“Now that the election is over, it’s time to put politics aside, and work together to find solutions,” Reid said in a statement. “The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now, they are looking to us for solutions."
And he subtly warned Republicans not to try to punt decisions on the fiscal cliff until the next Congress, saying: “This is no time for excuses. This is no time for putting things off until later. We can achieve big things when we work together. And the middle class is counting on us to achieve big things in the months ahead."
Because bridging the divide between the president and the Speaker appears to be the most difficult task, Reid may have to work to prevent himself from being sidelined in what is likely to be a negotiation between Boehner and Obama.
Toward the end of the debt limit negotiations in the summer of 2011, Reid was largely shut out by Obama and Boehner, who spent weeks trying to hash out a “grand bargain” that would have included changes in entitlement programs and revenue increases. In the end, Obama, Boehner and McConnell came together to find an agreement to avert default.
Because Democrats and Republicans saw little reason to begin negotiating in any meaningful way on the fiscal cliff before the elections, Congress now has only a few weeks to find at least a temporary solution.
Bipartisan consensus has begun to coalesce around overhauling the tax code and eliminating some tax breaks, especially for the wealthiest. Republicans would like to see any revenue gained used to keep tax rates low.
Reid, who emerged as a top Democratic attack dog in the 2012 cycle, loves to chide Republicans about their relationship to Grover Norquist, the Americans for Tax Reform president whom Reid calls “the most powerful man in Washington.”
Democrats, however, are divided on where the revenue from tax changes should go. Those working in bipartisan budget groups, such as the Senate’s “gangs,” always have been open to using some of that revenue to keep tax rates low while using some to reduce the deficit. But some Senate Democrats, including Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), favor using new revenue to pay down the national debt.
Reid will have to navigate the divisions within his own ranks as he determines what approach to take in negotiating with the Republicans, who have not been easy talking partners on these issues.
Regardless of where they stand on the details, Democrats — from Schumer to Finance Chairman Max Baucus to former supercommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray — have during the past few months intimated that their party would prefer to let the tax increases and spending cuts happen rather than extend expensive tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
“There is absolutely no reason — not one — that we need to extend the tax cuts for the rich as a precondition for reforming the tax code,” Murray said in a July address at the Brookings Institution. “Republicans are going to have to accept that tax reform isn’t going to be a back door way for them sneak through more tax cuts for the rich. And it is going to have to raise revenue to help rein in the deficit and debt.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.