Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Remarks on Moving to Debate Health Reform Legislation
Saturday, November 21, 2009:
For two hundred years we have styled ourselves the world’s greatest deliberative body. Deliberation necessarily implies discussion, and great issues necessarily require debate.
Today we vote whether to even discuss one of the greatest issues of our generation – indeed, one of the greatest issues this body has ever face: whether this nation will finally guarantee its people the right to live free from the fear of illness and death, which can be prevented by decent health care for all.
The road to this point has been started many times; it has never been completed. Merging two such large and consequential bills has never been done before. But we did it, with the help of many. It has been an enormous undertaking, and we would not be in this position without the unflagging dedication of many Senators and staff members.
At the top of that list are Chairmen Baucus and Dodd, who have shown dedication and determination in recent weeks and months. I am proud of every single Senator’s input, and especially proud of the two most recent classes of Senators. These Senators, elected with strong mandates for progress, they have demonstrated a studious approach to our historic endeavor and an unwavering belief that all Americans should be able to afford to live a healthy life.
I also want to explain why we are holding this important vote at this hour. As a matter of a principle that I respect, the senior Senator from Arkansas insisted that we vote only after Senators have had the time to read and understand this bill. Senators have now had ample opportunity to do so, and that is because of the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
M. President, as I have done many times this year privately and personally – as well as publicly – I once again invite my Republican colleagues to join us on the right side of history. This evening I invite them to join us, at the very least, in a debate about our future.
Around dining room tables in Nevada and across the nation, families are agonizing over what to sacrifice next to buy health insurance. They are questioning whether to fill a prescription or go without it and hope for the best. Employers are wondering whether they can afford to provide health care to their employees. They are asking how their businesses can survive while the costs of providing health care grow faster than ever.
Americans need health insurance reform. Debate is constant between television commentators and the editorial pages of great newspapers and magazines. The only place where silence is even considered is in the United States Senate.
Now – tonight – we finally have the opportunity to bring this debate where it belongs. We finally have the opportunity to bring this great deliberation to this great deliberative body.
Let’s be transparent: beyond all the hype, the hyperbole and the hyperventilation, that – and nothing more – is what tonight’s vote does. A “yes” vote says to America, I know this issue is important to your family and to our country, and the Senate should at the very least talk about it.
Some of my Republican friends would like the American people to think that voting to debate the bill is the same as voting to pass it. Any high school civics textbook can tell you that suggestion is wrong. Tonight’s vote is not the end of the debate. It is only the beginning.
It’s clear by now that my Republican colleagues have no problem talking about health care in press conferences or television interviews or town halls. My distinguished counterpart, the Republican Leader, has given more than 50 speeches in this chamber on the issue of health care reform.
Yet now that we have actual legislation to debate, to amend and to build on – now that we have words on paper and not just wild rumors – will they refuse to debate?
After all, if we are not debating – if we refuse to let the Senate do its job – what are we doing here? If Senators refuse to debate about a profound crisis affecting every single citizen, the nation must ask: in whose interest do you vote?
Surely deliberating a health reform bill cannot be more difficult than deciding which to pay this month: your mortgage or your medical bills.
It can’t be more painful than telling your child you can’t take him or her to the doctor because it costs too much.
It can’t be more humbling than facing your own employees and telling them, I’m sorry, you can’t count on me for your health insurance next year. You’re on your own.
And it can’t be more upsetting than having an insurance company take away your coverage at the exact moment you need it the most.
My Republican friends, there is nothing to fear in debate. President Kennedy once said, “Let us not be afraid of debate or discussion – let us encourage it.”
Be not afraid of debate. It is our job, and it is exactly what the legislative process is all about: discussing, amending, improving. We Democrats stand ready to do what needs to be done. We welcome debate. We encourage it.
Does any United States Senator seriously think the Founders conceived the Senate rules in the hopes that legislation would never be deliberated? Of course not.
Did the framers of the Constitution explicitly enumerate the powers of the Senate, but in truth hope this body would avoid the hardest and most urgent questions of the day? Of course they didn’t.
Did our nation’s visionaries build this Capitol building and design this great chamber in which we stand tonight only so that it would remain dark and silent? Quite to the contrary.
Imagine if, instead of debating either of the historic G.I. Bills – legislation that have given so many brave Americans the chance to brave college – the opposition simply said: We’d rather not talk about it.
Imagine if, instead of debating the bills that created Social Security or Medicare, those who didn’t like it said: Let’s just move on to the next issue.
Imagine if, instead of debating whether to abolish slavery, instead of debating whether giving women and minorities the right to vote, those who disagreed had muted discussion and killed any vote.
So I say to my Republican Senators: Do not try to silence a great debate over a great crisis. Do not let history show that when given the chance to debate and defend your position, to work with us for the good of our country and constituents, you ran and hid. You cannot wish away a great emergency by closing one’s eyes and pretending it doesn’t exist.
Democracy is discussion. Democracy needs deliberation. So let us debate our differences. On some, we will find common ground. On others, we may not. But let’s at least tell America where we can come together.
Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, one of the great thinkers of the past century, knew that when opposing sides come together, the sum of their ideas can outweigh their parts.
Sakharov said, “Profound thoughts arise only in debate, with a possibility of counterargument.”
Come, my friends, let us share these ideas here in the United States Senate. Let us legislate. Let us negotiate. Let us deliberate. Let us debate. Our country cries for it.