Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks at AFL-CIO Convention

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

It’s an honor to be here today with the hardworking members of the AFL-CIO. For five decades, you’ve kept the American Dream alive for men and women who work hard and play by the rules. Labor is the heart and soul of this country, and you can be sure Democrats in the Senate are fighting for you.

I was 16 years old in 1955 when the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merged.

I was in high school, living in the small, desert mining town of Searchlight, Nevada. There wasn’t much to do in Searchlight in 1955, but across the desert and out in the world, a lot was happening.

In Washington, DC, Dwight Eisenhower was president. Lyndon Johnson was Senate Majority Leader, and Earl Warren was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Here in Chicago, Richard Joseph Daley won the first of six Mayoral elections.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus.

And four days later in New York City, the AFL and the CIO formally combined their forces. It was another step forward for America’s workers. And in the five decades since, we’ve continued to move forward.

But in 2005, we face a new threat – – – – Republicans in Washington who are out-of-touch and advancing an agenda that benefits special interests and a radical few.

At a time when we’re fighting for quality jobs, workers’ pensions and higher wages, they’re cutting taxes for an elite few and granting favors to their special interest friends.

The United States Senate has been open for business for 94 days. How many do you think Republicans have devoted to America’s workers?

To helping families afford health care? To protecting workers’ rights? To making college more affordable? To an up-or-down vote on a meaningful increase in the minimum wage?

The answer is zero.

Now, how many do you think they’ve spent confirming three right-wing judges?

Over 30.

That’s one-third of the Senate’s time devoted to three right-wing judges and zero for working families.

America’s workers are the best in the world. They should be this nation’s top priority. But President Bush and Congressional Republicans have a different idea.

Even though we’ve gone eight years without an increase in the minimum wage, they recently rejected an increase that would give struggling workers the chance to get ahead.

And even though we’ve lost jobs to trade agreements like NAFTA, Chile, Singapore and China PNTR, they plunged forward with CAFTA and stripped out provisions to protect U.S. workers.

The Republican record is clear. Whether it’s giving billions to Big Oil or choosing drug companies over seniors, they’ve never failed to answer special interests’ call.

In the last few weeks, Washington has focused all its attention on the Supreme Court, but here in Chicago and across the country, life goes on.

Families still worry about their bills, their schools and the price of gas. They see the War in Iraq and the bombings in London and think about their safety here at home. The American people expect their leaders to share these concerns, and we should give them nothing less.

But time and time again, George Bush and Republicans in Congress have put special interests and their partisan agenda first.

They forced through a budget that this nation’s leading Protestant ministers called “immoral” – one that betrays our values and underfunds jobs for teachers, nurses and construction workers. Why? So Republicans could give billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and those with the most.

They found time to debate Bankruptcy and Class Action legislation, but rejected our efforts to fund first responders – the firefighters, police officers and EMTs who keep Americans safe.

For five years, George Bush has failed to stop American jobs from being shipped overseas, but last week, he backtracked to protect Karl Rove and to make sure Karl Rove kept his.

Of course, Republicans will look at this record and tell you they deserve a pat on the back. But we know better. We know the only thing they deserve is to be shown the door.

It’s an abuse of power to have the ability to help American workers, but choose to do nothing instead.

That’s the choice Republicans have made, but we don’t have to live with it.

For fifty years, the AFL-CIO has been fighting for fairness, equality and the right to get ahead. And that’s still what we’re all fighting for today.

Republicans think they can put the needs of America’s workers on hold, but Democrats aren’t going to let them. We’re committed to reform and to putting families first.

We believe in an economy where a rising tide lifts all boats.

We stand for a minimum wage that lets workers get ahead.

And we don’t think our tax code should reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. It should encourage them to create jobs here at home.

When it comes to trade, we have a simple standard: let’s enforce existing rules, not rush into flawed new agreements.

I’ve voted against every flawed trade agreement that’s come before the Senate, including CAFTA. It does nothing to address our trade imbalance and is the latest example of President Bush’s rudderless economic plan.

Democrats also believe in a secure retirement for America’s workers – a retirement based on a strong pension, personal savings and Social Security.

This is the three-legged stool of retirement security. It’s been supporting retired workers for 70 years.

But today, with two legs — pensions and savings — slowly eroding, Republicans are threatening to privatize Social Security and saw the third leg off.

Well, we’re going to stop them and instead find ways to strengthen Social Security, protect workers pensions and promote personal savings

Health care in America is in crisis.

It’s a problem that affects employers no matter how big they are – from thousands of employees to four or five.

There are 45 million Americans without health insurance. But it seems President Bush and Republicans only want to help drug companies and HMOs.

Democrats are committed to bringing down costs and to reforming the health care system, so that the color of your skin or the size of your bank account will never again determine the quality of your care

This is our common-sense reform agenda, an agenda to do the people’s business.

To create prosperity for workers….

To make health care more affordable ….

To keep good-paying jobs here in America….

And to ensure a secure retirement after a life of hard work….

You’ve been fighting for these goals for decades, and I’m proud to stand by your side.

The fight ahead of us is as tough as ever. But we know America can do better.

Together, we’ll put the needs of America’s workers back on the front-burner and pursue a common-sense agenda that works for America’s families.

Thank you.