February 18, 2009
Carson City, NV – Nevada Senator Harry Reid today addressed a joint session of the Nevada State Legislature. In his speech, Reid discussed the importance of the recently passed economic recovery package and how it will put Nevadans back to work by investing in renewable energy and transportation projects, cut taxes for struggling families, and maintain services for those in need. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.
“This past Thursday, America celebrated the 200th birthday of our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. The day before, Wednesday evening, I attended a ceremony at Ford's Theater, the site of his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. The next day, Thursday, I joined President Obama at a ceremony honoring Lincoln in the Capitol Rotunda.
The week's ceremonies afforded us the opportunity to think about the many special qualities of Abraham Lincoln that have captured our national imagination these many years. The trait that I most admire is Lincoln's unsurpassed ability to bring people together.
Days after he won re-election in 1864 - to a second term that would last only about a month before his assassination - President Lincoln delivered an informal victory speech.
With the Civil War nearly over and the union's victory secure, Lincoln spoke of the task ahead that must have seemed nearly as daunting as the war itself: how to re-stitch the broken bonds of our war-torn country.
“Now that the election is over,” he said, “may not all, having a common interest, reunite in common effort to save our common country”
President Lincoln died before the union would be fully secured, but he left our nation a legacy that we must never forget: that in our darkest hours, when the challenges we face seem the most difficult, a vigorous pursuit of common ground will always light our path back home.
I have had the pleasure of addressing the Nevada state legislature many times through the course of my career. When I was a member of the state assembly, our sessions were held in the Capitol. Today, as always, when I return, thoughts flood my mind of my six years as part of the Nevada State Legislature. For example, my vote was one that helped create this beautiful legislative building where we now gather. My years as president of the Senate cause me to remember my best friend, the late and legendary Governor Mike O'Callaghan.
So, in short, I look forward to today and every opportunity to visit with old friends and share my thoughts on the legislative issues that confront our state and country. We have met in prosperous times, some more so than others. In recent years, Nevada's economic growth has been so dramatic that our state's future seemed to be rolling along on the wheels of destiny.
Today we are not so fortunate. A national economic collapse beyond our state's control has brought our progress to a dramatic halt. A triple punch of corporate greed, consumer debt and lax government oversight has left Nevada and our country facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The vicious cycle of job loss, home foreclosures and declining tourism has left our state with plunging revenues, forcing you, our state legislature, to make difficult choices that threaten the progress we've made in years past. These are difficult facts to face. I wish I could come to you in better times with better news, and I know you would prefer to be legislating for prosperity rather than recovery.
But the people of Nevada deserve to know what's at stake. Every Nevadan should see the need for bold action and become engaged in the pursuit of near- and long-term solutions. On the day he was elected President of our great nation, Barack Obama began working on a plan to address the economic crisis he inherited: spiraling unemployment, plummeting home values and unchecked greed on Wall Street.
Last week, Congress completed action on the President's recovery plan. Despite our affection for President Obama and the strong Democratic majorities in Congress, we did not simply rubber-stamp the President's plan. Democrats and Republicans engaged in a serious and vigorous debate, and ideas from both parties were adopted to improve this historic legislation.
This bill had broad bipartisan support especially from Republican Governors from California to Florida and many states in between. In fact, we would not have passed the bill without the courage of three independent-minded Republicans. We have fifty-eight Democrats in the Senate but we need sixty votes to end a filibuster. After marathon negotiations, Republican Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter joined Democrats to enable this clearly-needed legislation to pass the Congress so it can make its way to the President, who turned it into law with his signature only yesterday.
Since this bill passed on Friday, there have been numerous accounts of the positive impact on our country. I'm now going to spend some time talking about what it does for Nevada.
For Nevada, the bill we passed has three main components:
-- It will protect and create three and a half million jobs across our country, including 34,000 right here in Nevada, with 90% of these jobs created in the private sector.
-- It will provide tax relief for Nevada's middle-class families struggling to make one paycheck last until the next one arrives;
-- And it makes critical investments in education, transportation, renewable energy and workforce training to pave the road for long-term recovery.
The total cost of this plan is significant, but economic experts from both sides of the aisle agree that bold action is needed. At a recent meeting in the Capitol, Mark Zandi, John McCain's chief economic advisor, Alan Blinder, a Clinton economic guru, and Martin Feldstein from prior Republican administrations, all said that a bill such as the one we just passed is essential to our country's economic recovery.
This legislation invests our tax dollars. But unlike the fiscal policies of the past decade, this plan recognizes that every dollar spent belongs to the American people. That's why it ensures accountability, transparency and oversight. It is not meant to line the pockets of the corporate CEOs who helped cause this mess. Here on the state level, it is not meant to plug every budget hole to let leaders at the state and local levels avoid their responsibilities.
This important plan has one meaning for Nevada and our country: jobs, jobs and more jobs.
-- We invest more than $200 million for highways, high-speed rail, bridges and tunnels, and another $50 million for mass transit, which will put people to work immediately.
