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Public Statements

The 30-Something Working Group

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


THE 30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - May 09, 2007)

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much, Mr. Altmire.

I have to tell you what a pleasure it is to have the reinforcements in you and Mr. Murphy and a number of other Members, you, Madam Speaker, to have been elected on November 7 to bolster the efforts of the 30-Something Working Group. Because we hung in there for the last couple of cycles and took to the floor every night to talk to the American people and to our colleagues on this floor about the issues that we believed were important to them that were not being addressed by our colleagues and good friends on the other side of the aisle when they were in charge.

I want to follow up on what you and Mr. Murphy have just been discussing relating to the President and his attitude. The conclusion that I have reached is that it must be that the President has contempt for the democratic process. I can't really reach any other conclusion besides that.

Because we are not a monarchy. He hopefully realizes that he was not elected king. He is not self-appointed. He is one of three branches of government that are coequal, coequal meaning we have as much say and as much right to weigh in on something as significant as whether to, A, commit our troops to war, and, B, we control the appropriations, we control the purse.

And what we believe, as Democrats, is that it is irresponsible for us to give this President a blank check and an open-ended commitment to the Iraqi government with absolutely no accountability and no requirement that there be progress forward or benchmarks met. I mean, the President must believe that we aren't listening to our constituents, or maybe he's not listening. He says he is listening. In fact, on April 24 of this year the President said this, ``Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted change in our strategy in Iraq. I listened.''

Really? I have yet to see any evidence of him listening. What I have seen evidence of, and, you know, I know that I often go back to the analogy of my interaction with my own children when talking about this President, but my frustration and observation about the insolence on occasion of my own children is similar to what we have been observing from the reaction from this White House.

I really can analogize it that when I am talking to, for us as the Democratic majority in Congress, we sent him legislation in the supplemental appropriations bill that he vetoed. And I have the privilege of serving on the Appropriations Committee and served on the conference committee. We sent him the legislation with a timeline for withdrawal, with his own benchmarks as he outlined on January 10, with accountability and with protection for our troops, A, ensuring that they not have a tour of duty without a 365-day separation in between those tours, the Army's own rules. We made sure that there was $1.7 billion in funding for veterans' health care. We made sure that there was $1.7 billion in there for military health care, something that you have been incredibly concerned about, veteran and military health care, Mr. Altmire. And on and on. The issues that were, according to the President, very important to him and clearly important to the American people.

And so he vetoed that and said that there were other concerns that he had, that he didn't want his hands tied, that he wanted to have the flexibility, that he just wanted a blank check and open-ended commitment. We, being a coequal branch of government, have gone back to the drawing board. And the Democratic majority believing in compromise and a need to negotiate in good faith, we have now put forward another proposal, a proposal that is designed to address the concerns that he outlines.

And normally when you're going through a good-faith negotiation there is what's called ``back and forth,'' for example, the analogy that I began a minute ago, when my children don't like what I'm telling them, when I'm talking to my kids and I explain to them that I want them to do A and they don't want to do A, and we kind of go back and forth. And being a parent of small children, sometimes it's a dictatorship, but sometimes there's negotiation. And it always works better when you can work things out with your kids and teach them that compromise is going to get you further. But when they don't like that compromise, my kids, just like all kids, stamp their foot and whine a little bit and tell me that they don't want to do that.

That really feels like how this President has reacted to Congress' clear ability to weigh in on the direction that this war should be taking. The American people certainly have weighed in. And what I don't understand is why the President isn't willing to come to the table and negotiate in good faith. The my-way-or-the-highway attitude that he has taken is irresponsible.

What we are doing in this next proposal is we are making sure that we fully fund over the next 3 months the funding that the troops need. We provide the President and the Army with the funding that they need, but we tie it to benchmarks, we tie it to progress. The Iraqi government cannot believe that we will be there forever.

And then we have a second vote where we would come back; and if the President can certify to us that those benchmarks are being met, then the rest of the funding would be released. If he can't certify that to us, then the funding that we would appropriate would be used to go through a redeployment process.

Because at some point the madness has to end. That is what the American people have told us when we've gone home to our districts in town halls, in e-mails, in phone calls. The President appears to have ear plugs in his ears, and it's wrong. And that's why the Founding Fathers established coequal branches of government, so that one person in the executive office, in the Oval Office could not unilaterally decide to commit our troops, to keep them there and to engage us in military action indefinitely. It's irresponsible.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I am really glad that you touched on that, because you read my mind. I am obviously from a State where the National Guard and its readiness is imperative. We are approaching June 1st, which is the beginning of hurricane season. It runs all the way through to the end of November. I know from conversations that I have had with our Guard leadership in Florida that a good amount of our equipment is over in Iraq still. And to make matters worse is that the equipment that has come back is in such horrendous shape that it is almost unusable.

When I had a meeting in my district office with the head of our National Guard, with the commander, this was over a year ago, he expressed that concern to me over a year ago. We can't deal with the lack of readiness in Kansas but certainly not in a State like Florida where we are in the middle of hurricane alley. And we have already had the first main storm today, three weeks before the hurricane season even begins.

