Harry Reid blames tea party for lack of fiscal cliff deal

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday blamed the tea party for both the lack of a deal on the fiscal cliff and the failure of the Senate to ratify a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.

Speaking to reporters, the Senate’s top Democrat suggested that Speaker of the House John Boehner was unable to strike a deal with the White House to avert the fiscal cliff because the tea party members of his caucus would penalize him for it, potentially by taking away his speakership in the next session.

“I sympathize with John Boehner,” Reid said. “The tea party has a firm grip on the Republican Party. … This vocal minority contingent exerts tremendous influence over him and Republicans in the House and in the Senate.”

“Yesterday, Speaker Boehner put forward a plan that for the first time put a revenue number on paper,” Reid went on. “The proposal is not nearly enough to restore fiscal responsibility, and it would hurt middle-class families; yet it’s apparently enough to make the tea party scream bloody murder.”

Boehner has taken quite a bit of flak from the more conservative wing of his party after releasing a proposal to avert the fiscal cliff on Monday. President Barack Obama rejected the proposal, leaving talks stalled. (RELATED — Paul Ryan on fiscal cliff: ‘We’re nowhere. We‘re farther than where we started’)

“I think there’s going to be an attempt to pass a tax increase through the House, in exchange for what?” Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Heulskamp told reporters at the Heritage foundation Tuesday afternoon. “This president doesn’t want to do entitlement reform, doesn’t want to cut spending. … I think it makes very clear to conservatives that you’re about to get run over.”

South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, a tea party stalwart, condemned Boehner’s proposal on Twitter as “an $800 billion tax hike [that] will destroy jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more.”

Senate Conservatives Fund, a super PAC founded by DeMint but now independent of him, dubbed the proposal “Boehner’s tax hike” and slammed the speaker for being “willing to capitulate on the biggest issue that separates Republicans from Democrats.”

“The American people want us to forge a balanced approach that combines smart cuts with asking millionaires to pay their fair share,” Reid said. “Sixty percent of Americans support asking millionaires to pay slightly more.”

“Many, many Republicans feel the same way,” he added. “The only Republicans who feel differently are those who work in this building.” (RELATED VIDEO: Pelosi says Republicans are ‘hostage-taking’ on fiscal cliff)

“We can’t let these negotiations be dictated by the tea party. Our guiding principle should be the views of the vast majority of the American people. The math is clear. The only way to accomplish these things is to allow the rates to go up on the top two percent of taxpayers. We’re not going to twist ourselves into contortions to appease a vocal minority in the tea party. As Sen. McCaskill said Sunday on TV, Speaker Boehner has got to decide: Is it his speakership that’s more important, or the country?”

Reid also criticized the proposal for not including specific increases in revenue — a flaw he said the plan shared with the proposals put forward in the past by the bipartisan “Gang of Six” in the Senate and the 12-member “Super Committee.”

A line in Reid’s prepared remarks — which he left on the podium after walking off — stated that “Senator DeMint lost no time in condemning the proposal.” But the line was crossed out, and Reid did not use it.

The Senate majority leader further faulted the tea party for the failure of the Senate to ratify the The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities on Tuesday morning; it required a two-thirds majority for ratification, but was shot down by a narrow margin of 61 votes to 38.

The treaty is modeled after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain was among the bill’s most vocal supporters, along with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

“In the minds of the tea party– they should feel good that the tea party folks defeated this treaty, and in effect really hurt the disabled community and the veteran community here in America,” Reid said.

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