BY IAN MYLCHREEST -- Even though he is Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., sees no way out of the current congressional gridlock. He blames the filibuster, and the allegiance of some 40 percent of Republican senators to the Tea Party. They always vote with the anti-tax party, even though the conservative group represents less than 10 percent of public opinion, Reid said.
Likening the Tea Party to anarchists, Reid said, “They’re vetoing everything.” He praised Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for breaking with the Tea Party and agreeing to confirm several of President Obama’s long-delayed nominees. McCain also brought enough Republican votes for other measures such as the Farm Bill, the Postal Bill and the Violence Against Women Act.
Affordable Care Act: “It’s Working”
Reid also cited the Affordable Care Act as the kind of change that has made a difference. Union complaints from leaders, including the culinary union's D. Taylor, about workers being dropped from health insurance and losing rostered hours were exaggerated, Reid said. “I would recommend that D. would just calm down and stop frightening people, because the law is going forward. He should work with it. I am working with him and the administration to try and solve some of the issues he has talked about, but he has exaggerated them,” he added.
The administration is also looking at putting non-profit plans on the same footing as those subsidized by the government for the “for-profit” insurers, Reid noted, but said that it was necessary for patients to “have skin in the game.” The so-called Cadillac plans (like that offered by the Culinary Union) encouraged patients to use too many services because they paid nothing. “The Cadillac plans weren’t fair to other people.” said Reid. The unions had negotiated luxury plans that were not sustainable.
Still the law is here now, and contrary to what Republicans are saying, “it’s working,” said Reid with a smile. He says some unintended consequences did need to be fixed. “But remember. How do we get things passed? If it deals with Obamacare, these characters in the house have voted, I kind of lose track of it, 60-some odd times to repeal Obamacare and they’re not getting anything done but they keep doing that. And so it’s hard to work constructively with them,” Reid said.
Reid also praised Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval for his stand on the Affordable Care Act. “Brian Sandoval has been courageous in what he did with Obamacare. He had all kinds of pressure from the all the right-wing. ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do this.’ But Brian looked at this and found it was good for the people of the state of Nevada so he was one of the early people to move in,” he said.
Reid Disagrees With Obama On Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
While defending the president’s leading achievement in health care, Reid said he was not very impressed with the president’s plans to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “We have to make sure we protect home ownership and we have to make sure we do that and the reason we have Fannie and Freddie is because during the Great Depression people couldn’t buy homes and that’s why they (Fannie and Freddie) were developed,” he said. Reid will look at the legislation the president is proposing but is giving no guarantees he will support the plan to get rid of the government-backed mortgage companies.
Immigration Reform Must Be Comprehensive
Reid is optimistic about immigration reform. The senate passed a “decent but not perfect” reform bill. He emphasized that it is a comprehensive solution. “We’ve been trying to pass it piecemeal for years. It just doesn’t work,” he added. Still the path to citizenship is the key. “We cannot, it’s physically and fiscally impossible, to do what some of these folks want to do, send them back. You can’t do that. We can’t send 11 million people back to wherever,” Reid said. “The would go to the back of the line, but at least they’d be in a line,” he added.
Deriding the plans of House Republicans to pass some elements of immigration reform as separate bills, Reid said Congressman Joe Heck was “in a dreamland” if he thought that approach would work. “We’ve tried to do that for decades. You can’t do that … it’s like a puzzle. You can’t say you’ve worked things out find a piece in the corner that fits in just well, real well. You’ve have to do the whole puzzle.” Still, the Senate Majority Leader sees a chance that some part of the immigration reform will pass the house and then the two houses will be forced to a conference to reconcile the two immigration reform bills.
And as to his legacy as leader of Senate Democrats and majority leader, Reid was non-committal. He would like to be remembered for stopping the privatization of Social Security during the Bush Administration and cited banking reform as important legislation. “For the first time we have the FDA regulating tobacco, we have national service legislation, we have Obamacare, we have a long string of stuff that I think will go down in history books as being very important,” he said.