Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered their assessment on the State of Our Union today at the National Press Club. The leaders discussed efforts to take America in a New Direction, to reinvigorate the American economy and restore our leadership in the world. Below are their remarks as prepared:
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID:
“Growing up in Searchlight, Nevada, my mother placed a pillow case on our wall. It was royal blue with gold fringe, with the words ‘we can, we will, we must.’ The name below those words — Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“For children of my generation from working class families like mine – this was not uncommon.
“FDR was a figure of moral strength to us for what he accomplished at home and throughout the world.
“What I didn’t know at the time was that this reverence for President Roosevelt extended far beyond our little Searchlight home. Beyond my State of Nevada. Beyond even the shores of my country.
“Upon President Roosevelt’s death, Mrs. Roosevelt received a letter from Erma Mohrenwitz, a Jewish woman driven by Hitler’s terror from her home in Europe to refuge in Mexico City.
“She wrote to the First Lady: ‘The spirit of [Roosevelt’s] personality will bring enlightenment to all those who carry the heaviest burden. And it will be a consolation and an example to suffering men and women all over the world.”
“A boy from Searchlight, a European refugee in Mexico City, and millions of others throughout the world were bound together by faith that in the crosscurrents of a dangerous world America’s moral compass would always point due north.
“As we await President Bush’s final State of the Union address Monday night we know one thing for sure: that cherished faith in America has been greatly diminished and with it, our ability to respond to the critical challenges that threaten our security.
“158,000 young Americans rise each morning in the deserts of Iraq to face another day of risk they cannot predict and hatred they did not create.
“Osama Bin Laden remains free and the Al Qaeda network grows stronger.
“Afghanistan, once hailed as a great success, continues to backslide into violence, extremism, and a rampant drug trade.
“The path toward democracy in Pakistan wavers, with billions of American anti-terrorism dollars unaccounted.
“And the moral authority of our great nation has suffered grave damage.
Restoring America’s Moral Leadership
“Our first goal as a country must be to restore that moral authority with what the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies calls ‘America’s Smart Power.’
“The most effective way to fight terrorism is to harness all of our power – military, economic, and moral. When we do, the world will follow our lead once again.
“It may take years. But when President Bush delivers his State of the Union address Monday night, he can take the first steps.
“He can start by announcing America does not torture.
“Democrats call on him to support one standard of interrogation for the entire United States government, to renounce waterboarding, and to finally commit to closing Guantanamo.
“President Bush could also show true leadership Monday night by announcing plans to expand our Foreign Service, our Peace Corps, and our funding for international development.
“Our team of Foreign Service officers serving throughout the entire world stands at just 7,000, or about the size of the crew of just one U.S. aircraft carrier. In 2002, President Bush pledged to double the size of the Peace Corps. Today it stands just 8,000 strong – barely larger than in 2002. The President’s promise of 15,000 remains unfulfilled.
“Why does this matter? These Foreign Service officers and Peace Corps volunteers are the patriots who spread hope across the globe, which makes America stronger.
“Just one example: on a recent trip to Central America I met former members of American gangs who had been deported back to Guatemala. When they returned there they were reformed with the help of an American-sponsored rehabilitation program.
“They told me of the countless lives – both American and Guatemalan – that this program has changed and saved. How much does it cost to start one gang prevention center like we saw? Just $16,000.
“Why should Americans care about these Guatemalan gangs? For one reason, because they are networks of the very same gangs we have in our country. Gang violence in Latin America leads to gang violence here.
“The average cost of incarcerating a prisoner in an American jail is $35,000 per year. If that program in Guatemala kept just one person out of an American prison it saved us twice what it cost.
“For a modest price, programs like this one save lives, build long-term global allies, and make America safer. That’s why we were troubled to discover that funding for this gang prevention program ended in December.
“We should not let programs like these shut down. We should be expanding them to parts of the world where poverty and oppression form the breeding grounds of terrorism.
“Everywhere I traveled in Mexico, Central and South America last year, I met with people and their leaders thirsty for America to stand with them once again.
“Cuba and Venezuela are sending teachers, doctors, and subsidized oil to those countries. America is sending them little.
“Can there be any question why our influence has waned?
“It’s also long past time for America to lead – not follow – on energy security and global warming.
“We call on President Bush to announce in his speech Monday night that America – always the land of innovation – will invest more to harvest renewable energy sources here at home and fight carbon emissions.
“If we show the world that we are giving this crisis the attention and investment it deserves others will do the same.
“And the sooner we begin investing in renewable fuels, the sooner we can end our reliance on unstable regions and unfriendly governments for their oil.
