Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“This weekend the Bush Administration sent to Congress its plan to address our country’s growing economic crisis. All of my Democratic colleagues in Congress understand the need to take action to steady our economy, and we are prepared to act swiftly and responsibly to pass legislation that puts the interests and security of the American people first.
“We know, for example, that nearly two and a half million Americans took out mortgages last year, and nearly half of all college students rely upon student loans. The consequences of a broken banking system devoid of loans for homes, college, automobiles and business investment would be devastating.
“We are prepared to do what is necessary to avoid these unacceptable consequences — but we will not let haste abandon good judgment in the process. The Bush Administration has called on Congress to rubber stamp its bailout legislation without serious debate or efforts to improve it. That will not happen.
“The legislation sent to Congress by the Treasury Department recognizes the scope of the crisis the Bush Administration created, a view that we share with Secretary Paulson. But the Bush Administration’s bill is a starting point; by no means the final product.
“Democrats believe that there should be protection for the taxpayers who are footing the bill for this legislation. That begins with more oversight, more transparency, more accountability and more controls to prevent conflicts of interest.
“Democrats believe that there should be limits on compensation for executives of companies who benefit from this legislation so that the American people don’t see their tax dollars spent on exorbitant corporate pay and golden parachutes. The American people earn their pay through honest hard work, and so should CEOs.
“Democrats believe that in exchange for shouldering the enormous burden of the Bush plan, taxpayers should reap any future economic rewards. That means this plan should not permit taxpayer money to purchase an asset at an inflated price exclusively for the benefit of private shareholders.
“Democrats believe that this legislation affects not just the American economy but the global economy, and we will call upon other nations to do their part.
“We believe that this legislation should provide aid for Americans at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure. As the law currently stands, the wealthiest Americans can seek mortgage assistance from a bankruptcy judge to help keep their second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or even seventh home – but working families cannot seek mortgage relief from a bankruptcy judge for their first and only home — their primary residence. That makes no sense and we should change it. Bankruptcy courts should have the authority to reach mutually beneficial arrangements to allow families to keep their homes and prevent more foreclosures.
“And, Democrats strongly believe that it’s not enough to fund a Wall Street bailout. We need an economic recovery plan to create jobs, provide better unemployment insurance, and invest in our crumbling infrastructure. Such a plan has to be voted upon before we adjourn – either as a part of this legislation or separately. These steps will help catalyze longer-term economic growth once the dust on Wall Street has settled.
“Democrats in Congress fully understand the severity of the situation and the need to pass legislation. But we are not willing to give President Bush a blank check. We are now seeing eight years of reckless Bush economic policies come crashing down with unimaginable speed and severity.
“This crisis puts our economy and the well-being of the American people in serious jeopardy. President Bush said on Friday that we should assign blame later – which is, of course, exactly what you would expect the culprit of the crisis to say.
“But the American people have a right to know what brought us to this grave economic danger. The answer is a president and Republican Congress determined to repeal all reasonable oversight and accountability, ignore what they couldn’t repeal and allow corporate greed and recklessness to saturate our economy.
“Democratic and Republican presidents who served before President Bush all understood that demanding accountability from the financial sector is not somehow anti-capitalist. Just the opposite – it maintains balance, protects taxpayers and keeps our economy running smoothly.
“But the greed-fueled Bush/Cheney Administration thought they knew better. They put cronies and ideologues in charge of our most critical regulatory agencies, people who disdained government oversight of any kind and systematically put Wall Street ahead of Main Street.
“In just one example of this irresponsibility, the Bush Administration refused to provide oversight of the mortgage industry to ensure that the rules were followed. The result was massive fraud and predatory lending – the practice of preying on American families with deceptive, dishonest loans. And now, Senator McCain has announced that he wants to run our health care system the same irresponsible way that President Bush has run our economy.
“This hands-off, business-first Bush-Cheney economic philosophy infiltrated nearly all aspects of our economy, from mortgages to consumer safety to the airline industry, and the American people are now left to suffer the consequences. This morning, President Bush released a statement preemptively criticizing Democrats for working to improve his plan. If the President is serious about reaching an effective, bipartisan solution to the economic crisis he created, he will join us in solving the crisis that he created.
“We will not drag our feet. We will respond with the urgency of action that this situation demands. But after eight years of fiscal dereliction of duty, it’s past time for accountability.
“Democrats understand that the two primary responsibilities of government are to protect the peoples’ physical and fiscal well-being. Whatever the ultimate cost of this legislation, we will never forget that these funds do not come from some nameless government account: every dollar comes directly out of the pocket of an American taxpayer. Every dollar of could be saved for a secure retirement. Every dollar could be invested in health care for the uninsured, education for promising students, or to fund a small business startup.
“We understand the value of each and every dollar spent on this plan, because we know that each dollar comes from the American people. We will work un-ending hours, in a bipartisan manner, to ensure that we don’t just get this legislation done, but get it done right.”