In the Capitol, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks to… (Jim Lo Scalzo / European…)
WASHINGTON -- With “fiscal cliff” negotiations appearing to be at a standstill, and President Obama taking his argument on the road, the two highest-ranking members of the Senate butted heads Tuesday, laying the blame on the opposite side of the aisle.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Republican efforts a “disappointment.”
“They talked some happy talk about [raising] revenues, but we only have a couple weeks to get something done. So we have to get away from the happy talk and start talking about specific things,” Reid said to reporters.
Asked about Sen. Richard Durbin’s (D-Ill.) comments earlier in the day calling for major entitlement programs to remain open to negotiations, Reid partially agreed with his colleague.
“President Obama said that Social Security is not a part of what we’re going to do in this. And I agree with him,” Reid said, not mentioning Medicare or Medicaid.
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“I personally believe there are things that we can do with entitlements that don’t hurt beneficiaries,” he added. “But I'm not going to negotiate this with you simply other than to say that we hope that they can agree to the tax revenue that we're talking about, and that is rate increases. And then as the president has said on a number of occasions, we'll be happy to deal with entitlements.”
Despite his complaints about Republican stonewalling, Reid said that he’s still optimistic that a deal can be reached before the end of the year, when automatic federal tax hikes and spending cuts would kick in.
“I’m extremely hopeful, and I do not believe that the Republicans are going to allow us to go over the cliff. I hope that’s true,” he said. “It’s such a simple problem to solve, we’ve had experience.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), flanked by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) countered by telling reporters that Democrats need to leave the campaign trail and come to the negotiating table.
“It seems like our friends on the other side are having some difficulty kind of turning off the campaign,” McConnell said. “We need to sit down and work this matter out. I think we have a clear sense that there’s an opportunity here at the end of the year to do something important for the country.”
McConnell took particular offense to Reid’s recent proposal that filibuster powers be curtailed on motions to proceed with the bills – which start the debate process in the Senate, particularly given the timing of Reid’s announcement.
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“If I were the leader of the majority right now, I’d feel really good about the election,” McConnell said. “I kept my majority in the Senate, the president was reelected. Boy, the first thing on my agenda would be, ‘Now how can I reach out to the minority?’ The last thing on my list would have been to throw a bomb into the Senate, have it blow up, and have everybody mad as heck.”
As for entitlement reform, McConnell called for Obama and Reid to depart from “their hard left” and accept that federal spending for some programs should not exist “in perpetuity.”
“Times change, and until we make sure these popular entitlement programs fit the demographics of the changing America, we can’t save them. We all know that, it’s simple math,” he said. “What we have lacked so far is the political courage to do what needs to be done.”