Senate Democrats

REID CALLS FOR COMMITMENT TO AMERICAN VALUES THAT HONOR AMERICANS

Offers common ground in abortion debate, demands end to blackmail of working families on minimum wage

Washington, DC — With Washington Republicans running Congress to serve a special few at the expense of working families and dividing America to serve their partisan self interest, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today called for a commitment to American values that honor Americans. The full text of Senator Reid’s speech follows this release.

Americans are looking for real leadership in Congress, but instead all they have watched as Republicans manipulate the values of the nation to hide their own inaction and incompetence in Washington. Taking aim at Republicans’ so-called “American Values Agenda,” Reid called for a change.

Said Reid, “With all the problems in our country–from skyrocketing gas prices to an intractable war in Iraq–where has the Majority chosen to spend its time? Last month, they gave weeks to two constitution amendments – one to define marriage and one to ban flag desecration. This week, they’ll try again to repeal the Estate Tax, which is a giveaway to the richest 3 tenths of one-percent of all Americans. And this fall, there will be more to come.

“Some in the House call this their ‘American Values Agenda.’ There’s just one problem with it: It doesn’t value Americans.”

Late last week, Congressional Republicans demonstrated their values in convincing fashion, holding the economic security of working families hostage to a massive and irresponsible tax giveaway that would benefit less than 1% of the American people. Reid condemned such a cynical election year ploy, demanding the Republican leadership give the American people the raise they deserve and not force them to accept hundreds of billions in new debt to get it. Reid also turned to an issue Republicans have long used to incite fear and division in American–abortion–and discussed his common-sense, common-ground approaches to changing the debate and putting prevention first.

“There is perhaps no more divisive issue than abortion,” said Reid. “Passions run high on both sides, and it’s unrealistic to think either will suddenly abandon its deeply held beliefs. But there is common ground, if we’re willing to seize the opportunity instead of stoking fears. As a pro-life Senator in the Democratic Party, I know this common ground exists, and it’s called prevention.”

Senator Reid discussed his Prevention First Agenda, a legislative approach that puts aside the divisive debate and works for real solutions. The Prevention First Agenda has two goals: reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and resulting abortions, and helping women have healthy pregnancies and healthy children.

“If we’re serious about breaking the stalemate in the abortion debate, both sides must stop posturing and start seeking the positive results we share,” said Reid. “We have to work side-by-side to reduce the staggering rate of unintended pregnancies and the resulting abortions.”

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Address to the Center for American Progress Action Fund

Monday, July 31, 2006

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid

It’s a pleasure to be here at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The work you do turning progressive ideas into policy reality is second to none. After years of falling behind the Right-Wing noise machine, we desperately needed an organization like yours.

Over the decades, the Right had succeeded in hijacking the values debate and laying claim to the moral high ground. Thanks to you, they can no longer make that claim.

No political party “owns” America’s morality or values – a fact some in Congress and the White House still have to learn.

***

George Bush came to office in 2000 promising to be a “uniter, not a divider,” someone who refused–and I quote– “to play the politics of putting people into groups and pitting one group against another”

It was a hopeful beginning, but one that was short lived. And as we’ve seen, untrue.

Six years later, our country is more divided than ever, and it’s not by accident.

It’s because those who control Congress have mastered the politics of distort, distract and divide.

They’ve stoked America’s fears, and they’ve used America’s values to do it.

***

Look at their Congressional agenda this election year.

With all the problems in our country–from skyrocketing gas prices to an intractable war in Iraq–where has the Majority chosen to spend its time?

Last month, they gave weeks to two constitution amendments – one to define marriage and one to ban flag desecration.

This week, they’ll try again to repeal the Estate Tax, which is a giveaway to the richest 3 tenths of one-percent of all Americans.

And this fall, there will be more to come.

Some in the House call this their “American Values Agenda.” There’s just one problem with it: It doesn’t value Americans.

