Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid at the Center for American Progress:
I went to college in the 1960s and studied government. One of the things I remember discussing was a quote by Lord Acton:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”
It’s been many years since I graduated college, but I finally understand what Lord Acton meant.
Republicans today control the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. They have absolute power, and it has corrupted their Party and led to the culture of corruption that we see now in Washington.
We have the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, admonished three times for ethics violations and under indictment now for money laundering.
We have the White House, where an employee has been indicted for the first time in 135 years.
There’s Karl Rove, who is under investigation… and David Safavian, the man appointed by President Bush to be charge in charge of hundreds of billions of dollars in government contracts who was led away in handcuffs because of his dealings with Jack Abramoff and others.
And then, we have the Republican “K-Street Project, which has invited lobbyists inside our nation’s Capitol….as long as they are willing to pay the right price.
The Republican abuse of power comes at great cost to our country, and we can see it in the present state of our union. Special interests and the well-connected have grown stronger, while our national security… our economy… our health care… and our government have grown weaker.
What is the state of our union in 2006?
We have a national security policy that protects Halliburton’s bottom-line with no-bid contracts | but sends our troops to Iraq without body armor.
We have Vice President Cheney’s energy policy that helped Big Oil make a hundred billion dollars in profit in 2005 | but this same policy has America paying 70 dollars for a barrel of oil and families paying twice as much for heat and gasoline as did in late 2001.
We have students priced out of college by skyrocketing tuition – and Republicans in Congress who want to cut student loans in order to pay for special interest tax breaks.
We have 46 million Americans without health insurance and poverty numbers on the rise – but a President whose economic policies benefit the wealthy and well-connected.
This is what happens to the state of our union when leaders put special interests ahead of the America’s interest.
These are the costs of Republican corruption.
The question…. is will President Bush acknowledge these costs when he delivers his State of the Union next Tuesday night?
If history is any indicator, the answer is no.
Watching the video earlier, I was reminded of another lesson from college, this one taken from George Orwell and his book, 1984.
In that book, Orwell spoke of “doublespeak” – naming something just the opposite, in order to cover how unpleasant it is in reality.
As we saw in the video, the President has been giving us doublespeak for years. He utters platitudes about helping Americans, when he’s really helping his special interest friends.
When he wanted to let energy companies release more pollution into the air, he called it the “Clear Skies Initiative.”
When he wanted to give tax breaks to his special interest friends – even though it meant adding more than $50 billion to the deficit, he called it the “Deficit Reduction Act.”
His “Leave No Child Behind Act” is leaving children behind every day because he refuses to fund it. And his new Medicare drug benefit hardly resembles a “benefit” for seniors.
Tuesday night, it is time for President Bush to end to this pattern of deceit. In his State of the Union, it is not enough for him to declare that the “state of our union is strong.”
America can do better, and only the pessimistic would suggest anything less.
In his speech, the President needs to tell the American people what he is going to do to end the culture of corruption and lay out solutions that will make America strong.
The President can start with national security.
In his 2005 address, the President said: “In the three and half years since September 11th, 2001, we have taken unprecedented actions to protect Americans.”
It took only seven months and the winds of Katrina to prove he was wrong.
Americans have heard tough talk from President Bush over the last five years, but the reality is, his policies have made America less safe.
The President’s failed record speaks for itself.
Just over four years ago, Osama Bin Laden attacked America and took 3,000 lives. The President said at the time that he wanted Bin Laden “dead or alive.”
But four years later, Bin Laden is still on the loose and continues to threaten America. Meanwhile, the number of terrorist attacks across the world has increased, and we now face the risk that Iraq will become what it was not before the war: a haven and launching pad for international terrorism.
Four years ago, the President declared Iraq, Iran, and North Korea an “axis of evil,” whose nuclear threats we needed to preemptively strike.
But four years… 23 hundred American lives… and more than 250 billion dollars later, we have found that Iraq had no nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the problem of Iran has been outsourced to Europeans, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has likely quadrupled.
Four years ago , the President said in his State of the Union: “America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity” which include the “the rule of law.”
But four years later, we’ve heard that the President has ignored the rule of law in order to spy on Americans. We’ve also found that the White House given the green light to torture, even though it violated our laws and made our troops less safe.
After reviewing the Republican record, I know why Ken Mehlman and Karl Rove want to play politics with national security in 2006 instead of having an honest debate about who can keep Americans safe. It’s because this is a debate Republicans cannot win.
Republicans run good campaigns, but when it comes to actually governing and protecting Americans, they have a record of incompetence.
Democrats know that keeping Americans safe means more than talking tough.
It means providing our troops proper planning and equipment, like body armor.
It means securing our ports, nuclear plants and cargo holds.
It means making 2006 a year of significant transition in Iraq.
