Senate Democrats

Democrats: Priorities of the People Must Become Priorities of the Senate

Obama, Salazar Look Back at Senate Year and Join Entire Caucus in Saying America Can Do Better

WASHINGTON, DC – With partisan politics distracting the Bush White House from delivering a strategy for success in Iraq or delivering on the American people’s priorities, Senate Democrats came together today to highlight the real issues that must be addressed by Senate Leaders. As this year’s Congressional session comes to an end, Senate Democrats highlighted a year of missed opportunities under the Republican-led Congress. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Ken Salazar (D-CO), two freshmen who came to the Senate a year ago to work on behalf of American families, spoke on behalf of the Democratic caucus. They discussed the patriotic importance of asking the hard questions about the war on behalf of our troops and their families.

“Americans everywhere are looking for leadership – and they’re not looking for the kind of politics they saw last night from the Vice President. Now, I understand when your approval rating is that low, it’s easier to take the focus off yourself by attacking everyone else. But the American people don’t care about whether the White House is losing another political war, they care about whether America is winning the war in Iraq so we can bring our troops home,” said Senator Obama. “As my friend Senator Chuck Hagel said, it’s not just our right to ask questions and demand answers about where this war is headed, it’s our fundamental obligation as representatives of the American people. This is what governing is all about – and it’s time this White House realized that.”

“I ran for the Senate because I wanted to be a fighter for the people and because I believed that Americans deserved better than what they had received the past four years,” said Senator Salazar. “As I near the conclusion of my first year, it is clear to me that Republican-controlled Washington has failed to fight for the people. In so doing, Washington has failed America on homeland security, energy independence, affordable healthcare and clarity on the war in Iraq.”

While Republicans leaders have squandered the last year on special interests and their well-connected friends, Democrats have been pushing to reform Washington and put the priorities of working families – affordable health care, energy independence, and real security – back on the nation’s front burner. Democrats know that America deserves a government as good as its people and we can do better than Republican leaders who put special interests ahead of real problems facing America’s families.

“People everywhere want to believe in an America that puts their hopes and concerns at the center of the decisions we make here in Washington. They’re tired of scandal, tired of corruption, tired of the deadlock, and ready to hear just once that we’ve done something that will actually make their lives a little easier; that will help them pay the bills or send their kids to college or take care of that doctor’s visit. We owe it to the American people to get this done,” Senator Obama added.

The Senators came together as President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue their ruthless political campaign about the war in Iraq to distract from their failure to lay out a strategy for success; Senate Democrats remain focused on pressing our leaders to provide our troops that plan. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the United States Senate to call on the president to stop the political attacks and lay out his plan.

“We’re at war. We need a Commander in Chief, not a Campaigner in Chief. We need leadership from the White House, not more white-washing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq,” said Senator Reid. “Instead of giving our troops a plan for success or answering the serious questions of the American people, they’ve decided to start up the Rove/Cheney attack machine in an effort to restore their diminishing credibility and raise their sinking poll numbers.”

Democrats will continue to ask the hard questions of this administration and push for the Senate to address the priorities of the American people. Democrats know that standing with our troops means more than delivering a rhetorical attack, it means providing our troops and their families a strategy with benchmarks by which our progress in Iraq can be measured. Together, we can do better and Democrats will continue to press to push the Senate to address the issues facing the American people.

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Together, America Can Do Better

In 2005, the Senate had the opportunity to address dozens of concerns of the American people. Senate Democrats arrived to this new Congress ready to tackle these concerns with fresh policy ideas and a willingness to work together. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans turned away from a productive, bipartisan environment and instead partnered exclusively with special interests and the White House. While Senate Democrats put the American people first, introducing legislation that would restore fiscal discipline, honest government and make America energy independent while providing relief to American families, Senate Republicans put the American people last and voted to block these important initiatives.

CREATING A GOVERNMENT AS GOOD AS ITS PEOPLE:

When Senate Republicans put the radical right wing ahead of the interests of the American people it was average Americans who lost out. Democrats fought to put honesty back into government and to put the American people’s priorities first:

Democrats Wanted an End to the Politicization of Classified Information. Democrats fought to end the politicization of classified information by prohibiting any Federal employees who disclose classified information to persons not authorized to receive such information from holding a security clearance.

  • But Senate Republican Leadership Chose to Protect Those Who Leak Classified Information. Rather than support this amendment and show the American people that they believe in honest government, Senate Republicans chose to argue over the technicalities of this amendment, defeating it by their majority vote, and allowing government officials who leak classified information to have continued access to classified information, putting the lives of Americans and the safety of our nation at risk. [RC 188, S. Amdt. 1222 to H.R. 2360, 7/14/05, 44-53]

Democrats Wanted an Independent Investigation of Governmental Failures During Hurricane Katrina. Democrats fought to create an independent investigation into the governmental failures in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Democrats voted for Senator Hillary Clinton’s amendment to create an independent commission modeled on the September 11th Commission.