“The next time the leader of an oil nation calls us a menace – as one did in 2006 – we should be able to tell him to keep his oil. The day we become energy independent is the day we can.
“I would be remiss if I did not briefly mention the debate over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Bill – FISA.
“Democrats have and will always give our intelligence professionals the tools they need to keep ups safe without compromising the privacy of law-abiding Americans.
“With a temporary law about to expire, Republicans must start working with us on a reasonable solution. That means passing a short-term extension of the current law so that no intelligence activities are interrupted while we work out a better long-term solution.
“These steps – diplomacy, development, and moral leadership – will restore America’s Smart Power.
Strengthening Our Armed Forces
“That is crucial, but by no means sufficient. The next step is to strengthen our Armed Forces to better address the challenges that can’t be won without the threat or use of force.
“There is no doubt that our military is the strongest in the world. Our troops conduct every mission with courage and skill. But foreign policy failures have caused a crisis in military readiness and that has left us less secure.
“General Colin Powell put it best last year when he said ‘the active Army is about broken.’
“When President Bush took office in 2001, every Army division was ready to fight. Today, not a single non-deployed active duty or reserve brigade is considered fully combat ready. That leaves us with practically no strategic reserve for the next unexpected crisis.
“The strain of combat is wearing out at least $1 billion a month worth of weapons, vehicles, and other equipment.
“And our courageous National Guard is forced to do their jobs here at home with less than 50% of the equipment they need because much of it has been sent to Iraq.
“The strain on our troops is one of the least noticed, yet most troubling aspects of the war. Recent studies show that more than about 40% of Guard and Reserves return home from Iraq in need of mental health treatment.
“One out of every six Iraq and Afghanistan veterans show symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those numbers are staggering. We have a moral obligation – and a national security imperative – to take better care of those who serve us.
“That starts with reversing the drain of troops into Iraq — but it doesn’t end there. Last year, Democrats proposed a simple plan: that every service man and woman must receive a period of rest and training equal to their time abroad. Twelve months deployed, 12 months at home.
“Republicans blocked our plan. But we will give them another chance this year to do the right thing.
“Last year, Democrats passed the largest-ever increase in veterans’ health care funding. We have already made right the terrible living conditions for outpatients at Walter Reed. And we are funding research and treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other serious conditions to make sure our troops are not left to suffer alone.
“But we must do more. We will work this year to deliver our troops a new GI Bill that provides 21st century education benefits in gratitude for their service.
“We look to the President and Congressional Republicans to join us, not block us.
“When we restore our moral authority and rebuild our military we can more effectively address the global threats that have been overlooked for far too long.
“When the President delivers his State of the Union three days from now, we already know what he will say about Iraq.
“He’ll tell us the war has turned a corner and that victory is in sight. We first heard those words on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that said ‘Mission Accomplished’ five years ago. We have heard them in every subsequent State of the Union speech.
“But five years, nearly 4,000 deaths and half a trillion dollars later, the mission is still not accomplished.
“All Americans cheer the reduced violence we are now seeing in parts of Iraq. But President Bush said clearly the purpose of the troop surge was to give the Iraqi government space for political progress.
“General Petraeus himself has said that Iraq’s problems can only be solved politically, not militarily. But the Iraqi government has done very little with the window we have provided them.
“Now, some Republicans are talking about staying in Iraq for 50 or even 100 years while President Bush wants to cut a deal that will guarantee our presence well past his term.
“The President is on notice: he cannot do that unilaterally. Any long-term deal must meet the approval of Congress. And the majority of this Congress wants to responsibly end the war so that we can turn to other critical challenges. Like Afghanistan.
“Before the rubble of September 11th was cleared, we joined forces with our global allies to drive Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and restore freedom to its people.
“Democrats and Republicans stood together to support that war. And for some time, it seemed to be a success.
“But the President and his Republican allies squandered that opportunity to bring the entire world together to wage a truly global war on terrorism. Now, with a diminished focus and inadequate resources in Afghanistan, progress is threatened by exploding violence. The drug trade is running rampant. And today, 2,327 days since 9/11, the world’s number-one terrorist – Osama Bin Laden – remains free.
“Our government’s 16 intelligence agencies speak with one voice when they say that the Al Qaeda threat is growing. Democrats say it’s long past time to finally answer that threat.
“We call upon President Bush to immediately double the number of intelligence and special operations teams engaged in the hunt for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. With focus and discipline, that is a fight we can win.
“We also hope to hear of a new approach to Pakistan on Monday. This week, several Senators and I met with leading Pakistani reformers. They agreed with our view that a return to democracy in Pakistan is crucial to the fight against extremism.
“That must include: restoring an independent judiciary; allowing international observers for the February 18th elections; and initiating an independent investigation into the Bhutto assassination.
