Senate Democrats

REID KEYNOTES TAKE BACK AMERICA 2006 CONFERENCE

Highlights need for strategy for success in Iraq and energy independence in America

Washington, DC–Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the keynote address at the opening lunch of the Take Back America 2006 conference, organized by the Campaign for America’s Future. With America facing new threats at home and abroad, the priorities of America’s government should be clear. Unfortunately, Bush Republicans in Washington are more focused on their own problems instead. Senator Reid called for new strategies to make America independent through Democrats’ Clean EDGE Act, and for President Bush to use new developments in Iraq to finally offer a strategy for success.

The text of Senator Reid’s speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

It’s good to be at Take Back America 2006!

It’s an honor to be here, and an honor to appear before of such an impressive panel.

Jim Ringo Larry Schweiger, Leo Gerard and my friend, Robert Redford, have done so much to bring attention to progressive causes in America, like our topic today – energy independence.

Energy is an issue that’s been in the news for months, but the panelists you’ll hear from next, have been warning us about it–and proposing real solutions–for years.

Before I say more, let me first address another subject in the news, Iraq. As we speak, President Bush is meeting with his Cabinet to discuss last week’s developments – the killing of terrorist leader Zarqawi and the completion of the Iraqi cabinet.  

With close to 2500 U.S. troops killed, thousands seriously wounded, and the war now costing over $8 billion per month, these developments represented good news in a place we don’t often hear it.   

As the Iraqis turn to Baghdad and their new government for answers about the future, we turn to President Bush.

Last year, the United States Congress–on a bipartisan basis–passed legislation demanding President Bush make 2006 the year of “significant transition in Iraq.” But thus far, 2006 has been the year of “mixed messages” instead. 

While the President’s commanders keep hinting towards “fairly substantial troop reductions” this spring and summer, and of an internal goal of dropping U.S. force levels to 100,000 troops by the end of the year, President Bush as–as recently as last month–sent in more troops to handle the surge in violence.

The American people are understandably frustrated and confused.  They deserve a plan from the President – one that provides our troops with an exit strategy from this seemingly intractable conflict. 

It is no longer sufficient to say “we will stand down as the Iraqis stand up.”  That tiresome phrase is not only vague, it is not accurate.  With 275,000 Iraq security forces now in place, we have not stood down. 

We know now that the President did not have a plan going into the war; now–in the fourth year of this war–will he finally develop one to come out? 

After several years of vague and inaccurate statements that conflict with the situation on the ground, it’s time for clarity.  At the conclusion of this week’s cabinet meetings, I call upon the President to finally set forth his position on U.S. troop levels.

The country will be listening and watching very closely at the close of the summit for evidence of a winning strategy.  We cannot continue to be bogged down in Iraq as threats to our freedom around the world grow – these threats will not hold until we are ready to meet them.  Iraq is not a matter for “future presidents” as President Bush said.  It is his war and his responsibility. 

But of course, Iraq is not the only issue threatening America today.

We are also threatened by global warming–a condition our President won’t even acknowledge, let alone try to reverse.

We are threatened by a crisis in health care–which extends from the irrational and ideological ban on stem cell research to the 46 million uninsured – six million more than when President Bush took office.

We are threatened by the rising price of education, with college tuition up nearly 50 percent.

We are threatened by the implementation failures of Medicare Part D, the nine trillion dollar debt, the incompetence of Katrina, the loss of good jobs…

And perhaps most of all, we are threatened by Republicans in Washington who have brushed aside all these issues, so they can focus on their own problems.

Instead of coming together to address the serious problems I have just mentioned, Republicans in recent weeks have turned to their three favorite tricks. 

Distort. Distract. And Divide. 

You see, Republicans know what we know.  And that’s if Americans focus on real issues in the coming months, the Republican Party is in even bigger trouble than it is today. So instead of solving America’s problems over next several months, they plan to continue to distract and divide.

They are already at it in the Congress.

Last week, they could have addressed any number of problems facing America. But instead of talking about health care or energy or education, Republicans wasted days in a failed attempt to ban gay marriage and repeal the Estate Tax for the richest Americans–despite 9 trillion dollars of debt.

Of course, when they aren’t busy distracting the country, Republicans are busy rubber-stamping the agenda of George W. Bush.

They’ve done it on hundreds of radical judges.

