Senate Democrats

Reid: It Is Time For The United States Senate To Get To World

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, ushering in the new Democratic majority in the United States Senate with a call for bipartisanship, hard work, and results. Last November, the American people rejected one-party rule. This January, Democrats are going to reach across the aisle so Congress can deliver results. In his speech, Reid introduced the top ten Democratic Leadership bills. Next week, the Senate will begin work on the first of them—ethics reform to clean up Congress and make Washington work for America again. With a spirit of bipartisanship, Senate Democrats are ready to start moving America forward. The three day week in Washington is over—now the Senate is going to get to work. The text of Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, is below. “The future lies with those wise political leaders who realize that the great public is interested more in government than in politics.” —President Franklin Roosevelt, 1940. I have chosen this famous line to open this new session of the United States Senate, because the wisdom it imparts is as relevant today as it was in 67 years ago. The American people are expecting positive results from the 110th Congress, not more partisan rancor. We stand today at the cusp of a new Congress – ready to write a new chapter in our country’s future. It is a time of hope and promise for our nation. The elections are over, and the next Senate campaigns have yet to begin. Today, we are not candidates. We are Senators. We one-hundred are from different states. We one-hundred represent different people. We one-hundred represent different political parties. But we share the same mission: keeping our country safe and providing a government that allows people to enjoy the fruits and prosperity of our economic freedom. Last November, the voters sent us a message – Democrats and Republicans. The voters are upset with Congress and the partisan gridlock. The voters want a government that focuses on their needs. The voters want change. Together, we must deliver that change. No longer can we waste time here in the Capitol, while families in America struggle to get ahead. No longer can we afford to pass the problems of today to Congresses of tomorrow. From keeping families safe to raising the minimum wage to instituting new ethical reforms, we can – and must – get to work. As the new Congress begins, the challenges facing America are complex. They range from an intractable war in Iraq to a health care crisis here at home, from a middle class that is squeezed to an energy policy that is warming our globe, from a higher education system that has exploded in cost to jobs with benefits that have disappeared. We can make a difference in each of these areas if we remember we are here to fight for our country, not to fight each other. The Majority my party holds is slim—51-49. Some may look at this composition as a recipe for gridlock, but I see it as a unique opportunity – an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to debate our differences and seek common ground. We must turn the page on partisanship, and usher in a new era of bipartisan progress. How can we achieve progress? By doing things differently than they’ve been done in recent years. One, we must work together. Two, must work longer hours. And three, we must work on an agenda that reflects America’s needs. Democrats may be in charge of this Congress, but we are committed to bipartisanship. We have found that a one-party town does not work. We know from experience that Majorities come and go. Majorities must work with the Minority to make lasting change. In this Body, nothing can be accomplished unless we reach across the aisle. It’s because—when our Founding Fathers created the Senate 219 years ago—they carved out a special place for the Minority. They created an institution that protects the Minority, and we will respect those protections. I’ve talked to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader, many times. I’m committed to working with him, and know he is committed to working with me. This morning, we held a rare joint caucus. We are also committed to working with President Bush. He’s pledged to work with Democrats, and while I’ve heard that pledge before, I hope he’s sincere. The President has two 22 months left in office. If he wants to accomplish anything, he will have to work with us in Congress to pass bipartisan legislation. In addition to working together, we’re also going to work longer hours. This year, the Senate will work full weeks, with votes on Monday and Friday. The last Congress was known as a “Do Nothing Congress.” It spent less time working than any Congress in modern history. Some days, the session lasted minutes. In this Congress, legislative days will be real work days. The extra time will give our committees the time they need to put their expertise to use for our country. The best legislation—with the broadest possible support—always comes from our Committees. In the Senate, we have Chairman and Ranking Members with years of experience – Ted Kennedy and Mike Enzi on the HELP committee, Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley on the Finance Committee, Joe Biden and Dick Lugar on Foreign Affairs, Carl Levin and John McCain on Defense. In this Congress, they will have the time they need to produce bipartisan legislation. Our committees will also have the time they need to conduct strong oversight – a Congressional responsibility that has been abdicated in recent years. Oversight is important for our country. Not so we can point fingers, or cast blame, but to answer difficult questions and find lasting solutions to enormous challenges like Iraq. The war in Iraq will cast a long shadow over the Senate’s work this year. No issue in our country is more important than finding