“The promise of America is a simple one. It’s a promise that says if you work hard and play by the rules you can build a stronger, brighter future for you and your family. This promise has lived on for generations in this country, and it’s one I have lived in my own life.
“I grew up in a small mining town in the southern tip of Nevada called Searchlight. My dad was a hard-rock miner. My mom took in wash. Our house had no hot water and no indoor toilet. There was no high school in Searchlight, so I had to live with people 45 miles from our home during the week and go back to Searchlight on weekends.
“We worked hard there, and we looked out for each other. Growing up, I learned the value of work….what it means to be a responsible neighbor…. the power and security of community…and how important opportunity is in this country.
“In that school 45 minutes away, there was a teacher – Mrs. Pickard – who took an interest in me. She understood that a good education is key to getting ahead, so she taught me how to study hard and succeed in school.
“And when it came time for college, once again the power of a strong community came through. Business people in town pitched in and helped me pay my tuition so I could go to college. And after college, I put myself through law school working as a police officer.
“As a result of hard work and the generosity of so many in my hometown, I got a good education that opened so many doors. I was able to go into business for myself and now have what I think is the best job in the world, a United States Senator representing the people of Nevada.
“My story is not unique. There are “Searchlights” throughout this great country, and countless individuals whose lives have been just as blessed as mine.
“But today these stories are becoming fewer and fewer.
“Crumbling schools and disparities in education are closing too many of life’s doors to children in inner cities and rural communities.
“Good-paying jobs are giving way to jobs where no matter how hard you work, it just doesn’t pay the bills.
“45 million people without health care means there are too many Americans not getting the care they need to live healthy, prosperous lives.
“This is the America we live in today. A country whose founding promise is slipping further and further away from reality for too many American families. A country where a kid from Searchlight finds it harder and harder to get ahead, despite the generosity of neighbors, the goodwill of teachers and a work-ethic that does not know the word quit.
“Why do we find ourselves in this state today? Why is the promise of America – that promise that led me to this great chamber – not still alive and well for all?
“In part because we have a government that simply does not live up to the values upon which that promise was made.
“We have leaders whose poor planning and mismanagement sent young kids into battle overseas without the equipment and support they deserve to succeed on the battlefield.
“We have a government that by any measure fails to do all it can do to make our country safe and secure.
“We have leaders that love to create crises when they don’t exist, but are content with the status quo in health care – where there is a real crisis that is crippling our economy, hurting large and small businesses, and pricing too many families out of quality care.
“We have a government that has forgotten who it is responsible to, one that has become content with feeding tens of billions to the special interests while at the same time failing in its commitment to tens of millions of seniors.
“America’s promise will not stay alive if America’s government betrays it.
“And that is why, at the outset of this 109th Congress, Senate Democrats are committed to restoring the promise of America by pursuing an agenda that honors the values behind it.
“The values of:
– Security – that the American way of life and our freedom will be protected.
– Opportunity – that every American can get the education and care they need to compete for good-paying jobs.
– Responsibility – that the United States government meets its obligations to future and past generations.
“These values are at the core of America’s promise, and are the values that will guide the Democratic agenda as this Congress moves forward.
“They also serve as the core principles behind the first 10 Democratic bills which I would like to introduce and talk about today.
“First, we cannot fulfill the promise of America unless we keep our nation strong and safe. Senate Democrats are committed to strengthening America’s security with bills that will make America stronger and more secure.
“Democrats will ensure we target terrorists more effectively.
“We will work to increase our Special Operations forces by 2,000 to eliminate the terrorists where they are and to protect our freedoms here at home. We will also take bold new steps to address the institutions and conditions that incite and create new terrorists abroad.
“To keep us safe at home, Democrats will ensure that the world’s most dangerous weapons stay out of the hands of terrorists. We will expand the pace and scope of programs to eliminate and safeguard nuclear materials and enhance efforts to prevent radioactive and other deadly materials from entering the United States.
“Democrats also understand that putting America’s security first means providing our troops and their families with the resources they need to protect our freedom. That is why we will also work to increase our military by up to 40,000 by 2007 so that we have enough troops to win the peace in Iraq and fight terrorism around the world, without extending their tours of duty or preventing them from leaving the force when their service is up.
“We will create a Guard and Reserve Bill of Rights to protect and promote the interests of our dedicated citizen soldiers, and fight for the families of those who serve to recognize their sacrifice – including providing pay security and immediate access to health care and other benefits.
“But America will never be truly secure if we do not honor those we ask to serve. That is why our third bill, S. 13, will fulfill our duty to America’s veterans.
“It is our duty as Americans to keep our promise to those who served this nation in the defense of freedom. As a new generation of soldiers becomes veterans, we are united to keep that promise.
“Democrats will ensure that all veterans get the health care and prescription drugs they deserve while also expanding the availability and accessibility of mental health care. We will ensure that no veteran is forced to choose between a retirement and disability check, and launch a 21st Century GI Bill that tells soldiers of today that we will help them succeed when they return, just as we did to those great heroes who returned from World War II.
“Second, Senate Democrats are committed to ensuring opportunity for all Americans…to keep the American Dream alive for families across this country.