There’s not a single proposal there to address families’ every day problems. It’s another attempt to divide our country and distract from the real issues we face.

I know that marriage, flag burning, guns and abortion are important issues to millions in our country because they are important issues to me. What I have a problem with is the way Washington politicians use these so-called values issues to divide Americans and keep themselves in office.

Take marriage.

What is a bigger threat to marriage in Nevada: a Massachusetts state court decision about who can marry in that state, or the fact that 100,000 of my neighbors have lost their health care in the last six years?

The answer is easy. And if we were serious about protecting families, we’d forget about amending the constitution in the name of a crisis that doesn’t exist, and take actual, real life steps that will keep our families strong.

The first thing we’d do is stop playing politics and pass a real minimum wage increase. It’s been ten years since Congress has given hard-working Americans a raise. Ten years! In those same ten years, Congress has raised its own pay $30, 000 dollars.

And now – in a cynical, cheap, political trick – the Senate is threatening to make workers wait even longer, unless the Senate also passes a budget-busting Estate Tax giveaway.

It’s an unbelievable, partisan ploy. They’re threatening to deny a $2.10 raise for 11 million Americans, if they can’t give away billions to 12,000 of their wealthiest friends.

What American value is that? Not any I know. It isn’t fair. It’s isn’t about opportunity or helping Americans get ahead. It’s just plain wrong.

This proposal won’t move America forward, it will set us ten steps back, by adding nearly $800 billion to our national debt.

This attempt at political blackmail is not going to work. The Senate has defeated irresponsible estate tax giveaways in the past, and we’ll defeat it again this week.

Today I have a challenge for Senator Frist. If he’s serious about valuing families, he’d quit insulting them by putting those at the top ahead of everyone else. He’d have the Senate pass a real minimum increase without any election year tricks, or billion dollar tax giveaways to his special interest friends.

If he wants to pas tax breaks before they leave for August–let’s forget about the Estate Tax–and give relief to those who desperately need it – the struggling middle class.

93 percent of the tax breaks the Senate will consider this week go to multi-millionaires. They do nothing for middle-class and low-income Americans struggling to keep up with the rising costs of gas, health care and education, even while their paychecks go down.

The middle class is the heart and soul of America. The engine of our prosperity. If we want to protect and preserve American values, Congress needs to focus on their needs. And we don’t have to amend the Constitution to do it.

It’s the same with the flag.

I believe flag burning is deeply offensive. I revere the flag as a symbol of freedom, and have tremendous respect for the brave men and woman who fought so it could fly. But I also know–if we really value the Stars and Stripes–there are better ways for the United States Congress to spend its time.

In 2005, there were 2 instances of flag desecration in the entire country, but there were countless assaults on the values for which it stands.

Last year, 3.7 million low-income students were denied the opportunity to get-ahead and attend good schools because of cuts in the President’s budget.

Last year, the entire country witnessed the injustice of poverty in America, as thousands of our citizens were stranded in New Orleans because they had no way to escape Hurricane Katrina or the indifference of our government.

And just this month, we saw the President do a most un-American thing, by turning his back on science–turning his back on discovery–by vetoing the promise of stem cell research.

It’s sad–but true–that the same individuals who wrap themselves in the flag are the same leaders who racked up a 9 trillion dollar debt and sold America to countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

There’s no more American value than responsibility, but you won’t find the “the balanced budget act” or “restoring pay as you go” rules anywhere in this House’s values agenda.

***

We need a new direction.

It’s time for Washington politicians to stop hiding their legislative vices behind virtues like patriotism.

It’s time to unite, and move forward with an agenda that works for our common good.

There are many “values” issues which Americans will never agree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground. We can, and we should try.

It’s a point I’ve made in the abortion debate.

***

There is perhaps no more divisive issue than abortion. Passions run high on both sides, and it’s unrealistic to think either will suddenly abandon its deeply held beliefs.