-- Money flowing to Nevada for water and sewer projects could approach $100 million.
-- We empower the private sector to put thousands of people to work turning the sun, the wind and geothermal energy into the electricity that will help curb our use of fossil fuels and make us more energy independent.
-- We help businesses grow and create jobs with new forms of tax relief, including a provision that allows half the cost of capital investments to be deducted - 100% for small businesses.
-- And we invest nearly half a billion dollars in our schools, technology and other education programs to ensure that Nevada has a competitive workforce to attract new and innovative businesses.
The economic recovery plan also provides immediate assistance to Nevadans who are struggling to pay the bills, find a job and keep their heads above water. That means tens of millions of dollars in new unemployment benefits - meaning that the 200,000 Nevadans who have lost their jobs in this recession will receive $100 more per month to help make ends meet. And we help return our unemployed to the workforce by investing millions more in worker training and placement programs.
We provide new funding for the School Lunch Program, food stamps, child care services and meals for senior citizens. We make a nearly half-billion dollar investment in Nevada's Medicaid program by increasing the federal matching rate to ensure that despite our state's budget crisis, we will be able to sustain Medicaid and Nevada Check Up. We address the housing crisis by providing an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers and a program to help state and local governments, in partnership with community-based organizations, to purchase, build and rehabilitate affordable housing.
And nearly all Nevadans will receive tax relief, with almost 1 million of our state's workers and their families receiving a $400 tax cut -- $800 for married couples -- And a $2,500 tax credit to help 32,000 Nevada families afford the cost of a college education.
Economists are confident that this plan will work. But we must remember that it is just the first leg of a three-legged stool. The second leg will be a comprehensive response to our housing crisis, as outlined by the Obama Administration today. The third leg will reform our broken banking system to get money flowing again with new accountability. We need regulation, but not too much, because too much can be just as bad as not enough, we are learning.
We can't expect our economy to turn around over night. The people of Nevada understand that you can't dig out of an eight year ditch in just eight weeks, or even eight months. Nevadans have patience for the long road that lies ahead. But they do not have patience for more politics of finger pointing, foot dragging or blame-shifting. As of yesterday with the bill signing and new help for housing, the climb out of the big ditch has begun.
In the short time since President Obama took office, we have already seen a shift in the tone of Washington, DC. No one expects Democrats and Republicans to suddenly agree on everything - but we have been engaging in serious pursuit of common ground, and that's a welcome change for all Americans. In just the first few weeks of this 111th Congress, we not only passed the economic recovery plan, but also –
-- A lands bill that will protect wilderness in Nevada and throughout America, which pundits and editorial writers have called the most important environmental legislation in more than a quarter of a century;
-- The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to ensure pay equity in the workplace; that is legislation leading toward equal pay for men and women.
-- And a new State Children's Health Insurance Program to provide quality coverage for millions of children, including tens of thousands here in Nevada - including regular doctor's care and the medicine they need to stay healthy.
One thing is also certain: that because of a provision I forced into a bill late last year, for the first time, Nevada counties will receive full funding of county payments and Payments In Lieu of Taxes, which translates into millions of dollars for our state, so whatever problems we face today have been greatly lessened as a result of that legislative victory. This is especially so in rural Nevada. None of these major accomplishments would have been possible without serious-minded people from both parties working as partners.
The winds may be shifting in Washington, but bipartisanship is nothing new in Nevada. I am confident Speaker Buckley and Minority Leader Gansert are working together for the betterment of Nevada. In the Senate, young, talented Majority Leader Steven Horsford will work in tandem with one of Nevada's historical figures, Minority Leader Bill Raggio.
The winds have definitely shifted in one area for Nevada with the new Administration, and that is with the fight on Yucca Mountain. Now instead of fighting against the storm, Nevada has the wind at its back. In partnership with the other delegation members and the State of Nevada, we should finally see the Yucca project come to a close. I am doing everything I can to stop the dump but I am not the only one in this fight. This is not the time for the state to back off by cutting funding for the legal battles that are still being fought. We are in the last lap of the race, and Nevada needs every weapon to finally win this 20 year plus battle.
I know that there is already debate on the best way to invest some portions of our state's recovery funds. The top consideration must be how we can put the most people back to work and rebuilt Nevada's economy most quickly. Any legislation is imperfect. Legislation is the art of compromise as you know; the art of building consensus. Parts of this legislation will prove to be even better than we anticipate; some others may not meet our expectations. But altogether, this plan will work for Nevada.
In the words of President Lincoln, “I do the very best I know how - the very best I can. And I mean to keep on doing it to the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me will not amount to anything. If the end brings me out all wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
The scope of this crisis may be unprecedented in our lifetimes, but we have faced our share of challenges before and risen to the occasion each time.
We may not know exactly when this crisis will end, but I am confident with the signing of the economic recovery package, and today's announcement by Secretary Geithner, that history will record yesterday, and yes, today, as the time when recovery began."
RenoBruce R. Thompson
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Reno, NV 89501
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