Washington, DC–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada today made the following remarks to open the 110th Congress’s third work period:
Mr. President, billions throughout the world celebrated the Easter holiday on Sunday. But on that joyous day, Pope Benedict spoke of the human condition with a heavy heart.
“How many wounds — how much suffering there is in the world,” he said. “Nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.”
As we open the third work period of the year, Pope Benedict’s words weigh on my mind – and I hope that we will honor them as we continue to work in a bipartisan manner to address that suffering by moving America in a new direction at home and abroad.
That was the promise we made to the American people when the 110th Congress opened three months ago.
And although we have only completed the first two work periods of the session, we have already made considerable progress.
When we began in January, we knew that all of our goals depended on changing the way Washington works — so our first order of business was passing the toughest lobbying and ethics reform legislation in our nation’s history.
Next, we voted to give working Americans a much deserved and long overdue raise by finally increasing the federal minimum wage.
After the minimum wage, we addressed the fiscal mess left by the last Congress and passed a Continuing Resolution that enacted tough spending limits and eliminated earmarks.
Then, we set our sights on keeping our country safe by finally passing the recommendations set forth by the 9/11 Commission years ago.
Next, we passed a balanced budget that put American families first by cutting taxes for working people, increasing investment for education — veterans — and health care — and implementing the same pay-as-you-go rules that every American family must follow.
While addressing these crucial priorities here at home: ethics reform, minimum wage, homeland security, return to fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget for working families – we have also continued to seek a new direction for the war in Iraq at every opportunity, as the American people called for in November.
That is why we concluded the last work period by passing an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that fully funded our troops while also setting forth a new course in Iraq.
The President has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. That was never supposed to be their mission – and every day, the price we pay grows worse: soon to be 3,300 American lives lost. Tens of thousands more wounded. And nearly 1/2 trillion dollars spent. Yet still no end in sight for our troops or taxpayers.
Let me be very clear: Democrats are committed to giving troops the funds they need. The supplemental appropriations bill we send to President Bush will provide every dollar our commanders have requested. And it will go further by providing funding to address the unconscionable conditions at Walter Reed and other military health care facilities that the President’s budget left out.
Democrats are united in our commitment to fully fund our troops on the ground in Iraq and here at home. But we are also determined to provide our troops a strategy for success in Iraq, which President Bush has failed to do from the very start of this war over four years ago.
Virtually all the experts – military and civilian – agree that the war cannot be won militarily. Success can only come when all the political leaders in Iraq reach a settlement.
Pope Benedict, the spiritual leader of more than 1 billion people, said on Easter Sunday: “Nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.”
That is why we’re telling the President that he needs to make good on his promise to get the Iraqi people to meet the benchmarks they set for themselves – but have never followed through on. After 4 years, it’s long past time for Iraq to take responsibility for its own future.
American troops are putting their lives at risk every single day, but Iraqi leaders are not willing to take the political risk of governing their own country. That must change. That’s what Congress is demanding. That is what the American people, by a large majority, demand. And the President should be leading us in that direction, not threatening to veto funding for our troops unless we rubber stamp his flawed plan.
Over the next two weeks, the President has an opportunity to work with Congress to let his views be heard on how to improve this bill.
Speaker Pelosi and I invited him last month to sit down and work with us to develop a strategy together. We remain ready to do just that. But will require a commitment by the President to move beyond the political theater and take a seat at the table of negotiation, of compromise, of direction change. Recall the Pope’s Easter message: nothing positive comes from Iraq.
While we continue to press the President and his supporters here in Congress to chart a new course in Iraq, we will move to the next set of issues that are crucial to the American people:
Expanding federal funding for stem cell research, lowering Medicare prescription drug costs, delivering a new national energy policy and implementing tough, fair immigration reform.
This week, we will focus the Senate’s attention on S.5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.
Democrats and Republicans joined together last year to pass legislation that would have made more stem cell lines available to scientists, while at the same time strictly regulating how they could be used.
The actions of the Senate and the House gave hope to the 100 million Americans and tens of thousands of Nevadans who suffer from cancer, Alzheimer’s Diabetes, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, heart disease and ALS.
Sadly, President Bush vetoed that bipartisan bill – and as a result, we must take on this urgent cause once again. This week, we will debate the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act and we will fight to see that it becomes law.
Following debate on the stem cell bill, we will turn our attention to reducing drug costs for senior citizens.
The flaws in the Medicare drug program are well-documented, but many of them can be traced back to one simple fact: the current law puts drug companies ahead of seniors.
Regardless of whether we supported or opposed the law that created the Medicare drug benefit, all of us want to make the program work better for seniors and people with disabilities — and right now, they are paying too much because the federal government is unable to negotiate lower-priced drugs.
S.3, the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007, will fix that injustice by making it easier for the most vulnerable in our society to afford the medicine they need.
Next, we will move to energy legislation that will improve our national security and protect our environment.
In the past several weeks, gas prices have risen dramatically once again. One reason for the spike is the “fear premium” caused partially by the Administration’s inept foreign policy. Another reason is the empty words and unfunded promises of the Administration’s short-sighted energy policy.
President Bush’s budget choices have robbed the Treasury of the funds we need to invest in a better, more sustainable energy policy, and his friends in the oil and energy industry have failed to fill the void by investing in alternatives to oil.
I am hopeful that in the coming weeks, the Senate will consider legislation that would put us on the right track toward increased production and use of renewable fuels, renewable electricity and energy efficient products, buildings and vehicles. This legislation will improve our energy security and reduce the risks of global warming.
After energy policy, we will focus on the challenge of comprehensive immigration reform.
We all agree that America’s immigration system is broken: our borders remain un-secured. Our laws remain under-enforced. 11 million undocumented immigrants continue to live in the shadows.
Last year, the Senate passed strong, bipartisan immigration reform that would have fixed our broken borders. Unfortunately, the legislation fell victim to partisan politics in the House – so we must re-address the issue again this year.
We will start with a bill that takes a tough and smart approach to securing the borders, cracking down on enforcement and laying out a path to earned legal status for undocumented immigrants already here and contributing to our society.
Mr. President, in January, we promised the American people a new era of open, honest government.
We promised a new direction that would put families, working people, college students and senior citizens first.
And we promised a new course in Iraq that honors the service of our men and women in uniform.
Heaven knows we have tried, but the President is charging forward with the same mindless strategy in Iraq that the Pope calls a continual slaughter.
Defined in the dictionary – slaughter is to kill in a bloody and violent manner and to kill in large numbers. This slaughter must end – for the sake of humanity and our country, it should be no more.
In these first months, we have made progress. As we begin our third work period, there is much left to be done – but I am confident that with a continued commitment to bipartisanship, we will rise to the challenges ahead and answer the call for renewal of the American Dream.