But there is common ground, if we’re willing to seize the opportunity instead of stoking fears.

As a pro-life Senator in the Democratic Party, I know this common ground exists, and it’s called prevention.

***

Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, there is no question that the rate of unintended pregnancy in America is unacceptably high. Half of the six million pregnancies each year are unintended, and nearly half of these unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

These numbers are even more staggering among poor women.

If you’re a poor woman, you are four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy than your higher-income counterpart… five times as likely to have an unintended birth… and more than four times as likely to have an abortion.

These are troubling statistics–no matter what your position is in the abortion debate.

All of us should agree we need to prevent these unintended pregnancies. Yet the party which is most vocal about opposing abortion, is the same party standing in the way of prevention strategies.

They’ve blocked efforts to give women who want it, access to birth control, they’ve threatened the existing coverage of contraception for women in 25 states, and they’ve shown no interest in making emergency contraception available to victims of sexual assault.

It’s clear they’ve put their rigid ideology ahead of science.

Some have argued against prevention by saying it costs too much. But their words lack merit – because for every one dollar spent on publicly funded family planning we save 3 dollars in pregnancy-related and newborn care cost to Medicaid.

Compassion is a word we hear a lot from some political leaders. Surely it would be compassionate to make emergency contraception available to a woman who is raped, so she doesn’t become impregnated by a rapist who brutalized and traumatized her. But for some reason, the Congressional leadership doesn’t agree.

Just last Tuesday in the Senate, Senator after Senator spoke about the problem of abortion among teenagers, but when the time came to vote in favor of reducing teen pregnancies–of which there were over 800,000 last year–these same Senators voted against an amendment offered by Senators Lautenberg and Menendez to achieve this goal

This makes no sense.

Nor does it make sense that the same critics who oppose abortion, have made it more difficult for women to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

Nearly one in ten women in the U.S.–one third of all poor women–receive health care coverage through Medicaid, which Congress slashed 28 billion from last year.

What kind of message does that send?

If you want to encourage women to carry their pregnancies to term, why would you block increases for funding for maternal and child health programs, for child care, for domestic violence prevention, and for job training?

***

Today, I’m calling on members of both political parties–individuals from both sides of the abortion debate–to stop using abortion for political gain and to start supporting common sense measures on which we can all agree, like my Prevention First Agenda.

My Prevention First Agenda has two goals: 1) reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and resulting abortions; and 2) help women have healthy pregnancies and healthy children.

The first part of this agenda is based largely on legislation Hillary Clinton and I have championed in the Senate, the “Prevention First Act.”

The Prevention First Act makes family planning services more accessible to low-income women.

It improves awareness and understanding of emergency contraception.

It would ensure that victims of rape have information about and access to emergency contraception, if they want it.

It would reduce the staggering rate of teen pregnancy in our nation, through a new teen pregnancy prevention grant program.

It would ensure that government- funded sex education programs provide medically-accurate information about contraception.

And it would end insurance discrimination against women. Right now, many policies cover Viagra, but not prescription contraceptives. That’s wrong, and my agenda will change it.

The second part of this agenda is about supporting pregnant women and moms, so they may have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

This means we will continue to fight to protect Medicaid, while also pressing for increased funding for programs that provide crucial support to low-income women. Programs like maternal and child health care, domestic violence prevention, job training, child care, and education programs.

***

If we’re serious about breaking the stalemate in the abortion debate, both sides must stop posturing and start seeking the positive results we share.

We have to work side-by-side to reduce the staggering rate of unintended pregnancies and the resulting abortions.

I began by referencing George Bush’s promise to be a “uniter, not a divider.”

It may be too late for him to keep this promise, but it’s not too late to try, starting with this issue of abortion.

My hope is he will support this Prevention Agenda, and that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will as well.

If we focus on America’s best interest – not our own political interests – America will prosper, and we’ll have a stronger–healthier–future together.

That’s how we value Americans, and that’s the new direction America needs.

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