Harry Reid

HARRY REID…. Whether one sees the Democratic health care proposal as the greatest progressive policy accomplishment in a generation or a bitter disappointment worthy of defeat, it’s hard to deny that the Senate Majority Leader did what he set out to do. There were plenty of times this year when it seemed the reform proposal simply wouldn’t survive, but Harry Reid kept working, and managed to find — and hold onto — 60 votes.

Rahm Emanuel was agitated. With only seven weeks until Christmas, the opportunity to pass healthcare legislation seemed to be fading. The White House chief of staff feared that if the Senate left for the holiday without passing a bill, President Obama’s top domestic priority would wither as lawmakers turned to other concerns next year.

Democratic senators and administration officials gathered in a conference room outside Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Capitol office. Emanuel wanted to know: Was there a chance the chamber could still act in time?

As one participant placed a calming hand on Emanuel’s sleeve, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told him there was one chance: The White House would have to put its trust in Reid.

The quirky, taciturn majority leader had no background in health policy and a less-than-commanding public image. Yet today Reid delivered as the Senate moved to take its final vote on the most sweeping healthcare legislation to make its way through the chamber in nearly half a century.

As the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid has received his share of criticism — much of which, on occasion, I’ve endorsed. But he was able to reach his leadership position thanks to his unique understanding of his caucus, his mastery of Senate procedure, and his almost preternatural patience. Rutgers political scientist Ross K. Baker said, “There are Senate leaders like that who come along every few decades.”

Every time reform appeared to be teetering on the brink, Reid would take steps to pull it back from the precipice. It wasn’t always pretty, and I didn’t always approve of every decision, but whenever reform seemed poised to fail, Reid grew more determined to succeed.

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl said this week, “Say what you want about the health care bill, but Harry Reid is about to complete a task of LBJ proportions. And Lyndon Johnson never had to corral 60 Senators for one vote during a blizzard. If public opinion doesn’t turn around for Democrats, this may ultimately prove to be a pyrrhic victory, but on a purely procedural level Harry Reid now looks like the master of Senate. One month ago, who seriously thought the health care bill would pass the Senate by Christmas?”

The Brookings Institution’s Tom Mann added, “The much-pilloried Harry Reid led an increasingly undemocratic and dysfunctional institution to a stunning victory for the majority party.”

And Matt Yglesias wrote last week that Reid’s “performance throughout 2009 has been nothing short of heroic…. One’s instincts are that overcoming these challenges required some kind of larger-than-life figure, full of colorful LBJ-style anecdotes, or maybe a figure of overwhelming charisma and popularity. That’s not Harry Reid. But the proof is in the pudding, and from where we sit today, the low-key, unassuming, unpopular senator from Nevada has delivered on the most significant piece of progressive legislation in over 40 years.”

For a senator who’s very much at risk of losing his seat next year, the plaudits come at a welcome time.