Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid linked the tea party’s existence to the economic slump and predicted last week that the movement will decline as more jobs are created.
The Nevada Democrat’s interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” was recorded before the deadly shooting Saturday that critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six people. The interview aired Sunday morning.
“The tea party was born because of the economy. The economy is the worst it’s ever been, except for maybe the Great Depression,” Reid said. “The tea party will disappear as soon as the economy gets better, and the economy is getting better all the time.”
Reid won a tough re-election battle against tea party-backed candidate Sharron Angle. “I don’t think the tea party had the vigor and support that people thought it would. A couple of them won, but most of them lost,” he said.
“What the election showed me is that we had a terribly bad economy and that’s where the tea party came from, and, number two, that the American people want us to work together,” he said.
During the wide-ranging interview, Reid defended the health care overhaul law. He called the House GOP effort to repeal it “a gesture of futility.”
But Reid said that Democrats would be open to amending parts of the law and that they would “continue to improve it.”
“We know that people want a better health care delivery system in this country,” he said.
Reid also addressed the need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling, saying, “We can’t back out on the money we owe the rest of the world. We can’t do as the Gingrich crowd did a few years ago, close government.” Standoffs between the Georgia Republican during his time as Speaker and President Bill Clinton culminated in government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996.
Reid dodged the question when asked why he chose to vote against raising the debt limit in 2006. “I’m saying today that we have to raise the debt ceiling,” he said. “There’s no alternative. In 2006, the debt ceiling was raised. Of course, it had to be raised then. It has to be raised now.”
He may face some stiff opposition from some Republicans, such as newly elected Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.).
Paul reiterated his opposition to raising the debt limit in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” saying that the only way he would support it would be if “we link a balanced budget rule” to it.
Paul also dismissed simply including spending cuts in an agreement to raise the limit. “Even if we attach some token spending cuts to it, I don’t think that’s enough. We’ve got to change the rules,” he said.
Paul pointed to President Barack Obama’s opposition to a debt limit increase while a Senator and downplayed the administration’s warnings of grave economic consequences if the nation defaults on its loans.
“It’s a little disingenuous for them to now say the sky is falling,” he said.
John Stanton contributed to this report.