an end to the intractable war. We will be listening very closely to President Bush when he comes forward with his new plan next week. The President’s new plan must ensure the Iraqi’s take responsibility for their own future, and it must remove our troops from a dangerous civil war. Completing the mission in Iraq is the President’s job, and we will do everything in our power to ensure he fulfills it. Finally, Mr. President, the Senate will achieve progress for our nation by ensuring the Senate calendar reflects America’s needs. In the weeks ahead, I look forward to receiving input from the Minority. This afternoon—as is tradition in the Senate—I will present an overview of the Democrats’ legislative agenda – bills S. 1 through S. 10. The Minority is granted bills S. 11 through S. 20. In the first 10 bills we will introduce this afternoon—and in our on-going oversight of the war in Iraq—we intend to address three priorities of the nation: one, providing real security; two, restoring transparency, accountability and responsibility to the United States government; and three, helping working Americans get ahead by boosting wages and cutting costs in health care, education and energy. We begin with S. 1, our plan to change the way Washington works. It was late 2005 when scandals involving lobbyists and lawmakers shocked this nation, and despite the Senate’s best attempts, here we are—two years later—and still, there has not been reform of ethics, lobbying, and earmarks. The people deserve better, which is why—as our first order of business—we will seek to give Americans the open and accountable government they deserve. On Monday, we will start with the ethics bill that passed the Senate last year. This bill included important improvements in many areas, but it was not allowed to proceed because of politics in the House. This year, we will improve that legislation and make additional reforms. This legislation will include reforms to slow the revolving door between government jobs and lucrative employment with special interests. It will eliminate gifts paid for by lobbyists and interests that hire lobbyists. It will limit privately-funded travel like the notorious golf junkets to Scotland. It will increase disclosure requirements, so that the public will be better informed about the activities of lobbyists. And it will increase penalties for those who break the rules. With these bipartisan reforms, we will help ensure America has a government as good—and honest—as the people it serves. S. 2 is our plan to increase the wages of working families by raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. It’s been 10 years since the minimum wage was last increased. In that time, the cost of gas has increased. The cost of food has increased. The cost of health care has increased. Even the salary of Members of Congress has increased – nine separate times, and by $31,000. But through all this, the minimum wage has stayed the same. It’s long passed time America’s workers received a raise as well. Today, a mother or father can work fulltime for the minimum wage, but still live $5,000 below the poverty line. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is at its lowest since 1955. Our legislation will directly raise the pay of nearly 7 million Americans by more than $4,000, and by setting a new salary floor, it will indirectly boost the wages of 8 million more workers. That increase is enough to provide nearly 2 years of child care, or full tuition for a community college degree, or over a year’s worth of heat and electricity, or more than 9 months of rent. During the minimum wage debate, we will also likely consider giving small businesses some tax relief. S. 3 is our plan to reduce drug costs for seniors. The flaws in the Medicare drug program are well-documented, but many can be traced back to one simple fact: the law—as written—puts drug companies ahead of America’s aged. No matter whether we supported or opposed the law that created the Medicare drug benefit, we all want to improve the program for older Americans and people with disabilities. It is our obligation to do so. Now, the federal government—with the millions of seniors it represents through Medicare—is unable to negotiate for lower priced drugs. As a result, Medicare beneficiaries are hostages to insurance companies, drug companies, and HMOs S. 4 is our plan to make America safer, by fully implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Following September 11, 2001, the country turned to a respected bipartisan group—the 9/11 Commission—to review the lessons of that terrible day and to recommend better ways to fight the war on terror. We realized we didn’t need Democratic solutions or Republican solutions to keep us safe. We needed bipartisan, American solutions. The Commission did a fine job, and made a number of recommendations. Some were implemented. Others were ignored. One year ago, the Commission delivered a report card grading the government’s progress in implementing its solutions. Among their grades were 12 D’s, 5 F’s, and 2 Incompletes. These grades made clear: we still have not done enough to make America safe. We have work to do, and this legislation will do it. Specifically, it will reinvigorate the fight against Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the ideologies of violent extremists. It will enhance the security of our transportation systems and our ports. It will provide America’s first-responders with the technology they need to communicate with each other during a crisis, and it will make it a priority to secure loose nuclear material around the world. Finishing the job of implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations won’t—by itself—win the war on terror or guarantee 100 percent complete security for America. But we hope with our legislation to improve on the worst of those grades—those D’s and F’s