  • But Senate Republican Leadership Would Only Support a Partisan Investigation. Senate Republican Leadership would only support a commission where Republicans held a majority and maintained sole subpoena power, nothing like the model of the 9-11 Commission that the American people overwhelmingly favored. [Washington Post, 9/8/05; RC 229, S. Amdt. 1660 to H.R. 2862, 9/14/05, 44-54]

Democrats Worked to Protect Democracy. The American people want their leaders to play by the rules and Democrats fought to stop Republicans from abusing their power to push through radical right wing judges.

  • But Republicans Fought to Use the Nuclear Option. For weeks, Senate Republicans tied up the Senate with their abuse of power, fighting to use the nuclear option to break the filibuster and disturb checks and balances. [Congressional Record]

Democrats Fought to Focus the Senate on America’s Priorities. Democrats worked tirelessly to focus the Senate on the issues facing American families. From rising costs for health care, college tuition and gas prices middle-class families’ budgets are being squeezed. Democrats worked to address these issues and help ensure a hard day’s work can pay the bills.

  • But Senate Republicans Intervened in One Family’s Tragedy. In the interest of pleasing the radical right wing, Senate Republicans abused their power to intervene in the tragedy of a single family. [Congressional Record, 3/20/05]

MAKING AMERICA ENERGY INDEPENDENT BY 2020:

When Senate Republicans worked to put special interests before the people’s interest by passing an energy bill designed for and by energy companies, Democrats fought to make America energy independent and provide relief to consumers.

Democrats Worked to Provide Americans Relief from High Heating Costs. Democrats have fought tirelessly to provide relief to working families from the projected high home heating costs this winter. Democrats have led bipartisan fights for three separate amendments to fully fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by increasing its funding to the program’s authorized level.

  • But Senate Republican Leadership Obstructed Stood in the Way of Relief. The Republican-controlled Senate defeated these efforts on a series of procedural votes, even though a majority of the Senate supported additional funding. [RC 250, S. Amdt. 2033 to H.R. 2863, 10/5/05, 50-49; RC 261, S. Amdt. 2077 to H.R. 3058, 10/20/05, 53-46; RC 270, S. 2194 to H.R. 3010, 10/26/05, 54-43]

Democrats Took Steps toward Energy Independence. Democrats worked to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Democrats voted for Senator Cantwell’s amendment to require the President to present a plan to reduce imports of foreign oil by 40 percent by 2025.

  • But Senate Republican Leadership Changed the Subject. Senate Republicans defeated Senator Cantwell’s amendment and attempted to use the Fiscal Year 2006 budget reconciliation process to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At peak production, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated in 2004 that oil generated from the Arctic refuge would account for only 3 to 4 percent of U.S. consumption. And, according to the 1998 U.S. Geological Survey study, there is estimated to be 3.2 – 5.2 billion barrels of economically-recoverable oil in the Arctic refuge or the equivalent of six months of oil supply for the United States. Further, research by the Congressional Research Service reveals this six-month supply would not be available for another ten years. [RC 140, S. Amdt. 784 to H.R. 6, 6/16/06, 47-53; Congressional Research Service, October, 17, 2005]

PROVDING AMERICANS A STRONG ECONOMY:

When Senate Republicans put special interests first and refused to work together with their Democratic colleagues, the American families lost as wages failed to keep up with rising prices. Democrats fought to put working families first:

Democrats Wanted a Return to Fiscal Discipline. To stop passing new debt onto our children, Democrats worked to restore fiscal discipline to government. Democrats voted for Senator Feingold’s amendment in March to restore pay-as-you-go budget rules to both spending and tax cuts. In November, Senate Democrats continued to support restoring fiscal discipline with their support of Senator Conrad’s pay-as-you-go amendment.

  • But Republicans Said No to Fiscal Discipline. Senate Republicans defeated both amendments by Senators Feingold (S. Amdt. 186 to S. Con. Res. 18) and Conrad to restore fiscal discipline with party line votes. [RC 53, S. Amdt. 186 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/16/05, 50-50; RC 283, S. Amdt. 2351 to S. 1932, 11/3/05, 50-49]

Democrats Worked for an Increase Job Training. Democrats moved to provide additional support for the Perkins Vocational Education program that provides crucial job training to Americans. Democrats voted for Senator Harkin’s amendment to restore cuts to the program in the Republican budget.

