WASHINGTON -- The Tea Party movement will not be a lasting force in politics and "will disappear" as soon as the economy improves, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted in an interview that aired Sunday.
Reid said the Tea Party was born out of discontent with the worst economy since the Great Depression but will vanish "as soon as the economy gets better, and the economy is getting better all the time."
The Tea Party helped propel Sharron Angle to a victory in the state's Republican U.S. Senate primary last year, but she lost by 5.6 percentage points against Reid in November.
"I don't think the Tea Party had the vigor and support that people thought it would," Reid said during a segment of NBC's "Meet the Press" that was taped Friday. "There were a couple of them (who) won but most of them lost."
He added: "What the election showed me is that we had a terribly bad economy, and that's where the Tea Party came from, and that the American people want us to work together."
On other topics, the Senate majority leader dismissed GOP efforts to repeal health care reform and said there was no need to make changes in Social Security.
An upcoming vote in the Republican-controlled House to repeal the health care law passed by Democrats last year is a " gesture of futility," said Reid, who this past week announced that he will not allow a repeal vote to be held in the Senate.
"Was the bill we passed perfect? Of course not," Reid said, adding that Democrats plan to hold hearings on possible changes.
Reid scoffed at incoming Republican lawmakers who campaigned to shake up Washington . Asked about the GOP-organized reading of the Constitution in the House last week, he said: "I am glad they recognized we have a Constitution. I am glad they read it. I would hope they understand what the Constitution is all about.
"The Constitution itself was a result of compromise," he added. "All these new members who are flexing their muscles about the things they are going to do to the country should understand we are going to have to continue down the path we have for many years, and that is work together to get things done."
Reid said it is imperative for Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit to allow the government to continue borrowing to pay creditors. The Treasury Department warned that the limit will be reached sometime this spring.
"We can't back out on the money we owe the rest of the world," Reid said. "I am saying today that we have to raise the debt ceiling."
Although he said "there is no alternative" but to incur more debt, Reid could not explain a vote he cast in 2006 when the Bush administration proposed raising the debt ceiling. He voted against it, as did then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
"I have been in Congress a long time, and 99 percent of the time I have voted to increase the debt ceiling, and we have to do it this time," Reid said.
On Social Security, Reid said the payment program is "fully funded for the next 40 years" and should not be altered in any overhaul to address the debt.
"Social Security is a program that works," Reid said. "Stop picking on Social Security. ... It is not in crisis. That is something that is perpetuated by people who don't like government."
He said he would not support raising the retirement age or tying Social Security benefits to a person's income level.
"I am not going to go to any of those backdoor methods to whack Social Security recipients," Reid said. "We have a lot of things we can do with this debt that is a problem. But one of the places I am not going to be part of picking on is Social Security."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.