Senate Democrats

Reid: Democrats Committed To Providing For Troops, Changing Course In Iraq, Addressing Critical Needs At Home

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“This morning, President Bush spoke from the Rose Garden.  Here are just a few of his words: ‘The end of 2007 is approaching fast and the new Congress has little to show for it.  I call on members to use the time left to support our troops, and to protect our citizens, prevent harmful tax increases and responsibly fund our government.’

“The end of the Bush Administration is fast approaching and all he has to show for it is an endless war, an ever-shrinking middle class, and a budget gone from record surpluses to record deficit.  President Bush calls on Congress to ‘support our troops.’  But it’s this President who has stretched our military nearly to its breaking point.  It’s this President who has kept our troops abroad for two, three and four tours of duty without proper rest.  It’s this President who has sent them into battle without proper protection, and neglected veterans care when they return home.

“It was this Democratic Congress that provided funds for body armor, voted for a troop pay raise, and provided funds to fix the neglect at Walter Reed and other military health facilities, so that our troops get the care they need when they return from combat.

“President Bush calls on Congress to ‘protect our citizens.’  But it’s this President who has failed to capture Bin Laden, who taunts us with new videos and new threats.  It’s this President who has allowed Al Qaeda to regroup and become stronger than ever.  It’s this President who has consistently underfunded the homeland security priorities that keep us safe in our cities and towns. 

“It was this Democratic Congress that finally implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission – long ignored by the President and his Republican enablers – which helps secure our most at-risk cities, gives our first responders the communications tools they need in an emergency, and improves oversight of our intelligence and homeland security systems.

“President Bush calls on Congress to ‘prevent harmful tax increases and responsibly fund our government.’  But it’s this President’s reckless fiscal irresponsibility is growing the national debt at an astounding rate of $1 million per minute – for a total increase of more than $3 trillion on his watch.  It’s this President who has increased our debt to foreign governments by more than all former presidents combined.  It’s this President who has stuck the bill for his failed policies squarely on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren.

“It’s this Democratic Congress that has put working families first: With the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade to give the hardest-working but least-paid Americans a little more to make ends meet.  With a bill to provide health insurance to millions more children of low-income families.  And with investments in Head Start and student financial aid, so that all children, regardless of the wealth of their parents, get started on the right track and have the opportunity to go to college.  And unlike President Bush, we paid for our priorities in a responsible way without increasing the debt.

“This President and his allies in Congress have led American down a dark path.  This Democratic Congress – in its first year – has made America stronger, safer and more prosperous.  But with the President and Republicans fighting us tooth and nail, with empty rhetoric, obstruction and vetoes, we still have a lot of work left to do.  In this final work period of the year, our plate will be full. 

“First, we will return our focus to finally ending the war in Iraq that has cost our troops and our country so dearly.  We will take up a House-passed bill that provides $50 billion in emergency funds to our troops and requires the President to transition the mission from combat operations to security, training and anti-terrorism.

“Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we began to hear the rumblings of what is sure to be an outrageous line of attack from the Bush White House.  The President and his enablers are starting to blame Democrats for refusing to send money to troops.  This is plainly untrue.  It is cynical politics at its worst.  And the American people are far too smart to fall for it.  The facts are clear.  We just passed a nearly half-trillion dollar Defense appropriations bill.  The Department of Defense is fully funded.

“Before the holiday, we offered another $50 billion funding package on top of that to support our troops in combat – provided the President heeds the call of the American people and begin to change course.  The President and his enablers in the Senate rejected that package.  The President said no to funding his own war unless he is given a blank check to continue his failed policies.

“The American people know the current course has not brought about the political reconciliation the President promised.  They realize that it makes no sense for President Bush to blame Democrats because he rejected the funding package we offered.  This week, we will try to give the President the opportunity to accept troop funding once again.  We will try to return to the House-passed bill.  We will give our Senate Republican colleagues another opportunity to stand on the side of our brave troops in battle by passing legislation that contains additional funding and provides a strategy to bring the war to a responsible end.  But Iraq is just one of many priorities we must address in the weeks ahead.

“We have much left to do on the appropriations front, in large part because the President has been stubborn and unreasonable.  Rather than work with us to resolve a difference that amounts to less than one percent of our budget, the President threatened to veto every appropriations bill before it was even written.  We have offered to compromise with President Bush – to split the difference on appropriations between his demands and ours.  So far, it does not appear that the President is ready to do the right thing for the American people by accepting our fair compromise — but I hope that Senate Republicans will act more responsibly.

