Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the two-year, bipartisan budget agreement negotiated by Senator Patty Murray. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
I congratulate the budget negotiators on reaching an agreement yesterday to roll back the painful and arbitrary cuts of the sequester and prevent another dangerous government shutdown in the New Year. Their bargain also protects Medicare and Social Security benefits and reduces the deficit. I commend Budget Committee chairman, Senator Patty Murray, and her House Republican counterpart, Congressman Paul Ryan, for their diligence and cooperative spirit, which made this agreement possible.
The process that led to this accord was long and difficult. The Republican government shutdown – the first in 17 years – took a toll on our economy, on American families and on our reputation around the world. It was also costly for our federal government.
So when Congress reached a temporary settlement that ended the short-sighted shutdown, Democrats were committed to breaking the terrible cycle of lurching from crisis to crisis. And we were committed to setting sound fiscal policy through the regular order of the budget process and not through hostage taking or crisis making.
Neither side got everything it wanted in these negotiations. For example, I believe, as many Democrats do, that an extension of emergency unemployment insurance should be included in this package. Almost 18,000 Nevadans who have been unemployed for more than six months – and more than a million people nationwide – will lose their earned unemployment benefits at the end of this year unless Congress acts. I will stand up for those Americans, who want to get back to work as soon as possible but face a market where there is only one job opening for every three unemployed workers. That is why I will push for an extension of unemployment insurance, as well as an increase in the minimum wage, when the Senate convenes after the New Year.
Democrats, led by Senator Murray, stood up for our party’s priorities – protecting the middle class and growing the economy – but were also ready and willing to compromise with their Republican counterparts. But while both sides made concessions and sacrifices, that is the nature of negotiation and the point of a conference committee – to work together to work out our differences. To their credit, members of the conference committee considered every option, no matter how painful to their own political party.
Under the leadership of Chairman Murray the committee crafted a two-year bargain that charts a course for economic growth, maintains fiscal responsibility and – perhaps most importantly – averts another manufactured crisis that would undercut the economic progress of the last four years. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol to pass this agreement.
Last night, the House also filed a bipartisan, bicameral bill to ensure physicians are fairly compensated so Medicare patients can continue to see their doctors. Unfortunately, instead of beginning work on either of these agreements Republicans will force the Senate to waste an entire day – and work long into the night – considering a nominee they already know will be confirmed.
We could have voted to confirm Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last night. We could confirm her right now, or a few hours from now. Instead, Republicans are insisting that we must vote on her nomination at 1 a.m. tomorrow morning, after they have frittered away 30 hours of the Senate’s time. There are no objections to Ms. Pillard’s qualifications. And the outcome of the vote is a foregone conclusion.
It is hard to imagine a more pointless exercise than spending an entire day waiting for a vote whose outcome we already know. But Republicans insist on wasting time simply for the sake of wasting time. It’s no wonder Americans overwhelmingly support the changes Democrats made to the rules last month in order to make the Senate work again.
The Republicans’ partisan sideshow is one more example of the kind of blatant obstruction that has ground the work of the Senate to a halt over the last five years. Members should be aware that if Republicans stop squandering the Senate’s precious time, roll call votes are possible at any time this afternoon or evening. It doesn’t have to be like this. With a little cooperation, we could hold votes in a timely manner, so we could move on with the business before us. Unfortunately, we cannot schedule votes without cooperation, and cooperation is in short supply at the moment.