So we are not just talking about the foreign policy impact, the perception of our Nation across the world or the impact on our troops. There is a domestic impact, a significant detrimental domestic impact to our inability to address where we are in this war and when it is going to end.

We have got to make sure that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi troops are in a position to stand on their own so that we can bring our troops home and deal with the domestic needs that we have in this country.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you, Mr. Murphy.

You know, I really became enraged this weekend because you both have heard me refer to myself as what I am, and that is a ``minivan mom.'' I am a minivan mom, one of the millions of minivan moms that drive around my district with the kids in the back seat. And I can tell you that we, ideally, if you are a mom with little kids, would drive a smaller vehicle so that you could save gas, so that you could save money, so that you could be more energy efficient and environmentally conscious.

However, when you are traveling from soccer to baseball to dance class to school and all the things that minivan moms have to do, you need a vehicle the size of a minivan. And they are expensive to fill up. Believe me.

This weekend, we were back up, just for 87 octane, when I filled my gas tank, 87 octane in my hometown of Weston was $3.06 a gallon. The 93 octane was about $3.88. I stood there, and it had been a while since we felt the rage and actually a while since I have gotten feedback from constituents about their frustration, because, like you said, I am actually an idealist. I am not a cynic. I am not someone that believes in conspiracy theories.

There is just no question in my mind that that drop in gas prices was absolutely tied to the potential fortunes of the Republican candidates for Congress and this administration. So I am just going to say it straight out.

The only explanation other than that and the only explanation for the insensitivity on the part of the President and this White House must be that they are not filling their own tanks. Maybe their drivers are doing it for them.

I would like to take the opportunity to introduce our colleagues and the President to a gas tank. This is what they look like. And when you insert the pump into your vehicle, the indicator on the gas pump shows you how much you are paying and shows you the total at the end after you are done filling your tank.

They are not filling their own tank. That must be the only explanation why the President hasn't taken any steps to address our dependence on foreign oil, to deal with the record profits, obscene profits that the oil industry is making.

I don't understand how he could look himself in the mirror after the 2006 State of the Union which I was here for and you guys were running to join us here. I heard President Bush stand at that lectern and tell us that we must end America's addiction to foreign oil. It clearly was just words. That is what they are good at. They are good at the words. They just are not good at backing up the words with action. But we are. Here we are talking about what we need to do. I want us to share with our colleagues and other folks that might be listening what our plans are, because we are going to take some action.

We represent the folks that drive minivans around their district and drive pickup trucks and who run small businesses who need to make sure that gas prices don't cut their legs out from under their business and prevent them from being able to function. That is the reality on the ground every day.

Your gas prices go up, you have a harder time choosing to provide your employees with health insurance, you have a harder time being able to buy that piece of equipment your business needs. There is a direct result on small businesses from gas prices going up.

We are taking several significant steps. The Speaker has created a Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence. That was a controversial move but something that she felt was important because it is so critical that we address the issue of global warming and energy independence that we needed to highlight it and put it up on a pedestal and get Members to travel the world and talk about how we can move the ball down the field and address this issue.

In addition to the hearings and oversight that select committee will be doing, and that select committee will meet for a year time period because there needs to be action taken within a very short time span so we can get some results for the American people.

Also, in the Energy and Commerce Committee, we will be hearing Mr. Stupak's legislation called the Energy Price Gouging Prevention Act to immediately provide relief to consumers and prevent the oil companies from price gouging like what is clearly going on here. I mean, we cannot allow the oil industry to put our constituents on the roller coaster ride that they are clearly on right now.

We have to do a number of things. We have to set an example in this institution. Speaker Pelosi has moved forward with the Greening the Capitol Initiative. I am privileged to chair the subcommittee which will be working on a lot of the initiatives for the Greening the Capitol project.

What we will be doing is within the next 2 years, by the end of the 110th Congress, we will establish policies that will make our Capitol complex carbon neutral; and we will make sure that we set an example for businesses across the country. We have to take several major steps to provide relief and balance and focus on alternative energy research so we can truly wean ourselves off dependence from foreign oil and not just talk about it.

I am a little hot about that. I see the Speaker is standing on her feet, which means we are probably getting close to the end of our time.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I think what is important for us to emphasize in the 30-Something Working Group here is we are about action. Our Democratic leadership under Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer and Mr. Clyburn, our whip, and Mr. Emanuel, our caucus Chair, we spend a lot of time on this floor. The people who are watching see us doing a lot of talking. I mean, talk i nice, but I want us to make sure that we are getting across what we are going to be doing about this problem.

The Speaker has made a commitment that has directed the committees that are chaired by Democratic Members that, by July 4, that we will expand and extend renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives, that we will make efforts to make our Nation's farmers leaders in reducing our independence on foreign oil by promoting clean, domestically produced alternative fuels.

They do that in Brazil. Brazil has become completely independent of foreign oil. In fact, our own auto industry, our American automobile industry manufactures vehicles to be driven in Brazil because they use an ethanol-based gasoline so they can be self-sufficient. It is entirely doable.