“In Pakistan and throughout the world, we should invest in the people and their struggle for freedom – not solely in one man or one leader.
“If the leader of a nation derails the path toward democracy we must make it clear to that leader that our diplomatic and financial backing are on the line.
“We also hope to hear on Monday that President Bush will take a new approach in Iran. He should commit to following the lead of President Reagan during the Cold War: that though diplomacy may not guarantee progress, silence guarantees acrimony.
“We must not be afraid to communicate with unfriendly countries. This is not a sign of weakness – but of strength.
“President Bush should be sending Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates to meet with their Iranian counterparts. The first topic of conversation should be preventing incidents like the speedboat encounter just weeks ago.
“We are certainly not naive enough to think that talks will solve every problem. Iran’s regime is a profoundly serious challenge as a supporter of terrorism, pursuer of nuclear technology, and meddler in Iraq and the Middle East.
“But we firmly believe that America’s security interests are best served by pursuing diplomacy first.
“Finally the President has become engaged in Middle East peace talks. With tremendous violence and tension only escalating in that region, we support these efforts and we hope that they mark a fundamental new approach to addressing the global challenges I have mentioned.
“Democrats believe that the age of ‘shoot first, talk never’ foreign policy cannot end soon enough.
“We believe that although some of our conflicts will be resolved on the battlefield – and we will always win those – most will be won in hearts and minds.
“More than three years ago – the day the 9/11 Commission report was released – Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton met with Congressional leaders.
“I asked them, ‘Who are these terrorists, and what can we do about them?’
“They told me that there are just a few thousand who are intent on doing us harm. They can’t be rehabilitated or deterred. They must be killed or captured.
“But they are not our only concern. We must be concerned as well with the millions who sympathize with them. It was clear to me then that we must convince those millions of the goodness of America.
“If we fail this war on terrorism will become a multi-generational struggle left to our children and grandchildren to wage. But if we succeed, we can banish terrorism to the darkest caves and crevices on earth.
“That success won’t happen over night. But it won’t happen at all without the moral leadership of the President of the United States.
“Perhaps on Monday, President Bush will show that leadership. Perhaps he will take some of the steps I have discussed. If so, we extend our hand to him and all Republicans.
“But no matter what direction the President takes this year, Democrats will keep fighting for change so that children in Searchlight, in Mexico City, in the Middle East, and all points in between will once again see America as the great hope of our world.”
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SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI
“Thank you, Donna for that kind introduction. I congratulate the National Press Club on its 100th anniversary.
“It is an honor to once again join Leader Reid to offer the Democratic view on the state of the union.
“As Speaker of the House, I am proud of the work the 110th Congress has done to restore faith in our democracy by: enacting landmark lobbying and ethics reform; reasserting Congressional oversight; and restoring fiscal responsibility.
“Now, we must strengthen Americans’ faith in the economy.
Economy / Stimulus Package
“Yesterday, House Democrats and Republicans reached a bipartisan agreement to immediately jumpstart the slowing economy.
“The plan provides working Americans who are struggling in these difficult economic times with timely, targeted and temporary relief. Because of this effort, more than 100 million American families will soon receive, what I call, ‘recovery rebates.’
“The package also gives families a second chance at the American dream of homeownership by helping them refinance and avoid foreclosure.
“The House will move quickly to approve this package which will provide broad-based help to the middle class and those aspiring to it, will create jobs, and will stimulate the economy.
“If there is any doubt of the need for immediate action on our stimulus package to strengthen middle-class families, consider the story of Floreese Feaster of Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Floreese works full-time in customer service for a major telecommunications company, yet she worries that her paycheck will not stretch far enough to cover rising gas prices. Floreese’s five-year old son even offered to loan her $9 from his piggy bank to help fill up the family car. She turned him down, she said, because she already owed his piggy bank $50.
“Americans like Floreese deserve an economy that rewards their hard work, helps them provide for their families, and renews the American dream for their children. That is why the House will act quickly and decisively to put recovery rebates in the hands of hard-working Americans.
“While 2008 is a time to get America’s economy moving again, it is also a year when Americans will select new leadership for our future.
“I know Americans will find the leadership they seek among our outstanding Democratic candidates. But we cannot wait for the next presidential election to address long-term challenges.
“We have already begun to chart a New Direction to strengthen our economy and create jobs for the middle class. We increased the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years. We advanced our Innovation Agenda to make serious and sustained investments in research and development, and promote the public-private partnerships that will develop high-risk, high-reward ideas into marketable technologies.
