Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid:
Good evening. I'm Harry Reid from Nevada, the new Democratic Leader in the United States Senate. Now that you've heard from the President, I appreciate your spending a few minutes with us as we give our views on how we can live up to the American promise.
I was born and raised in the high desert of Nevada in a tiny town called Searchlight. My dad was a hard rock miner. My mom took in wash. I grew up around people of strong values — even if they rarely talked about them.
They loved their country, worshipped God, never shunned hard work, and never asked for special favors. My life has been very different from what I imagined growing up, but no matter how far I've traveled, Searchlight is still the place I go back to and still the place I call home.
A few weeks ago, I joined some friends of mine for a bite to eat at The Nugget — Searchlight's only restaurant. We were sitting down in a booth, when a young boy, about 10 years old, named Devon walked up to us.
Carrying a skateboard under his arm, he said, “Senator Reid, when I grow up I want to be just like you.”
Well, the truth is Devon could probably do a lot better. But the point still holds and it is this: No one ever had to tell young Devon to dream big dreams, no one ever had to teach him that America is a place of possibility.
He knows those things because they are born deep in all Americans.
In the coming year, I believe we can make sure America lives up to its legacy as a land of opportunity if the President is willing to join hands and build from the center.
It's important that we succeed. It's time that America's government lived by the same values as America's families. It's time we invested in America's future and made sure our people have the skills to compete and thrive in a 21st century economy. That's what Democrats believe. That's where we stand. That's what we'll fight for.
Too many of the President's economic policies have left Americans and American companies struggling. And after we worked so hard to eliminate the deficit, his policies have added trillions to the debt — in effect, a “birth tax” of $36,000 on every child that is born.
We Democrats have a different vision: Spurring research and development in new technologies to help create the jobs of the future. Rolling up our sleeves and fighting for today's jobs by ending the special tax breaks that encourage big corporations to ship jobs overseas. A trade policy that enforces the rules of the road so that we play to win in the global marketplace instead of sitting by and getting played for fools.
After World War II, through the Marshall Plan, we rebuilt Europe and they went from poverty to an economic powerhouse. Today, we need to invest in our nation's future with a Marshall Plan for America — to build the infrastructure our economy needs to go — and grow. President Eisenhower did that in the 1950s with the interstate highways. National investment created the Internet in the 1970s. We need to build the next economy — and we need to start now.
This 21st century economy holds great promise for our people. But unless we give all Americans the skills they need to succeed, countries like India and China will take good-paying jobs that should be ours. From early childhood education to better elementary and high schools to making college more affordable to training workers so they can get better jobs, Democrats believe every American should have a world-class education and the skills they need in a world-wide economy.
Health care costs have shot up double-digits year after year of the Bush Administration and that's costing us jobs, costing us our competitiveness, and costing families their peace of mind. We need to make health care and prescription drugs affordable for all so that our families and our small businesses will no longer have to shoulder this dead weight.
Good, new jobs. World-class education. Affordable health care. These things matter. Unfortunately, much of what the President offered weren't real answers. You know, today is Groundhog Day. And what we saw and heard tonight was a little like that movie, “Groundhog Day.” The same-old ideology that we've heard before — over and over again. We can do better.
I want you to know that when we believe the President is on the right track, we won't let partisan interests get in the way of what's good for the country. We will be first in line to work with him. But when he gets off track, we will be there to hold him accountable.
And that's why we so strongly disagree with the President's plan to privatize Social Security. Let me share with you why I believe the President's plan is so dangerous. There's a lot we can do to improve American's retirement security, but it's wrong to replace the guaranteed benefit that Americans have earned with a guaranteed benefit cut of forty percent or more. Make no mistake, that's exactly what President Bush is proposing.
The Bush plan would take our already record high $4.3 trillion national debt and put us another $2 trillion in the red. That's an immoral burden to place on the backs of the next generation.
But maybe most of all, the Bush plan isn't really Social Security reform.
It's more like Social Security roulette. Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings. But that doesn't mean taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it. And that's coming from a Senator who represents Las Vegas.
Sometimes important questions like Social Security or the economy or education get reduced to dollars and cents or competing policies and political parties. But really, these are questions that are about old-fashioned moral values that don't get talked about much in Washington, but matter so much to our country. Are we willing to do right by our parents and care for our children? Do we believe that big corporations with powerful lobbyists should get special favors and that the wealthiest should get special tax breaks? Or do we believe we are all God's children and that each of us should get a fair shot and each of us deserves a say in our future? Will we be able to tell young people like Devon back in Searchlight that America is still the land of the open road and that you can travel that open road to the place of your choice?
Even after the President's speech, the American people are still asking these questions. You can be sure that Democrats will continue to offer real answers in the months ahead.
