Sen. Harry Reid sees progress in making Congress functional |

Sen. Harry Reid sees progress in making Congress functional

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., left, pauses during a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005 in Washington. Reid announced that he will vote against Chief Justice nominee John Roberts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The addition of President Barack Obama’s proposals into the House-Senate budget debate doesn’t really further complicate the process, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this week.

“We don’t mess with presidential budgets much,” Reid, D-Nev., said in an interview with the Nevada Appeal.

He described the president’s budget as “just a message.”

“Our budget we make a working document,” he said. “What we get from the White House is fluff; it always is.”

“This goes back to the Reagan years,” Reid said. “In the state, the governor’s budget means a lot. Back here, it doesn’t mean much.”

The House and Senate budgets have stark differences, particularly over programs such as Medicaid, which the GOP plan would convert to a state block grant program, Medicare and Social Security. The other major dispute centers on Republican opposition to the Democratic plan’s proposed tax hikes on the wealthy.

Reid said he talked with Rep. Paul Ryan, head of the House budget committee, this week about how to resolve those differences. But he made it clear he thinks that, in the public’s eye, Democrats have the advantage.

“I think we’re going to find they’re afraid to go to conference with this,” he said of the House Republicans. “We’re going to push hard to go to conference.”

Conference committees are called at the federal level to hammer out a compromise.

Asked whether Reid sees a path for the two parties to get back to treating each other as colleagues instead of opponents, Reid said the goal is to create an atmosphere that will enable compromise.

“And that’s what we tried to do today in caucus,” he said. “Today’s joint caucus was the first one in many, many years.”

“I asked John McCain (R-Ariz.) to tell us about his experiences in Vietnam today,” Reid said. “He doesn’t talk about it a lot. It’s an incredible story.”

He said the idea is to get members to look at each other, no matter which party, as human beings.

Reid said he doesn’t know of any senators who didn’t enjoy the session, and that those types of meetings can have a very positive effect on how the Senate works.

“Legislation is compromise, and you can’t compromise if you don’t know each other,” he said. “That was he purpose of this: let’s just try to understand each other.”

Obama is trying to do the same thing, Reid said.

“That’s why he reached out to those guys (GOP House members) for dinners,” he said. “ Last night was the second one.”

He said another encouraging sign was Thursday’s “cloture” vote allowing full debate on the gun-control legislation. He needed 60 of the 100 senators to support the motion. He got 68.

“My chief of staff said I’d never get cloture,” Reid said, laughing. “I won 20 bucks on the deal.”