and Incompletes—so that the American people can have every confidence that Congress and the White House are taking every step possible to keep America safe. S. 5 is the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007.” It is legislation we seek to pass, so that some day American scientists may find cures for diseases like Parkinson’s and Diabetes. Today, there are millions of Americans suffering from debilitating diseases that stem cell research could cure. For these Americans, stem cell is an area of science that offers hope, if only we in Washington would allow this hope to flourish. Last year, the Congress passed legislation promoting stem cell research, only to see it vetoed by President Bush. This year, we will consider this legislation again, and—on behalf of millions of Americans looking for cures—urge President Bush to reconsider his veto. S. 6 is our plan to promote energy independence, so we can enhance America’s security and begin to deal with the threat of global warming. For too long, our country’s energy policy has had only one concern: oil company profits. We’ve allowed Exxon’s bottom-line to take priority over families struggling at the gas pump and the harmful effects of global warming. In an effort to begin to solve the energy crisis, our sixth bill will take an aggressive approach to reducing America’s dependence on oil, especially foreign oil, and putting more advanced technologies in the hands of consumers. It will boost production of electricity from solar, geothermal and other renewable sources that are abundant in states like Nevada, and grow the nation’s renewable energy technology jobs and manufacturing base. Freeing ourselves from Oil, particularly from unstable regimes, is a tremendous challenge, but it’s one we cannot afford to ignore. S. 7 is the “College Opportunity Act of 2007” – our plan to make college more affordable for middle-class families. In America today, a college education is more important than ever. Unfortunately, it’s also more expensive than ever. Today, too many families are being squeezed trying to put their children through school. In the last six years, the cost of college has increased 52 percent, while federal assistance—in the form of Pell Grants—has declined. Our legislation will reverse this trend, by raising the maximum Pell Grant award. It will also assist families by lowering interest rates for student loans, and expanding tax breaks for college costs. S. 8 is the “Rebuilding America’s Military Act of 2007.” Today, because of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is strained to levels not seen since Vietnam. While our troops remain the finest in the world, the infrastructure is crumbling around them. Nearly all of our combat divisions have been deployed, and 2/3 of our Army combat brigades are not ready for combat. General Peter Schoomaker, the Chief of Staff of the Army, testified last month that "At this pace … we will break the active component" of the U.S. Army. We also have National Guard, Reserve and active duty veterans coming back to America without sufficient help for the health care and education. If we want real security in America, we must rebuild the U.S. military and ensure it remains the best fighting force in the world. S. 9 will secure America by undertaking comprehensive immigration reform. We passed a solid immigration bill in the Senate last year. Unfortunately, it fell victim to politics in the House of Representatives. Immigration reform is too vital to our security and our economy to fall by the wayside, so we must deal with it again in 2007. America’s immigration system is broken. Our borders remain un-secured. Our laws remain under-enforced. And we have 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows. Our bill will take a comprehensive approach to repairing this broken system. With tough and smart reforms, it secure our borders, crack down on enforcement, and lay out a path to earned legalization for undocumented immigrants already living here. Finally, S. 10 will reinstate “pay as you go rules” to the budget process. As everyone knows, the Senate used to operate under a rule called “pay as you go.” This simple proposition demanded that when we increased spending—or cut taxes—we paid for it. It is a common sense principle that families all across America practice. PAYGO was in place here in the Senate in the 1990s, when our country experienced unprecedented levels of economic growth. Unfortunately, this rule disappeared in recent years, and the results have been disastrous: 9 trillion dollars of debt, the largest deficits in history, foreign debt that has more than doubled, giving countries like Saudi Arabia and China unprecedented control of our economic destiny. We’re facing a fiscal nightmare in our country. It won’t go away this Congress, and it will handicap our ability to do all we need to do. But with PAYGO in place, we’ll begin to get America on the right economic track. Mr. President, this is my 25th year as a member of Congress. In my 25 years, I’ve witnessed many fine moments of Senate history. But I believe our finest days were the days following 9/11. 9/11 was a national tragedy, but it brought out the best in Congress. Democrats and Republicans put our differences aside and worked with the administration to protect the country. That day showed the government working as the Founders intended. This year, we must work in the same bipartisan fashion. It should not take a national tragedy for us to work together. We should be equally united by our ability to make a positive difference in the lives of the people who sent us here. Today is the beginning. This year, let us work side-by-side and succeed together. Let us remember those words “The future lies with those wise political leaders who realize that the great public is interested more in government than in politics.” Franklin Roosevelt, 1940