  • But Republicans Paid No Attention to the Importance of Vocational Education. Senate Republicans defeated Senator Harkin’s amendment on a party line vote. [RC 61, S. Amdt. 172 to S. Con Res. 18, 3/17/05, 44-56]

Democrats Called for a Curtail to Job Outsourcing. Democrats fought to remove incentives for U.S. companies to outsource jobs overseas. Democrats voted for Senator Dorgan’s amendment to end the tax subsidy for domestic companies that move manufacturing and American jobs overseas.

  • But Republicans Refused to Protect American Workers. Senate Republicans defeated Senator Dorgan’s amendment on a party line vote. [RC 63, S. Amdt. 210 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/17/05, 40-59]

Democrats Knew that Americans Deserved a Raise the Minimum Wage. Democrats worked to increase the Federal minimum wage to restore the power of the minimum wage for working Americans. The Federal minimum wage has not been increased since 1997. Since 1997, Members of Congress have passed pay increases for themselves seven times, equivalent to a raise of $28,500 or nearly three times the income of a worker earning the Federal minimum wage. Senator Kennedy introduced an amendment that would increase the Federal minimum wage by $1.10 to $7.75 an hour.

  • But Republicans Instead Offered a Trojan Horse. Senate Republicans defeated Senator Kennedy’s amendment on a party line vote and instead offered an amendment that claimed to increase the minimum wage, but actually included provisions that would weaken protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act, cut overtime pay, and allow some employers to pay nothing to tipped employees. (RC 257, S. Amdt. 2063 to H.R. 3058, 10/19/05, 47-51)

PROTECTING AMERICANS FROM TERRORISM AND OTHER THREATS:

When Senate Republicans put special interests first and refused to work together with their Democratic colleagues, the American people were not protected from terrorism like they deserve. Democrats fought to equip our first responders, honor our commitments to our veterans and to provide our troops and their families with the benefits they deserve:

Democrats Fought to Protect Our Communities by Supporting First Responders. Democrats fought to protect America from terrorism by providing adequate resources to first responders, the men and women on the front lines of efforts to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. Democrats fought for several initiatives to enhance first responder capabilities, including Senator Stabenow’s amendment to restore $1.6 billion in cuts to first responder programs and Senator Biden’s amendment to restore $1 billion in funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.

  • But the Republican-Controlled Senate Resisted. Senate Republicans defeated both of these amendments on a party line vote. Fortunately, Democrats successfully restored some of the President’s budget cuts to first responders, passing Senator Lieberman’s amendment to add $565 million for critical first responder needs. [RC 50, S. Amdt. 147 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/15/05, 46-54; RC 70, S. Amdt. 239 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/17/05, 45-55; RC 64, S. Amdt. 220 to S. Con Res. 18, 3/17/05, 63-37]

Democrats demanded Health Care for Our Veterans. With thousands of our brave men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as our nation’s newest veterans, Democrats fought to increase support for veterans’ health care by $2.8 billion, the amount recommended by the nonpartisan Veterans Independent Budget.

  • But Senate Republicans Turned Their Backs on our Veterans. Fifty-four of the fifty-five Republican Senators voted against Senator Murray’s amendment to address critical shortages in the Veterans Administration (VA). In opposing the amendment, Senator Craig claimed, “there is not an emergency in the VA.” Later, after VA Secretary Nicholson was forced to admit that the VA was roughly $1.5 billion short of the funding needed for the rest of the year; Senate Republicans were forced to join Democrats, led by Senators Murray and Akaka, in passing an amendment to provide the VA with emergency funding. [RC 55, S. Amdt. 149 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/16/05, 47-53; RC 166, S. Amdt. 1052 to H.R. 2361, 6/29/05, 96-0]

Democrats Fought to Protect the Pay of National Guard and Reserve Members. Democrats fought to protect the pay of Federal employees who take leaves without pay to go into service as members of the National Guard or Reserve. Senator Durbin introduced an amendment that would protect employees pay so that that federal government would make up the difference between employees’ military pay and their basic pay as a federal employee.

  • But Senate Republicans Attempted to Quash This Effort. Senate Republicans attempted to quash Senator Durbin’s amendment to provide this basic support for military reservists. They failed, in an attempt to table the amendment and the amendment passed by Voice Vote. However, refusing to carry out the will of the American people and the majority of the Senate, these Republicans joined with their Republican colleagues in the House to remove the provision from the conference agreement. [RC 91, S. Amdt. 356 to H.R. 1268, 4/13/05, 39-61]

MAKING HEALTH CARE AFFORDABLE AND AVAILABLE:

When Senate Republicans put special interests first and refused to work together with their Democratic colleagues, health care continued to become far too expensive for far too many Americans. With 45 million Americans uninsured Democrats fought to make health care more affordable and available:

Democrats Wanted to Protect Seniors from Medicare Premium Increases Which Have Doubled Since 2000. Democrats voted for Senator Nelson’s amendment that sought to protect an increase in Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians, but without passing the cost onto seniors through an increase in Medicare Part B premiums for seniors.

