Interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

By The Situation Room - April 14, 2011

BLITZER: That last-minute bipartisan deal to keep the federal government open now about to be voted on in the Senate, after just being approved by the House of Representatives a little while ago.

But is the deal all that it's cracked up to be?


BLITZER: We're with the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.

Mr. Leader, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, it's my pleasure.

BLITZER: Let's tie up a few loose ends. First of all, we remember last Friday night. We were up until midnight waiting for this budget deal. It was supposed to cut $38 billion, a record amount.

But all of a sudden the Congressional Budget Office comes out with their report saying not exactly. It's only going to cut this year, the remainder of this fiscal year, $352 million. You're only off by, what, $38 -- almost $38 billion. This raises questions about --

REID: The -- the Congressional Budget Office does -- they do excellent work. But we cut $38.5 billion, and it won't all happen by the end of this year. Some of this stuff spills over into the next fiscal year.

But the money is cut. It's on paper. It's been filed. The whole country can look at the cuts --


BLITZER: Cause the CBO says this year the actual amount that will be cut will be $352 million. The rest will be spread out not just next year, but for many years. Some -- some of those cuts for 10 years.

REID: But the most important thing is that it lowers the base of domestic discretionary spending, and any future money that we provide through the appropriation process has to be based on the lower floor that we created with this deal that we made. So it -- we create -- we have saved the country $38.5 billion.

BLITZER: So, can we assume that whatever was cut in this last- minute deal, that's going to be cut for the next many year?

REID: Yes. And we are going to now -- as soon as we finish this -- I spoke to Senator McConnell today -- are going to get our appropriations process going again. And all those bills -- it doesn't matter which one of the 12 bills we do -- we will start at a lower base than we would have done had this not been done.

BLITZER: And you have no doubt the Senate will pass what you agreed to last Friday night?

REID: Well, the Senate's an unusual place. There will be enough Democratic votes to pass this. I've been told by Senator McConnell we'll each provide about the same number of votes. So I feel comfortable it will pass.

BLITZER: There won't be a filibuster or anything like that?

REID: Oh, no, that's locked out. We've taken --

BLITZER: It should be 51 votes?

REID: No, it will be 60 votes.

BLITZER: You will get 60 votes?

REID: Yes, we can do that.

BLITZER: OK. So let's move on, talk a little bit about the president's speech yesterday.

A lot of Republicans, as you know, especially Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget -- they are furious that the president was so political, so partisan, accusing them basically of wanting to end Medicare as we know it, changing the country. The rhetoric was pretty intense.

Did the president go too far?

REID: Well, I think Chairman Ryan should look at his own budget that he produced. For the viewers, he is the chairman of the House Budget Committee, and he produced a document that is -- oh, he'll have a vote over here, and we'll find out if there is anyone courageous enough who is a Republican who will vote for it.

Democrats won't vote for it because it just wipes outs Medicare. It takes it away from the system that we have he's known for all these years. It changes Medicare, that has been such a safety net for poor people. So what Obama did is recognize that we are going to have to make some cuts with our health care delivery system as it relates to health care -- as it he relates, I'm sorry, to Medicare and Medicaid, and we can do that without turning it over to the private sector.

BLITZER: I'll tell you what the concern was, that Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling another Republican leader, they were sitting there at George Washington University when the president basically accused them of doing all these things against old people and sick people. Last January, January 29th, the president said this at a retreat with House Republicans present --


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to be able to do anything about any of these entitlements if what we do is characterize whatever proposals are put out there as, well, you know, that's the other party's being irresponsible. The other party's trying to hurt our senior citizens, that the other party is doing X, Y, Z.


BLITZER: Didn't the president do exactly that yesterday?

REID: The president's right. What we have to do, we have a very serious discussion that's going to take place. It's going to take place because we have the security, the safety and the financial responsiveness of this country's dependent (ph) on our raising the debt limit. These are bills we have already created, and we have to do this.

And so I agreed with the president when he said (ph) this background. I agree with anyone that thinks that it should not be a time where we are seeing who can have the best --


BLITZER: Because he said, I want to talk to you guys. We've got Joe Biden -- the vice president's going to come up, he is going to negotiate with Harry Reid and John Boehner. But did he set the stage for serious negotiations by being that partisan?

REID: I think that this is an excuse for running away from the issue.

Listen, we are in some serious times here, and this isn't a time we're going to be patting each other on the back saying, "Way to go." This is the Congress of the United States. We're trying to work through some difficult issues. There's two different ways of doing this, and what we are going to have to do is come somewhere in the middle.

BLITZER: But what about the debt ceiling, raising the debt ceiling? Will you allow the Republicans -- a lot of the Republicans want to add conditions in order to raise the debt ceiling. Originally, the Democrats, the president said, just have a clean bill, raise the debt ceiling, as has been done many times in the past.

Will you allow legislation to come up in the Senate that adds conditions to raising the debt ceiling?

REID: I met with Senator McConnell today. Both of us understand.

We have a different political philosophy, each of us, but we both understand how important it is that we get this debt ceiling raised. And I'm willing to look at anything that's reasonable. I don't think we should draw any lines in the sand and say, I won't accept this or I won't accept that. I want to work with everybody and try to get something done as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: A bunch of senators, including some Republicans like Mike Lee, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, they are saying Social Security, you've got to raise the eligibility age to 70.

Are you open to that?

REID: Why would anybody talk about this when we are talking about the debt of this country? Social Security has not created one penny of debt, not a penny. What is wrong with you? Why do you keep talking about?

BLITZER: A big percentage of the budget goes to Social Security.

REID: But it's all paid for. That is a deal we made in 1983 with President Reagan, with Tip O'Neill.

Now, if people want to look at Social Security past the 30-plus years that it's going to be sound and secure now, and look at it after that and have a separate organization set up to take a look at it, they want to finance it for 75 years, I'm happy to do that. But this discussion should not be part of deficit reduction, because it has nothing to do with the deficit.

BLITZER: A quick -- on this deficit reduction, the so-called "Gang of Six," three Democratic senators, three Republican senators, they are about to come up with their own ideas. We know that Republicans have theirs, the president has his. Now these senators are going to come up, we assume, with a bipartisan plan.

Are you willing to let that plan come up for a yea or nay vote on the Senate floor?

REID: I am supportive of the Gang of Six. Now, I don't know what their product is going to be, but one of my best friends I have in Congress and the world is Dick Durbin. I put him on the debt commission. It was something I'm not sure that he realized how much work it would be, but I wanted to have a progressive on there because I had two --


BLITZER: So, if he signs off on this Gang of Six plan, I assume you will be with him?

REID: Well, I have to look at it first, but I'm glad it's happening. I'm glad there is serious discussion.

You have Coburn from Oklahoma, really conservative, really has focused on the debt since he came here to Washington a number of years ago. And you've got Durbin, who is one of the more progressive people we have in the entire Congress. I'm glad they are working together, and they've talked to me about what some of their ideas are. I think their ideas are decent, but I want them to leave Social Security alone.

BLITZER: Because it sounds to me like if they can -- if Coburn and Durbin and the others can reach an agreement, that sounds like that could be an opening.

REID: That is the point. If you can get two people as ideologically different as Durbin and Coburn to work together for a product that's going to help us get this debt done, then I think we have something we all should look at.


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