Let me just say at the outset thank you for having me here and for the wonderful introduction. Heritage has always been the leader in the fight for limited government and conservative principles, and it is a pleasure to be back.
On several occasions in the past I’ve come to discuss my support for school choice, and I want to remind everyone that I’m as a strong a supporter as ever. I was pleased to see House and Senate education leaders introduce the America’s Opportunity Scholarships for Kids Act yesterday, led by Sam Johnson in the House.
I am honored that my Republican colleagues gave me the opportunity to be their Majority Leader. We’ve worked hard this year to tackle the issues the American people care about with courage and confidence because the majority of Americans agree with us.
As Republicans, while circumstances and challenges can change congressional priorities from year to year, what’s important is that our principles do not. We are inherently a Party that believes far more in our constituents outside the Beltway than in the institutions within the Beltway. The vision that brought us to majority control of the House reflected that: a vision of smaller, more accountable government and of a society deeply rooted in principles of personal responsibility, faith in the future, and freedom.
Moving forward with this vision in the face of forces for the status quo in Washington D.C. isn’t easy. And while we’ve been able to accomplish some of our goals, we have much work left to do.
On the big issues of the day – the economy, taxes, border security, and the Global War on Terror – there is a very clear choice between Republicans and Democrats. Fundamentally, the big difference between Republican and Democrats is how we look at the future. We believe in a future built on pillars of freedom and responsibility, in which the initiative of millions of Americans is unleashed to improve the quality of all our lives beyond what we can currently imagine. Because we believe in that future, we’re willing to do the hard work necessary to get there and provide solutions on the budget, to keep taxes low, to secure our nation’s borders, and to win the Global War on Terror.
Democrats believe in a future dictated by a handful of politicians and a few hundred bureaucrats, where interest groups are more important than our nation as a whole. That’s why they want more money for government spending and less for private sector investment, why they seek more power for the bureaucracy and less freedom for entrepreneurs, individuals, and families, and why they’re all too ready to retreat and relent in the Global War on Terror.
NATIONAL SECURITY/GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR
It all starts with our commitment to keeping America safe. The world is a dangerous place today, with crises across the globe. It’s just one more reminder that Republicans have carried the burden of leadership during some pretty difficult times. We have confronted the most daunting of challenges during the last few years. We’ve faced an economic recession, the attacks of 9/11, wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, corporate scandals, and the largest natural disaster ever recorded on American soil. I’m proud of the Republican Party and this President, and the way he has responded to crisis after crisis with strength and resolve despite fierce partisan opposition.
Our foreign policy must reflect our most deeply held beliefs in liberty, security, and freedom from tyranny throughout the world. This is no time for vacillation or hesitation in the face of the enemies who seek to destroy America and our way of life.
I recently had the honor of leading a bipartisan delegation to Iraq, the central front in the Global War on Terror. There is no doubt that the violence from insurgents and terrorist thugs is unsettling to all of us, but the military and political progress is undeniable. Successful elections have been held, a constitution written, a unity government formed, the terrorist Zarqawi eliminated, and last week we turned over police and security functions in the province of Muthanna to Iraqi officials, the first of many such transfers that will occur.
Let me tell you, the enthusiasm and optimism of our men and women in uniform is remarkable. They know the importance of their mission and they know that they are making a real difference in bringing freedom to a part of the world that has known only tyranny.
The most common concern I heard from our soldiers was that the American people – and specifically Congress – would waver in our commitment and retreat early from the fight. The House recently had a debate on the Global War on Terror, and it exposed the very real differences between Republicans and Democrats. The important question we asked during the debate was this: Are we going to confront the threat of terrorism and defeat it, or will we relent and retreat in the hopes that it just goes away?
The answers we received from Democrats were troubling. Divided, confused, and unable to present a coherent plan for waging and winning the Global War on Terror, House and Senate Democrats have simply decided to relent, retreat, and hope the problem just goes away. The American people are understandably concerned about our mission in a post-Saddam Iraq. The effort and savagery of the insurgents and their sponsors only underscores our progress and the importance of winning the Global War on Terror. Now is the time to help finish the job, not to concede defeat.
Israel knows too well what it means to be the target of radical terrorists. Its very existence is at stake every day. Since its first day as a nation Israel has lived under a cloud of aggression from militant extremists and hostile neighboring governments. The aggressive, unprovoked acts of violence by Hezbollah and Hamas are revealing – they don’t want peace, but rather seek the ultimate destruction of Israel.
It is incumbent upon Lebanon, Syria, and Iran to rein in Hezbollah and Hamas. The United States and Israel have a unique relationship based on our mutual commitment to democracy, freedom, and peace, and we must support Israel’s right to defend itself against these armed attacks. Later today the House will pass a resolution to condemn Hezbollah for its attacks against Israel; support the President’s approach towards finding a resolution; and defend Israel’s right to defend itself from attack.
And there is North Korea. The North Korean government’s missile tests have rightfully been condemned by the United States and the international community as a dangerous and unnecessary provocation. But more importantly, they have underscored America’s need for a strong and effective approach to missile defense. We will not be held hostage by madmen with advanced technology and malicious intentions, whether it’s a North Korean dictator or a rogue terrorist cell. And House Republicans demonstrated their support for our missile defense programs by rejecting a Democrat amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that would have slashed missile defense funding by half.
Whether it’s in Iraq, Israel, or in North Korea, the resolve of the United States is always being tested. The American people want their leaders to be decisive in the face of adversity, to lead with the courage of their convictions. And perhaps most importantly, the American people deserve to hear how their elected leaders will keep America safe in a post-9/11 world.
