Back to Work on the Issues that Matter

This past November, the American people sent us an undeniable message: they want change. For far too long, Congress took its eye off of helping people. In the last Congress, for example, under Republican control, we didn't do anything to make college more affordable, implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations to make us safer, raise the minimum wage, or hold the President's feet to the fire on Iraq and the War on Terror. Now, that's all going to change.

Today marks the first day of the new Congress and hopefully a new era of working together on issues that help middle class families. From strengthening our homeland security to making college more affordable, this is what we're all here to do and must get done, starting right now.

Take, for example; the War in Iraq. It now seems that the President will move forward with sending more troops. An escalation in the war, particularly with no change in strategy, makes no sense. We are policing a civil war right now in Iraq. And whether the troops stay three months or three years, as soon as they leave the Sunnis and Shiites will resume fighting with one another and nothing will have been accomplished. The bottom line is we need a change in strategy. Both the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee will convene hearings next week to help cerate a change of strategy.

As part of the Democratic leadership, we have announced ten new bills - each of which are aimed at helping people. These bills represent important priorities for the Senate and the country. American families are hurting - they are feeling the crunch of high gas prices, skyrocketing tuition costs and prescription drug costs. They know we need energy independence, better homeland security, a fair minimum wage, a modernized military and real, comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats are committed to full-funding for stem cell research and pay-as-you-go legislation so that Congress can restore fiscal responsibility in Washington.

When it comes to college affordability the significance of change in power in Washington becomes crystal clear. In 2001, I wrote the law making college tuition tax deductible and thousands and thousands of New York families have come up to me and said 'I was able to go to college because of your law.' But the this last Congress took it away: The Republican majority let it expire and raised taxes on middle class families because they wanted to put the money into tax breaks for the oil companies. The bill to make college more affordable and this deduction permanent was introduced by Democrats today.

Just yesterday we've seen some statements from President Bush that he's willing to work with Democrats. But in the past, too many times when the President said he wanted to work together he meant 'do it my way'. This can't be just lip service. If the President is going to stand up on his own Mount Olympus and just throw thunderbolts, he'll lose, the Congress will lose, and the American people will lose.

We are ready to work with Republicans in Congress and the Administration. We realize that's the only way things can get done. But we're going to have to work on the issues that matter to people on a daily basis: security, life-saving medical research, fair wages, comprehensive immigration reform, energy independence and affordable education and prescription drugs. People across the country want us to go to work for them again and that's just what we're going to do.