“I opposed the Iraq war. In fact, I didn’t just oppose it – I hated it. I think I hated it as much as John Boehner hates the Affordable Care Act… I could have blocked funding for the United States government in order to block funding for the war [but]… I felt it would be devastating to shut down the government and resort to that kind of extremist tactic.”
“Unfortunately… [Speaker Boehner] put his own opposition to ObamaCare and his fellow Republicans’ opposition to ObamaCare above all else – even above ensuring the strength of our economy and the smooth operation of our federal government. I believe history will prove that to be a short-sighted decision, and the wrong one.”
“Our responsibility as leaders is to find a path forward to reopen the government and protect our economy… Reopen the government. Then I commit to name conferees to a budget conference, as the Speaker has requested.”
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding his proposal to launch bipartisan budget negotiations if Republicans end their shutdown of the federal government. The full text of Senator Reid’s proposal to Speaker Boehner can be found here. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
I have often said that I sympathize with John Boehner. He has a difficult job. Even when the Speaker would prefer to be reasonable – when he would prefer to be the Speaker of the whole House of Representatives instead of just Speaker of the Republicans in the House of Representatives – the Tea Party voices in his caucus push him further and further to the right. It can be difficult to balance the responsibilities of remaining true to your party’s core beliefs and doing the right thing for the United States government as a whole.
Let me give you an example. I opposed the Iraq war. In fact, I didn’t just oppose it – I hated it. I think I hated it as much as John Boehner hates the Affordable Care Act.
Even though I voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to confront Saddam Hussein, I was appalled by how that authority was used – without clear objectives, a coherent strategy or significant international support. I spent many gut-wrenching nights sitting in my office struggling over what I could to do. I was disgusted and angry – angry at President Bush and angry at Republicans in Congress – angry that even one more American life would be wasted in such a way. I was so angry, that I said some things I wish I hadn’t. As long as I live, I’ll be remembered for those things.
But I was willing to do anything to stop that war. Or so I thought.
Then, in 2007, I faced a choice. The Commander in Chief had requested $93 billion in additional government funding to continue the war. Congress sent President Bush a supplemental appropriations bill that ended his blank check in Iraq. President Bush vetoed the bill.
At that point, I could have taken the very same steps that Speaker Boehner has taken this week. I could have blocked funding for the United States government in order to block funding for the war. In fact, I faced immense pressure from the left – my own base – to do just that.
Here was my choice: I could put my own opposition to the war and my fellow Democrats’ opposition to the war, before all else. Or, as majority leader of the United States Senate, I could ensure the smooth operation of our federal government. I couldn’t do both.
This was a decision I took very seriously. And in the end I defied the strident voices on the left urging me to stay true to my personal belief that the war in Iraq was an unjust war and that I should end that war at any costs. I felt it would be devastating to shut down the government and resort to that kind of extremist tactic. So we funded the government. We funded the war.
My choice made a lot of Democrats very unhappy. It made many people on my own staff unhappy. But, looking back on that decision, I believe it was the right one.
Today, we are in a similar situation. Republicans in Congress hate ObamaCare. I have no reason to doubt their sincerity when they say they believe the Affordable Care Act will be damaging to our country. I believe they are wrong. Millions of Americans are already benefiting from this law and millions more will benefit in years to come. When the history books are written, I believe ObamaCare will be seen as the greatest single step since Medicare to provide quality, affordable health care to all Americans. But I understand that my Republican colleagues disagree.
Unfortunately, when Speaker Boehner was faced with the same choice I faced in 2007, he made a different decision. He put his own opposition to ObamaCare and his fellow Republicans’ opposition to ObamaCare above all else – even above ensuring the strength of our economy and the smooth operation of our federal government. I believe history will prove that to be a short-sighted decision, and the wrong one.
But regardless of right or wrong, our responsibility as leaders is to find a path forward to reopen the government and protect our economy. So earlier today I offered my friend, Speaker Boehner what I believe is a reasonable compromise that respects both our priorities.
Before the House is a Senate-passed measure to reopen the government. This measure funds the government at the level chosen by House leaders – a level much lower than I would have chosen myself. I propose that the Speaker allow this joint resolution to come for a vote before the full House of Representatives. Every Democrat will vote for it. And according to news reports, more than 100 House Republicans are prepared to vote for it as well.
Reopen the government. Then I commit to name conferees to a budget conference, as the Speaker has requested.
This conference can engage on the important fiscal issues facing our nation. The Speaker has often cited these fiscal issues as the most important challenge of our generation. A conference would be an appropriate place to have those discussions. Conferees will be free to raise whatever proposals they felt appropriate – including tax reform, health care, agriculture and certainly discretionary spending such as veterans programs, National Parks and the National Institutes of Health. And they could do so without the threat of a government shutdown and ensuing economic collapse hanging over their heads.
Together, we can end this government shutdown and work to address the important issues facing our Nation. Together, we can work to put our nation on sound fiscal footing by engaging in a responsible, long-term budget process.
Speaker Boehner, end this Republican government shutdown today. Speaker Boehner, reopen the government. Defy the strident voices on the right urging you to put your personal beliefs and the beliefs of your caucus before the strength of our economy and the needs of our country.