Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

It's a moment many doubted would ever come, but Senate Democrats are now poised to pass their massive health care bill on Christmas Eve. In the end, all 60 members of the Democratic Caucus closed ranks behind the bill, and the man getting the credit for pulling it off: the leader of the Democrats, Nevada's Harry Reid.

NPR's David Welna has this look at how Reid handled this big test of his leadership.

DAVID WELNA: Majority Leader Harry Reid got a hero's welcome yesterday as he walked into a rally at the Capitol.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

WELNA: Those applauding were health care advocates gathered for an early celebration of the all-but-certain passage tomorrow of the Senate health care bill. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin told them the 60 votes Reid rounded up were such a gift that Christmas will be anti-climactic.

Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): Harry Reid has the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the endurance of Samson. He has hung in there day after day, has put this together, and he is about to achieve what has eluded so many majority leaders going back over half a century. Truly with the passage of this bill, Harry Reid will have earned his place in the Senate's history.

WELNA: Reid, as usual, tried deflecting the praise, saying he was simply batting cleanup.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I appreciate the nice words everyone has said to me, but by the time that this thing got to me, most of the hard work had been done.

WELNA: Reid also sought to shoot down Republican charges that he'd simply pursued a win for Democrats.

Sen. REID: This fight isn't about politics. It isn't about partisanship. It's about people, real people.

WELNA: Indeed, it has been about people, people like Senator Joe Lieberman. He's the Connecticut Independent, who threatened to join a GOP filibuster of the health care bill because he strongly opposed the public option Reid had included in his first version of the legislation. Lieberman says Reid knew where he stood.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): He called me before the motion to proceed to the debate on health care reform, said that he had to include the public option in his merged bill and knew I was against it, but hoped I would vote to start the debate. And I said of course I will. But I said, Harry, if it's still in there, I have to do everything I can to get it out.

WELNA: Connecticut's other senator, Christopher Dodd, led the Health Committee's drafting of a health care bill, one that did include a public option. Dodd says Reid agonized over how to lock in 60 votes.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I remember several conversations where the first words out of his mouth were: This bill's dead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. DODD: And we'd have to regroup and spend hours going back over ground, and I - that happened more times than I'd care to recall.

WELNA: In the end, Reid removed the public option and won Lieberman's support. Another holdout, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, got the tougher guidelines on abortion he'd sought, as well as a promise that the federal government would permanently pay for an expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska. On Saturday, the day Nelson announced he'd be the 60th vote for Democrats, Reid defended granting concessions to garner support.

Sen. REID: I don't know if there's a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them. And if they don't have something in it important to them, then it's - doesn't speak well of them. That's what this legislation's all about. It's the art of compromise.

WELNA: But it also proved a turn-off for the only Senate Republican who'd voted for an earlier version of the health care bill. Maine's Olympia Snowe said Reid did not deliver on the policy changes she needed to vote for the bill.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): We were about crafting good policy, but in the meantime, they were negotiating sweetheart deals in the dark of night. Little did I know.

WELNA: Senate Republicans don't have the votes to stop the health care bill, but they've made sweetheart deals their new refrain. Here's Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday on the Senate floor.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Americans are outraged by the last-minute, closed-door, sweetheart deals that were made to gain the slimmest margin for passage of a bill that is all about their health care.

WELNA: Will cutting such deals will hurt Reid, especially in Nevada where he faces a tough reelection bid next year? University of Nevada political scientist Eric Herzik doesn't think so.

Professor ERIC HERZIK (Political Scientist, University of Nevada): Harry Reid's the ultimate kind of power politician, the backroom dealmaker - again, which is why many people don't like him. But at the end of the day, Harry Reid's about getting the deal done, getting things done in Washington, D.C. And, you know, sometimes that's not a pretty process.

WELNA: It may not be pretty, but it helped Reid keep his promise to have a health care bill done by Christmas.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.