As the Senate considered a $59 billion supplemental spending package, Senate Majority Leader Reid Wednesday met with leaders of the presidential deficit-reduction commission.
The meeting came as the federal debt was on verge of surpassing $13 trillion, according to the Treasury Department.
Reid bristled when he was asked how Democrats' talk of deficit reduction could be taken seriously as Congress has passed billions of dollars in unoffset spending, such as the supplemental and with the "extenders" bill being crafted in the House waiting in the wings.
"Emergencies come up," Reid said of the supplemental. "We have floods, fires, earthquakes and those are always denoted as emergency spending."
Spending deemed an emergency does not have to be offset under the budget rules.
Reid blamed Republican policies put in place under former President George W. Bush for much of the deficit.
"We know the financial hole that this president found himself in, in November of 2008," Reid said.
He said Congress had to act to prevent a "worldwide" collapse of the economy, but "that is little comfort to people" who have lost their jobs, and homes, "but things are getting better. Are they good? No, but they are getting better."
He also pointed out that Democrats led the effort to give pay/go the force of law. Pay/go, which requires that any increases in mandatory spending or tax cuts be offset, is cited for helping create budget surpluses in the 1990s.
"I think we deserve a lot of credit for that," Reid said.
Reid also praised Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., the panel's co-chairmen, for leading the 18-member group that will craft a package of spending cuts and tax increases to send to Congress.
"This is a difficult assignment," Reid said, adding that the commission should focus on "everything" in the budget.
House and Senate Democratic leaders have agreed to take up the commission's proposals. But in order to agree on a package, 14 of the 18 members must vote for it.
"It's not going to be easy, but I wish them the very best," Reid said.
Reid noted that he plans to help the commission but did not say what he intends to do.
"We've talked about some things privately in here that I think we can do to help, and I am going to do that," Reid said, without elaborating.
Following the briefing, Bowles and Simpson did not elaborate on what Reid has in mind.
"We'll see," Bowles said when asked about the issue. "We didn't ask for anything."
The commission does not have much of a budget and has borrowed most of its staff from Congress and elsewhere.
Bowles and Simpson said the panel is exploring a suggestion from Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who wrote the panel Tuesday recommending that they call on the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Concord Coalition, the Heritage Foundation and the Urban Institute to help the group hold hearings and win support.
"This is a problem for all of us," Bowles said. "Unless we do something to rein in the debt, there is not going to be any money for anything else. This is everybody's problem."