Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the Advancing America’s Priorities Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Kathie Barrett is a married mother of two from Sparks, Nevada. After taking several years off to raise her children, Kathie went back to work as a librarian’s assistant. Six years ago, Kathie was diagnosed with ALS – better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – and declared unable to continue working.
“Despite a breathing capacity of just 68 percent of normal and considerable muscle loss in her neck and back, Kathie and her husband Martin made the long trip from Sparks to Washington last year to ask Congress to pass the ALS Registry Act.
“Kathie is one of 5,600 Americans newly diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease each year. There is no cure for the disease, and the one FDA-approved drug works for only 20 percent of patients. Even for them, it merely extends life for a few months. Lou Gehrig’s disease has proven particularly hard for scientists and doctors to research, much less cure.
“One reason is that there is no centralized place where data on the disease is collected. Researchers have only a patchwork of information to work with. I introduced the ALS Registry Act last year to create a database at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to centralize research and information on Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“This legislation would not guarantee a cure for Kathie Barrett and thousands of other Americans who suffer – but for the first time, it would give them hope for new treatment and the prospect of a cure.
“I was glad to see the House of Representatives embrace my legislation by an overwhelming vote of 411-3 last year. When the ALS Registry Act reached the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee here n the United States Senate, it passed unanimously. It seemed at the time that this worthy initiative was headed toward swift passage.
“Yet one Republican Senator prevented it from passing.
“Kathie Barrett continues to wait for Congress to act. Tens of thousands of others continue to suffer, as doctors and scientists are unable to gather and access the information that could help them.
“The same Republican Senator who continued to hold up passage of the ALS Registry Act has unfortunately done the same for dozens of other worthy and overwhelmingly bipartisan bills. Just a few of these bills include:
- The Emmitt Till Unsolved Crimes bill – Which would help heal old wounds and provide the Department of Justice and the FBI tools needed to effectively investigate and prosecute unsolved civil rights era-murders.
- The Runaway and Homeless Youth bill – Which would provide grants for health care, education and workforce programs, and housing programs for runaways and homeless youth.
- The Combating Child Exploitation bill – Which would provide grants to train law enforcement to use technology to track individuals who trade child pornography and establish an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
- And the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act – Which would enhance cooperation in research, rehabilitation and quality of life for people who suffer from paralysis.
“We tried to pass each of these bills separately, but those efforts have been stalled by the objection of one Senator.
“All U.S. Senators should refuse to let that senseless objection be the last word on these important measures. We have packaged these and other bills together in the Advancing America’s Priorities Act to give the Senate the chance to overcome this senseless obstructing of the nation’s business.
“Not a single one of the 35 bills in this package are partisan or controversial. These bills have been passed by the House of Representatives and their respective Senate Committees with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans.
“The prime Republican obstructer to these bills asserts that he opposes them because they cost too much. That argument reflects an intentional mischaracterization of the legislative process. This is an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill. For those uninitiated in the ways of Congress, an authorization bill does not create one penny of spending. The Senator preventing this legislation from passing knows this, but continues his façade of demagoguery.
“Spending decisions are made through an entirely separate budget and appropriations process. The appropriations process is when our limited federal resources are divided. If Republicans want to argue against any of these programs during the appropriations process, they have every right to do so. In fact, the appropriations process affords them three opportunities: in the subcommittee, the full committee and on the floor. But all these authorization bills do is move these initiatives forward in the legislative process. It allows them to be considered for appropriations.
“If we do not authorize them now, they will not be eligible for consideration during the appropriations process. Voting against them now would deny Congress the opportunity to fund any of them.
“Do I hope that most if not all of these initiatives will be funded during the appropriations process? Absolutely. Congress must always be watchful and prudent with taxpayer dollars.
“I am as alarmed as anyone that President Bush and his Republican allies in Congress have allowed the national debt to increase by $3 trillion over the last seven and a half years. I am as alarmed as anyone that we continue to spend $5,000 a second in Iraq, funding $10 billion a month for war with borrowed money, putting it on a credit card and sending the bill to our children and grandchildren. I am as alarmed as anyone to hear this morning that there will be a record budget deficit for 2009 of nearly half a trillion dollars.
“This fiscal irresponsibility will be the legacy of the Bush Administration. But this package of bills – including creating an ALS Registry, helping runaways and homeless children, providing the Justice Department with tools to fight unresolved civil rights crimes and cracking down on child pornography – these are priorities that all of us, Democrats and Republicans, should embrace. And they will not add a single penny to the Bush budget deficit.
“And you don’t have to just take my word for it. The Congressional Budget Office has reviewed the Advancing America’s Priorities Act and reports this: ‘Those authorizations do not cause changes in federal spending or revenues.’ That is an indisputable fact. Any efforts to portray this legislation as a spending bill – much less a reckless spending bill – are indisputably false.
“We have been down this road before. Earlier this year, the same Republican Senator who is the leading obstructer of these bills did the same thing for a package of lands bills. We acted in good faith to negotiate a set of amendments with him so that his concerns would receive full and fair consideration on the Senate floor. Those familiar with our negotiations would surely agree that we offered him a far more generous arrangement for amendments than many Democrats or Republicans would have thought his objections merited.
“But after spending considerable time negotiating in good faith, it became clear that this Senator was not serious about reaching an agreement. Then, like now, we tried to pass the more than 60 initiatives in the lands package as standard, stand-alone legislation. Those efforts were obstructed by the Republican side.
“After months of delay, we finally voted on the lands package. They passed the Senate by a vote of 91-4. Now they are law, and the American people are benefitting from them.
“Some Republican Senators take another approach to explaining their obstruction of this legislation. They say it is an effort to preserve minority rights. Democrats have been more than willing to allow open debate and amendments, even on legislation like this where we are baffled by Republican opposition. If the Republican Senator or Senators who block this legislation were serious about having his concerns heard on the Senate floor, we would give him that chance.
“But it is clear that the ultimate goal is to make a political point – at the expense of millions of Americans who would be helped by these bills. Republican Senators have acted within their rights to block and delay action. But simply being within their rights does not put them in the right.
“And some Republicans make one final spurious argument for opposing this legislation: that it takes us off debate on energy legislation. But the facts on this are clear for all to see. Democrats have tried again and again to legislate on energy prices. We have introduced comprehensive proposals that would lower gas prices in the short term while addressing the root cause of the problem for the long term. We have even offered Republicans exactly what they claim to want: votes on drilling, oil shale and nuclear power.
“They have said no. So if the American people are wondering why Congress has not passed legislation on gas prices, it is because Republicans refuse to take ‘yes’ for an answer. Democrats will continue proposing ideas to address our energy crisis. Unlike our Republican colleagues, we are offering solutions.
“Democrats await the day that Republicans tire of endlessly talking about the energy crisis and decide it’s time to join us in actually getting something done. Any Republican effort to confuse the debate over this package of bills with the debate over energy is disingenuous.
“So I hope we will see this unfortunate obstruction end the way the lands package ended in April: After delay, Republican political gamesmanship and unnecessary headaches, the legislation passed 91-4. It would be wrong – and unconscionable – to defer the hope of Kathie Barrett from Sparks, Nevada, and all those who suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease, any longer.
“For them, for the victims of unresolved Civil Rights-era crimes, for homeless children, for victims of child pornography, and for the 30 other meritorious bills sponsored by Democrats and Republicans – it is time to put aside the delay, put aside the politics, put aside the obstruction and pass the Advancing America’s Priorities Act into law.”