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Harry Reid’s Peculiar Priorities

by Mark Pfeifle     •     RealClearPolitics

harry-reidThe United States Senate should have a busy schedule when it comes back into session this week. Atrocities in the Middle East and the Ukraine, a stagnant economy, a 2015 budget bill and potential government shutdown—there’s no shortage of pressing topics for the world’s greatest deliberative body to debate and discuss.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a different to-do list. His first order of business is a constitutional amendment that would all but repeal the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

The Senate will vote this week on Senator Tom Udall’s (D-NM) constitutional amendment that would give Congress unlimited power to regulate—and control—how individual Americans spend money while speaking out about politicians and government. The amendment is a deliberate attempt by Senate Democrats to repeal fifty years of constitutional holdings by the Supreme Court that political speech—and the money that funds it—is free speech.

Such speech, it turns out, represents a grave threat to Harry Reid’s control over the United States Senate. If the November midterm elections don’t go his way, he’ll be out of a job. Hence his decision to prioritize this issue over everything else. It’s a naked political ploy to save his own skin by firing up his party before November.

No wonder Americans are cynical about Washington.

Compare this issue—and Harry Reid’s obsession with it—to other things that the Senate could discuss. Since Congress adjourned for August recess, the Islamic State has swept through Iraq and Syria. It has executed thousands of religious minorities, enslaved women and children, and beheaded two American journalists, to name but a few of its atrocities. According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, this terrorist organization “is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

Elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin has seized larger portions of eastern Ukraine. Just last week, Russian troops launched a ground invasion that left Ukrainian soldiers dead and thousands displaced from their homes. The Kremlin further flexed its muscles by announcing nuclear training exercises involving over 4,000 soldiers just a day before a NATO summit began. The Cold War is back on, and it’s heating up to dangerous levels.

On the home front, the Senate might do something about our economy. Five years into a “recovery,” our underemployment rate is still 13.4 percent. Median household incomes have fallen every year since 2009. America’s labor force participation rate is the lowest since Jimmy Carter was president.

Health care could use some real reform, too—ObamaCare is only going to get worse in the next few months. Between now and November, some Americans may learn that their health care plans will be canceled for 2015. Millions of others may learn that their premiums are increasing again, with many rising by 20 or even 50 percent for next year.

And there’s also the small issues of funding the government for the next year. With the budget due in less than a month, Harry Reid’s Senate has made no movement to keep the government open past September 30. Some of his colleagues are even threatening to hold the government hostage unless the Senate reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank. It’s a reckless move to protect a federal agency even Barack Obama has dubbed “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”

How does the Majority Leader of the United States Senate plan to address these and other myriad issues? He doesn’t. He’s more interested in stifling the speech of his political opponents.

Such feckless leadership is endemic of the Harry Reid Senate, where the agenda has been guided by politics rather than sound public policy. That may also explain why he’s devoting the Senate’s last few weeks in session to silencing the people who disagree with him—he’s afraid that voters will rebuke him and his party this November.

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Mark Pfeifle is president of Off the Record Strategies. He was communication director for the Republican National Convention in 2004 and served as deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and global outreach at the White House from 2007 to 2009.