A picture of Senator Harry Reid
Harry R.
Democrat NV

About Sen. Harry
  • Convening the 113Th Congress

    by Senator Harry Reid

    Posted on 2013-01-03

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    REID. Madam President, it is my pleasure to convene the 113th Congress. I welcome back all my colleagues to a place that we love, the U.S. Senate.

    But in particular, I would like to welcome Illinois Senator Mark Kirk. He has been away from us for a year recovering from an illness. We are all grateful for his recovery. He has been an inspiration to us. Today, on the east front of the Capitol, to see him walk up those steps said it all. So we are very proud of him and glad he is back with us.

    I also offer a special welcome to the 13 new Members of the Senate. I am confident that each Senator will treasure their memories in this historic legislative body, and that each will serve their State and our Nation with distinction.

    All of the Members of this freshman class are accomplished in their own right. I can remember many years ago--30 years ago, Madam President--being a new Member of the House. Speaker O'Neill called us in, in small groups, to talk to us. And he said to each of us: All of you are accomplished or you would not be here. You are all politicians. It is not a bad word. And I say that to all our Senators--the new Senators--that they are all accomplished or they would not be here, and they should all understand that. They should have confidence in moving into this body because they are just as experienced as the rest of us.

    I trust that serving in the Senate will be the most rewarding experience of their lives. In this Chamber the 113th Congress will face the most significant challenges of our careers--not just the new Members, all of us.

    To turn those challenges into triumphs, I urge all Senators--new and experienced--to draw not only on our varied experience at every level of government and public service, but also on each other's experience, regardless of political party.

    Daniel Webster said: ``We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people.'' Today, as we begin a new Congress, we are afforded the opportunity to reflect upon the successes and failures of past Congresses.

    It has been said that the 112th Congress was characterized by some of the sharpest political divisions in memory. But during the last Congress, there were also many commendable examples of compromise. The recent effort to avert the fiscal cliff was an example of both the divisions and the collaborations that mark a moment in history--and it was a moment in history.

    Although the process of resolving some of the fiscal issues facing this country was extremely difficult and protracted, in the end our two parties came together to protect America's middle class. That is something of which we should all be proud.

    As we advance the debate over the best way to strengthen our economy and reduce our deficit during this Congress, the 113th, Democrats will continue to stand strong for the principle of balance. I am hopeful and confident my Republican colleagues will do the same.

    Any future budget agreements must balance the need for thoughtful spending reductions with revenue from the wealthiest among us and closing wasteful tax loopholes.

    The 112th Congress, unfortunately, showed that we had some political differences, and these differences prevented us from accomplishing as much as we had hoped during the Congress that was just completed. But we also passed very important legislation, such as the transportation jobs bill. This was important because it kept 2 million people working, and we began the restoration, with that legislation, of our crumbling infrastructure.

    We made strides to reduce the Nation's deficit and prevented a tax increase for 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small businesses. I guess I should have started, Madam President, by telling everyone that the marks that people see on my face--that has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff or the disagreements that Speaker Boehner and I had. It is from being very pale and living in the desert most of my life.

    We were able to accomplish, as I indicated, many things to reduce the deficit and prevent a tax increase for American families and small businesses.

    We reformed our patent system for the first time in six decades, gave small business owners access to the capital they need to compete, and reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration, keeping 300,000 workers employed. Not a single piece of that legislation became law without the votes of both Democrats and Republicans. All those legislative initiatives I just talked about were bipartisan.

    Unfortunately, many other worthy measures that passed the Senate with strong, bipartisan support then languished, awaiting action by the House of Representatives. In the 113th Congress, it will be incumbent upon the House Republican leadership to allow bipartisan bills passed by the Senate to come to a vote before the full House of Representatives--not before the Republican Members only but before Democrats and Republicans, all 435 Members of the House. Too many good pieces of legislation died over the last 2 years because House Republican leaders insisted on passing legislation with a majority of the majority; that is, only Republicans. Democrats were ignored most of the time. For example, postal reform, the Violence Against Women Act, the farm bill, and relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy all passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis after extensive deliberation and debate. Yet the House failed to act on all four of these measures, and there were others.

    As Speaker Boehner saw on New Year's Day, when he allows every Member of the House to vote and not only Republican Members of the House to vote, Congress can enact bills into law. No legislation can pass the Senate without both Democrats and Republicans. During the 113th Congress, the Speaker should strive to make that the rule of the House of Representatives as well.

    Still, it is true that the 112th Congress left much undone. That is why we resolve to pick up where we left off in just a few weeks. The first crucial matter we will address will be the long-overdue aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy. I am hopeful that the House will act, as they said, on the 15th. Then when we get back here, we will move on it very quickly.

    We need to strive to be more productive, and we will do little if we don't address a major reason for our inefficiency. Simply, the Senate is not working as it should. That is why in the last Congress I made plain that Democrats would do something to fix those issues.

    The beginning of a new Congress is customarily a time that the Senate addresses changes to its rules. In the last Congress, Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, Tom Harkin, and Sheldon Whitehouse made the majority's case for change. I commend these passionate leaders. They have made compelling arguments for reform.

    In recent months, Senators on both sides of the aisle set about trying to broker a compromise. This group was led by two of the greatest Senators who ever served in this body, the finest and the best, Democratic Senator Levin of Michigan and Republican Senator McCain of Arizona. They worked many hours with a group of six other Senators to come up with something they thought would work better, and I so appreciate their work. But in the waning weeks of the last Congress, Senators were justifiably occupied with other matters, including the fiscal cliff. But I believe this matter warrants additional debate during the 113th Congress, which just started.

    [[Page S9]] Senators deserve additional notice before voting to change Senate rules, so today I will follow the precedents set in 2005 and again in 2011. We will reserve the right of all Senators to propose changes to the Senate rules, and we will explicitly not acquiesce in the carrying over of all the old rules from the last Congress. It is my intention that the Senate will recess today, rather than adjourn, to continue the same legislative day and allow this important rules discussion to continue later this month.

    I am confident that the Republican leader and I can come to an agreement that will allow the Senate to work more efficiently. We are going to talk again today. We just haven't had time, with the other things we have been dealing with, to spend enough time together to do this, but we definitely want to move forward to try to make this place work better. I appreciate his willingness to work on this. I will do my very utmost, as I know he will.


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