Harry Reid wins reelection. Will the Senate leader wish he'd lost?

Harry Reid is likely to serve again as Senate majority leader, but the Senate's role in national policy will be much different than it was over the past two years.

Jae C. Hong/AP
Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada speaks during the Nevada State Democratic election night party after defeating Sharron Angle to win re-election.

Harry Reid won his Nevada Senate race – barely. He’ll likely serve Democrats as Senate majority leader for another term. But Washington’s political environment, and the Senate’s role in national policy, will be much different than they were over the past two years. Will there be difficult days when Senator Reid wishes he had lost?

Well, probably not literally – few politicians want their careers ended via defeat. We’re guessing there will be days when he thinks fondly of retirement, however. With a reduced Democratic majority, Reid in coming months will have much less control over the Senate agenda. Plus, he’s facing years of playing defense against Republican-initiated bills that have passed a GOP-controlled House.

After all, it’s not just the Democratic Party that has lost power. The Senate as an institution may have, too. Presumptive House Speaker-to-be John Boehner (R) of Ohio has a firm grip on his chamber and a long to-do list, and appears set to drive Washington’s legislative agenda. The Senate may be forced back into the role envisioned for it by the Founding Fathers, serving as a chamber that reflects upon what the other chamber has done.

Remember the famous story? When Thomas Jefferson asked George Washington why the Constitutional Congress had created the Senate, the latter replied, “We pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”

Reid already is talking like a politician who knows that times have changed. In post-election interviews, he’s said he’s willing to make “tweaks” in President Obama’s health-care legislation, for instance. He might be more defiant on this subject if he were assured of keeping 58 or 59 seats in Democratic hands.

He’s noted that he has known both Representative Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) for years, and says he has good relations with both. On ABC Wednesday morning, Reid said the second Congress of a presidency inevitably “takes a different turn.”

“We have to do constructive work together to move this country along,” Reid told interviewer Robin Roberts.

In other interviews Reid said that while he would not compromise on his principles, compromise in general is a good thing. He implied that he could work with the GOP on a range of issues.

“I’m a consensus-builder. That’s what my reputation is,” said Reid on CBS.

Renewing the expiring Bush tax cuts may be one of the first contentious items Reid has an opportunity to build consensus around. For now, at least, he appears open to extending them for all taxpayers, including the wealthy.

“If we need to work something out, with the people that are really rich, I’ll have to take a look at that.... I want to do everything I can to make sure those tax cuts remain in place,” said Reid on Wednesday during an appearance on CNN.

At the same time, Reid has continued to say that the GOP in Obama’s first two years has been the “party of no,” and that Republicans will have to change as well if the Congress as a whole is to accomplish anything.

“I think that Democrats have to work with Republicans and Republicans have to work with Democrats. It’s not a one-sided deal,” said Reid on CNN.

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