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Potomac Diary

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Pop quiz: who would you Say is really running the Democrats these days? Nancy Pelosi? Harry Reid? Hillary Clinton? Barack Obama? If you answered any of these three names, you would be wrong, but don’t feel bad. An informal poll done by National Underwriter yielded the same kinds of answers.

The real answer, of course, is New York senator Charles Schumer, who is assuming a larger-than-life role for Democrats as they seek to pull out of the electoral tailspin climaxed by the electoral “shellacking” administered to them last November.

In January, Schumer engineered a coup-d’etat on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s staff reminiscent of events that formerly occurred only in South America and the Middle East.

And, he is now playing a key role in shaping the Democratic position in bipartisan talks aimed at establishing a bipartisan framework for deficit reduction.

In fact, even while President Obama attended a meeting a few weeks ago of the bipartisan group of senators holding the deficit-reduction talks, it was Schumer who articulated the Democrat position while the president silently looked on, according to several sources.

Schumer headed the Democratic senator re-election campaign during the period when the Democrats started picking up Senate seats, but stepped down two years ago in favor of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.,

But that has not slowed Schumer down. Known as a prodigious fundraiser and an aggressive, no-holds-barred advocate, it is to him that the Democrats have turned in their hour of great need. For Schumer, his rise to prominence carries no small burden. In fact, he might just be playing for the highest stakes in his political career to date.

For example, the Republican party picked up 68 seats in the House in the November election, and now have control of the House by the greatest margin since 1928. And, with Democrats having to defend 28 seats in the Senate in 2012, and Republicans only 10, the odds are great that the Republicans will win control of both chambers in 2012. It is up to Schumer to figure out a solution, as improbable as one appears for the Democrats.

But the biggest factor in Schumer’s emergence as a key player in the 2012 electoral battle is broad complaints that Reid and Pelosi have done a poor job in defending Democrats against Republican attacks, especially on the health care bill.

For example, a prominent nonpartisan research organization,, just released a new report indicating that the individual health care mandate was a Republican idea.

According to Procon, the concept of the individual health insurance mandate originated in 1989 at the conservative Heritage Foundation, now one of its fiercest and most strident opponents of the health care reform package that passed Congress last year.

According to Procon, in 1993, Republicans twice introduced health care bills that contained an individual health insurance mandate. Advocates for those bills included prominent Republicans who today oppose the mandate including Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; and former senators Robert Bennett, Utah, and Christopher Bond, Missouri.

In 2007, Democrats and Republicans introduced a bi-partisan bill containing the mandate.

And, Procon says, in 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama was opposed to the individual mandate. He said so in a Feb. 28, 2008 interview on the Ellen DeGeneres show about his divergent views with Hillary Clinton.

To deal with the public relations battle that the Democrats obviously lost to the Republicans, Schumer replaced the staff, including the chief of staff, and the public relations people, in the majority leader’s office.

As a result, Democrats in Congress say that the new staff is much better in anticipating Republican attacks, and moving to counter them. Time will tell, of course, but for the moment, they are being given credit for making House Republicans rethink their strategy of pushing through deep cuts in the current government budget, and for reducing the likelihood of a government shutdown, either late last week, or even later this month.

As for the bipartisan deficit reduction talks, being held at the White House by six senators, it is Schumer who is demanding that Social Security be taken off the table for the moment and dealt with separately, therefore sustaining the old principle that Social Security is the so-called “third rail” of America politics, dealt with by politicians only at their peril.


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