The President’s Leadershipby Senator Harry Reid
Posted on 2016-01-11
REID. Mr. President, in less than 300 days, the American people
will head to the polls to elect the President of the United States. An
election year places the state of our Union under intense scrutiny. At
this time it is important to remember just how far we have come through
the leadership of President Barack Obama.
I can remember the first time I heard Barack Obama's name. I was in the House gym, where I worked out for many years. Former Members have a little room in the back. Abner Mikva--long-time Congressman from Illinois, top lawyer for President Clinton, appellate court judge, and has had quite a remarkable career himself--was there. While we were getting dressed, he said to me: We have a Senate race in Illinois. And I asked: Well, whom are you supporting? He said: Barack Obama. I thought he was trying to be funny. Barack Obama? Come on. That is basically what I said to him, but I was wrong and he was right. This man with the unusual name was elected President of the United States.
It is important to remember just how far we have come through his leadership. After 8 years of disaster under President Bush, the American people embraced President Obama's message of hope and change. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first African-American President in the history of our country. Instead of working with the President to repair our economy, strengthen the middle class, and help working families, Republicans have chosen a path, for 7 years, of relentless obstruction.
In fact, during the President's first term, the Republican leader publicly said: ``The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.'' As we look back over 7 years of the Obama Presidency, one thing is clear: Republicans have failed in their radical crusade against him. President Obama inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression. He acted immediately to address the economic crisis and begin rebuilding our economy. Because of President Obama, our economy has fought back from the brink of destruction, which is what it really was.
Last month, record car sales were announced for the year 2015. How did it come about? Because President Obama went against the Republicans every step of the way by saving Chrysler and GM and giving Ford a great boost. The most significant car and truck sales in the history of our country occurred last year. Millions of Americans now have health care. The President made sure he fulfilled his promise of getting Osama bin Laden, and he did. He was killed. The President has taken bold action to address our broken immigration system, doubled our country's production of renewable energy, and expanded access to higher education for millions of Americans.
I have a lot of affection and admiration for President Obama and most everyone knows that. I have had the good fortune of working with him for the past 9 years in the Senate and as President. His rescuing the Nation from crisis, his bold legislative achievement, and his refusal to back down in the face of Republican obstruction have made him one of the best Presidents of all time.
No State was hit harder by the recession and foreclosure crisis than Nevada. President Obama provided the resources necessary to stabilize the shattered housing markets, keep responsible borrowers in their homes, and reduce foreclosures. Through the efforts he made, the President and his administration were able to provide about $200 million to Nevada's hardest hit homes, and there were lots of them. It didn't take care of all the problems, but it certainly helped a great deal. These were programs that provided unemployed and underemployed homeowners financial assistance.
Nevada's unemployment rate reached almost 14 percent. Across the country, the rate of unemployment was about 10 percent. Today we have seen over 70 consecutive months of job growth, and our economy has added more than 14 million private sector jobs during the Obama years. Keep in mind what was happening during the last months of the Bush administration. During the first 2 months after the President was elected but not sworn into office, 800,000 jobs were lost 2 months in a row. It is hard to comprehend that, but that is what happened.
[[Page S6]] Now we have seen the evidence of our Nation's job market continuing to bounce back. Last week alone almost 300,000 jobs were announced in the preceding month of December. A recent report shows that businesses have added 5.6 million jobs in the last 2 years alone, the most since the end of the Clinton administration. This certainly wouldn't have been possible without President Obama's leadership.
Nevada's unemployment rate, which I have already mentioned, was the worst in the Nation. We had an ongoing struggle with the State of Rhode Island for years as to which had the worst unemployment--Rhode Island or Nevada. Neither State wanted to win, but we both won on many occasions as to which had the highest unemployment rate. Thanks to President Obama's leadership, we are finally coming back in a very strong way.
In December, the President signed a tax bill that includes one of the biggest anti-poverty tools in a generation. It will help lift 16 million modest- and low-income working families out of poverty, including 8 million children. Renewable energy is taking off like never before as a result of that legislation. President Obama and Senate Democrats have brought our economy back from the brink of destruction. I have already talked about the auto industry. We took on Wall Street to ensure that the greed and corruption which produced the great recession would never happen again. Republicans said no at every turn, but we succeeded in spite of their obstruction.
