Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding Republican obstruction of the FAA Modernization Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“On occasion, the United States Senate must turn to legislation that we know will cause controversy. Abortion. Social security. The war in Iraq – just to name a few. Sometimes we find common ground on these issues. Other times, after thoughtful, earnest debate, the two sides of the aisle cannot converge in the middle. And that is okay. That is just how this body was designed to work.
“So I offer the words that will follow with an understanding that as the majority party, we cannot expect the Republicans to agree with us on everything. And when the legitimate pursuit of compromise eventually leads to a dead-end, we accept that outcome and move on to the next challenges.
“But again and again this session, our Republican colleagues have refused to work with us at all. They have rejected the difficult but critical job of legislating – in favor of the easier but hollow of obstruction and political gamesmanship. Sixty-eight times and counting since the beginning of this session, Republicans have filibustered legislation. That means that sixty-eight times, Republicans have stopped us from even debating, even negotiating, even working on legislation for the American people.
“Filibustering is far different from voting against a bill. We have no gripe with any Senator who objects to legislation and votes against it. Time after time, Republicans have blocked us not just from voting on a bill – but even from getting to the point where we can negotiate on a bill.
“Republicans are acting like the kid on the playground who doesn’t like his teammates, so he takes his ball and goes home. And what’s even worse are the bills that our Republicans friends choose to block. Many of these bills aren’t on major controversial bills. They are not political hot potatoes. They are fairly straightforward, non-controversial ideas that can make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous.
“We are now seeing yet another example of this. Earlier this week, the Commerce and Finance committees reported the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act to the floor of the Senate. Any American who has taken an airplane over the past couple of years understands that we have a problem with our aviation system. A record 770 million American passengers took to the skies last year, which is nearly twice the number of just 20 years ago.
“But as the number of passengers was steadily rising over those years, investment in technology and infrastructure did not nearly keep pace. Anyone can see the potential for disaster.
“Thankfully, the aviation industry has seen relatively few disasters, but all of us can see the result of the problem in longer lines, more crowded flights and more frequent delays. The number of passengers will only continue to increase. By 2020, the number should reach 1 billion. That’s just 12 years from now.
“Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport – the fifth largest in America – now hosts 4 million passengers every month. Traffic through McCarran has increase so much that it will reach maximum capacity in the next three to five years. This growth in air travel – not just in Nevada, but throughout America — presents both an opportunity and a major challenge.
“If we legislate with foresight and make the necessary investments, it represents enormous opportunity for airlines, tourism and our economy. But if we fail to take the necessary steps today, travelers could be put at greater risk, our economy could suffer, and air travel could grind to a halt.
“Chairman Rockefeller, Chairman Baucus, Senator Inouye, Senator Stevens, Senator Grassley and Senator Hutchison worked in earnest to send the FAA Modernization bill to the floor. They were a model of how the legislative process should work: Democrats and Republicans working through their differences to come up with solutions.
“But when the bill reached the floor, our Republican colleagues apparently decided that this was an opportunity to filibuster once again. We are all aware that legislation does not go directly from conference to a vote. Amendments are considered. Debate follows, and votes are taken.
“I have made it clear to the Minority Leader, right here from the floor of the Senate, that Democrats welcome amendments from both sides of the aisle. I even offered to the Republican Leader that he could sit down with me and we could work together on a list of amendments. I don’t know how I can make it any clearer that Democrats want to debate and pass this bill fairly and openly.
“We have reached out to the Republican side at every step of the legislative process. But our overtures have gone ignored. On a bill as critical and non-controversial as making air travel safer and more efficient, Republicans have obstinately refused to negotiate.
“If Republican Senators find parts of the bill objectionable, they have every right to offer amendments to add or strip provisions. Their amendments will be treated just as fairly as ours. That is how the legislative process is supposed to work. That is how the Senate is supposed to work. But Republicans won’t even allow us to reach the point where negotiation can happen. They aren’t just blocking the bill itself, they are blocking even discussion that could lead to a compromise that they could support.
“There is plenty of blame to go around for this Republican failure in leadership. But the most serious failure lies with the leader of the Republican party, the President of the United States. Here is what a responsible president would do: First, acknowledge the critical importance of legislation to modernize the Federal Aviation Administration. Next, possess the political skill to see that members of his own party are having difficulty reaching compromise on the bill with the majority party. And most importantly, set an example of leadership by bringing the sides to the table to forge a compromise and reach a solution.
“Using the power of the office to break down barriers and bring sides together is one of the most powerful and important responsibilities of the President of the United States. Unfortunately, perhaps tragically, it is a responsibility that President Bush has ignored. He has left his party rudderless – with no catalyst or imperative to get things done. The result: we end up here, with critical legislation at hand and only one side at the negotiating table.
“So I renew my call to my Republican counterpart, Senator McConnell. If you object to parts of this crucial bill, come to me with your objections. We will try to work them out. Don’t let more time go by as the American people wait for progress. That’s the old way of doing business. That’s the status quo. The challenges we face are too important to do business that way.
“President Bush, if you believe – as we do – that the future of aviation may well lie in the decisions we make now, get off the sidelines and get involved. Urge your Republican colleagues in the Senate to work with us. Democrats stand ready to get the job done. The American people deserve no less. “