Remarks by Senator Harry Reid
International Association of Firefighters Legislative Conference
Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you President Schaitberger for your introduction and for all you and the IAFF do to make America stronger. And I want to thank you for all you did last year to help my good friend, Senator John Kerry.
When I was a boy, I – like all young people then and all young people today – grew up thinking of firefighters as heroes, as people who should be honored, and people who deserve our highest respect. I may not be young anymore, but I am here to tell you – that is still the way I feel.
All Americans – no matter what their party or their political persuasion – are united in their admiration for what firefighters do everyday and believe that you deserve all the support you need. And Democrats in the United States Senate are going to make sure that the Republicans who control Washington hear that message from America – loud and clear.
As Harold mentioned, I grew up in the high desert of Nevada. Searchlight is still the place I go back to and the place I call home.
At the time of 2000 census, Searchlight’s population was 576. Fewer people than there are in this room. It may not sound like a lot, but we’re a bulging metropolis compared to Cal-Nev-Ari, a town ten miles down the road. Back in 2000, they were at 278 people. And I’d like to spend a few moments telling you about someone that town has lost since then.
Bob Marsh was born in Michigan in 1923. When eighteen, America went to war. He fought on the western front in Europe. He was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. He came home, bought a house, raised a family. Eventually he moved to that small dot on the map in southern Nevada and became a firefighter.
On a Sunday night, a few years ago, he was responding to a car accident on Highway 95 when he died of a heart attack. He left behind six children, 13 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Bob Marsh, who beat back Hitler’s armies in Europe died in the line of duty. And we will never forget him and all the firefighters who gave their supreme sacrifice.
And Bob Marsh died at a time of war. Thirty-three days before he passed away on that lonely highway near the California border, 343 firefighters and thousands of other Americans died in a brutal attack on American soil.
Firefighters, police officers, and other first defenders are on the frontlines of the War on Terror – and it is long past time that you got the equipment and support you need, you deserve, and you’ve earned.
You don’t need me to tell you that the Republicans in Washington may talk a good game on protecting America – but their decisions are making our nation weaker and more vulnerable. It took pressure from Democrats to get them to create a Secretary of Homeland Security and a Director of National Intelligence, but they have not done nearly enough to help the firefighter and police officers on the ground.
Three and a half years after 9-11, fire departments don’t have enough radios for their firefighters and most firehouses are short-staffed. Cargo in our airports and seaports still isn’t getting screened. Terrorist watch lists still haven’t been simplified and the right information still isn’t available to the right people on the frontlines. First defenders still can’t radio each other in emergency situations. And firefighters, police officers, and air marshals have been laid off – shown the door when they should be shown our gratitude.
And the budget President Bush submitted to Congress this year, doesn’t fix those problems. It makes them worse.
Some may think that talking about the budget should be left to green eye-shade accountants wading through red ink. But when you get right down to it, a budget is a moral document. It opens a window through which we reveal our values — what we believe is important, fair and just.
And if Americans look though the window of this budget at President Bush and the Republicans, they won’t like what they see.
Because America has a moral compass, and the best you can say about the Washington Republicans is that they’re reading it upside down.
All of us know that morals and values are easy to talk about – and harder to live by. The real test comes when you have to make a choice.
Its one thing to talk about tolerance – but the test comes when you have to decide whether to speak out when you know there’s been discrimination.
Its one thing to talk about honesty – but we’ve all been there when we’ve had to decide whether to tell a friend something they don’t want to hear.
Its one thing to talk about courage – but its another to choose the life you’ve chosen: putting yourselves at risk to save the lives of others.
The budget is a place where America’s government has to make those kinds of choices and moral decisions.
We need a war-time budget. But President Bush’s budget makes America less safe and our nation less secure.
We need a budget that honors our values. But President Bush’s budget fails to reward hard work and makes it harder for parents to raise their children.
We need a budget that prepares our nation for the economy of the future. But President Bush’s budget saddles our economy and the next generation with an even greater burden of debt.
Just look at this budget’s effect on our homeland security. It targets firefighter assistance and cuts those grants by 31 percent – below the already low amount from last year. It completely eliminates Byrne Grants which help in the battle against international drug traffic. And it takes more money away from already strapped states – which means more firefighters laid off and less support for those on the job.
When it comes to the COPS program – so important in protecting America from terrorism and attack – the budget has good news and bad news. The good news is that they are not trying to eliminate the COPS program. The bad news is that they are cutting it by 96 percent. Kind of makes you wonder why they decided to leave that four percent there. Maybe we’re supposed to be grateful.
The gulf between America’s values and the Bush budget, begins with our security. But it doesn’t end there. Because when you leave the firehouse you go back to home and worry about your kids’ schools and know your neighbors are worried about their jobs.
And, once again, it comes down to moral choices.
The Bush budget chooses tax giveaways for corporations over college loans for kids.
The Bush budget chooses loopholes that let big businesses get away with avoiding taxes over aid to family farmers and rural communities.
The Bush budget chooses the companies that dodge their responsibilities by setting up fake headquarters in Bermuda over the partnership that is helping small businesses create manufacturing jobs and keep them here at home.
Those choices aren’t being made based on the kinds of values you and I believe in or the kinds of values we try to pass on to our children.
And I believe fiscal responsibility itself is also about values. Because there is nothing moral about forcing our children to pay off our debts.
We Democrats worked so hard to eliminate the deficit…and its Republican policies that have added trillions to the debt – in effect, a “birth tax” of $36,000 on every child that is born.
The Bush budget claims to cut our deficit in half, but it doesn’t count the future costs of the war in Iraq. It doesn’t count the nearly $5 trillion his Social Security plan costs. And it doesn’t count the full cost of his tax cuts. When this Bush budget gets placed in the Library of Congress, it ought to get filed under fiction.
Working for a budget that lives by America’s morals instead of mocking them, won’t be easy. The Washington Republicans will fight us every step of the way. But no matter how hard it is, it won’t hold a candle to what you and firefighters across America do every day. I look forward to working with you in the months ahead to push for a budget that makes America safer and honors our values. Our doors are always open and our hearts and hopes are with you each and every day.