And- it means doing everything in our power to protect, not trample, the rights set out in this document.
Tuesday night, the President must unite the nation behind our most important goal – keeping our people and way of life safe. We need to hear honesty and humility from the Commander in Chief, not swagger from the Campaigner in Chief.
After national security, the President needs to talk honestly about what he has done to the economy.
In his 2003 State of the Union Address, the President said: “We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and to other generations.”
That might not be doublespeak, but it is deeply dishonest.
President Bush is “passing along” problems to other generations. He’s bankrupting our country and placing an enormous tax on our children and grandchildren, simply so he can hand out tax breaks to special interests and the wealthy.
Next month, because of George Bush’s reckless spending, America will hit a debt ceiling of 8.2 trillion dollars
In 2005, we had the third-highest budget deficit ever – 319 billion dollars.
Two years earlier, we had the second-highest budget deficit – $378 billion.
And in 2004 – the year President Bush was re-elected – we had the highest budget deficit ever – - $412 billion.
In baseball, it’s three strikes, you’re out. But under the rules of this White House, that fiscal record is a home run for special interests.
George Bush has no one to blame but himself for today’s fiscal mess. Not 9/11… Not a weak economy… And certainly not the Democrats.
Democrats want to return to the responsible fiscal policies of the 1990s – led by Bill Clinton – that yielded a budget surplus. We believe in restoring “pay as you go” rules. We’ve fought the president’s irresponsible spending, and we’ve promoted a pro-growth agenda with tax fairness for hard-working Americans.
We have a proven record. The Republicans do not.
Tuesday night, the president has the opportunity to show that he understands what is happening to our economy. He needs to acknowledge the anxiety felt by middle-class families, who are seeing their wages go down and their costs go up.
And he needs to speak honestly about how he’s going to put our fiscal house in order, so we do not pass his enormous debt on to our children and grandchildren.
Next, the President needs to talk about how he’s going to fix his bait and switch Medicare drug program.
In his 2003 State of the Union, President Bush called Medicare the “binding commitment of a caring society.” Three years later, we can see it is not seniors the president cares about.
Democrats have always supported adding a drug benefit to Medicare, but nearly all of us voted against the Medicare Bill of 2003 because it was clear that President Bush’s plan would help drug companies more than seniors.
Unfortunately, time has proven us right. The state of our union today is that we have seniors begging in the streets for the medicine they need.
We need to fix Medicare and do it now.
Last week, Senate Democrats introduced a plan to fix the Medicare crisis this White House has created.
Tuesday night, we must hear a similar plan from President Bush.
The President’s fourth obligation is to talk honestly about energy.
In previous State of the Unions, George Bush has offered lofty rhetoric about making America “less dependent on foreign energy.” But for the last five years, America has moved in the opposite direction.
In 2000, 58.2 percent of the oil we consumed was imported. Today, that has increased to nearly 62 percent.
As our dependence on foreign oil has gone up, so have prices. Heating costs have risen by more than $500 per month for some families since George Bush’s first full winter in the White House, and the cost of gasoline has increased by 56 percent – with no end in sight.
Democrats have offered a series of proposals to make America energy independent by 2020, to create new jobs and to strengthen our country.
Tuesday night, it’s time for the President to turn his rhetoric on into action. He needs to level with the American people and admit that making us “less dependent on foreign energy” will take more than giveaways to Big Oil – - giveaways exemplified by the Republicans attempt to break Senate rules in the middle of the night and open the pristine Alaskan wilderness to drilling.
We stopped them, and I’m glad.
Finally, we must hear the President commit to honest leadership.
In his 2000 campaign, George Bush promised to bring “dignity” to the White House… but we’ve since found that he brought Jack Abramoff instead.
President Bush needs to quit stonewalling about his White House’s connection to corruption, and finally tell us how he’s going to reform Washington.
Honest leadership is not a partisan goal. It is the key to a stronger union. When we make leaders accountable to people, not lobbyists, there is no limit to how far America can go.
We can be energy independent… have affordable health care… a strong economy… and real security.
Last Wednesday, Democrats unveiled our Honest Leadership and Open Government act.
I assure you – - that is not Orwellian doublespeak. Our bill does exactly what it says.
Tuesday night, President Bush must show that he is committed to similar reforms.
When the President speaks next week, he faces a choice: offer a fresh start or more of the same.
He can continue to speak in platitudes, like we’ve seen in the last five State of the Unions, or he can choose to come clean. On Iraq… On Corruption… And how the Republican Party’s wrong priorities are holding America back.
2006 can be a year of promise, all it will take is a commitment to honest leadership from President Bush when he speaks in seven days.
He needs to join Democrats in putting progress ahead of politics, so we can have a state of the union as honest and strong as the American people.