“We will then turn to the Alternative Minimum Tax.  According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, 19 million American families – and 150,000 Nevadans – will be forced to pay the AMT next Spring if we don’t take action before the year is up.  Before Thanksgiving, the House voted on AMT relief.  After their vote, I offered a consent agreement to hold three votes: one on the House’s AMT relief bill, one on Senator Lott’s amendment to repeal the AMT and one amendment from Senator Baucus.  Unfortunately, our Republican colleagues blocked these votes.  Despite the President’s warning to them that we must move quickly on the AMT, they chose obstruction. 

“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to move forward on this legislation.  I hope Republicans will end their obstruction on this vital tax relief so that we can move to a vote.  If they do not, I will have no choice but to file cloture so that we can move to a vote on the House bill – and that is exactly what I will do.

“In the coming days, we will turn to a bill to amend FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  Earlier this year, the President signed a deeply flawed temporary law on this subject that will expire in early February.  Both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees have reported a bill that improves current law, and the House has passed its own version.  The full Senate must debate this matter in December to allow sufficient time for negotiations with the House before the February deadline.  We need to give our intelligence professionals all necessary tools, while at the same time protecting the privacy of law-abiding Americans. 

“Vigorous intelligence gathering should be accompanied by meaningful judicial review and strong congressional oversight.  FISA has struck this balance well for 30 years, and now we can make it even more effective.  Both of these Senate Committees have worked together in a bipartisan manner.  Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Bond, along with Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Specter, are sorting through differences in the work of their two committees.  I hope that under the leadership of those four Senators, we will pass a bill that strikes the right balance and makes our country safer. 

“We will also address the Peru Free Trade Agreement, which is the first that incorporates the bipartisan agreement of Speaker Pelosi, Congressmen Rangel and Levin, and Senator Baucus, with the Administration.  It includes binding new provisions incorporating core internationally-recognized labor standards.  The House passed this agreement before the holiday, so now we must act quickly under fast-track rules.  This and other trade agreements remain controversial – so I look forward to a fair and healthy debate.

“Later this work period, we will move to finish the work on the energy bill that both the House and Senate began earlier this year.  In June, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the landmark energy bill to improve fuel efficiency and invest in renewable fuel technology.  This bill would save Americans at the pump and on their heating bills.  Unfortunately, Republicans obstructed our efforts to move the bill to Conference.  We continue to work toward a bipartisan resolution so that we can send a strong energy bill to the President’s desk before the year is up.

“We will also attempt to turn again to the Farm Bill.  Prior to the holiday, we were unable to complete action on the Farm Bill because of the overwhelming number of amendments filed, many of which had nothing to do with farming.  Senator McConnell and I are working through these amendments to come up with a more reasonable list.  I hope that Republicans will allow us to reach agreement so that we can send this crucial bill to the President before the year is up.

“I have outlined several major legislative initiatives that we must address before the 2007 legislative calendar draws to a close.  I am confident we can get this job done for the American people.  But it is reasonable and necessary to ask why we have reached this point – and the answer could not be clearer.  We began this year with great success.  We restored integrity to Congress.  We put working families first.  And we put teeth behind homeland security and veterans’ care.

“But a funny – and unfortunate – thing happened next: President Bush and his Republican supporters here in the Senate determined that while bipartisanship made good policy, obstruction made better politics.  For the past several months, we have seen an unprecedented level of obstruction.  And that’s not rhetoric, it’s a fact.  We have sought more than 40 votes to change course in Iraq.  More often than not, a bipartisan majority in the House and Senate supported these efforts.  Nevertheless, again and again, the Republican leadership blocked these votes from taking place.

“Most recently, Republicans blocked the Transportation/HUD appropriations bill, which invests in our crumbling roads, bridges and tunnels.  Republicans blocked progress on the Energy Bill, which would reduce the ever-increasing costs that Americans pay to heat their homes and fill their gas tanks.  Republicans blocked the Farm Bill, which would stabilize the nation’s food supply and improve the nutrition of our children.  Republicans blocked the FHA Modernization Act, which would have helped families keep their homes in the face of the ongoing mortgage crisis.

“In all, Republicans have now blocked the priorities of working Americans by forcing 56 cloture votes – fast approaching the all-time record of 61 – a record that took a full two-year session to reach.  Let me repeat – they have already nearly reached the all-time two-year obstruction record in less than one year.  That would be like a ballplayer hitting 73 home runs by the all-star break.  This isn’t normal obstruction.  This is obstruction on steroids.

“But it is not too late for Republicans to change course and work with us.  I find it hard to believe that Republicans truly oppose the AMT fix, FHA reform, infrastructure investments, or childhood nutrition.  Perhaps my Republican friends believe that they stand to gain politically by getting the least possible done for the country.

“But I hope that in what little time we have left this year, with so much left to accomplish, the march toward the obstruction record books can be cast aside.  When we recess for the year, in just a few short weeks, I hope that we can add meaningfully to the bipartisan change that we have begun to deliver this year.  But this can only happen if Republicans decide to work with us – and for the American people.”