Washington, DC—Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, outlining Democrats’ legislative priorities for the first session of 2008. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“It is good to see all of our colleagues once again. Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.’ I hope we will live up to those words in the year ahead.
“Our time back home over the holidays gave us all an opportunity to reflect upon 2007 – the first year of the 110th Congress. The past year made one thing clear: We in the Senate are at a constant crossroads, with two paths from which to choose. One path is bipartisanship. The other is obstruction. One path leads to change, the other to more of the same. When we chose bipartisanship last year, we made real progress for the American people.
“With bipartisanship, we passed the toughest ethics bill in history to ensure a government as good and honest as the people it represents. With bipartisanship, we finally passed the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to support our first responders and secure our most at-risk cities. And with bipartisanship, we provided our veterans with the largest health care funding increase in history. When we sought and found common ground, we passed the first minimum wage increase in ten years to help the hardest-working Americans make ends meet. We helped struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. We enacted the largest expansion of student financial aid since the G.I. Bill. And we passed an energy bill that will lower gas and electricity prices and begin to stem the tide of global warming.
“Time and time again, we proved that bipartisanship works. But far too often, unfortunately, some chose the other path – the path of obstruction. We saw that on Iraq: some chose to stick with the President’s policy that has devastated our Armed Forces, compromised our security and damaged our standing abroad. We saw it on Medicare drug prices. And we saw it on children’s health and stem cell research, where some refused to override the president’s vetoes.
“Time and time again, we saw just how destructive partisanship can be. But that is the old way of doing business. Now, many of last year’s problems have grown worse, and many new ones have arisen. And we can no longer turn to the old playbook of political posturing. We must do better.
“What are these new and growing challenges? We don’t need an economist, professor or philosopher to tell us. All it takes is a walk through most any neighborhood to see the sea of for-sale signs and the beginnings of foreclosure. All it takes is a trip to the gas station, where people in Nevada are paying well over $3 a gallon, and Americans everywhere are paying at least that much. All it takes is a glance at the headlines to see the rising violence and turmoil all across the globe. Like all of my colleagues, I spent a lot of time back home talking to friends and colleagues, and my time in Nevada made it clearer than ever that people are tired of the status quo and desperately want a new direction.
“We have an economy sliding toward recession. Hundreds of thousands of families at risk to lose their homes. The price of gas and heat skyrocketing to all-time highs. New threats of violence, war and terrorism emerging abroad. And a $10 billion a month war in Iraq that the Administration and some Republicans say will require the presence of U.S. forces there for another 10 or even 100 years.
“Together we must address these growing challenges, both foreign and domestic. Here at home, that starts with an economic stimulus package. To be, effective, this plan must begin with ‘Three T’s:’ Timely, targeted and temporary. Timely, because our country needs relief right now. Targeted, because for too long, the approach taken has put money in the pockets of the corporations and the wealthy rather than the working families who needed it the most. And temporary, because as important as it is to help people right now, we don’t do ourselves or our economy any favors by saddling our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt.
“If the President and Congressional Republicans work with us to pass this short-term stimulus plan that follows these principles, we can make a real and immediate difference in people’s lives – and perhaps help stave off the looming recession. I call upon all of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, to come together to pass this stimulus package this work period. We will meet with President Bush today to continue working out this plan. While we await the results of the discussions on the stimulus package, we will begin the year by addressing other important priorities.
“First, the bipartisan Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Last year we helped provide health care to low-income families by funding community health centers and extended programs to prevent juvenile and Type II diabetes. These programs have improved treatment and slowed the growth rate of diabetes among our American Indian and Alaska Native populations. But one we must do more for the health care of our Native American communities by passing this bill.