“That means building an economy that works for all Americans, bringing down health care costs, ensuring children get the quality education they need to succeed in the 21st century, building an economy that works for all Americans and giving every voter an equal shot to have their voice heard.
“Our fourth bill, S. 14, is committed to expanding economic opportunity.
“Today, the best way for families to get ahead is through high quality, good paying jobs. However, these jobs are getting harder and harder to find. Senate Democrats will fight to bring them back.
“We will start by putting an end to tax incentives that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas. And we will make sure those who do work are treated fairly by restoring overtime rights for 6 million workers who lost that guarantee last year.
“But in order to have a good job, you must have an education that allows you to compete. That is why S. 15 works to provide a quality education for all.
“Education has always been the cornerstone of equal opportunity. It was for me growing up in Searchlight, and it remains so today for children across this country.
“Democrats will keep our promise to our children by increasing support for pre-school education, fully funding No Child Left Behind and by making sure it is implemented the right way. We will address the shortfall of math, science and special education teachers by creating tuition incentives for college students to major in these fields, and we will work to make sure that every American who wants it, can afford four years of college with new tuition tax credits and relief from burdensome loans.
“We will also tackle unique challenges that are making it harder for some kids to get a good education.
“For instance, when I traveled around my state, I learned that many rural school districts do not have safe and reliable busses and lack the resources to buy new buses or fix the ones they have. This leaves children no choice but to ride in outdated, unsafe buses. That is why we will create a federal program to help rural school districts purchase new buses that will get kids to school in a reliable and safe manner.
“But even the best job and the best education will not make a difference if our workers and our students cannot live healthy lives. That is why our sixth bill, S. 16, seeks to make health care more affordable for families and businesses.
“Spiraling health care costs are making it harder and harder for families to buy health insurance and placing an evergrowing burden on small businesses and manufacturers. These rising costs dampen our economy and slow the creation of new jobs.
“That is why Senate Democrats will bring down the price of prescription drugs by legalizing the safe importation of FDA-approved prescription drugs from industrialized countries where they are less expensive. At the same time, we will increase the safety of drugs after they approved for use. We will also ensure that every child in America has access to health care and that every pregnant woman in America can get the maternity care she needs. We will reduce health care costs by creating incentives to modernize health care and offering tax credits to small businesses.
“Truly having opportunity also means having a voice in our Democracy. In recent years, we’ve seen too many problems at the polls and I think we can all agree that it is time for some changes. That is why S. 17 will work to ensure fairness and uniform standards in our elections.
“Finally, Senate Democrats are committed to building a government that meets its responsibilities both to Americans today and in the future. This means creating a government that works for all Americans, and not just the special interests. A government that promotes responsible leadership in Washington.
“Through S. 18, we will meet our responsibility to America’s seniors
“Medicare should work for seniors, not the HMOs and drug companies. That is why we will take the special interests out of the Medicare law and take new steps to bring down costs for beneficiaries and expand access to benefits.
“First, we will eliminate the provision that actually prohibits Medicare from using the negotiating power of its 41 million beneficiaries to get low drug prices. We will eliminate giveaways like the $10 billion slush fund for HMOs. We will improve the prescription drug benefit by phasing out the current doughnut hole where seniors pay a premium but get no benefit.
“Seniors across the country were shocked by the record increase in Medicare Part B premiums this year. We will take steps to buy down the Part B premium to make sure premium increases are not too steep. Finally we will address incentives that encourage employers to drop retiree benefits and we will ensure that seniors are not forced into HMOs.
“Through S. 19, we will build a government that honors its responsibilities to future generations. The reckless spending of the last four years has turned record surpluses into record deficits and mortgaged our children’s future. It is long past time for Washington to return to the same common-sense budgeting that families use around the kitchen table every day.
“Finally, the United States has the highest rate of unintended pregnancies among all industrialized nations. Half of all pregnancies in this country are unintended, and nearly half of those end in abortion.
“By increasing access to family planning services through our final bill, S. 20, Democrats will improve women’s health, reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and reduce the number of abortions – all while saving scarce public health dollars.
“These are more than just three words, or three values. They are the foundation on which America’s promise is built.
“Senate Democrats open the 109th Congress steadfastly committed to keeping this promise alive, so that all Americans who work hard can build a stronger and brighter future for their families.
“While these 10 bills do not represent all our goals for the 109th Congress, they represent the start and the core of our mission. No doubt we will tackle many more important issues before this Congress closes, but we will never lose site of the values we fight for and the promise we must keep.
“For instance, when it comes to strengthening Social Security, Democrats will keep America’s promise. The program is our bargain that says those who work hard and pay their taxes have earned a secure retirement. Our values compel us to keep this promise of security to our seniors and Senate Democrats will. We will not irresponsibly cut benefits or jeopardize the opportunity of future generations with $2 trillion in new debt.
“That is keeping America’s promise and that is what Senate Democrats will do.
“In closing, I’d like to say just a few words to my colleagues across the aisle. We hope and believe that many Republicans share our view that we must not allow partisanship to stand in the way of America’s promise or let politics get in the way of keeping alive the American Dream.
“These are three values and 10 bills where there should be no problem finding common ground, and we hope we can work together to keep America’s promise alive for all.”