They’ve done it on the issues of domestic spying and the president’s mismanagement of Iraq.

And they’ve done it on the issue we’ll talk about today: Energy.

Bush and his supporters in Congress don’t want our government to have an aggressive approach to energy policy that rapidly reduces our dependence on oil, particularly from unstable regions of the world, or in any way cuts into their supporters compensation packages.  

Instead, George Bush and Washington Republicans have given huge energy corporations unfettered and unprecedented influence on the policymaking process.

Many of these companies have been able to get away with price gouging and supply manipulation.

They’ve been able to avoid oversight and enforcement.

And they’ve been invited inside the White House to tamper with science on public health and global warming.

Earlier, I referred to global warming as one of the threats we and the world face. In fact, in the long run, it may be the biggest.

But even here, Big Oil–not sound science–rules the Bush White House. They’ve methodically undermined scientific evidence and even scientists when the facts demonstrate how very real the threat of man-made global climate change is to our health, our safety, our communities and our economy.

Some say ignorance is bliss, but in this case it’s dangerously incompetent.

Today, many scientists believe that hurricanes are getting more dangerous because of global warming.  I think it’s fair to assume that we will have more Katrinas in our near future because of global warming.

So, why does this Administration ignore every credible scientist and piece of evidence?  Because the solution doesn’t suit the greedy needs of their Big Oil friends.

Today in Nevada, we’re seeing what happens when the energy companies write our energy laws. Families pay $3.09 at the pump, while Big Oil makes billions in profits.

Democrats believe there is a better, cleaner, safer way.    Because Democrats–and the members of this audience–believe that we’re not in this for our self interest, we’re in this for America’s interests.   Americans sent us to Washington to lead–for them and for their families–not for ourselves.  

That is why last year, Senate Democrats launched our Energy Independence 2020 campaign.  It’s a coordinated effort designed to raise awareness of these crucial issues and to put into law smarter and more effective energy policies.

In an effort to solve the energy crisis once and for all and to protect those families who sent us here, just last month we introduced the Clean EDGE Act.  It’s an aggressive, comprehensive approach to reducing our dependence on foreign oil and putting more advanced technologies in the hands of consumers.

The Clean EDGE Act will boost production of electricity from solar, geothermal and other renewable sources that are abundant in states like my own, Nevada, and grow our state’s and the nation’s renewable energy technology jobs and manufacturing base. 

Our Act sets a national oil savings goal in law–a 25 percent reduction in our total oil consumption by 2020–that’s about 40 percent of our projected imports – so foreign oil powers won’t be able to hold us hostage.

To help consumers at the pump today, our Clean EDGE Act makes price-gouging a Federal crime and significantly increases transparency in energy markets to crack down on speculators. 

To help consumers tomorrow, it will make it easier to buy and service more efficient and alternative fuel cars.

And, to lead by example, last week I asked the Senate Sergeant at Arms to begin looking for ways to turn the Senate’s fleet of vehicles into flexfuel and hybrids.

It’s my hope that other branches of government will follow.

Our security, our economy, and our health demand we seek a new energy future, and they also demand we all to do our part.

That’s why, to pay for the CLEAN EDGE Act, Democrats propose eliminating tax breaks for the major oil and gas companies that have been making record profits, and requiring them to pay real royalties when they drill on public lands. 

There’s nothing wrong with American companies making a profit, but there’s no reason for our taxpayers to subsidize their greed.

Democrats are ready to write the Clean Edge Act into law today. Unfortunately, Bush-Republicans don’t want to fund, much less embark on this Apollo-like project for energy.   They think the answer is a $100 rebate when families are paying that much more a week for gas.   

Their position is untenable, not to mention immoral. And it’s our job to make sure they don’t fool America again. 

All of us, we must do our part to take America back from Exxon-Mobil, so we can put in place an energy policy that creates a stronger, more secure and more competitive country.

All of us, we must do our part to take America back from those who would hide science, so we can have policy driven by fact, not cold, hard greed.

And all of us, we must work together to take America back from the politics of Distort, Distract and Divide, so we can finally unite behind the real challenges–like energy–that we all face together.

This is our task, and as this conference rightly notes, this is our time. 

Thank you for letting me speak today, and thank you for all you do in the name of what’s right.

I look forward to working with you in the coming months as we all seek to build a stronger, safer America, together.

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