“We will also return to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance bill. Democrats maintained last year that we must pass a FISA law that gives our law enforcement officials the tools they need to fight terrorism without infringing on the fundamental rights of law-abiding Americans. With the current law set to expire soon, Democrats are resolved to replace it with a new and stronger one. I will also renew my request for a one-month extension of the current law to allow lawmakers additional time to get this right. Unfortunately, Republicans have thus far objected to that request. With just a few days left before expiration, I hope that the time for obstruction has ended. I certainly hope and expect that all of my colleagues will agree to this prudent extension so that we can go about the serious business of improving and passing this crucial law.
“Passing the Defense Authorization bill – again – is also a top priority for this work period. Over the break, President Bush chose to veto our bipartisan DOD bill in order to protect the Iraqi government from lawsuits by the families of American victims of Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror. Vetoing this bill delayed bonuses and a long-overdue pay raise for our troops, as well as implementation of the Wounded Warriors Act and the establishment of a war profiteering investigative committee. The President’s veto was a terrible mistake. But the House and Senate responded by working quickly to negotiate a compromise.
“The new bill passed the House overwhelmingly last week, and I am hopeful Senate Republicans will now permit the Senate to follow suit. But I want to make one thing very clear: President Bush has claimed that he pocket vetoed the Defense Authorization bill. He did not have the authority to do so. ‘The Congress by their Adjournment,’ did not ‘prevent [the bill’s] Return.’ That is the only circumstance in which the Constitution allows for a pocket veto. During the period between sessions, both houses of Congress remained available to receive messages from the President. The Clerk of the House in factreceived such a Presidential message in the form of a so-called ‘protective return,’ for transmission to the full House when it reconvened last week. This bill was not subject to a pocket veto. Had the President not returned the bill within the 10 days prescribed by the Constitution, the bill would have become law without his signature.
“Once we work these issues out, time permitting, we will also turn to two other priorities in this first work period: patent reform and an energy package. On patent reform, we must carefully strike the right balance with a bill that promotes rather than blocks innovation from enterprising entrepreneurs. The energy package consists of dozens of land and water bills that have already passed the House and the Senate Energy committee by overwhelming bipartisan margins. Among these worthy and non-controversial measures are Senator Murray’s ‘wild sky wilderness’ bill, which she has championed now for more than five years.
“If not for the obstruction of just a few Senators, we would have passed these bills last year. I am hopeful that the overwhelming majority of Senators – Democrats and Republicans alike – will have their voices heard this year.
“This will be a busy work period. But there will be much more to do in the weeks and months that follow. Senators will soon have an opportunity to go on record on something that has been much debated over the last several months – whether they support giving some parts of our government loopholes to torture, or whether they oppose torture in all cases. I intend to bring the Intelligence Authorization conference report to the floor, which would require that the entire government abide by one clear standard for interrogation. Adopting this measure would send a clear signal to the world that the United States does not torture – no ifs, ands or buts. I hope that all Senators will allow an up or down vote on this crucial legislation to regain some moral standing in the world and help keep our own troops safer.
“The safety of our troops will continue to be our focus in this and other legislation. We will revisit the crucial dwell time legislation that the minority blocked last year to ensure that our troops have the proper downtime to do their jobs effectively. We will continue our efforts to change direction in Iraq, rebuild our badly overstretched military and refocus on bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the real war on terrorism that this Administration has failed to wage. And we will continue to stand behind our troops when they return home to American soil, with proper health care and a new G.I. bill with education benefits.
“We will focus on America’s domestic strength all year. That means we will help struggling families avoid foreclosure. We began that work last year by passing legislation to modernize the FHA with tools to help those most in need of aid. The House and Senate need to complete that conference as soon as possible.
“We will also continue our work to extend health care to the children of working families and modernize Medicare. And we will consider comprehensive legislation on global warming.
“We must tackle all these problems, but with the Presidential election looming, our time is short. Can we accomplish all of our goals? Absolutely. But it won’t be easy. And it can’t be done if we resort to the same old business as usual of political posturing and obstruction. In 2007, Republicans broke the two-year record for filibustering in just one year. In 2008, our work begins anew, and hope springs eternal. Today let us set a new tone of cooperation and renew our commitment to progress.”