Now, I'd like to turn things over to my colleague, the great leader of House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:
Thank you, Senator Reid.
Throughout our nation's history, hope and optimism have defined the American spirit. With pride and determination, every generation has passed on a stronger America than the one it inherited. Our greatest responsibility is to leave our children a world that is safer and more secure.
As House Democratic Leader, I want to speak with you this evening about an issue of grave concern — the national security of our country.
Any discussion of our national security must begin with recognition and respect for our men and women in uniform. Whether they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, or delivering humanitarian aid to the victims of the tsunami in Asia, our troops have the gratitude of every American for their courage, their patriotism, and the sacrifice they are willing to make for our country.
I have seen that sacrifice up close. I've met with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I've visited our wounded in military hospitals here and overseas. Our troops not only defend us, they inspire us. They remind us of our responsibility to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.
Because of the courage of our servicemen and women and the determination of the Iraqi people, Iraq's election on Sunday was a significant step toward Iraqis taking their future into their own hands. Now we must consider our future in Iraq.
We all know that the United States cannot stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to be viewed as an occupying force. Neither should we slip out the back door, falsely declaring victory but leaving chaos.
Despite the best efforts of our troops and their Iraqi counterparts, Iraq still faces a violent and persistent insurgency, and the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council said in January that Iraq is now a magnet for international terrorists.
We have never heard a clear plan from this Administration for ending our presence in Iraq. And we did not hear one tonight. Democrats believe a credible plan to bring our troops home and stabilize Iraq must include three key elements.
First, responsibility for Iraqi security must be transferred to the Iraqis as soon as possible. This action is long overdue. The top priority for the U.S. military should be training the Iraqi army. We must not be lulled into a false sense of confidence by the Administration's claim that a large number of security personnel have been trained. It simply hasn't happened, but it must.
Second, Iraq's economic development must be accelerated. Congress has provided billions of dollars for reconstruction, but little of that money has been spent to put Iraqis to work rebuilding their country. Infrastructure improvements in Iraq are more than just projects; they give Iraqis hope for a better future and a stake in achieving it. And they contribute to Iraqi stability.
Third, regional diplomacy must be intensified. Diplomacy can lessen the political problems in Iraq, take pressure off of our troops, and deprive the insurgency of the fuel of anti-Americanism on which it thrives.
If these three steps are taken, the next elections in Iraq, scheduled for December, can be held in a more secure atmosphere, with broader participation, and a much smaller American presence.
Just as we must transfer greater responsibility to the Iraqi people for their own security, we must embrace a renewed commitment to our security here at home. It's been over three years since the attacks of September 11th. Our hopes and prayers will always be with the 9/11 families, who strengthen our resolve to win the war on terror. The pain and horror of that day will never be forgotten by any of us yet the gaps in our security exposed by those attacks remain.
Despite the Administration's rhetoric, airline cargo still goes uninspected, shipping containers go unscreened, and our railroads and power plants are not secure. Police officers and firefighters across America have pleaded for the tools they need to prevent or respond to an attack, but the Administration still hasn't delivered for our first responders.
The greatest threats to our homeland security are the tons of biological, chemical, and even nuclear materials that are unaccounted for or unguarded. The President says the right words about the threat, but he has failed to take action commensurate with it.
We can and we must keep the world's most gruesome weapons out of the world's most dangerous hands. Nothing is more important to our homeland security, and indeed to the safety of the world.
For three years, the President has failed to put together a comprehensive plan to protect America from terrorism, and we did not hear one tonight.
As we strive to close the gaps in our security here at home, we must do more than show our strength as a nation, we must also show our greatness.
We must extend the hand of friendship to our neighbors in Latin America. We must work to stop the genocide in Sudan. We must reinvigorate the Middle East peace process. And we must bring health and hope to people suffering from disease, devastation, and the fury of despair.
We are called to do this and more by our faith and our common humanity, and also because these actions will enhance our national security.
Democrats are committed to a strong national security that keeps America safe, that wins the war on terror, and that never again sends our troops into harm's way without the equipment they need.
In our New Partnership for America's Future, House Democrats have made a commitment to guarantee a military second to none; to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction; to build strong diplomatic alliances; to collect timely and reliable intelligence to keep us safe at home; and to honor our veterans and their families by making sure they have the health care and benefits they have earned.
For those returning from military service today — our newest veterans — Democrats are calling for a G.I. Bill of Rights for the 21st Century to guarantee access to education, health care and the opportunity for good jobs.
And as we protect and defend the American people, we must also protect and defend our Constitution and the civil liberties contained therein. That is our oath of office.
A strong and secure America was our parents' gift to us. We owe our children and our grandchildren nothing less.
Thank you, good night, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.