Nevada’s Reid tells Bush to tread lightly

Sen. Harry Reid, the leading candidate for Senate minority leader, plans to oppose vigorously President Bush’s second-term agenda, especially on such issues as tort reform and Social Security partial privatization.

“There’s not going to be a lay-down,” Mr. Reid said of congressional Democrats. “The president knows that he’s not going to get anything done unless he works with us.”

In an interview Friday with Las Vegas One, a local cable news channel, the Nevada Democrat acknowledged that Mr. Bush could “jam a few things through” Congress without the Democrats.

But Mr. Reid made clear that Democrats could derail the bulk of the Bush agenda, despite the fact that Republicans padded their majorities in the House and Senate in last week’s election.

The day after the contest, Mr. Bush telephoned Mr. Reid and other influential Democrats, including the president’s vanquished opponent, Sen. John Kerry, to discuss the importance of bipartisanship.

“He’s going to continue to reach out across partisan lines,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday. “You can expect the president will reach out to all those who want to work together to accomplish our shared priorities.”

Mr. Reid told the cable station he was receptive to the call, although he also issued a warning to Mr. Bush.

“Mr. President, I’m going to work with you every chance I can,” Mr. Reid recalled having said. “But I’m also going to tell you when I think you’re wrong, and when I think you’re doing the wrong thing.”

Asked by Las Vegas One whether he shared the president’s priorities of tort reform, tax simplification, Social Security partial privatization and higher education standards, Mr. Reid said his own priorities were reining in the costs of gasoline, college and health care.

“Before we get into the so-called ‘big-picture’ items, we have to worry about people’s pocketbooks,” he said.

But Mr. McClellan said reform of Social Security is an urgent imperative.

“It was something that was debated and discussed at length during the campaign,” he said. “The American people spoke very clearly that they support the president’s agenda.

“And that includes the president’s views on allowing younger workers to invest a small portion of their Social Security funds in personal retirement accounts,” he added. “And we will move forward on it, working closely with Congress.”

Mr. Reid, however, showed little interest in the president’s plan.

“For someone who wants to privatize Social Security, they’re going to have to look for somebody to go to bed with other than me. I’m not going to do that,” he said. “Privatizing Social Security will destroy Social Security as we know it.”

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