Senate Democrats

REID CALLS FOR THE SENATE TO ADDRESS THE CONCERNS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

Senate Democratic Leader reaffirms commitment to comprehensive immigration reform

Washington, DCSenate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following remarks on the Floor of the U.S. Senate, urging Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to use the limited time remaining in the 109th Congress to solve the most important problems facing the lives of the American people and reaffirming the Democratic commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, President Bush and his Republican Leadership have chosen to devote the limited time left to partisan pet projects.

In a letter to Senator Frist sent earlier today, Reid called on Republicans to put aside partisanship and join Democrats in a bipartisan effort to address the issues that matter most to the American people, issues like immigration reform and national security.

The text of Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, is below.

Floor Remarks of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid

As Prepared

Monday, April 24, 2006

I spent the recess traveling Nevada.

I visited cities and towns with names like Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, Searchlight, Pahrump, Reno, Fernley, Fallon, Yerington, and Hawthorne.

These places are all very different, but not once–in any of these cities–did someone talk to me about eliminating the estate tax, or flag burning, or gay marriage. Instead, throughout Nevada, I was constantly asked about skyrocketing gas prices, the intractable war in Iraq, taxes, immigration, education, health care, and homeland security.

Mr. President, I share this report of my recess because I am concerned about the Senate schedule in the coming months.

All of us in the Senate–Democrats and Republicans–spent the last two weeks listening to Americans talk about the issues they care about, but now that we’re back in Washington, when we look for these issues on the Senate Calendar, too many of them are no where to be found.

According to what I have read, the Majority Leader is clearing time on the Senate schedule for the “pet” issues of the right wing, issues like a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, a constitutional amendment to establish a federal definition of marriage, and the Estate Tax reduction.

Each of these controversial issues has merit. But do they trump gas prices? Homeland Security? And the Iraq war–which in a few short months will have taken longer than World War II and has already cost America significantly more?

Do these issues have precedence over public education, over our polluted skies, or the country’s shaky economy?

Does a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage have a higher priority than a debate on high gas prices? No.

Does a constitutional amendment on flag burning have more precedence than immigration? No.

We have only about 15 very short Senate weeks left. Regardless of your position on the Majority Leader’s constitutional amendments–and they are serious issues of importance to millions–surely we can all agree they are not among the most pressing problems facing America today, and that the Senate’s attention is best focused on the needs of the American people in these few remaining weeks.

This morning–in a letter–I asked the Majority Leader to drop his plan to bring partisan issues before the Senate and to commit to bringing the people’s priorities to the floor instead. This afternoon, I repeat that request. Democrats are committed to working with the Republicans in a bipartisan way, if only they will work with us to tackle the real, urgent issues facing our country.

Mr. President, Americans are frustrated with the direction America is headed, and they are equally frustrated with the performance of the Bush White House and this Bush Republican Congress.

With just a few months remaining before we adjourn, the 109th Congress is going into the history books as the country’s least productive Congress in more than two centuries. In fact, the 109th Congress is on track to exceed the infamous “Do-Nothing Congress” of 1948.

This Congress, we have worked on Class Action and Bankruptcy–legislation that benefits Big Business. But done nothing to help you–the American people.

The Senate–thanks to Democrats–did pass lobbying and ethics reform legislation, known as the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. But we’ve not yet heard a word from the House on this issue. And–passing important legislation like the Honest Government Act has proved to be the exception, not the rule.

Congress hasn’t passed a budget. We haven’t even completed last year’s budget. And, I might add again, the ethics legislation we passed in the Senate has yet to be considered by the House.

America can do better.

This week, the supplemental appropriations bill is on the floor. It is important legislation–especially since President Bush refuses to put the costs of the War in Iraq or the costs of helping Katrina’s victims his budget, so he can hide the costs and his horrible fiscal record.

In spite of the President’s budget gimmicks, Democrats look forward to the debate on the supplemental. We have a number of tough and smart amendments that we will offer to protect the American people, address the situation in Iraq, and provide relief from the energy crisis at home.

When the Senate is finished with the supplemental, Democrats will insist the Majority Leader put his partisan agenda on the back burner and continue to focus the Senate on issues of urgent national importance. We owe it to the American people to focus on their needs, and not waste a single day focusing on partisan needs. That means setting aside an issue like the marriage amendment, and tackling the issue of gas prices instead.

The price of gas has increased 100 percent in the last five years. 35 cents in the last month. And 10 cents over the weekend.

Families are paying over three dollars a gallon in many states, and prices are expected to increase another 25 cents before the summer is over.

Today, families are paying 100 dollars a week to fill their tanks with fuel, only to drive to work or pick up their children from school.

These prices are taking an enormous toll on the pocketbooks of hardworking Americans. And they are even more difficult for families to swallow given the headlines about how Exxon sent their CEO into retirement with a 400 million dollar golden parachute–that’s nearly a half a billion dollars to retire!

There’s nothing wrong with corporate profits and I’m all for Americans having retirement security, but does anyone think it is fair to have consumers pay 100 dollars a week to fill their fuel tanks, while the Big Energy bosses fill their bank tanks with hundreds of millions of dollars?

