Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, asking Republicans to drop their strategy of obstruction and seeking consent to pass a number of non-controversial measures that Bush Republicans are holding hostage because they are more interested in standing in the way than leading the way. Specifically, Reid sought consent to pass the widely supported ALS Registry Act. Republicans then objected and blocked this bill:
“As the year comes to a close – and the first year of the 110th Congress winds down – there is no doubt that if we continue in the current direction, this will be known as the Congress of Republican obstruction. Already, in just one year, Republicans have nearly broken the all-time obstruction record for a full two-year session.
“What we’re seeing this year from Republicans is not ordinary obstruction. It’s obstruction on steroids. And it’s terribly damaging to the American people. I don’t question the right of the Republican minority to block bill after bill after bill. That’s how the Senate works, and we all play by the same rules.
“But just because you have the right doesn’t make it right. On a daily basis, Republican Senators talk about the lack of progress this year. For all we have done, why haven’t we done even more? The answer is obstruction. Republican obstruction.
“It is disingenuous for Republicans to complain about a lack of progress and then make a concerted effort to block change. Obstruction of the prescription drug bill to make medicine more affordable for millions of Americans. Obstruction of our efforts to change course in Iraq. Obstruction of our efforts to pass the AMT fix in a fiscally responsible way. Obstruction of our FHA bill, a bill that President Bush has called upon us to pass – that would help Americans save their homes from foreclosure. These are just a few of the well-known examples.
“But this morning, my Democratic colleagues and I will talk about some of the lesser-known priorities that Republicans have blocked. These bills might not make headlines, but they make a real difference in peoples’ lives. All of the bills we will seek to pass today will make our country stronger. Every single one of them has fallen victim to Republican obstruction. There are no serious complaints with the bills for which we will seek to pass this morning. Many of them already have fifty or more cosponsors from both parties. Many have already overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives and could be sent to the President’s desk tomorrow.
“And this morning’s bills we are just the tip of the iceberg. We could come to the floor tomorrow, the next day, and many days after that, to seek action on bills just like these. We hope that in the coming hours, the Republican minority will call off their needless holds, call off their obstruction, call off their political posturing, and start working with us to make life better for the American people.
“Several of my colleagues will follow, but I will begin our effort by seeking consent to pass the ALS Registry Act, which would help those who suffer from this tragic ailment. ALS, or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is caused by a degeneration of the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle, which causes muscle weakness and atrophy. It is nearly always fatal, and may give victims just 18 months between diagnosis and death.
“Earlier this year, Kathie Barrett and her husband, Martin, traveled here from Sparks, Nevada, to advocate on behalf of the ALS Registry Act. Kathie was diagnosed with ALS in May of 2002. Despite having a breathing capacity of just 68 percent of normal and considerable muscle loss in her back and neck, Kathie made the long trip from Sparks, Nevada to Washington, DC – some 2,600 miles. She and her husband made this trip because they believe the passage of the ALS Registry Act is essential to the search for a cure for this devastating illness.
“Every year, about 5,600 Americans will learn they have ALS, a disease for which there is no cure and only one specific FDA-approved drug. That drug only works for 20 percent of patients, and even for them, it merely extends life for a few months. For a number of reasons, ALS has proven particularly difficult for scientists and doctors to make progress upon.
“One of the reasons is there is not a centralized place where data on the disease is collected. Currently, there is only a patchwork of data about ALS available to researchers. My legislation – the ALS Registry Act – will do something that is both simple and crucial. It would create an ALS registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help arm our nation’s researchers and clinicians with the tools and information they need to make progress in the fight against ALS.
“The data made available by a registry will potentially allow scientists to identify causes of the disease, and maybe even lead to the discovery of new treatment, a cure for ALS, or even a way to prevent the disease in the first place. This may not lead to a cure over night, but it will give those who suffer reason for hope – real, scientific hope.
“If you’re looking for bipartisanship, look no further. The House recently passed a similar measure, H.R. 2295, by a vote of 411 to 3. How often does anything pass the House by such a lopsided margin? Similarly, just before the Thanksgiving recess, the HELP Committee followed suit by reporting the ALS Registry Act unanimously. What’s more, two-thirds of the Senate – Democrats and Republicans alike – are cosponsors. And I particularly appreciate the work of my Republican colleagues, Senators Warner and Enzi, as well as Senator Kennedy.
“Unfortunately, despite the nearly unanimous support of the House of Representatives, the unanimous committee vote, and the overwhelming support of the 67 cosponsors, this bill remains unpassed. For Kathie and Martin Barrett from Sparks, and so many thousands just like them, hope remains unfulfilled. Why has this happened? This crucial bill has been subjected to a Republican hold. While some Republicans stand in the way, peoples’ lives hang in the balance. Let’s not forget that the average life expectancy for an individual with ALS is often as little as 18 months from the time of diagnosis.
“There is not a moment to spare – and we could send this bill to the President today. So I ask my Republican colleagues to end their hold. End this senseless obstruction. The eyes of the Barretts and tens of thousands of suffering Americans are on us. Let’s honor their courage and grace by fulfilling their hope for a cure.”