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Reid Backs Deficit Caps, Says Senate Will Vote on Ryan Budget

Updated: 4:35 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is backing a cap on deficits as part of a deal to raise the federal debt limit, he told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

“We have to be able to prove that we’re willing to do something about the debt,” the Nevada Democrat said. Reid said that in his opinion, the nation needs a deficit cap, as opposed to the spending caps being proposed by Republicans and some Democrats.

“If we are able to cap deficits, it automatically brings down the debt, and that’s the key to all this,” he said. “You would have a law saying that we have to do it.”

Reid didn’t back any particularly deficit cap plan, adding that there are various proposals out there and various triggering mechanisms that could be used. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) floated the idea of deficit caps before the recess, and President Barack Obama likewise proposed a debt trigger in his deficit speech before the break. Obama’s plan would shrink tax breaks as well as spending if the debt targets are not met. But Republicans want debt triggers tied to spending alone.

Reid also said that the Senate would have a chance to vote soon on the budget resolution authored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“Republicans seem to be in love with the Ryan budget,” so they will have a chance to vote for it, Reid said. He noted he gave Republicans the chance to vote on H.R. 1 — the House’s plan to cut $61 billion in spending.

Reid ripped Ryan’s budget, saying it would make Medicare recipients “have to go out and beg a doctor to take the voucher.”

Ryan’s plan would end traditional Medicare for people 54 and younger, requiring them to buy private insurance plans with help from a government subsidy instead.

Reid said that there are various tracks for the fiscal discussions, including the bipartisan negotiations to be led by Vice President Joseph Biden, the “gang of six” talks in the Senate and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad’s (D-N.D.) own budget resolution.

But he stopped short of saying that there would be a vote on a Democratic budget, which prompted a riposte from Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“Did he say when we’ll be voting on, you know, HIS budget? Or the President’s budget? Or any budget written by a Democrat? They didn’t pass one last year with 60 Democratic Senators, so I guess it’s not a surprise that he’s relying on a House Republican to do the work for them,” Stewart wrote in an email to reporters.

Reid also said he wants to quickly bring a bill to the Senate floor to eliminate subsidies for oil companies, but he complained that Republicans are blocking efforts to bring a broader energy bill to the floor.

And he reiterated his threat to kill the small-business bill if he can’t get a quick agreement on amendments. A dispute over an amendment offered by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to require a new small-business hurdle for new regulations tripped up the bill before this recess.

“I’ve been jerked around on that for more than a month,” Reid said of the small-business bill.