Remarks by Senator Harry Reid
“The Use of Power: An Agenda for Reform”
National Press Club
Thursday, May 26, 2005
This has been an important week for America. The defeat of the nuclear option was not a victory for any party, but a victory for our Constitution and our country.
As we said from the beginning of this struggle, our fight wasn’t over some obscure rule of the Senate. It was a fight for Americans’ fundamental rights and against the abuse of power.
And I'm here today to say that fight has not ended. It is only beginning.
This week threatened to be one that would undermine our democratic traditions. Instead, it marks a moment when we can finally turn away from government by polarization…and build a government for the people.
Time and again, the American people have seen George Bush and the Republican leadership choose between their partisan interests and the people’s interest. And every time, they have chosen an ideological agenda over an American agenda.
When George Bush and the Republican leadership make their decisions, the whispered wishes of a few right wing activists drown out the pleas of America’s families.
But if the Washington Republicans stopped to listen to the American people, this is what they’d hear:
Americans are sick and tired of getting caught in the crossfire of partisan sniping.
Americans want us to put the common sense center ahead of nonsense .
Americans want us to bring people together, to focus on what we owe to one another, and the responsibilities we share.
And Americans want their agenda – their jobs, their health care, their security – to get back on the front burners of the nation’s agenda.
Americans are coming to realize this Republican Congress is out of touch with the real problems of working families and that the agenda the Republicans are advancing is at odds with what people in this country really care about.
We Democrats have something better to offer. A reform agenda that will cleanse Washington…give power to the people – not special interests…and make sure that everyday Americans and their concerns get back on the Congressional calendar.
Strengthening our national defense. Rebuilding our economy. Providing families with affordable health care. Making America energy independent. Securing our retirement. That’s our agenda. That’s America’s agenda. But the Republican Congress has put all this and more on hold. I hope that now we can finally turn to the people's business.
Six moths have passed since this Republican Congress began and here’s their record:
They spent precious days trying to overturn constitutional principles.
They tried to overturn the decisions of courts and duly elected legislatures in order to insert themselves into one family’s tragedy in Florida.
They all-but disbanded the House Ethics Committee in order to protect the Republican leader from scrutiny – but then were forced to reverse themselves under public pressure.
But perhaps the greatest abuse of power is to have the ability to help but choose to do nothing.
While gas prices have shot past $2 a gallon, this Republican Congress did nothing to lower prices and give families some relief.
At a time that parents are having to tell their children that the family can’t afford to send them to college, this Republican Congress rejected a proposal to make college more affordable.
And even though we have gone eight years without an increase in the minimum wage – the second longest period ever – this Republican Congress rejected an increase that would give the hardest working Americans the chance to provide for their families.
Whether it is rejecting Democratic initiatives to provide medical care to veterans or to return to fiscal responsibility, this Republican Congress’s record is clear: when it comes to answering the call of the far right, it’s “I’ll do it ASAP.” When it comes to doing the people’s business, it’s “take a message.”
Americans deserve a Congress that will use its power to advance American values not a Congress that abuses its power to advance the agenda of a radical few.
We need a common sense reform agenda for the common good. And that starts with defending our nation and making it more secure. As of this month, more time has passed since 9-11 than the time between Pearl Harbor and the defeat of Japan. During those three years and eight months – sixty years ago – we invaded North Africa and Normandy. We freed people from the Philippines to France. Hitler lay dead and Tojo was in chains. We had defeated fascism around the world and had begun to build the new United Nations.
But today Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, our homeland is still not secure, we’re still not energy independent, and – in many ways – Americans are less safe than we were before 9-11.
Democrats are the party of national security. And we have an agenda to defend America from danger. We stand for increasing our military strength by 40,000 troops so we can wage the War on Terror on every front. We stand for securing our borders and bridges, our seaports and airports, our nuclear and chemical plants. We stand for tracking down and securing the loose nuclear weapons that threaten our people. And we will honor our troops and their families by making sure they get the benefits they have earned.
Our common sense reform agenda will take our economy from sluggishness to prosperity. A prosperity where a rising tide lifts the boat of every American who is willing to work hard.
