Reid Discusses Now-Passed Debt Bill

Michele Norris speaks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, about the passage of the bill to increase the nation's borrowing limit. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday in a vote of 74 to 26.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host: We turn now to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a Democrat of Nevada. Mr. Reid, thank you very much for making time for us.

Senator HARRY REID: It's really my pleasure. I love NPR.

NORRIS: Well, listen - I'm look - I'm not on Capitol Hill. Obviously, I'm here in the studio, but I'm looking at pictures of the senators in the chamber today. Everyone seems to be smiling now that a bill has been passed. But if you had to give me a one-sentence assessment of that bill that passed today, what would it be? Are you happy?

REID: It would be a compromise. We - no one got what they wanted. And I always find that, even going back to the days that I practiced law, if people walk out of the room and parties are all dissatisfied, that's a pretty good settlement, and that's what we had here. No one was happy with it. But it was the right thing for the American people.

NORRIS: When you look at this process, there were two occasions where your leadership seemed to be sidelined to some degree, the arrival of that Gang of Six plan at some point in the process, and then, the final negotiations, which appeared to be led, in large part, by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's claiming a victory right now, this afternoon. Are you angry about that, or is that just politics? It's just part of the process.

REID: No, no, I'm not angry. Mitch has always been trying to make the glass appear half full for him and half empty for me. We're very fortunate that Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security was not attached in any way, affects none of our beneficiaries. There were no benefit cuts. I wish we had been able to get some revenue because it's important that people who are making all these huge sums of money pay their fair share; the American people agree with that. But I don't think it's important to talk about whether Democrats won or Republicans won. I think the American people won. And we know that we have to do more, and I look forward to doing that.

NORRIS: Let's look ahead then. We're hearing very different interpretations on whether revenue increases will be part of the solution when the super committee starts to do its work. You said earlier this week that the new committee will have to agree on tax hikes. Republicans don't agree with it. Paul Ryan in - over in the House insists that Republicans who will be seated on this super committee will not support tax increases. So when you look ahead, what do you see, and why are there such different interpretations?

REID: If there's continual talk by the Republicans from the House and the Senate that there will be no revenue, then there would be no bill. They have to understand today, right now, the day we passed the bill, that we will have no legislation that will come out of that joint committee unless revenues are part of the mix. It's a fact of life. And if they don't like that and they can look forward to the huge cuts that will take place in sequestration dealing with defense and some other programs would be cut, including mandatory programs, foreign programs and things of that nature.

NORRIS: They have said all along that there will be no revenues, and that they're not willing to move on that. What's the incentive for them to move now?

REID: Well, I'm not totally familiar with what you're saying because in my private conversations with the speaker and the minority leader over here, they assume and the legislation allows revenue to be a part of the mix.

NORRIS: Before I let you go, I want to shift away from the debt ceiling for just a moment. You've been very outspoken about the ongoing showdown over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. Where does that stand right now? You have a direct interest in this. A small airport in your home state is directly affected by this dispute, and you're calling on the Senate now to take this up as the House has done.

REID: The House has tried to make this an issue over essential air service. It's not a battle over essential air service. It's a battle over Delta Airlines who refuses to allow votes under the new rules that have been passed by the NLRB, it's all a nonunion organization, Delta Airlines, they're the ones that are holding this up. As a result of what Delta Airlines has done, 80,000 people today are out of work. It has nothing to do with essential air service. It has everything to do with their anti-union activities.

NORRIS: Well, should we assume that FAA will open sometime in August? Would you allow this to continue? Is it possible that the FAA will be shut down through September?

REID: The FAA cannot go forward because of what the House has done. They're out of session now. And what they've sent over here won't pass.

NORRIS: So it will be closed through September? We can't...

REID: It will be closed until - maybe not September, maybe more than that. They've refused for more than a year to appoint conferees because they're unwilling to go forward on the issue because of the anti-union sentiment of Delta Airlines.

NORRIS: Senator Reid, thank you very much for your time.

REID: Nice to hear your voice. Thank you very much.

NORRIS: That's Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate majority leader.

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