We–on a bipartisan basis–need to work to provide consumers relief at the pump. It is much more important than a symbolic constitutional amendment.

We ask, on behalf of America, that the Majority move to legislation to allow us to pass a Federal law with the teeth and the resources to go after price gougers, profiteers and energy market speculators.

We ask the Republican majority to debate a windfall profits tax. With a windfall profits tax, we can take Big Oil’s excess profits and give them right back to consumers in rebates, or use them to build alternative and renewable fuel facilities. If the greedy oil companies won’t invest their billions in profit in delivering affordable domestic fuels for America, then maybe America needs to take some of those windfall profits and put them to better use.

We also ask the Republican Majority to bring before the Senate legislation that will secure America’s energy future, so we can put an end to the cycle of higher and higher gas prices. If the Majority so moved, the Senate could develop a more aggressive national energy policy that would deliver affordable, clean energy from domestic sources now, not in thirty years or whenever the oil company CEOs decide the time is right.

It is terrible to think that American consumers are sending hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to pay for oil and some of that money may be getting into the hands of violent anti-U.S. groups.

Which leads us to national security–another issue that deserves considerable time on the Floor in the remaining months.

I am confident we’ll ultimately pass the supplemental, and the Majority has pledged to bring the Defense Authorization bill to the Floor. But when? Do we want to wait as we did last year until the Fall–leaving our troops, our veterans and their families without the resources they need?

Unlike last year, I hope the Defense Authorization bill will not be pushed aside for other less important business.

I also hope we can pass last year’s Intelligence Authorization bill. Right now, we’re in danger of not passing that important bill for the first time in 28 years, because Republicans have been unwilling to hold the Bush White House accountable for its conduct in Iraq and the War on Terror.

We also need to tackle the problem of health care this year. Surely we can agree the health care problems of our country are far more important than a handful of amendments to please the right wing?

We need a real health care debate – - not a two or three day mini-debate. The Majority Leader said he will bring to the Senate Floor one health care bill – the Enzi Bill.

The Enzi bill threatens existing coverage for everyone who has state-regulated health insurance. It’s touted as a cure for the problems small businesses have in providing coverage to their employees, but it would actually expose small businesses to fraud and leave self-employed individuals with the same problems they have now.

We all agree that small businesses need health care relief, but the Enzi approach is not the way to move forward. I understand that Senator Durbin has a bill in committee that would provide small businesses with the same kind of options Senators have. Why don’t we bring this bill to the Floor as well?

With the Enzi and the Durbin bills, we can have a real debate about health care. And we can also consider other problems facing our health care system, like lowering drug prices and health care costs, expanding coverage, and fixing the President’s botched Medicare drug program.

And if we’re going to talk about health care, isn’t it about time we got to stem cell legislation? We’re approaching May 24th–the one year anniversary of when the House passed their stem cell bill–and we still haven’t seen it here in the Senate.

Ask any of the Nevadans I visited if they are more interested in seeing the Senate spend its time on the issues of stem cells–an issue that offers hope to millions of Americans suffering from heart disease, Parkison’s, ALS, and Alzheimer’s–OR if they would rather see the Senate spend its remaining days debating same sex marriage, the estate tax reduction and flag desecration.

The answer is obvious. I would hope the Majority Leader–who said he supports stem cell research–would allow us to move forward with the House Bill.

Stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans, and the Senate must not stand in its way.

And let’s not forget immigration.

President Bush likes to play the blame game on immigration and many other issues. Isn’t it about time we moved beyond that? Isn’t it about time that we passed comprehensive immigration reform that will secure our borders and secure our country?

Before we left, we had a bipartisan immigration deal that was blocked by a handful of Republican Senators. That deal would have sealed our porous borders, given 12 million undocumented workers a reason to come out of the shadows, and provided personnel to enforce our laws, so existing “employer sanctions” would be more than just two words.

The Senate can move forward on immigration if President Bush and the Majority Leader will stand up to those Republicans who are filibustering reform, and tell them to quit standing in the way of America’s security.

Let’s agree on a reasonable process for moving forward and get immigration reform done. Democrats are ready and waiting.

Finally, if we’re going to do taxes, let’s do something that will make a difference for those who need it. Talk to any economist and they will tell you that in America today, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed.

Why don’t we do something to provide tax relief for the middle-class?

We can start by fixing the AMT. The AMT was originally established to ensure that millionaires paid their fair share. But because AMT income levels were not indexed for inflation, it has essentially become a tax increase for millions of middle-class families. This was never the AMT’s purpose, and we should fix it this month.

Tax fairness should be the Senate’s focus, not immoral, unfair tax breaks that will benefit a privileged few.

Mr. President, in the weeks ahead, Democrats are ready to work with the Majority on the real issues facing our country. From high gas prices to immigration to improving our national security, we want to put politics aside and take up the real work facing our country.

With the right priorities and the right commitment from the Majority, we can move America in a new direction and give the American people the real solutions they deserve.

America can do better. And we can do it together.

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