Reid, a driving force behind the super committee concept included in the debt ceiling legislation signed this month by President Barack Obama, said the panel’s 12 Republican and Democratic lawmakers must overhaul the nation’s tax code to find new revenue.
He dismissed claims that the committee will deadlock just as similar panels have done, while acknowledging the group could easily fall short of its goal of identifying deficit cuts spread over the next decade.
“The alternative is what, to do nothing? So I don’t buy that,” Reid said of predictions that the committee will accomplish little.
He estimated the committee had a “50-50 chance” of getting something done.
Reid’s projections came as he attempted to rally business leaders in his hard-hit home state. Nevada has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
Things are bad in Washington, D.C., but have been worse in the past, he said during a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
He cited the civil rights movement, disagreements over the Vietnam War and the birth of the nation as more challenging eras for national lawmakers.
“Everyone complain all you want about Congress. You should complain plenty,” Reid said. “But don’t think the country is about to fall apart because of what’s going on in Washington.”
It was far from a call for unity. Minutes later, Reid called House Republicans “so shortsighted” for demanding the elimination of the nation’s debt and dismissed tea party supporters who have pushed the GOP to the far right.
“The Tea Party is the result of the economic downturn,” he said. “As soon as the economy recovers, those folks will all be gone.”
Reid said the super committee should eliminate subsidies for oil giants and examine tax deductions.
“Should we have a mortgage reduction for someone that has four homes?” he said.
The Republican-friendly Chamber of Commerce is not exactly safe territory for Reid. Roughly 100 protesters showed up when he addressed the group in 2009, and conservatives often blame Reid for Nevada’s dismal economy. Reid was re-elected last year against Republican Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite, after some state Republican leaders said they could not support her far-right agenda.
The ideological tension was evident Wednesday as chamber leaders asked Reid whether he would support a minimum-wage reduction to help struggling small businesses, an effort opposed by Reid’s union backers. Reid responded that business leaders could seek a change in the state’s minimum wage, but he refused to say whether he would support such an effort.
He also defended the health care law passed by Obama after chamber leaders expressed concern that the cost of the federal overhaul has kept businesses from hiring new employees. He compared the law’s mandate requiring people to have health insurance to state laws requiring auto insurance for drivers.
Reid received enthusiastic spurts of applause during his discussion, but as he exited the room to the sounds of “Viva Las Vegas,” some Republicans began rumbling in protest.
“Newsflash: Here we are broke,” said Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson. “The taxpayers of this country have had enough.”