30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP
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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much to my good friend, Mr. Meek, and it is so wonderful to be with my good friends in the 30-Something Working Group. We spent so many nights here talking about the need for us to move this country in a new direction, a new direction for America. That is what, Mr. Speaker, you and others talked about during the campaign. We went out and talked about making sure that we could increase the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years; have the student loan interest rate; fully implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations; make sure that we repeal the energy industry subsidies that they don't need because they are the most profitable industry in the entire world so that we can truly fund alternative energy resources; eliminate the prohibition against negotiating for lower prescription drug prices; and putting the stem cell research bill on the President's desk once again; and making sure that we can finally establish some accountability with this administration on the war in Iraq.
At last we will have the opportunity to bring them in and ask them the tough questions that our good friends on the other side of the aisle refused to ask for years.
We had an opportunity as the 30-something Working Group to point out and contrast what we would do in the majority if we were given that opportunity versus what the Republican leadership was doing for the last 12 years. And the American people responded and gave us that opportunity.
Some people might have started at the top of this hour, kind of scratched their head and wondered why we were talking about the University of Florida national championship and the Gators victory, but there is some analogy, all kidding aside.
The Gators showed that they came to play last night when no one expected them to win, when for months people didn't give them any chance of coming out on top and winning the national championship. I think that our victory on November 7 is analogous to that because certainly at the beginning of my first term in Congress 2 years ago, no one gave the Democrats a chance. No one gave us a snowball's chance of reaching the point that we did on November 7 and being able to elect enough Members to truly move this country in a new direction.
In part because of the Members that joined us on the floor each night and our Democratic Caucus colleagues who were so committed to get the message out and talking to their constituents and really appealing to the issues that the American people cared about, as opposed to the special interests and the culture of corruption and the pall that was cast over this Capitol for so long, now we are finally being given that opportunity. It is incredibly important.
One of the most amazing things for me as a woman was that last Thursday we were able to watch history in the making when the gavel was passed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the first woman Speaker in United States history. I had my twin 7-year-olds on the floor that day, and I know you had your children on the floor with you that day, Mr. Meek, but the opportunity for our kids to see, and especially for little girls in America, to see that really anything is possible in America, for that, for us to be able to witness that was just incredible.
And today for us to be able to witness Speaker Pelosi preside over H.R. 1, the passage of H.R. 1, which was the first bill that we adopted in the 100-hours agenda that fully implements the 9/11 Commission agenda.
The Republicans minimally implemented those recommendations, and that is why the 9/11 Commission co-chairmen gave them Ds and Fs, because they had not allocated funding on the basis of risk and vulnerabilities. They had not created and rehearsed State and local emergency response plans. They had not addressed the interoperability issues between intelligence agencies and first responders. There were at least 10 items. They have not protected privacy and civil liberties with an oversight function. They have not improved air passenger screening. They were not checking all the cargo. There was no funding or mechanism to check all of the cargo that came through our ports.
H.R. 1 that we adopted today implements that right now. It was a thrill to watch Speaker Pelosi preside over the passage of the first item in our 100-hours agenda.
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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Expanding access to higher education was one of the critical elements, is one of the critical elements of the 100-hours agenda because America is all about opportunity.
Our good friends on the other side of the aisle talk about prosperity and how it is essential to make sure that Americans can continue to prosper, and we absolutely believe that. But there is no denying that prosperity isn't possible in this or any other country without an education.
If you are denied access to education because of the lack of affordability, because you can't pay for it or because your ability to repay a loan is prohibited because the interest rate is so high that you are paying for the rest of your natural life and it takes such a huge chunk of your income that eventually you have to decide not to pursue an education, then prosperity isn't possible.
As you have in this chart, and Mr. Meek is going to talk about minimum wage, we lag behind the world in terms of global education standards. You have thousands of students who will graduate with engineering degrees this year. And look at the difference in numbers: 600,000 engineering degrees in China; 350,000 engineering degrees in India; and 70,000 engineering degrees in the United States of America.
Now, if that isn't an example and evidence of where we need to focus our priorities and make sure that we expand access to higher education so that we can grow that number, then our ability to be competitive globally is severely, severely impacted, and individual's ability to prosper is severely impacted.
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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. If the gentleman will yield, one of the things I wanted to point out is it could ultimately, as we continue to do these 30-something hours, it could be easy to presume now that we are in the majority that we would come here and only talk about the Democrats' agenda and what we are planning to do, and we are going to spend quite a bit of time talking about that during these hours.
But I think it is important that our colleagues and others who might hear us talking tonight understand that the reason that our taking the majority in the Congress was so important, besides our being able to implement an agenda, is the accountability factor.
We are going to come here, now that we are in the majority and control the agenda here, it is absolutely our responsibility because we have the ability to do it to hold this administration accountable, to ask questions, to hold hearings, to bring them here and make sure that they answer questions about their policies that the American people showed us on November 7 they don't agree with.
It is going to be incredibly important in the time that we spend on this floor that we not only talk about our agenda, but what we are doing to make sure that we restore the Congress' role, constitutional role, where we hold the administration accountable and reestablish the system of checks and balances.
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Ms. Wasserman Schultz, that is major, Mr. Ryan, for the American people to vote for change and to see it, immediately. Not, well, when is the next election? What? Two years and some change.
