Senate Democrats

REID: THE SENATE IS ALMOST OUT OF TIME TO HELP THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

“With 20 wasted months behind and just 12 days ahead, it is time for a new direction.”

Washington, DCWith Congress returning to Session after a lengthy summer vacation and boasting an embarrassingly short list of accomplishments for the last two years, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following speech on the floor of the United States Senate. The Republican Congress has spent two years setting records for doing nothing, and the American people have had enough. Democrats believe the 109th Congress should put aside the divisive partisan issues that have wasted the last two years in order to change course from failed policies that have left America less safe and less secure. With Iraq in chaos, our national security in doubt, and the middle class struggling to get by, it is time to take America in a new direction.

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

Mr. President, I would like to focus on one number this morning: 12.

Twelve is the number of legislative days remaining in the 109th Congress, according to the Republican leadership’s schedule.

In a normal year and a normal Congress, it would be an enormous challenge to complete–in 12 days–the work the Senate needs to address. In this Do Nothing Republican Congress, it is Mission Impossible.

Think about all that remains undone.

On the domestic front, the start of the new fiscal year is just a few weeks away, and the Senate has yet to pass a single appropriations conference report – much less a budget!

With millions of children returning to school this week, this Republican-controlled Congress has yet to pass the education funding bill. In addition, there are middle-class tax breaks that have expired and need to be extended, a Medicare prescription drug bill that needs to be fixed, legislation to make government more accountable to the people and less beholden to the special interests hat has yet to be sent to the President’s desk, and crises in health care and energy that are begging for the Senate’s attention.

12 days. 12 days to do all of these things.

On the national security front, just as much work remains.

With a nation at war and still vulnerable five years after 9/11, we have yet to pass the defense and homeland security bills. Because of delays and games by this Republican Congress, our borders remain open and immigration reform remains stalled. There’s also port security legislation to be considered, a Phase II investigation that has yet to be finished, and matters in both the War on Terror and the War in Iraq that demand our urgent attention.

12 days. 12 days to finish all that work. And you know what Mr. President, Republicans aren’t even going to try.

Today’s New York Times has the headline “GOP Lawmakers Set Aside Work on Immigration.” Sunday’s Washington Post has a similar article, titled “GOP Focus on Security Issues to Sideline Other Matters.”

The papers report that Republicans plan to leave in September with immigration undone, Medicare undone, ethics reform undone, and a budget undone, so they can try to convince the American people that after years of getting it so wrong, they now have the right prescriptions for our nation’s security.

Well Mr. President, Democrats welcome that national security debate. America needs it.

There’s no excuse for the Senate not completing its work, but if Republicans want to work with Democrats during the next four weeks to address their mistakes on national security, all I can say is it’s about time.

Mr. President, there’s a reason the Senate faces this time predicament – a reason it’s September 5th and none of the American people’s legislative priorities have been addressed.

It’s because Do Nothing Republicans have wasted the last 20 months avoiding the people’s priorities, so they could play partisan games instead.

Think back over the last two years.

We began this Senate with month after month dedicated to the nuclear option – the Republicans attempt to rewrite Senate rules so they could pack the federal courts. Then–instead of addressing the crisis in health care or the crisis in energy–Republicans moved to pet issues of their political base like the Terri Schiavo affair, drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge, and the billion dollar Estate Tax giveaway.

This past summer was no different. Weeks of June and July were given to the marriage amendment and flag desecration – two of the least pressing issues facing Americans today.

And then the one week the Senate worked in August was given to the Republican’s infamous “Defecta” bill. In the words of Congressman Zach Wamp, Republicans tried to “outfox” the country into repealing the Estate Tax. In the end, it was Republicans who were outfoxed.

Mr. President, with 20 wasted months behind and just 12 days ahead, it is time for a new direction.

We live in a dangerous world. As we saw in Britain last month, there are terrorists around the world who want to kill Americans. Unfortunately, there are too many politicians in Washington who want to divide the country and play politics with national security, instead of finding real solutions to keep the American people safe.

Next week, our country will mark a solemn anniversary. The five year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In five years, you would think the Republicans who control the White House and Congress would have taken the necessary steps to protect the American people. You would be wrong.

Five years after 9/11, America is less safe than it should be.

Today, only 6 percent of our ports are secure. Our chemical plans are vulnerable to attack. Our first responders don’t have the right equipment and resources. The man responsible for 9/11–Osama bin Laden–remains on the loose. And too many recommendations of the 9/11 Commission have been ignored.

This is the Republican record of the last five years. It’s no wonder–with elections looming–they want to try and fix it in the next 12 days.

Democrats have a better plan to keep America safe. It’s called Real Security. It’s tough and smart, and as we laid out in a letter to President Bush yesterday, it starts by doing what the other side has refused to do – change course in Iraq.

While Iraq was not part of the war on terror before we invaded, today it’s emboldening terrorists and recruiting new ones.

For two years, the other side of the aisle has been content to “stay the course” in Iraq. They’ve stood with President Bush when he says “we’re not leaving [Iraq], so long as I’m the President.”

They may think that’s a smart political strategy. But we know from what’s happening around the world, it’s a failed security strategy.

Each day this Republican government stays the course in Iraq, America grows less safe.

Since we last met, over 60 U.S. soldiers and Marines have been killed – five yesterday alone, hundreds of U.S. troops have been wounded, nearly 1,000 Iraqi civilians have died, and American taxpayers have lost another $8 billion dollars to this mismanaged war.

The Pentagon now believes all the conditions exist for a Civil War in Iraq, and the administration’s most recent report to Congress suggests things are likely to only get worse.

Our military faces equipment and personnel shortages not seen since Vietnam. Not a single Army non-deployed combat brigade is currently prepared to meet its wartime mission, and the chief of the National Guard has said the Guard is “even further behind or in an even more dire situation than the army.”

And at the same time, the war has emboldened regimes in North Korea and Iran, two countries which have grown their nuclear arsenals on this administration’s watch.

These are the consequences of staying the course in Iraq: we’re less safe, facing greater threats, and less prepared to meet them.

Throughout this Congress, Democrats have come to the floor to demand the President change course in Iraq, to fight a better, smarter war on terror, and to secure the homeland.

Each time, Republicans have obstructed our efforts, and chosen to rubber-stamp President Bush’s failed security strategy instead.

With just 12 days left before the end of this Congress, I once again ask my Republican friends, is now not the time for the Senate hold President Bush accountable for his failed policies and demand a new direction?

With the five year anniversary of 9/11 approaching, is it not time for America to refocuses its efforts on the War on Terror by implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, changing course in Iraq, and taking a smarter, better approach to hunting terrorists and preventing the next threat?

Mr. President, we have 12 days to work together, not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans doing everything we can to keep America safe.

My side will do everything in our power to protect the American people.

We understand there’s not a day to waste.

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