In school, you probably were taught about the most important documents that are the foundation of government in the United States. You remember: The Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc.
If your education was typical, there were a few things they didn't tell you.
One is about a small document titled "Rules of the Senate," for example. Another is about the person who sometimes is the second most powerful official in government - and I don't mean the vice president.
I mean the majority leader of the U.S. Senate. For now, that's Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.
Much has been written and said about President Barack Obama's use of executive orders to break the law. That sounds strong, but it's accurate. In his administration of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) alone, the president has issued multiple orders that directly contravene sections of the ACA as approved by Congress and signed into law by Obama himself.
So why doesn't Congress do anything about Obama's abuse of the executive order power? Members of the House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, would be delighted to rein in the president.
Rest assured no resolution or bill with that intent will ever come to a vote in the Senate. Reid will see to that - and he has the power to do so.
But aren't all 100 senators more or less equal in power? That's the impression you got in school, isn't it?
It's dead wrong. The majority leader - the senator selected for the post by members from the party with the most seats in the Senate - has substantially more power than others.
That is in part because of the Rules of the Senate. The document contains just 44 sections relating to how the business of the Senate is conducted. Several of the rules give the majority leader great power. Majority leaders have enormous influence over who sits on committees, legislative calendars, whether bills can be amended - even who can speak and when on the Senate floor. If several senators ask to speak at the same time, the majority leader always is permitted to take the floor first.
Think that's insignificant? Consider that it allows Reid to take various actions, including motions, before anyone can do anything about it.
Much of the majority leader's power is derived from the consent of fellow party members. In Reid's case, the overwhelming majority of Senate Democrats are either afraid of him because he can kill their bills or keep them off desired committees, or all in favor of him simply because he is their party's leader - right or wrong.
Consider what The Hill, regarded as the most authoritative publication on the nuts and bolts of Capitol Hill, said about him earlier this year:
"Harry Reid has become the most powerful Senate majority leader in history. Congressional experts say the Nevada Democrat has used more strong-arm tactics than his predecessors, has a firm grip on his Democratic colleagues and has played a major role in changing the once-collegial Senate."
How powerful? Consider this: For more than two centuries, a cherished Senate tradition intended to safeguard the rights of Americans without much political clout was unrestricted debate - the filibuster. Even senators whose pet bills fell victim to filibusters usually agreed the practice had to be permitted to avoid what some have called "the tyranny of the majority."
Suggestions the filibuster be banned were regarded as such serious business the idea was referred to as "the nuclear option." It was resisted for decades.
Reid exercised it, banning filibustering in regard to some of Obama's nominees for high federal offices.
Obama may have become the imperial president - but Reid has crowned himself the imperial majority leader.
They are a team - and Americans who worry about where Obama is taking the country err if they do not recognize Reid's critical role in the process.
Yet he is so powerful, even some Democrat candidates - including Natalie Tennant, seeking a Senate seat from West Virginia - refuse to say they would vote against him for majority leader. Reid may have become something of a dictator - but only because most of his fellow Democrats allowed it.
Myer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.