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Surface Transportation Act

Sen. Harry Reid

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Mr. President, today we resume consideration of the most important piece of jobs legislation we have had here in a long time; that is, the highway bill. But it is more than a highway bill, it is a surface transportation bill that deals with all aspects of helping our failing bridges, and there are 70,000 of those. Twenty percent of our highways are in nonsafe conditions. We have problems with our mass transportation system, rails, and other such things, so we have to move forward.

Building this Nation's infrastructure with this legislation alone will save or create 2.8 million jobs. This is an effort to build a world-class transportation system that was started during the Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. Every President since then has recognized the need to go forward with the vision General Eisenhower had. We must renew that commitment. The Presidents in recent years have gone out of their way to do that. President Reagan gave a number of speeches about how important it was that we begin to renew the commitment we should have to infrastructure in this country. President Clinton did the same.

The legislation is very important, and a commitment to the renewal of a vision of General Eisenhower is the essence of this bipartisan bill. It has the endorsement of one of the most conservative Members of the Senate and one of the most liberal Members of the Senate. I was disappointed that it took as long as it did to get where we are, but we are here. We invoked cloture quite a long time ago, and it has taken more than a month to come within sight of the completion of this bill. I am pleased that we are on track to dispense with the remaining amendments and vote on final passage during today's business.

I am hopeful the House will act immediately to pass this bipartisan compromise rather than pursue what we have all read about--an extreme, ideological bill they were considering last month. It failed every test, including the test of their own caucus. The Republican caucus said: No, we cannot do this.

The highway bill is important to the Democratic Members and Republican Members of the House, as it is to Democratic and Republican Members of the Senate. I would hope the Speaker understands it is not good for this country to have a situation where he tries to pass everything with a majority of the majority. What that means is the Republicans have a majority in the House--and I served in the House, and that is not how things were done with Bob Michel, who was the Republican leader at the time, Tip O'Neill, who was the Democratic leader at the time, and Jim Wright thereafter. Bob Michel worked with both of them to get legislation done. What they tried to do was get to the magic number of 218--that is the majority in the House--and they got those votes from Democrats and Republicans. So I hope my friend the Speaker won't just try to get this surface transportation bill done with Republicans. Let the Democrats voice their opinion as to what should happen. That is the way we should do it. Passing a bipartisan transportation bill the President can sign would be a victory for both parties and our country.

The Senate's pressing business doesn't end with completion of this bill. We have a small business jobs bill that was passed overwhelmingly by the House and is supported by President Obama. Last night I had a conversation on the floor publicly with the Republican whip, Senator Kyl of Arizona, and we talked about the need to get this done. We are going to move forward on this expeditiously. There are always bumps in the road. I hope there will be very few bumps in the road.

I have not had an opportunity to talk to my friend the Republican leader, but I was told this morning that the ranking member of the Banking Committee, my friend from Alabama, Senator Shelby, has indicated he wants to make some improvements in the bill we received from the House. I suggest he work with Senator Johnson. If they can do something on a bipartisan basis and do it quickly, I will be happy to take a look at it, but we need to move forward. I think you kind of get the message when there are about 390 votes for a bill and 20 against it, so I think we have to move forward.

The one thing I am going to do is have a perfecting amendment prepared that will allow us to move forward on reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank. I hope we can do that. It is something that is broadly supported, and the business community thinks it is extremely important. As I mentioned last night, Mr. McNerney, the head of Boeing, said it is a tremendously important bill for the airline industry, which is so important to the economy of our country. It is not only important to the airline industry, it is important to other segments of our industrial base. It is an important piece of legislation, and I hope we can add that to the small business jobs bill. If we can't, I understand, but it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to do that.

We are interested in this IPO bill that has been supported by the House and the President of the United States. I am convinced it will spur small business growth. It will not create the jobs we have on the highway bill, but it is good for job growth. It will bring more capital into the business world, and we have needed that for several years now. It would streamline the way companies sell stock. I look forward to working with my friend the Republican leader to finalize a path forward on this bipartisan legislation.

In the coming days, the Senate must also consider postal reform legislation, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, cybersecurity, and additional measures to create jobs and improve our economy. The only thing preventing the Senate from moving quickly to tackle these items, including the bipartisan small business jobs bill, is what we have had this whole Congress: obstructionism by my friends the Republicans. They have forced the Senate to wait weeks on unrelated amendments to this bill, this bipartisan surface transportation bill. I hope they are not going to hold up progress on the small business jobs bill. I am confident they will not. I really hope that is the case.