  • But Senate Republicans Turned Their Backs on Seniors. The Republican-controlled Senate defeated Senator Nelson’s amendment, passing the equivalent of a $1.4 billion tax onto seniors. [RC 287, S. Amdt. 2357 to S. 1932, 11/3/05, 49-50]

Democrats Fought to Protect Low Income Seniors. Democrats voted for Senator Murray’s amendment to provide a 6-month transition period to ensure that individuals do not lose their drug coverage when it is moved from Medicaid to the Medicare prescription drug program.

  • But Senate Republicans Refused to Support Their Coverage. Senate Republicans defeated Senator Murray’s amendment to provide temporary, transitional health care coverage to low income seniors with a party line vote. [RC 294, S. Amdt. 2372 to S. 1932, 11/3/05, 43-56]

Democrats Knew that Hurricane Victims Needed Health Care. Democrats fought for Senator Blanche Lincoln’s amendment to provide emergency health care coverage to for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

  • But Senate Republicans “Stood In Our Way.” Finance Committee Chairman Grassley, who has worked in a bipartisan manner with Vice Chairman Baucus, stated his support of Senator Lincoln’s amendment, but that such an amendment would not be possible. “I remain deeply disappointed in the people who have stood in our way, and they are on my side of the aisle.” Senate Republicans defeated Senator Lincoln’s amendment on a party line vote. [Congressional Record, 11/1/05; RC 285, S. Amdt. 2356 to S. 1932, 11/3/05, 48-51]

Democrats Listened to Americans Call for Lower Prescription Drug Prices. Democrats fought to provide lower prices for prescription drugs for seniors by allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate lower drug prices in the Medicare prescription drug program. Senate Democrats overwhelming voted in support for S. Amdt. 214 to S. Con. Res. 18, which would have allowed such flexibility.

  • But Senate Republicans Stood in the way of Lower Prices for Seniors. Senate Republicans refused Senate Democrats attempt to provide lower prescription drug prices for seniors by defeating the S. Amdt. 214 to S. Con. Res. 18 with a party line vote. The Senate Republican Leadership also failed to allow a vote on a bill permitting the importation of FDA-approved drugs from countries with similar drug safety systems but lower prices. More recently, Democrats supported a similar amendment to the Budget Reconciliation Bill. This amendment needed 60 votes to pass; the Republican-controlled Senate defeated it. [RC 60, S. Amdt. 214 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/17/05, 49-50; S. 334; RC 302, S.AMDT.2371 to S. 1932, 11/3/05, 51-48]

Democrats Wanted to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies. Democrats worked to put prevention first and expand access to preventive health care services that reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions and improve access to women’s health care. Democrats voted for Senator Clinton’s amendment that provided these services.

  • But Senate Republicans Refused to Put Prevention First. Senate Republicans defeated Senator Clinton’s amendment with a party line vote. [RC 75, S. Amdt. 244 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/17/05, 47-53]

PROTECTING THE RETIREMENT SECURITY OF AMERICAN WORKERS:

When Senate Republicans pursued their misguided privatization of Social Security that would have put the retirement of millions of Americans at risk while increasing the deficit, Democrats put American workers first:

Democrats Wanted to Protect and Strengthen Social Security. Democrats fought to protect and strengthen Social Security by voting to oppose any changes to Social Security that would require deep cuts in benefits or substantial new debt. Democrats also voted to ensure the 75-year solvency of Social Security before considering new tax cuts or mandatory spending increases that would increase the deficit.

  • But Senate Republicans Only Offered Ways to Dismantle Social Security. Republicans rejected Democrats attempt to strengthen Social Security and the Republican Senate Leadership worked fruitlessly to convince their colleagues to privatize Social Security and encourage Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into risky private accounts. Meanwhile, nothing was done to protect the Social Security Trust Fund or to improve the program’s solvency. [RC 49, S. Amdt. 145 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/15/05, 50-50; RC 47, S. Amdt. 144 to S. Con. Res. 18, 3/15/05, 45-55]

Democrats Worked to Protect Retirement Savings. Democrats voted for Senator Durbin’s amendment that would protect retirees from corporate practices that deprive them of their retirement savings when a business files for bankruptcy.

  • But Senate Republicans Put Corporations Before Retirees. Instead of supporting Senator Durbin’s amendment, Senate Republicans defeated it on a party line vote. [RC 25, S. Amdt. 49 to S.256, 40-54]