Progress is Possible Again

We should not be obliged to an open-ended war, and as Speaker, I can assure you that the days of the blank check for President Bush in Iraq are over.
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"Bully for the Democrats...They did what we didn't have the guts to do when it matters."

That is what one of my Republican colleagues had to say about the first act of the Democratic majority, clamping down on corruption, lobbying, and earmarks. His sentiment was echoed in editorial pages across the country, along with many Republicans and millions of Americans, who are fully awakening to the optimism and possibility of a new direction in our government.

After endless foot-dragging, watering down, and turning of blind eyes in the 109th Congress on ethics, the first steps were taken to restore the public trust before the first legislative hour of the 110th Congress.

The two and a half years that Republicans spent ignoring most of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations came to an end with the passage of H.R. 1, as the Democratic majority set dozens of changes in motion for a comprehensive, effective, practical defense of our nation by passing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

After a decade of Republican inaction, hard-working Americans got the raise they deserve when we voted for H.R. 2, increasing the minimum wage. No longer will a day's work barely pay for a tank of gas, nor a week's work barely pay for a child's check-up at the doctor. All who work a 40-hour week will now have a fairer shot at building a life and joining in our nation's prosperity.

We gave voice to the hopes of millions of Americans and their families who suffer the brunt of humanity's worst afflictions by passing expanded stem cell research with H.R. 3. President Bush will be challenged to join us in supporting this hope, and he will know that we cast our votes in support of the majority of the American people who will not give up. The potential for stem cell therapies to cure diseases and alleviate human suffering is enormous, and must be unlocked.

We passed H.R. 4 to require Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices on behalf of the American people. In doing so, Medicare Part D will begin to shift from a program that tightens the stranglehold of big drug companies to a program that gives desperately needed relief to our nation's seniors. In this vote, we put government back to work for the American people, not the special interests.

As we honored Martin Luther King's birthday this week, we carried his spirit of hope and opportunity, passing legislation to cut interest rates on student loans with H.R. 5 and eliminated subsidies for Big Oil with H.R. 6, investing the savings in renewable energy, leading our nation toward a brighter future, unbridled by dependence on foreign oil.

More than 40 years ago, Martin Luther King came to Washington to say, 'We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off....Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God's children.' Nowhere is the need to heed the fierce urgency of now greater than in Iraq.

As President Bush called for an escalation of the war, I made my position clear both in a joint letter with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to the President, and in an interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS' "Face the Nation": no escalation. Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain. The American people have spoken on this issue, and so too have President Bush's own generals. In November the American people sent a resounding message that they want a new direction in Iraq, not more of the same. In December, General Abizaid testified before the Senate that in his conversations with General Dempsey and with General Casey, they believe that adding more troops will not improve the situation.

When I addressed my colleagues and the nation after receiving the Speaker's gavel, I talked about the war and the need for a new direction to the applause of many Republicans. When I talked about the responsible redeployment of our troops, a standing ovation pervaded throughout the House, and certainly not just Democrats. This isn't just about Democrats; this is about the American people. They are watching to see what difference this election can make. The President ought to heed their message. We should not be obliged to an open-ended war, and as Speaker, I can assure you that the days of the blank check for President Bush in Iraq are over.

On Iraq and on all of these issues, there is a palpable feeling in the halls of Congress, one that I hope all who read this are sensing as well: Progress is possible again.

Progress is possible again, and I felt it when I gaveled down the passage of H.R. 6 this afternoon.

Progress is possible again, and you can see it with the formation of a new Select Committee on Global Warming that I announced today. For the sake of our future generations, we will address the most urgent environmental issue facing us. We must provide strong leadership to reduce emissions that are responsible for global warming. We have walked away from international efforts to help reduce this growing danger to the planet. This stops today.

Bettering the nation we love in ways both big and small is becoming reality. Democrats promised a New Direction for America, and in these first 100 hours we are all discovering that turning our promises into reality is much more than an obligation, it is our duty. Thanks to all of you for helping make it happen.

This is only the beginning.

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