Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor marking the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and on President Obama’s deficit reduction plan. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Sixty years ago, this nation’s Armed Forces were segregated by race.
Thirty-five years ago women weren’t allowed to attend our nation’s military academies.
And until today, thousands of qualified, dedicated men and women were barred from military service or expelled from the Armed Forces because they were honest about their sexual orientation.
Today, I am glad to say that the time has passed when Americans willing to give their lives to defend this great nation could be turned away from service because of who they love.
Today, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer the law of the land.
For 17 years we have asked our soldiers to defend a flag that stands for liberty and justice for all and then required some of those soldiers to keep who they really are a secret.
And in too many cases we have robbed them of the right to fight for their country altogether. More than 13,000 American service members have been discharged because of this law, which institutionalized discrimination against openly gay soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.
And we’ll never know how many more capable men and women never offered patriotic service to their country because the law exposed them to career-ruining discrimination.
The military’s highest commanders and a vast majority of service members agree our fighting force is better off knowing that we’ll have the best and brightest volunteers, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or gender.
There is no place for intolerance in this great nation, nor in the Armed Forces tasked with protecting it.
I am glad to say that today our military policies and our national values are at last in line.
From today forward, no qualified man or woman willing to fight for a nation founded on the principles of tolerance and equality will ever again be denied the right to do so.
On Wednesday the House will send us a continuing resolution to fund the government through November 18.
I was disappointed to see that the House shortchanged the Federal Emergency Management Agency, by failing to provide the funding to adequately help Americans whose lives have been devastated by floods, hurricanes and tornados.
Last week, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill granting FEMA and other agencies that help disaster victims an additional $6.9 billion. That funding will help rebuild after several costly natural disasters, including Hurricane Irene.
Tomorrow, when the Senate receives the House bill to fund the government for six more weeks, we will amend it with the language of the Senate FEMA legislation. This year, President Obama has declared disasters in all but two states, and FEMA is quickly running out of money to help American families and communities recover.
Of course, I know this amendment will enjoy the support of my Republican colleagues, as it did just last week, when a bipartisan group of Senators agreed that helping communities destroyed by natural disasters was too important to let politics get in the way.
Americans have sent a message to Congress that no issue is more important to them than jobs.
But for Republicans, job creation is less important than slashing spending on initiatives that create jobs and the Social Security and Medicare benefits seniors have earned.
Democrats believe we can reduce the deficit without abandoning job creation.
We can make smart, strategic cuts that won’t further slow down our struggling economy while protecting and advancing initiatives that create jobs. That’s why President Obama has released detailed proposals to create 2 million jobs now while reducing our deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade.
But Republicans have criticized both proposals before even looking at their substance.
They are more concerned with protecting millionaires, billionaires, hedge fund managers and private jet owners than fighting for the middle class.
They claim it is class warfare to ask the wealthiest 400 Americans – who made an average $271 million apiece in 2008 – to pay the same tax rate as librarians, police officers and air traffic controllers.
The truth is Republicans are just defending the economic policies that have besieged the middle class for years.
It’s class warfare to ask middle-class Americans to get by on less while those same 400 Americans are paying less than 18 percent of their income in taxes – a lower rate than the secretaries and janitors who work for them.
Let me be clear: Democrats will do whatever it takes to protect the middle class and seniors, even if it means the richest of the rich in American have to contribute a little bit more than they do now.
We will fight for the policies that create American jobs, even if that means CEOs and hedge fund managers making hundreds of millions of dollars a year have to contribute the same amount or more as teachers and firefighters whose salaries are a tiny fraction the size of theirs.
That’s simple fairness.
With 14 million Americans out of work, we have 14 million reasons to put job creation ahead of tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
As the economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, “True patriotism isn’t cheap. It’s about taking on a fair share of the burden of keeping America going.”