Reid: Voters Want Congress To Get Things Done

When Barack Obama and running mate Joe Biden take their oath of office on Jan. 20, Democrats will control both the White House and Congress for the first time since 1994. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada tells Steve Inskeep that voters want change, and they want Congress to get things done.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Republicans who remain in office will still have one significant power, the power to filibuster, to block legislation in the U.S. Senate. But one leading Republican, Senator John Enson, tells NPR his party won't be able to stop Democrats that often.

Senator JOHN ENSON (Republican, Nevada): The Democrats are going to have - be able to do a lot of things that they want to do simply because of the numbers. They'll be able to push a lot of their agenda forward, you know. And I'm going to look for areas that, you know, we can support them if they're doing what I believe is right. But if they're doing things that I'm against, then I'm going to oppose them with every ounce in my body.

MONTAGNE: The election means less power for Enson's side of the Senate. It means more power for his fellow senator from Nevada.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Harry Reid is the Senate Democratic leader, and he came to the phone earlier this morning. What do you think is possible now that wasn't possible a day ago?

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I think what it has done is indicated that there's a wave of hope that swept the country. And tonight we had a historic mandate, not a mandate for any political party or any ideology, but a mandate to get over those things that divide us and focus on getting things done.

INSKEEP: Senator Reid, as we're speaking in the early hours of the morning, it looks like you're a little short of 60 votes, which is the number that Democrats would need to end a filibuster, in effect to severely weaken Republicans' ability to stop you. What will your approach be to Republicans given that they still have that power to tie up the Senate apparently?

Senator REID: I think that power is long since gone - long since gone as a result of the election tonight. Remember, the last two years, the Republicans have conducted 94 filibusters, far more ever in the history of our country. You heard the concession speech of Senator McCain. I thought it was right on point. I thought it was sensitive. And you know, he's not going to be coming back to the Senate to filibuster. He's going to set the example of coming back to the Senate and getting some things done. And that's what we need to do.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that I understand what you're saying when you say the filibuster is long since gone. Are saying that Republicans would not dare tie up the work of the Senate because of the results of the election?

Senator REID: That's what I'm saying, yes.

INSKEEP: You're not saying you're going to move to change the rules in some way?

Senator REID: Oh, no, no. The rules are there. They've been there for a long time. I know its rules. I know them as well as anybody probably in the history of the country, or at least as well. And I think that the message has been sent loud and clear. Stop your divisiveness, focus on things that we can do together. That's what we're going to do.

INSKEEP: When Senator Obama was asked during the campaign, what priority will you give up given that the financial crisis is eating up so much of the federal revenue? Senator Obama said - and I may be oversimplifying a bit - but he essentially said, I want to hold on to all the priorities, just we may have to delay some of them. Speaking as the guy who would actually have to get those priorities and act it into law and make the numbers make sense, do you think that Senator Obama can still deliver on his core promises like expanded health care for millions of Americans?

Senator REID: We have no alternative. We have 50 million people approximately that have no health insurance. We've got to do something. We save money by doing that. This isn't anything that costs us money. Do we have to do something about the environment? Of course we do. How are we going to do that? By moving to renewable fuels. That's going to save us money. There are so many things, that if we do it right, that we will save the taxpayers money and have a much more efficient and good government.

INSKEEP: Do you think then that his major priorities can be enacted, say, in the first year?

Senator REID: Sure, well, no you're tying me down to a first year. Senator Obama didn't say in the first year. Senator Obama said we have a lot of things to do. We can't do them in a very quick period of time, but we can get them done. And I agree with him. These arbitrary timelines that people set - a lot of times the press - are unrealistic many times. I don't think we've set any realistic expectations. This victory has only been a matter of hours now.

INSKEEP: So it might be two years, it might be four years, it might be six years to get these things done?

Senator REID: Well, Steve, I think you're throwing out a lot of numbers. And it's, quote, unquote, "We're going to deal with it." Some things will happen more quickly than others, but I don't think that we should be tied down to any certain time for it. Remember, Congress lasts two years. What are we going to get done this Congress? I think we'll get a lot done in the 111th Congress.

INSKEEP: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, thanks very much.

Senator REID: You bet.

INSKEEP: The Democratic majority leader spoke as he waited for more election results.

MONTAGNE: Although he heard enough to know that Democrats will expand their majorities in Congress. You can find the results of many races at our Web site, npr.org. You can also give us your opinion on the results and what's next for America.

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