WASHINGTON, D.C.–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the following remarks today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, reflecting on Democrats’ achievements in the first five months of this Congress and vowing to continue the fight to change course in Iraq. Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
Democrats earned the majority in Congress last year by strongly opposing President Bush’s failed Iraq policy and advocating restoration of the values of working American families to government.
The American people sent a clear message last November that it was time to change course in Iraq. Congressional Democrats made that our top priority from the first day of this Congress and every day since.
In less than four months were able to send to the President’s desk that refused to continue our open-ended commitment. Unfortunately the President vetoed that bill which reflected the wishes of the American public, many senior military leaders, and a bipartisan majority of the Congress.
Last night we sent him another bill that does not go as far as I and many of my colleagues would like, but it does begin the process of holding this President and the Iraqis accountable. This bill:
- Ties our military strategy to the Iraqi government meeting 18 important political, economic and security benchmarks.
- Restricts use of foreign aid to the Iraqi government should they fail to make meaningful progress;
- Requires the President to certify that the Iraqi government deserves these funds even if they fail to perform as promised;
- Requires the Administration to testify before Congress and an independent assessment by the General Accounting Office on the performance of the Iraqi government;
- Requires the President to submit a report on the combat proficiency of Iraqi security forces;
- Requires the President to redeploy our troops if the Iraqi government concludes our presence is no longer desired;
- Restricts use of Defense Department funding until Congress receives information about contractors in Iraq; and
- States official U.S. policy precludes no permanent military bases in Iraq, no torture of detainees, and no designs on Iraqi oil.
These are important steps, but we must do more. As I said on the floor last night, we will not stop our efforts to change the course of this war until either enough Republicans join with us to reject President Bush’s failed policy or we get a new President.
At the same time we have opposed the President’s Iraq policy, we have moved forward on legislation that invests in our security, our economy and our health.
- Minimum wage. We passed a much deserved and long overdue raise in the federal minimum wage for working people, which as of last night is now on its way to the President for his signature.
- SCHIP. We provided nearly $400 million to ensure that states don’t run out of money for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and in the coming weeks we will seek to reauthorize this successful program that keeps millions of children healthy.
- Farm relief. $3.0 billion to help farmers and ranchers recover from drought, floods, storms, and other disasters.
- Western Wildfire Relief. – $465 million to help prevent and fight wildfires in the west and elsewhere.
- Katrina relief. Nearly $6.3 billion to keep the President’s commitment to the people of the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina.
- Homeland Security. Increased funding to protect America by more than $1 billion. Among the important programs funded are:
- Port Security – $110 million
- Rail and Mass Transit Security – $100 million
- Explosive Detection Systems for Airline Baggage – $285 million
- Air Cargo Security – $80 million to inspect cargo on commercial passenger airlines.
- Budget. We have passed a balanced budget that restores fiscal discipline and puts the middle class first – cutting their taxes while increasing investment in education, veterans’ care and children’s health care.
- Stem cell. For the second year in a row, we legislated to give the hope of stem cell research to millions of Americans who suffer.
Several other important bills have been passed and will soon be on their way to the President:
- CR. The “Do-Nothing” Republican Congress failed to pass the appropriations bills. Democrats passed fiscally responsible bills that invested in the priorities of the American people.
- 9/11 Commission. We passed all the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, after they had been pushed aside for years.
We have begun debate on immigration reform, and will continue that when we return.
We have taken action on 7 of our top 10 legislative priorities that we introduced on our first day of the 110th Congress. In the coming weeks, we expect to turn our attention to the remaining three:
Energy. A comprehensive energy bill that will make us more energy independent and reduces the risks of global warming.
This bill will dramatically increase American renewable fuel production so we can begin the crucial long-term effort to reduce dependence on unsustainable and volatile energy supplies, especially those from foreign sources.
The bill requires consumer appliances, buildings, lighting, and most importantly, vehicles, to become much more energy efficient, and the federal government’s own energy performance will be significantly improved as well. And it addresses the growing threat of price gouging and energy market manipulation as gas prices continue to set new record highs almost every day.
Education. We expect to address reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Since the Act was last authorized in 1998, college costs have continued to skyrocket at an alarming rate.
A growing number of students are being priced out of a college education and all the doors that it opens. And many of those lucky enough to make it through college now begin their careers saddled by the weight of student debt. In Nevada, that average debt is more than $15,000, and that is unacceptable.
Our legislation will increase the maximum Pell Grant, reduce student loan interest rates, expand loan forgiveness programs, and cap student loan payments at no more than 15% of their income. Our bill takes important steps to address this alarming and growing crisis.
Defense Authorization. We will begin to rebuild our military that has been stretched far too thin. We began that process with the passage of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill last night. That bill provided much needed funding to ensure that our troops – active and retired – get the health care they have earned and our Guard and Reserve get the equipment they need to do their jobs in Iraq and here at home.
Our next step will be to bring the Defense Authorization bill to the floor, followed later this year by the Defense Appropriations bill. These bills will make critical investments to address troop readiness problems in the Army and Marine Corps caused by the President’s flawed Iraq policy.
We will take a number of steps to reconfigure our national security strategy to better meet the threats and challenges we face today. That includes returning focus to the growing and increasingly overlooked problems in Afghanistan working to improve special operations capabilities.
Once the next work session is complete, we will have taken action on all ten of our day-one priorities, and passed most of them with overwhelming bipartisan support. We have also successfully addressed many crucial issues not on that list:
- FDA reauthorization bill that facilitates timely review of new drugs while improving the safety of the medicines that patients take and the food that Americans eat.
- Water Resources Development Act reauthorization – the first one since 2000 – that will protect the environment and keep our economy strong.
- America COMPETES Act to return our country to a position of leadership in science, research and technology.
But by far the most important fight we have taken on this year is our effort to oppose the President’s failed Iraq policy and bring the war to a safe, and responsible end.
In the next Work Period, we will oppose the President’s failed war policy at every turn. The Defense Authorization bill will be a major part of that battle, but this fight will continue every day. We have had some great bipartisan victories this year, and some tough fights as well. Progress, especially on the war, has not come easy – and that’s not likely to change. But if we continue to work together in good faith, seeking bipartisanship at every opportunity, I have no doubt that we can accomplish great things for the American people.