Washington, DC— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement this afternoon on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I welcome my colleagues back to the Senate after an August work period that saw both passion and profound sadness across our country.
“Each of us heard from our constituents over the past few weeks. In Nevada, I heard from citizens across my state who are ready for us to pick up where we left off. They are ready for us to get back to the hard work of legislating. They are ready for us to move forward on one of the most critical issues of our time and the life’s cause of our late colleague, Senator Ted Kennedy: making it easier to afford to live a healthy life in America.
“I cherish the time I get to spend meeting the people of Nevada, listening to them, talking with them and learning from them. The people of Nevada feel as acutely as anyone in America the volatility of a turbulent economy.
“Nevadans see as clearly as anyone in America that we are getting back on our feet after long years of neglect. They watched as Wall Street went wild, foreclosure rates reached record highs and jobs vanished into thin air. But thanks to the leadership of our President, the hard work of the Congress and the unwavering determination of our constituents, they now see those wounds beginning to heal.
“This Senate has risen to the challenges we inherited. In the face of unprecedented conditions, we responded with the most significant collection of accomplishments in recent memory. We are proud of our important efforts to revive our economy, strengthen our national security, protect our environment, demand accountability, promote equality and ensure progress.
“In the first months of this year, we passed an economic recovery plan that is creating jobs, strengthening the middle class and investing in our future. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal acknowledged that the plan we passed is helping us recover from the recession faster than expected.
“We also put people ahead of big business by protecting credit card users, cracking down on mortgage scams and rooting out corporate fraud.
“We helped millions of children stay healthy by making it easier for them to get the care they need – that’s the CHIP program – and by making it harder for tobacco companies to prey on them.
“We made it easier for more Americans to serve their country like our heroes of generations past, and protected our public lands for generations to come.
“We passed overdue appropriations bills, new appropriations bills, and an honest, responsible budget that makes sound investments in every part of our country.
“This Congress also made history by pursuing justice and ensuring equality for every single American. We stood up for those who are victims of violence because of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and stood up for those who are targets of discrimination in the workplace because of their gender or background.
“And the Senate confirmed President Obama’s outstanding nominee for the Supreme Court. Sonia Sotomayor will soon become the first Hispanic and just the third woman to sit on the highest bench in the land.
“This is an impressive résumé for any Congress – I am particularly proud that we have accomplished all of this in little more than half a year.
“We did each of these critical things because we found ourselves in exceptional circumstances. We faced daunting tests and unparalleled problems.
“Like in any emergency, it’s important to understand how we got here. I am not interested in looking backward to place blame on others or in pointing fingers.
“But it is important to learn from past mistakes so we do not repeat them. As I see it, there are two primary reasons we found ourselves in such a deep hole. The first is that for too long, we’ve put off today’s problems until tomorrow. And the second is that too many focus only on where we differ, not where we agree.
“We no longer have the luxury of doing either. Only by working together – not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans; not as partisans, but as partners – can we put the jobless back to work, make sure everyone can afford to stay healthy and create a new clean-energy economy for this new century.
“Learning those two lessons – that we can no longer put off today’s problems until tomorrow and that we cannot afford to focus only on where we disagree – will be the difference between reforming health insurance in a meaningful way, or letting the status quo and scare tactics hold us back.
“Thanks to Chairman Baucus and Senator Dodd, we have made good progress toward passing comprehensive health reform. Four out of five of the congressional committees responsible for this issue have reported bills and we will soon see the same from the Finance Committee.
“While many important choices remain, we are as committed as ever to a plan that will protect what works, fix what doesn’t and help the middle class get ahead. We will stabilize health insurance for those who have it and help secure it for those who do not. We will keep the insurance industry honest and lower costs to ensure every American can afford to stay healthy. And we are determined to pass a good, bipartisan bill this year.
“I listened to hardworking Nevadans across my state who know the difference between fact and fiction. They know the difference between the misinformation spread by opponents of progress and the reality that our vision of reform means patients and their doctors should be the only ones making decisions about their medical care. Those decisions belong to the people, not to the insurance industry or to government bureaucrats.
“The American people know our vision of reform means keeping insurance companies honest and not letting them deny you care because you have a pre-existing condition. The way things are now, if you have anything from heart disease to high cholesterol to hay fever, you might be out of luck. That’s just not right.
“They know our vision of reform means not allowing health insurance companies to drop your coverage if you become seriously ill. It means ensuring that if you change or lose your job, you will have affordable options to cover your family.
“And they know we are fighting for reform that will make quality, affordable care available to every single American citizen.
“It’s easy to focus only on the part of the road we have yet to go, but it’s essential to remember the great distance we’ve traveled to get to this point, and the common ground we already share.
“We’ve heard a lot from opponents of progress. One of their main arguments is that they think we can’t afford health insurance reform. My response to them is simply: We can’t afford not to make it easier to live a healthy life in America.
“The American people have rejected those who pretend things are fine the way they are. They know that unless we get this done, they could lose their health care, and so much more along with it.
“And they know that America has no place for those who hope for failure.
“We have already seen what happens when we do nothing. Over the past eight years of inaction, the costs of health care rose to record levels, and the number of Americans who can’t afford insurance did the same.
“For the millions of families who file for foreclosure because they can’t afford both their house and their health care, not acting is not an option.
“For the millions of Americans who file for bankruptcy because their medical bills grow higher and higher, not acting is not an option.
“For the millions of Americans who skip doctor visits or treatments they need to stay healthy – or who never fill the prescriptions their doctor gives them – because health care is simply too expensive, not acting is not an option.
“Our health care system is not healthy. Americans’ physical health and America’s fiscal health are at stake. And not acting is not an option.
“This past April, I sent my Republican counterpart a letter outlining our priorities for the health care debate. I wrote, of course, that Democrats are committed to lowering health care costs, expanding access and improving the quality of care. I said we looked forward to a dialogue about how to prevent disease, reduce health disparities, and encourage early detection and effective treatments that save lives.
“But in that letter of more than four months ago, I also said that in order to help struggling Americans, we cannot drown in distractions and distortions.
“I made clear that bipartisanship depended on Republicans demonstrating a sincere interest in legislating, offering concrete and constructive proposals, and working together in our common interest – rather than against each other and against the interests of the American people.
“I stand by that assessment as strongly today as I did this spring. And it is painfully clear to everyone who has seen this debate’s disturbing turns and dishonest tactics that more than ever, we now need people willing to work in good faith.
“Today is the first day since January 2, 1953, that a man named Kennedy does not have a desk on the floor of the United States Senate or in the Oval Office.
“When I think of all the groundbreaking progress we have made over those 56-and-a-half years – in civil rights, education, health care and America’s global leadership – I know we have no choice but to keep going. Now is no time to let up.
“Tomorrow evening, the President of the United States will stand on the other side of this Capitol and tell a joint session of Congress his vision for the health care debate over the coming weeks and months.
“It is not insignificant that President Obama will be speaking to such a gathering – we will come together in a joint session because we share a joint future, a joint destiny. We are all in this together – Republicans, Democrats and Independents; every American citizen and each of their representatives here: Members of Congress, Senators and the President of the United States.
“Senator Kennedy said last December, just months ago: ‘We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.’
“This is an historic moment. This is our time to shape our future. We stand closer to real health insurance reform than ever before. We are closer than ever to getting this right.
“We will not give up. We will not bet on failure. We will not let fear obscure facts. And we will not let the priorities of the partisan overpower those of the people.”