“We must continue to chart a New Direction for our economy that creates new, knowledge-based jobs as we tackle every major challenge: bringing innovation to education; promoting better health care for all Americans; rebuilding our infrastructure; and addressing the climate crisis and global warming.
“We must bring an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to the work of government and make fiscally sound investments that will pay dividends for the future.
“For education, we will chart a New Direction where innovation not only begins in the classroom, but where innovation will also change the classroom and the way children learn.
“We must ensure that students are prepared for a globalized world and workplaces that will increasingly require them to work in teams, collaborating across companies, communities and continents. We must ensure that our children are not just learning basic skills but critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge to new challenges.
“To begin this effort, we must leapfrog over old arguments about testing and encourage and invest in more innovation so that the students of today will be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow here at home.
“We began this work with our Innovation Agenda which launched a new commitment to encouraging students and ensuring highly-qualified teachers in the fields of math, science and engineering.
“We are making college more affordable for all students to ensure that we have a new generation of innovators.
“We began this work by enacting the largest expansion of student aid since the GI Bill in 1944. We cut student loan rates in half and boosted Pell Grants.
“This year, we will continue that work through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which will continue to address the rising cost of college and reshape our higher education system.
“For health care, we will chart a New Direction where every American has access to quality affordable health care to create a healthier America.
“A healthier America means a major investment in basic biomedical research, while ensuring universal access to its discoveries.
“For example, this year, we will spend about $5.5 billion on total cancer research – the cost of two weeks in Iraq. Every year, cancer kills nearly 560,000 Americans – more than 1,500 Americans each day.
“Imagine the progress for our families, our economy, and our future, if we doubled our investment in cancer research.
“A healthier America means a common electronic medical record for every American from birth on – to reduce mistakes, lower costs, and improve health care.
“A healthier America means personalized care: every American should get care customized to their needs, not one size fits all. We must remove the disparity in health care.
“A healthier America means mental health parity, especially important to our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“A healthier America must contain a strong component of prevention.
“None of the success we want to have in health care is possible without trained, highly skilled personnel. By making these investments in nurses, doctors, and other health care providers, we can have a healthier America and, by creating jobs here at home for the middle class, a healthier American economy.
“For our nation, we will chart a New Direction where we renew America’s infrastructure and rebuild it in a way that is greener and helps confront the climate crisis.
“Two hundred years ago, in 1808, Thomas Jefferson charged his Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, with drafting a plan to develop America’s infrastructure, works like the Erie Canal and the Cumberland Road, to take advantage of a nation that was growing thanks to the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition.
“A century later, in 1908, Theodore Roosevelt launched a similar commitment when he convened a White House Conference on Conservation to stress the importance of preserving America’s natural beauty. That led to the creation of the National Park Service and helped a growing America remain a green America.
“In 2008, in keeping with the traditions of these great American leaders, we must keep America growing while making America greener.
“That means reinvesting in our crumbling highways and bridges and renewing our commitment to mass transit, solutions which will create jobs for the middle class. It also means expanding broadband access across America, and particularly to rural communities.
“Again, in our infrastructure challenge there is job-creating opportunity – to reinvigorate the American economy.
“Global warming is the issue upon which this generation of leaders will be judged by posterity. Only this generation can make the changes needed in time to avert a crisis that our children and grandchildren will otherwise have to face.
“We must build on last year’s landmark energy legislation that increased energy saving standards for lighting and appliances and boosted fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks for the first time in 32 years. We will take the next step by creating a cap-and-trade system to help protect our planet.
“In our clean energy revolution, we have the opportunity to train Americans for green jobs – here at home – to reinvigorate our economy.
“These commitments, taken together, represent more than just a Democratic decision in favor of the future. Americans embrace this vision as their own.
“Our nation has the resources – both the human resources and the financial resources – to meet these challenges and strengthen and expand the middle class. We only require the will to make this vision a reality.
“As Leader Reid will discuss, we need to restore America’s leadership in the world, and we truly need a new direction in Iraq.
“For the cost of one day in Iraq – $330 million – we could fund nearly 1,000 NIH research grants to find cures and treatments for the deadliest and most debilitating diseases.
“For the cost of about one week in Iraq, we could provide 400,000 young Americans with a scholarship for a full year at a public university.
“For the cost of just over one month in Iraq, we could provide health care to 10 million American children for an entire year.
“It is not a matter of resources. It is a matter of making the right choice for America.
“Leader Reid and I both salute our brave men and women in uniform. They have performed their duties excellently and with great courage. As they return home, they will find improved health care thanks to the largest investment in veterans’ health care in the 77-year history of the VA.
“Yet, we owe our veterans even more. We owe them our best efforts to build a future that is worthy of their enormous sacrifice.
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