WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid said Sunday he is optimistic that Congress can avoid a government shutdown at the end of this week, but only if Republican leaders stand up to conservative Tea Party elements.
"I always look at the glass being half full," Reid said. "I think we can work this out. It is so easy to do. In Washington terms, it is a few dollars short of being able to do this. It is a question of how do we do it."
But speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," the Senate majority leader from Nevada continued applying pressure on his counterpart in the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. He said Boehner has allowed Tea Party conservatives to enjoy more influence than they merit.
"The Republican leadership in the House has to make a decision whether they are going to do the right thing for the country or do the right thing for the Tea Party," Reid said on the news talk show. "The Tea Party is not looked at very strongly around the country. The only attention they get is in the House of Representatives, and they should not be getting that attention."
Asked by host Bob Schieffer if he was suggesting Boehner and veteran Republicans were "afraid of the Tea Party," Reid said, "That is a pretty good choice of words. The answer is yes."
GRAHAM DEFENDS THE TEA PARTY
Appearing separately on the program, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., defended the Tea Party, calling it "an important part of the Republican coalition."
Graham said Republicans "are doing what the American people wanted in the last election, trying to reduce the size of the government, which is a goal shared by the Tea Party."
He added, "Our Democratic friends are hanging on to old ideas that every time you try to reduce spending you are being cruel and mean."
Reid said the Tea Party influence was seen in a House-passed spending bill that called for a record $61 billion in cuts to government programs this year. That bill is one of the elements on the table in negotiations involving congressional leaders and the White House.
Reid said that the bill was "mean-spirited" and that many of its cuts and riders were meant to send "an ideological message" rather than to cut the deficit.
Vice President Joe Biden said last week that there has been agreement on the framework of a deal for the rest of fiscal 2011 that would cut roughly $30 billion. But Boehner says no deal has been reached.
The latest short-term funding for the government expires at midnight Friday, which would trigger a shutdown of "nonessential" services unless a new deal passes Congress and is signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Graham predicted that a compromise will be reached to avert a shutdown, fueled by "red-state Democrats who do not want to take this fight any further."
REID ADDRESSES TUMULT IN ARAB WORLD
Besides being questioned on the looming government shutdown, Reid was quizzed by Schieffer on tumult in the Arab world.
Reid said the United States should not take the lead on providing arms to rebels battling Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He said he and Obama spoke about that in a phone call Saturday.
"At this stage we really don't know who the leaders of this rebel group are," Reid said, adding that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said other countries "can do it more easily that we can."
Reid also said he did not see the United States getting involved militarily in Syria, where President Bashar Assad is the latest Arab strongman facing pro-democracy protests. Assad took steps this weekend to form a new government in an attempt to quell opposition.
Reid said Syria, which has been a disruptive force in the Middle East, takes orders from Iran, "so this country is not really a country of its own."
"The sooner there is stability there, the better off we are," he said. "I hope re-establishing a new Cabinet will help, but I don't see us getting involved there militarily."
Reid also criticized Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose recent burning of the Quran set off violent protests in Afghanistan. At least 22 people were killed in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in recent days, including seven U.N. staff members.
Reid said Jones was seeking publicity and he got it.
"I think people should understand the consequences of what they do under the guise of religion," the senator said.
But Reid said he will await the judgment of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before deciding whether to propose a resolution to condemn the pastor.
"We will take a look at this, of course," Reid said. "Whether we need hearings on this, I don't know."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.