Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, closing the last session of the 110th Congress for 2007:
“We have reached the end of a long, hectic, at times contentious and frustrating, but unquestionably productive first year of the 110th Congress. We welcomed back our friend and colleague, Senator Tim Johnson, who has made an extraordinary recovery and we are now thrilled to see on his feet again. We lost a friend in Senator Craig Thomas, said hello to his successor, Senator John Barrasso, and said goodbye to Senator Trent Lott, who will be retiring.
“We held an unusual three Congressional Gold Medal ceremonies: Honoring the Tuskegee Airmen for showing America that valor is colorblind; Dr. Norm Borlaugh for putting food on the tables of billions; and the Dalai Lama for planting seeds of peace throughout the world.
“And of course we tried to address the major issues that affect us at home and abroad. Although these efforts occasionally ended in frustration, the record will show that we also made real progress on behalf of the American people. As we now return home to spend the holidays with our families and constituents, all 100 Senators can say with confidence that we have taken steps to make our country safer, stronger and more secure.
“This Congress put working families first:
- We passed the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade to give the hardest-working but least-paid Americans a little more to make ends meet;
- We passed a bill to help millions of Americans avoid foreclosure and keep their homes. According to RealtyTrac, Nevada has seen 47,000 foreclosure filings this year alone – so this legislation is desperately needed;
- We invested in community health centers, high-risk insurance pools and rural hospitals to give lower-income Americans a better chance for healthy lives;
- We passed a landmark energy bill that will save consumers money on their heating bills, lower gas prices and begin to stem the tide of global warming; and
- We invested in education with funding for Title 1, special education, teacher quality grants, after-school programs, Head Start and student financial aid. We believe that all children, regardless of the wealth of their parents, should have an opportunity to go to college.
“This Congress also made our country safer:
- After nearly three years of inaction by a Republican-controlled Congress,we finally implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which helps secure our most at-risk cities, gives our first responders the communications tools they need in an emergency, and improves oversight of our intelligence and homeland security systems;
- We provided funds to replace the equipment our National Guard and Reserve has lost to the war in Iraq; and
- We secured permanent funds for Western wildfires and other disaster relief.
“And this Congress has also supported our courageous troops with more than words, but action:
- Despite the President’s opposition, we gave every man and woman in uniform an across-the-board 3.5 percent pay raise;
- We provided much-needed funds for body armor and other protective gear to keep our troops as safe as possible during combat;
- We helped exposed and made right the awful neglect at Walter Reed and other military health care centers; and
- We passed the Wounded Warrior Act and other legislation that ensures that veterans receive the physical and mental health care they need.
“A fair reading of the record will show that we have not accomplished everything we had hoped. This was not for lack of efforts by Democrats. On issue after issue, a majority of the Senate expressed support for change only to be thwarted by a Republican minority wedded to business as usual.
“On Iraq, a bipartisan majority of Senators consistently supported changing course. Like the American people, this majority is saddened to see that after nearly five years, nearly 4,000 American lives lost, tens of thousands more gravely wounded and $500 billion spent, there still appears to be no end in sight to the Iraq war. Unfortunately, President Bush still refuses to heed the call of the American people to responsibly end the war – and his Republican supporters in Congress continue to stand by him. On more than 40 separate occasions, the President’s supporters denied the Senate from even voting on a change of course.
“Only once did they step aside and let the majority speak. And on this occasion, the President wielded his veto pen and halted our efforts to begin a phased redeployment of our forces from Iraq so that we can focus on those who attacked us on September 11th – Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
“Just today, the Washington Post reports that the people of Iraq believe they would be better able to reconcile their nation without our combat presence. The article says that Iraqis believe our presence ‘is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of “occupying forces” as the key to national reconciliation.’
“This has been clear for a long, long time, and President Bush should start listening. But even though the war rages on, this Congress has made a difference. Before Democrats took control of Congress, the President’s Secretary of Defense was named Rumsfeld – and he and the Bush White House conducted the war with total impunity. No dissent was tolerated. The patriotism of those who raised questions was openly attacked. Billions of taxpayer dollars were given to companies like Halliburton, with little or no accountability. This year, Democrats have brought the President’s recklessness into the harsh light of day.
“We forced the President to set benchmarks for legislative and political progress and required regular reports on whether those benchmarks were being met – which have shown that the surge has failed to reach its main objective as set forth by the President: political reconciliation. We compelled General Petraeus to testify – and he has said repeatedly that the war cannot be won militarily and must be won politically. And we brought to light the Blackwater controversy and have begun to untangle the web of massive financial mismanagement in Iraq that has cost American taxpayers dearly.
“Do I feel that enough has been done? Of course not. Too many Republican Senators continue to fall in lockstep with President Bush on the war. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating this is for me and for all of us who so desperately want to change course. And the Iraq war has not been the only source of frustration. Bush-Cheney Republicans have set an all-time record for obstruction. They have almost made a sport of it.
“If my Republican colleagues had reached across the aisle to work with us more often – as we have tried to do with them – they would have found us willing and eager to find more common ground. It is my goal for the coming year to redouble our efforts to do just that. I hope my Republican colleagues will join us.
“But I believe this year’s session will be remembered more for progress than setbacks. Yesterday, Senator McConnell said, “We have come to a very successful conclusion of this year’s Congress.” I agree, and thank my Republican counterpart for those words.
“We have gone through some difficult times this year. Perhaps that is an understatement. Senator McConnell and I have criticized each other at times – never personally, but on politics – and that’s how it is supposed to be. But Senator McConnell has been at all times a gentleman, and I have done my best to reciprocate.
“I also want to thank my Democratic colleagues for entrusting me with the office of Majority Leader. I will continue next year to do the best job I possibly can. I wish all my colleagues and all Americans a holiday season of joy, health and happiness. My thoughts and prayers are with our courageous men and women serving overseas, and with the families that await their safe return. I know that all 100 of us share those sentiments. I look forward to returning here in January, optimistic that we will continue fulfilling the needs of the American people.”