Washington, DC—Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon regarding efforts by Senate Democrats to prevent mass layoffs of thousands of teachers and first responders across the nation. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I know we are all eager to return to our states next week to talk to our constituents.
“But we have one more week to go – and before this week ends we have to finish an important list of unfinished business.
“Democrats have dedicated this work period – like every work period – to jobs: putting the unemployed back to work, helping small businesses grow and saving jobs that hang in the balance.
“We’ve taken historic steps to clean up and crack down on Wall Street. We’ve made progress on an energy plan that will create hundreds of thousands of green jobs, lower consumers’ utility bills, make sure BP pays the price for its disaster, and end our dangerous addiction to oil. And after a shamefully long fight, we extended unemployment insurance to the hardest-hit victims of the recession.
“We’ve passed many other good bills, too, even though they may not have grabbed headlines as large as the others. But we also know we have a lot more to do.
“Unfortunately, most of what we’ve accomplished has taken longer than it should have. The minority has made it clear it will say ‘no,’ no matter the question, no matter who suffers and no matter how much of the American people’s time they waste.
“At every turn we’ve met more unprecedented and unnecessary delays from our friends on the other side. Nowhere was that more painfully plain than in their refusal to work with us last month on a bill that would have put half a million more hardworking Americans back to work in small businesses. It would have helped those businesses get capital and get tax cuts, hire and grow.
“So I’m sad to report that this hasn’t been the most bipartisan work period in Senate history. But it is still our responsibility to do right by our constituents. We still need to do that, and we still have time to do that. We can start today.
“I hope we can come together this afternoon and show the country that all Senators share at least one basic belief: that is, that we must do all we can to make sure our children have teachers in their classrooms and that our communities have police officers and firefighters on their streets.
“In a few hours we’ll vote on an amendment that will keep teachers, firefighters and policemen from being laid off. And it does that in a fiscally responsible way. It protects jobs while cutting spending elsewhere.
“First, let’s talk about the teachers. The stimulus we passed last year kept hundreds of thousands educators from losing their jobs. But as states continue to sacrifice education funding, school districts in Nevada and all across the country face the very real prospect of having to lay off thousands of teachers just weeks before the school year begins.
“Twelve hundred jobs are at risk in Nevada. Nearly twice as many teachers are at risk in Kentucky. In California and Texas, the number of jobs reaches higher than 13,000. All told, as many as 140,000 teachers could lose their jobs.
“That would be tragic, especially considering we have the ability to prevent it. Today’s amendment would essentially extend the Recovery Act support that has worked so well.
“States like Nevada would get more than $80 million to help keep teachers in the classroom, and every penny of it would be offset by cutting spending elsewhere. It’s fully paid for, and it doesn’t interfere at all with President Obama’s Race to the Top program, or funding for charter schools, or ongoing education reform efforts.
“But what’s at stake today is not just teachers. They’re not the only ones who lose out when they lose their jobs. We also need to think about the scores of students they teach, mentor, help and inspire. When we vote to save teachers’ jobs, we’re also voting for our students’ future.
“Second, let’s talk about public safety. The Medicaid program ensures that the poorest of the poor in our communities can afford to see a doctor when they’re sick. But the program does a lot more than just that – it benefits everyone by stimulating the economy. It’s the source of money that is spent all over a community – in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other places.
“But just like we see with education, cash-strapped states are looking for places to save money. If they don’t get the help they’re counting on – if states don’t get the money for which they’ve budgeted – they’re going to cut critical services like police officers and firefighters.
“Nevada stands to lose $80 million. Again, Kentucky stands to lose twice as much. California and New York stand to lose two billion dollars each. And across the country, $16 billion is at stake.
“That’s what’s in the legislation before us. But let’s be clear: this vote, like the principle behind it, is simple. It’s about saving jobs – not just because we need to keep unemployment from growing, but because of how important those jobs are in our society.
“When our children go back to school at the end of this summer, there should be a teacher standing up in the front of their classroom. Without this bill, there might not be. Our teachers strengthen our future, and the least we can do is secure theirs.
“When a crime is committed in our communities, or a fire breaks out in a family’s home, we all expect enough police officers and firefighters will be on call. Without this bill, they might not even be on the job. They always look out for us; the least we can do is look out for them.”