We are not even out of January yet, and we are already voting in a bipartisan way because of the leadership of the Democrats that say we have to increase the minimum wage, something we told the American people we would do. So I am excited about the fact, Mr. Ryan, that we are able not only in our lifetime but in our political lifetime to be able to deliver to the American people something that is important.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Ryan, when we come back to the floor, we are going to have members of the Freshman Caucus, of the Democratic Caucus, that are going to be joining us here on this floor. These are individuals that are fresh, out of not only the campaign, but out of private life, to bring to this House the kind of input that we need.
One thing we are committed to do in the 30-Something Working Group, there is an old spiritual that says ``we are in no ways tired.' We are in no ways tired, because we have a war that is going on, we still have people without health care, we have a deficit that is continuing to run out of control. But we have now passed legislation to pay as we go. We now have the will and the desire to do the right thing on behalf of our veterans. All of the things we talked about.
So I look forward, Mr. Speaker, to coming to the floor to not only report on progress, but also to ask the Members on both sides of the aisle and the American people to give us the kind of input that we need.
We had the rubber stamp, Ms. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Ryan, that we asked the American people what should we do with the rubber stamp. I want to thank Mr. Manatos with the Speaker's office, I like to say that, with the Speaker's office, that facilitated that asking of the American people.
We are going to keep the rubber stamp, the Republican Congress rubber stamp of the 109th, to remind us that we never, ever want to go back to a rubber stamp Congress. It is not good for the country and it is not good for our future, and it is not good for the men and women that are our veterans and those that are now serving for our independence for us to be able to salute one flag. It is not good. That is not what the Constitution called for and that is not what we are going back to.
So there was a discussion of destroy the rubber stamp, or put the rubber stamp on E-Bay and give it to the Troop Relief Fund or whatever the case may be. But the overwhelming e-mails that we received in the 30-Something Working Group was keep the rubber stamp as a reminder of what you don't want to do in the 110th, if God is willing, in the 111th and the 112th and so on and so on Congress, to not allow that to happen.
So, Mr. Ryan, I just want to say, I know Ms. Wasserman Schultz joined us in the 109th, I want to thank you personally on the 108th, because it was kind of lonely. It was just the two of us. Every now and then we would get other members of the 30th-Something Working Group. I want to thank you for sticking in there over the years, and then when you are in the majority, commit to coming back with the same enthusiasm to say not only thank you, but to say that we are going to continue to work and we are going to continue to reach out and continue to do the things that we did in the minority to make sure that we have a strong majority and make this country stronger.
And I want to thank Ms. Wasserman Schultz for all the things she does. And I don't know how she does it all, being a mom. I am a dad, but to be a mom is a totally different definition. But she comes to this Congress and brings not only what she brings from the Florida senate, but the same kind of energy, integrity and good will on behalf of the American people, so I want to thank you and all the other Members.
I want to thank Uncle Bill for being an individual that is receiving Medicare. He is a Medicare recipient now. The fact that he comes to the floor.
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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you. I think the key word you touched on is balance. That is why I am thrilled, and I know the two of you are as well, to have the opportunity to restore balance and to restore the American people's confidence in their government again.
Because, Mr. Meek and Mr. Ryan, that is one of the things that was a casualty of the last several years, with the headline every other day, every day sometimes, about a colleague of ours on the other side of the aisle being indicted, as Mr. Meek said, or arrested. We have former colleagues in jail. We have lobbyists that inappropriately tried to influence this process that are in jail.
This election, I think, was a reflection of the American people's desire for change and to move in a new direction. And one of the things that Speaker Pelosi has talked about, and talked about so often in the campaign, is what her speakership and our majority will be about is making this the most bipartisan Congress in the United States history, with the inclusiveness and the participation that Members on both sides of the aisle will have an opportunity to have, and that that is incredibly important.
That extends beyond just the Members here, but extends to the voices of the people that we are serving. The net roots, for example. That is a community that has been so instrumental and so involved in getting the message out about what people in the country care about. I know that the three of us have interacted during our time on the floor here with folks involved in the net roots and they have given voice to so many people exponentially that would not have had the ability to get our message out. It is incredibly important.
Inclusiveness and balance and confidence in government is I think going to be the watch words that will be really the clarion call of our majority, so I really look forward to that opportunity.
I tell you, where we are at this stage of our careers and our lives, I have been in public office now for, gosh, I guess it is 16 years, which is kind of amazing. But it is actually 16 years, and I have spent 4 of those years in the majority in the State House. Mr. Meek, we served a couple years in the majority together in the State House, and that is the last time that I had an opportunity to actually advance an agenda. We definitely spent a lot of time honing our defensive skills, and I think we have gotten pretty good at that and comparing and contrasting. But at the end of the day, most of us, the vast majority of us ran for office in order to make the world better, and now we have that opportunity.
Like you said, Mr. Ryan, we might not always do it right, but it won't be for lack of good intentions and it won't be for lack of trying to stand up for those who have no voice, which I think will be quite a marked contrast compared to, and I hate to directly question the intentions, but compared to the intentions of some over the last few years. That is the most diplomatic way I can put it.
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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I just want to close by saying that I look forward to the opportunity to continuing the balance that we have been trying to strike the last number of years and having the opportunity to implement our agenda, to move this country in a new direction, and begin to establish some real accountability and oversight with this administration.
I look forward to joining you on the floor with the 30-something Working Group and having our new colleagues, the new additions, the new recruits in the 30-something Working Group, which is the freshman class.
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