dollar stimulus package that was supposed to limit the U.S. employment rate to eight percent.
With all of this power, Mr. Reid has done nothing to help the people his was elected to represent. His standard response is that it is all President Bush’s fault. Yet blaming President Bush is a weak excuse for a couple of reasons. Article I of the U.S. Constitution deals with the powers of the Congress—the founders put the description of the powers of Congress first because they felt it was the most important branch of government. Section 7 says all bills must be passed by both the House and Senate before a president can sign it into law. In other words, any legislation signed into law by a president must first pass both houses of Congress. Why would a Democratic majority leader and speaker of the House pass bills that they felt would harm the country and more specifically their constituents?
A second more important weakness of this argument comes from a study of presidential power by the late scholar Richard Neustadt. His premise of presidential power is it isn’t derived from the Constitution but from the perception of power by others: Congress; bureaucracy; media; public; and foreign leaders. If these groups don’t respect the president they will not follow him. When President Truman was asked what the newly elected President Eisenhower should expect when he takes office, he said (I am paraphrasing): When he was a general everybody did what he told them to do; as president no one will. People will follow the president if they believe it is in their best interest to do so.
Now look at the last two years of President Bush’s second term. His approval rating was in the low 30s. He was presiding over the beginning of an economic downturn, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and violence in Iraq. If someone could rank presidents by their lame duckiness (I know that is not a real word) President Bush would rank number one in terms of least amount of power of any modern president.
Only a very weak or incompetent majority leader would allow such a politically weak president to dictate policy that would do such harm to his constituents.