Reid: While President Clings To Status Quo In Iraq, Democrats Will Work To Change Mission Through Defense Bill

WASHINGTON, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

“On this day in 1787 – 220 years ago – our Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia to sign a document that remains today our country’s moral compass.  The preamble of the U.S. Constitution says:

‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’

“The 220 years since then have been an imperfect journey toward that more perfect union.  At times we have stumbled.  Slavery.  The Civil War.  The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  But each time our fidelity to the ideals of justice has been tested, America has moved closer to securing the blessings of liberty.

“Over the past six and a half years, the Bush Administration has challenged that fidelity time and time again.  We have suffered through a White House that values secrecy and disdains the Separation of Powers.  A Justice Department that has served the President rather than the people.  A pervasive attitude among the Administration that civil liberties are a nuisance rather than an inalienable right.

“As we turn to the Defense Authorization bill this week and likely the next, we in Congress will have an opportunity to reassert our allegiance to the Constitution and the core American values for which it stands – values that have made America the world’s beacon of freedom for two centuries.

“Senators will have a chance to show whether they support the inalienable right of habeas corpus – the right to petition a court to review the grounds for detention.  Senators will have an opportunity to review the costs – both fiscal and moral – of maintaining the Guantanamo detention facility, and whether closing it will do more to further the fight against terrorism and advance America’s values – as I believe it would – than keeping it open indefinitely.  And we hope to again debate the Bush Administration’s use of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ and whether we should – as I believe – bring the practices of the intelligence agencies under the same rules that our military believes are proper under the Army Field Manual – in effect, no torture.

“The Defense Authorization bill is also our next best chance to continue our efforts to force President Bush to change course in Iraq.  Last week, the President delivered yet another primetime address to the nation on his Iraq policy.  And once again he announced he has no intention to change his failed war plan.  He has given neither a convincing rationale to continue the war, nor a plan to end it.

“Meanwhile, brave American troops continue to be killed and grievously wounded, our treasury is being depleted at an ever fast rate, the Iraqi government has made no progress on political reconciliation, and those responsible for attacking us on 9/11 grow stronger.  Today brings news that the President may not even return our troop presence to pre-surge levels next year – meaning that a year from now, we will be dug in even deeper than we were a year ago.

“The President’s speech last week made one thing clear: he has no intention of changing course.  He plans to keep the status quo through the duration of his Administration, with the hope that if we stick around long enough, something – anything – will start going right.  And if it doesn’t – and there’s no sign it will – he will leave it to the next President to clean things up.

“We could start to change course right now.  The overwhelming majority of the American people and the majority of Congress are ready to do just that.  A majority of Senators have voted to send legislation to the President that will force him to change the mission and begin to bring our troops home.  But the Republican leadership so far has not allowed the voice of the majority to be heard.  By requiring a 60-vote margin, they have repeatedly filibustered the will of the people and blocked the new direction that our troops deserve.

“So long as our brave soldiers and Marines remain mired in the crossfire of another country’s civil war, we will continue fighting to responsibly end the war.  We all know that it will take the courage of our Republican colleagues to stand up to the President.  We know that is not easy.  But it is long past time for those Republicans who have expressed opposition to this endless war to work with us to find a way to end it.

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“Next week we will turn our attention back to the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  This remarkably successful program was enacted ten years ago to fill a crucial gap in insurance – between the children of families who often have private health insurance, and the children of the very low-income families who are covered by Medicaid.  But between the two, millions of children whose families neither qualify for Medicaid nor can afford private insurance were uninsured.

“Today, 6.6 million children have insurance because of this program.  That’s a 35 percent reduction in the number of uninsured children of working families.  The program has been a remarkable success by any measure – and a great example of what the state and federal government can do in a tangible way to make people’s lives better.

“Earlier this summer, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate voted to reauthorize and improve this outstanding program.  Next week, we will vote on a compromise version between the House and Senate to the President’s desk.  The bill we send to the President will continue the program and provide insurance for millions more children in working families.  For many, it will replace emergency room care with regular checkups.  It will mean proper dental care.  It will mean preventive medicine.

“Study after study shows that:

  • Kids enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program are much more likely to have regular doctor and dental care;
  • They report lower rates of unmet need for care;
  • The quality of care they receive is far better than it was before;
  • School performance improves;
  • The plan is helping to close the disparity in care for minority children;
  • And it has become a major source of care for rural children.

“So there is no doubt – no question at all – that the Children’s Health Insurance Program is good for children, good for families and good for America.  This bill will be the product of real bipartisan cooperation.  I so appreciate the work of Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley of the Finance Committee, along with Senators Rockefeller and Hatch.

“The President has threatened to veto this legislation.  Yet during his 2004 re-election campaign, he said this: ‘In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for government health insurance programs.  We will not allow a lack of attention, or information, to stand between these children and the health care they need.’

“I take the President at his word and expect that he will live up to this promise.  And I hope that before issuing more threats, he will take a real look at the legislation we are sending him.  It has the support of so many Democrats and Republicans for a reason: It is an example of government at its best – lending a helping hand, providing a safety net, to children who need a boost to reach their full potential.

“All too often, we hear about what government can’t do.  The Children’s Health Insurance Program is a stellar example of what it can.  I am confident that the Senate will not be intimidated by the President’s veto threats and will once again vote to pass this legislation with strong bipartisan support.”