When it comes to the economy, the Washington Republicans offer the same old answers and then try to change the subject. But the growing trade deficit and a runaway national debt that puts us into hock to China and Japan show that this Administration and this Congress have lost control over America’s economic destiny.
Democrats stand ready to win back America’s prosperity. We’ll end the tax breaks that encourage companies to take jobs overseas. Restore fiscal responsibility. Spur innovation. Open the doors to college. And make work pay more than welfare.
And if we want our companies to be ready to compete in the world economy, we have to hold down health care costs. Today, Starbucks spends more on health care than on coffee. Today, GM spends more on health care than on steel. Today, we can’t ask our companies to go head to head with foreign competitors with this burden on their backs.
Our families will never get ahead while they are getting battered down by health care costs that total $10,000 a year.
And our country will never be what it should be as long as the color of your skin or the size of your bank account determines whether your children can see a doctor. We can do better for them. And they are expecting nothing less from us.
Many of the jobs of the future will be jobs that come from new energy saving industries. Today, Japan’s and South Korea’s head start on innovation means they are running away with those jobs. We have to get back in that race.
Americans are getting fed-up every time they go for a fill-up. They know that our reliance on Mideast oil is making America less safe. They want us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make this nation energy independent. We can get there – but only if we start putting America’s security and prosperity first.
And Democrats will continue to stop George Bush from privatizing Social Security while we say “yes” to shoring up Americans’ pensions and making our retirement system more secure.
This is our agenda – an agenda for reform, an agenda to do the people’s business. And for them we will continue to fight.
The lines that divide Congress should be between right and wrong, not right and left.
Our enemies should not be those in the other party, but the common threats that face the American community.
Our goal should not be winning the news cycle, but breaking the vicious cycle of political battle and winning a future where all Americans can live out their dreams.
The defeat of the nuclear option shows what is possible when people of good faith – Republicans and Democrats – join hands and put principles ahead of partisanship.
This doesn’t have to be an isolated incident – a momentary ceasefire before Washington’s trench warfare starts up again. Rather it can be a new beginning. Because on issue after issue, there is a common sense center in America that knows what it believes and can’t understand why this Republican Congress won’t get the job done.
Just as there was a bipartisan majority that could not stomach the nuclear option, there is a bipartisan consensus for action on many fronts. And all we need for progress is for President Bush and the Republican leadership to let America’s agenda get its day.
The American people are demanding it. And Democrats are going to be standing in the common sense center to make sure that we get there.
In this Congress, there is a bipartisan consensus for raising the minimum wage – but the White House and the Republican leadership stand in the way.
There is a bipartisan consensus for allowing the prescription drugs to be safely reimported – but the White House and the Republican leadership stand in the way.
And there is a bipartisan consensus for stem cell research that has the potential to help cure diseases such as diabetes and help save American lives. From Nancy Reagan to Orrin Hatch, Republicans have broken ranks to join the common sense center on this important issue.
For four years, President Bush has not vetoed a single piece of legislation. Even when this Republican Congress sent him bill after bill weighed down with pork or special interest subsidies or runaway spending, he chose to keep his veto pen in the drawer.
But now, he is threatening to veto stem cell research. Not because most Americans oppose it. They support it across party lines. President Bush is threatening to veto it because the far right is demanding he do so.
I ask President Bush to step away from the far right and join us in this common sense center, to show he will be part of this new spirit of national consensus by letting stem cell research go forward.
This week’s events mark our chance to forge a common sense center that embraces an American agenda for reform. As Democratic Leader, I will be working aggressively to advance the work the American people sent us to do. And I hope that Republicans of good faith will join with us to get this job done: To strengthen our national security. To make America energy independent. To restore economic prosperity and opportunity. To help our families and business afford their health care. To boost Americans’ retirement security and protect their Social Security.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll have more to say on all these fronts. But I pledge today, that in everything we do, the lesson of this week – that we can build on the common sense center – will remain front and center.
The nuclear option could have been another long, sad stride down an ever more slippery slope toward partisan crossfire and abuse of power.
Instead, its defeat marks the moment we turned around and began to climb the hill toward a common politics of national purpose and a rebuilding of America's promise.
This journey is our cause – and reaching the top of that hill will mark our real victory.