We need to refocus, and our policies and committee hearings and legislation that will be moving through by Independence Day will move us in the direction of changing our dependence from the Middle East to the Midwest in our country.

We will also provide incentives for an energy-innovation economy that will create new jobs and efficiency measures to help consumers and small businesses reduce energy costs. And we are going to make sure that we strengthen our national commitment to energy research and development for the next generation of high-risk, high-reward energy technology.

We have an innovation agenda that was part of the New Direction for America agenda that we ran on and talked about in race after race in district after district. People want to know that it is not just words, that it is not just lips flapping up here. We are going to actually move legislation and use our congressional oversight capability and leadership on this issue so they don't hear one more quarter go by where they see record profits from the oil industry, one more quarter go by where they are on a roller coaster ride for gas prices.

We need to make sure that we help our colleagues on the other side of the
aisle and the President of this country knows what a gas tank is. Because Mr. Altmire did make reference that this is a gas tank, but this is a pretty ancient gas tank. This is a representation of a gas tank that probably dates back to the 1950s. Perhaps that is the last time that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle or the President actually used one of these. That really is, I think, the only explanation for their insensitivity.

It is our job to make sure that we move this innovation agenda forward so we can make it a priority. That is why rolling back those subsidies were part of our 6 in '06 agenda.

One of the first bills that we passed in the first 100 hours in the majority was a repeal of the subsidies that were given away to the oil industry that they literally said they did not need. How could they need them? They are sitting on piles of money, billions of dollars, and we gave them subsidies. We gave them back money that they owed us, that were royalties that we should have earned because we give them the right to drill on government-owned land.

It is just unbelievable that the priorities of the administration would be closer to the oil industry than it would be to the people. It is immoral. It really is. It is nothing short of immoral.

We have to start thinking about how the decisions we make here impact real people. We stand in this Chamber every day. And you know what happens? I was in the legislature in Florida. My district is 450 miles from the capitol in Tallahassee, and it is a lot further from Washington. It becomes really easy, I think, for a lot of the Members to forget the impact of the decisions that we make in this room on real people. You can easily become desensitized. Maybe that is what it is.

I know the President goes around the country and talks to people. But the way they set those events up for the President, as I understand it, he is isolated. They screen a lot of the people that get an opportunity to be in the room with him, if not all of them. I just don't think he hears from enough people about the true impact of his policies. It is the only explanation.

If he was really hearing what people were saying and if he was really sympathetic to the plight of people who are struggling, and not just poor people, but we are talking about middle-class people who have a job and who are, like you said, living paycheck to paycheck, and even people not living paycheck to paycheck.

Just because you can afford to pay $55 to fill up your gas tank doesn't mean it is okay. It shouldn't cost that much. It doesn't have to, and we need to make sure that our actions become reality and that we put pressure on the President to sign what we send him when we send it by Independence Day.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Just what all this boils down to for me is just one word, and that is insensitivity. I mean, there is a disconnect, which is almost a word that has almost become cliche, but a disconnect between what is really going on in the lives of the average American person and the policies that the White House and the President advance.

And that insensitivity, it is not isolated just to the price of oil. It is not isolated just to the President's believing that he is the only one that is right, and he was elected to be the decision-maker, as he said, and to heck with anyone else's opinion. The insensitivity is reflective, and it permeates every decision they make.

Let me just give you an example. I sit on the House Judiciary Committee as well, and tomorrow we have Attorney General Gonzales coming in front of our committee for our regular oversight of the Department of Justice. So the insensitivity and the tone deafness extends to even an issue like that.

The White House has defended their firings of the U.S. attorneys, essentially saying they had the right to do it, and they told us whatever reasons that they decided to release those U.S. attorneys, but they got caught in a fabrication. They got caught in a whole series of different stories that have come back to bite them.

Now we have a situation where we have an Attorney General who has completely undermined our ability and the American people's ability to have any confidence and trust in what he says. That is a pattern that exists. I mean, we talked during the campaign and during the 109th and the 108th about the culture of corruption. I mean, that is what has been hanging over this Capitol, which finally we have been able to lift it.

There are still remnants of it. We still have, sadly, a number of even our colleagues who have been accused of things and are going through investigations, but the Department of Justice and the Attorney General could have handled this U.S. attorney issue in a very simple way, a way that I do not think I could have or you could have questioned.

They had the right to decide to change who was sitting in those offices, who was serving as a U.S. attorney, and all they had to say was, we wanted to change the leadership in those eight offices. Instead, they got so caught up in telling a story that they thought was legitimate enough, that now it is not the firings, it is the coverup that is the problem. And that is what the White House does not seem to get.

We are almost talking apples and oranges. They are defending their right to have fired them. We are not disagreeing with them over their right to have fired the U.S. attorneys. We do have a serious problem, and we should have a serious problem not being able to trust that the information the administration and the Department of Justice provides to us when we ask them questions is accurate and that it is factual.

It is the trust and the violation of that trust that has been undermined for so long, and that was another result on November 7. Part of the result of the election is that the American people's confidence in their government was so badly undermined that they wanted us to help them move in a new direction.

So it is just not isolated just to the issues we have been talking about tonight. We could go through a laundry list.

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