Democrat Leader Casts Republicans As Out-of-Touch

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is trying to derail the conservative agenda by portraying it as out-of-touch with Americans' real concerns.

On Monday, Reid said the Senate, before its current session ends, must focus on the issues that concern the American people most -- not on the "'pet' issues of the right wing."

Just back from the two-week Senate recess, Reid said he got an earful from his constituents in the various towns and cities he visited -- "but not once -- in any of these cities -- did someone talk to me about eliminating the estate tax, or flag burning, or gay marriage.

"Instead, throughout Nevada, I was constantly asked about skyrocketing gas prices, the intractable war in Iraq, taxes, immigration, education, health care, and homeland security."

Reid said he's concerned about the Senate schedule in the coming months, because too many of the issues Americans care about are "no where to be found."

He accused Republican leaders of concentrating on pet projects such as a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, a constitutional amendment defining marriage, and a reduction in the estate tax.

"Each of these controversial issues has merit," Reid said. "But do they trump gas prices? Homeland security? And the Iraq war -- which in a few short months will have taken longer than World War II and has already cost America significantly more?

"Do these issues have precedence over public education, over our polluted skies, or the country's shaky economy?

"Does a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage have a higher priority than a debate on high gas prices? No.

"Does a constitutional amendment on flag burning have more precedence than immigration? No."

Reid said Democrats "are committed to working with the Republicans in a bipartisan way, if only they will work with us to tackle the real, urgent issues facing our country."

But Republicans say Democrats are committed to obstructing the Republican agenda, hoping that gridlock will infuriate Americans enough to prompt votes for Democrats in November.


Reid said he wants to pass legislation that would "go after" gasoline price gougers, profiteers and energy market speculators; and he is seeking a tax on oil companies' windfall profits.

"We also ask the Republican Majority to bring before the Senate legislation that will secure America's energy future, so we can put an end to the cycle of higher and higher gas prices," Reid said on Monday.

"If the Majority so moved, the Senate could develop a more aggressive national energy policy that would deliver affordable, clean energy from domestic sources now, not in thirty years or whenever the oil company CEOs decide the time is right."

Republicans note that Senate Democrats, including Reid, blocked a Republican energy bill last year -- a bill that included a provision to Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. At the time, oil was selling for about $50 a barrel, versus the current $70-plus level.

On Monday, Reid said, "It is terrible to think that American consumers are sending hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to pay for oil and some of that money may be getting into the hands of violent anti-U.S. groups."

Reid's comments on energy drew an angry response from the Republican National Committee:

"Opining about the price of energy after voting to limit energy production and increase energy costs is yet another perfect example of Harry Reid's and the Democrats' overwhelming hypocrisy," said RNC Press Secretary Tracey Schmitt.

"Refusing to explore, drill, or invest in new energy sources, while raising taxes at the pump, has not and will not help American families fill their tanks, or their pocketbooks," Schmitt added.

On Monday, Republican leaders sent a letter to President Bush, asking his administration to conduct a probe into possible gas-price gouging or energy market speculation.

Politics afoot

In his statement on Monday, Reid said Democrats are ready to work with Republicans "on the real issues facing our country. From high gas prices to immigration to improving our national security, we want to put politics aside and take up the real work facing our country."

But politics is a key ingredient in setting an election-year agenda. And even some Republicans see dangers signs for their party.

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said that Republicans are "in very serious danger of having a very bad election this fall."

In an April 16 interview with Fox News Sunday, Gingrich said poll after poll is telling Republicans that the American people want change -- and that Republican ignore such polls at their own peril.

"And the question for the Republicans in the next 90 days is, are they going to become the party of real change, and are they going to learn some lessons and get their act together, or are they going to try to go into the fall campaign focusing one district at a time, hoping that somehow incumbency will survive public anger?" Gringrich said.

Gringrich said Republicans need to get away from generalities and start dealing in specifics. "I'm here to say as a Republican leader that the country tells us what they really want. I mean, the country is very clear about big issues."

Gingrich said Americans want voter ID cards and control of the border. "I would be perfectly happy for the Senate Republicans to bring up a border control bill and have [Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer] try to stop it," he said.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.