Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate as he opened the September work period. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“We will continue our efforts to pass comprehensive legislation to address our energy challenges. I am encouraged by the work of what started as the Gang of 10, and has now expanded to the Gang of 16, and perhaps a gang of many more by the time this process has concluded.
“Next week, following Friday’s energy summit, we expect to vote on several comprehensive energy bills:
- The Bingaman-Baucus amendment, which opens up new areas of the Outer Continental shelf to drilling, including parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It requires diligent development of the millions of acres already leased by oil companies for drilling but so far unused and accelerates leasing off Alaska’s coast. Bingaman/Baucus also extends renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced vehicle tax incentives, all paid for by eliminating oil company subsidies. It repeals deepwater royalty relief and enacts strong national energy efficiency building codes.
- The Gang of 16 bill, which, similar to the Bingaman/Baucus amendment, opens up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling, as well as other areas off the coasts of the Southeastern states at those states request. It also extends and expands important renewable energy and advanced, alternative fuel vehicle tax incentives – all paid for by eliminating oil companies subsidies and closing royalty relief loopholes. The Gang of 16 bill also provides additional subsidies for building coal-to-liquid plants and increases subsidies for nuclear power plants.
- And we are open to a vote on the Republican amendment – S.amdt 5108 – that Senator McConnell filed to the speculation bill. This amendment opens up all coastal areas to drilling at the states’ requests, except for the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which stays closed until 2022. It also closes the London loophole and requires index trader and swaps dealers to report their energy-commodity transactions.
“It should be clear to all that we are offering Republicans multiple opportunities to vote for increased drilling, which they have chosen to make their marquee legislative priority and campaign issue. We offered votes on drilling before the August recess, and Republicans rejected our offers. This time, I hope Republicans will put their votes where their mouths are to pass comprehensive legislation that includes drilling.
“Soaring prices for oil and gas are just one part of our economic crisis. With the economic news in August only getting worse, we will also work this month to pass another economic recovery package. The Bush economy has lost jobs every month in 2008 – 84,000 jobs lost last month alone, for a total of 605,000 lost this year. That brings the total number of jobless Americans to 9.4 million.
“Our country has seen a 17 percent decline in house values since last year. We recently learned that the unemployment rate soared to 6.1 percent in August. American workers are holding up their end of the bargain: productivity is up more than 20 percent since 2000. Yet wages have failed to keep pace.
“And the news of the day – the federal intervention on Fannie and Freddie – is but the latest evidence that our economy is in serious trouble. Until very recently, Senator McCain has stuck with the Bush-Cheney line that the economy is strong. I hope that this alarming string of bad news will finally wake him from his daydream.
“Recognizing that the Bush economy is failing the American people, Congress passed a recovery plan earlier this year that put a rebate check in the pocket of working families. Although the economy has continued to suffer since the first recovery package, economists agree that things would have been even worse without our legislation. With families struggling from coast to coast, Democrats are ready to pass another economic recovery package, and we hope this is something both parties can agree upon.
Highway Trust Fund
“One step we can take to stimulate the economy right now is to pass the Highway Trust Fund bill. As high gas prices have caused Americans to drive less, the flow of money coming into the Highway Trust Fund from tolls has declined. If Congress fails to take action, the Highway Trust Fund will run short of money for road projects – possibly as early as the end of this week.
“Each $1 billion spend on highway projects creates 47,000 jobs – so the economic damage of the trust fund running dry would be enormous. For months, the Bush Administration opposed Congress’s efforts to fix the highway funding shortfall. Finally, the White House embraced our efforts this past Friday. President Bush called upon the Senate to send him the bill passed by the House in July —by an overwhelming 387-37 vote. This bill would transfer $8 billion from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund.
“With a funding shortage looming – with strong support from both Democrats and Republicans – and with the Bush Administration finally joining us – now is the time to pass this legislation.
“In addition to the Defense Authorization bill, comprehensive energy legislation, an economic recovery plan and the Highway Trust Fund, we will hopefully turn to other important, bipartisan bills already passed by the House of Representatives. Whether we are able to pass these bills depends on how much cooperation we receive from Republicans.
“We must also work to pass a Continuing Resolution this work period that will prevent a government shutdown and keep the government running into next year. There has been some talk of the politics of a government shutdown. Let’s be clear: shutting down the government means that senior citizens stop receiving checks and veterans stop receiving health care. We must not let that happen, and I hope Republicans will work with us on a reasonable process to avoid it.”