Health care. Before President Obama took office, tens of millions of Americans were denied health insurance. Thanks to the hard work of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, the Affordable Care Act has banned insurance company discrimination, requiring coverage without regard to preexisting conditions or health status. That is just a little bit of what has been done. Since the law took effect, 17 million uninsured Americans have now gained insurance coverage. The success of ObamaCare is undeniable and made health care available to millions, slowed the rate of health care cost growth, and it did not cause any of the horrible problems that were talked about, prophesied, and that were suggested would happen by Republicans. In effect, what they said was all wrong.
Immigration. Immigration was a problem before President Obama took office, but he tried to do something about it, and of course Republicans blocked that also. At the State of the Union Address 2 years ago, he said: I worked with you. I have tried, I have pleaded, and I am tired of doing this. I will have to do things on my own now because you will not do it legislatively. And he has done that.
We failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010. President Obama acted to protect DREAMers, by announcing DACA, deferred action for childhood arrivals. To date, almost 700,000 young individuals have been protected from deportation. Since then, Democrats led the charge for comprehensive immigration reform to fix our Nation's broken immigration system.
The Senate passed bipartisan immigration reform in 2013, which was important, but we now have people, such as the junior Senator from Florida, for example, who helped pass that legislation, but once he started running for national office decided that everything he did in bringing that bill to the Senate floor was wrong, and he has taken a 360-degree turn and said: I did all of that, but I guess I was wrong. We haven't been able to get it out of the House, and now we have people such as the junior Senator from Florida who is denigrating his own bill.
President Obama acted within his legal Executive authority to unite American families and strengthen our immigration system, including protecting some adults with children in the United States from deportation. It is a longer story than that, but that is the short story.
Energy and the environment. Climate change is one of the greatest, if not the greatest threat, the world has ever known. Because of President Obama's leadership, the world is on track to keep temperatures from rising and avoid the most catastrophic impact of climate change. By negotiating the historic Paris climate agreement, the President has crafted a version of clean energy and climate change for our country by establishing carbon emission standards on vehicles that help consumers save money on fuel for the first time by limiting carbon pollution from powerplants.
He established or expanded 19 national monuments. Why? Because Republicans--bills we passed matter-of-factually here--always refused to allow us to have votes on them. So he moved forward, as he said he would do, with an Executive action for 19 national monuments. In Nevada, it includes the 750,000 acres of the Basin and Range National Monument, which is something that is great and all Americans can share. The President believes these lands belong to all Americans and that our children and grandchildren should be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of our country.
Education. When President Obama took office, our Nation's education system was in desperate need of reform. No Child Left Behind crippled schools around the country and graduation rates were at historic lows. One of the most important actions President Obama took through the recovery act was nearly $100 billion in aid for K-12 and higher education.
Today students across the country have made tremendous progress. More students have graduated than ever before, particularly low-income and minority students. President Obama also took historic steps to address extreme levels of student debt in this country. By working with Democrats, President Obama created new programs to help college graduates manage their student debt by capping their loan payments by 10 percent of their income. We wanted to do more, but obstruction raised its ugly head and Republicans refused to allow us to do even more.
Guns. Mass murders have taken place all over, and Nevada is no exception. It has happened there also. From the time he was elected President, Republicans have tried every means possible by working arm in arm and hand in hand with the NRA to stop everything the President has tried to accomplish. Even though more than 80 percent of the American people said there should be background checks for people who are crazy and criminals, it is not good enough for Republicans. They have still stopped us.
The President tried to work with Republicans and they have refused. This has brought about his new efforts to use Executive action. Last week he did just that. He addressed the epidemic of gun violence in this country through legal Executive action. Republicans have blocked this action, even in the wake of cold-blooded mass murders in schools, houses of worship, movie theaters, and many other places.
Tomorrow the President will deliver his final State of the Union Address to the American people. I look forward to hearing ways in which he plans to continue and push our Nation forward during his last year in office. We will do everything in our power, as Democrats, to build on the strong legacy President Obama has established. We will continue to fight to strengthen the middle class and working families by addressing the mountain of student debt that saddles Americans' higher education. We will continue fighting to increase the minimum wage. We will not rest until wages of women match the wages of their male counterparts, and we will continue to keep Wall Street accountable by prioritizing Main Street and protecting the good work the Dodd-Frank legislation did.
As we begin this legislative session, I hope we will find in our Republicans a willing partner to protect and strengthen our Nation. I hope it is not wishful thinking, but it probably is. We stand ready to work with our Republican colleagues to do what is right for the American people.