WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid on Sunday expressed hope, but not much more, that Congress can set a new tone of cooperation this year.
Leaving any olive branches at home, Reid blamed Republicans during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" for the record-low public approval ratings of Congress. The Senate majority leader from Nevada said three different times during a 15-minute segment that the GOP has pursued "obstructionism on steroids" in a drive to defeat President Barack Obama.
"You can be against having someone re-elected but not have that as your No. 1 goal, and that is what the problem is," Reid said.
Whether Republicans are on board or not, Reid said the Senate's agenda for the year is to "create jobs, to have the richest of the rich contribute to the problems we have in the country" by paying slightly more in taxes for job initiatives.
Reid, making a rare appearance on a Sunday morning interview show, was pressed by host David Gregory on how he or Obama might cut through the partisanship that has plagued Capitol Hill.
Obama can't be blamed, Reid said. The president "bent over backwards" to solicit Republicans during the first 2½ years of his presidency, by inviting them to the White House and venturing to Capitol Hill, without success.
Reid said he and Obama finally concluded Democrats must act alone if anything is to be accomplished. But Obama still struggled to get most portions of a new jobs package through Congress in the fall.
Reid said extending the two-month reduction in Social Security payroll taxes for workers will be the top goal when Congress returns over the next two weeks, and he hoped Republicans in the House were sufficiently chastened by bad reviews for their handling of the matter before the holidays.
Republicans held out for a yearlong extension, but with Christmas fast approaching and the tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, were forced to accept a short-term deal.
"That was disastrous for them," Reid said. "I hope the Republicans have learned a lesson. I would hope they understand not everything has to be a fight."
Reid's message wasn't all negative. Despite gridlock, "we have been able to accomplish a lot of good things," he said. According to congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, "we had the most productive Congress in the last 75 years."
Reid said he was hopeful of advancing job-creating highway and aviation reauthorization bills. But he said more work needs to be done on one bill set for early votes that would give government stronger powers to curb online piracy by forcing service providers to block access to pirate sites.
Reid said he was persuaded by Silicon Valley companies that raised objections that the Protect IP Act would stifle growth on the Internet.
"In recent weeks, organizations like Google and Facebook and others have said there are some problems this could create and I think they are right," Reid said. "We need to work on this. It's important we do this on a fair basis."
In other matters:
■ Reid defended Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray to become head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, over Republican objections that Congress was not technically "in recess."
On the same day, Obama named two members to the National Labor Relations Board who had been blocked by Republicans.
"I think the president did the right thing," Reid said. "I am confident the president's recess appointments will be upheld in the courts."
Reid noted that he was the one who initiated the practice of Congress not officially recessing, to prevent President George W. Bush from filling controversial posts.
Bush did not challenge the practice, Reid said, "because we worked with him. We gave President Bush hundreds and hundreds of people. He didn't have to worry about recess appointments because we were working with him."
■ Despite the seeming muscle of tea party Republicans during budget fights in 2011, Reid stuck to a prediction he made last year that tea party influence will wane as the economy improves.
"The tea party is dying out as the economy is getting better slowly," Reid said. "No question about it. I hope the tea party doesn't have the influence this year they had in the previous year because it has been really bad for this country."
■ Reid said Democrats "are looking pretty good" heading into this year's Senate elections, but he did not make any predictions.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.