We are charged with guiding America’s ideals and protecting American lives in an ever-changing world with dangerous threats that are forever adapting. What cannot change, what cannot waver and what will never falter is our determination to confront and defeat rogue regimes and radical movements that have set democracy and liberty square in their sights and targeted them for destruction.
As Republicans, we recognize this important charge. It’s important to note what separates Republicans from Capitol Hill Democrats. Republicans recognize the threat and have constructed policies reliant on strength and purpose. Democrats have instead blundered towards an empty and cosmetic mindset that underscores a shared devotion to a weak and indecisive foreign policy forever queasy about America’s role in the world.
BORDER SECURITY/IMMIGRATION REFORM
Probably the most pressing domestic issue on our agenda is border security and shutting down the flow of illegal immigration into our cities and states. House Republicans have worked to fix our broken immigration system by passing a strong bill that secures our borders & strictly enforces our laws. Real reform means re-establishing basic respect for America’s immigration laws.
In sharp contrast, Senators Reid and Kennedy pushed a Democrat bill through the Senate that includes troubling policies which encourage open borders and invite more illegal immigration. Let me give you a few examples. Before we could construct a barrier along the border, the Reid-Kennedy bill would force us to consult with Mexico. And it would also allow as many as 60 million new illegal immigrants to enter the U.S. over the next 20 years.
Moreover, the Reid-Kennedy bill would repeat the same amnesty mistakes Congress made back in 1986, rewarding the behavior of illegal immigrants who have made the choice to break our laws. Incredibly, it undercuts American workers by forcing small businesses to pay illegal immigrants more than Americans who perform the same job. And it would guarantee illegal immigrants’ Social Security benefits for time they were in the country illegally.
House Republicans recently outlined five principles we want reflected in the bill we send President Bush. And the hearings we’re conducting in the House are not only exposing these problems, they are also strengthening our ability to craft a stronger bill that meets our principles. We understand that protecting our borders from potential terrorists is essential to strengthening America’s national security, and that’s why the final bill we send to the President Bush will focus on border security first.
ECONOMY/TAX RELIEF/SPENDING DISCIPLINE
While border and national security have dominated the news, House Republicans have been focused on promoting fiscal discipline and ensuring that Congress spends America’s taxpayer dollars wisely. Republicans have always been the Party of lower taxes and less government, fiscal discipline and balanced budgets. And our fiscal stewardship of the economy speaks for itself: 34 consecutive months of strong job gains and low 4.6 percent unemployment.
To build on that progress, Republicans worked with President Bush to extend the 2003 tax cuts on capital gains and dividends and prevent a massive Democrat tax increase. This will help spur more investment, create more good-paying jobs, and open the door for even more Americans to enjoy economic prosperity.
And the good economic news doesn’t stop there. Last week we learned that the deficit is declining even more rapidly than expected. The fact is, tax relief is working, American incomes are rising, the economy is growing, revenues are up, and the deficit is down: It’s called basic economics, even if our friends on the left still don’t understand. With a continued focus on keeping taxes low – coupled with fiscal discipline and strong economic growth – we will continue to reduce and eventually eliminate the deficit.
House Republicans continue to make fiscal restraint a top priority, passing the line-item veto, cutting 95 federal programs, and approving a fiscally responsible budget while rejecting Democrats’ calls for higher taxes and some $45.2 billion in wasteful spending. And while there are members in both parties who are reluctant to change the system, we’ve passed strong earmark reforms that are essential to changing the way Washington has worked for decades.
Unfortunately, there has been little desire from Democrats to join Republicans in exercising fiscal restraint. Minority Leader Pelosi recently spoke out against the practice of earmarking millions for home-state projects, yet she’s bragged about nearly $500 million in earmarks in her own press releases.
It’s just one more example of how Democrats call for fiscal responsibility but they have no plan to accomplish that goal. Democrats complain about budget deficits but don’t want to eliminate any federal programs. They speak of spending restraint but then propose billion dollar new programs without paying for them. They talk about entitlement programs but consistently avoid making the tough decisions it will require to save these benefits for our children and our grandchildren. And they call for fiscal discipline yet propose tax hikes that punish working families.
That’s not leadership. Is it any surprise that the American people wonder what the Democrat Party stands for? If Democrats are serious about fiscal responsibility, they will begin by offering American taxpayers something more than another round of tax hikes and new reckless spending.
CHOICE BETWEEN REPUBLICANS & DEMOCRATS ON THE ISSUES
When you look at the issues important to the American people, there are major differences between Republicans and Democrats. Even more important, it’s clear the Democrat Party is wrong on the issues the issues that the American people care about.
• The Democrats are wrong to oppose pro-growth policies that create jobs;
• They are wrong to oppose tax relief for working families and small businesses;
• They are wrong to oppose fiscal responsibility and spending our taxpayer dollars wisely;
• They are wrong to oppose more secure borders and stronger enforcement of our immigration laws; and
• Most importantly, they are wrong on national security and winning the Global War on Terror.
I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Republicans are the Party of ideas that offer hope and opportunity, not division and defeat. We offer a positive agenda which transcends ideology and partisanship. We’re resolute in confronting the difficult challenges that confront us as a nation both at home and abroad.
Democrats don’t have a plan, they don’t have an alternative, and they don’t have a coherent agenda that tells the American people what they stand for. Saying “NO” to Republican ideas is not an agenda, and advocating retreat in the face of adversity will not win the global war against terrorism and radical extremism.
Republicans aren’t just anti-everything. We’ve actually stood for something. And we stand for something today. With that, I’ll take your questions.