The Senate and House have ushered in a new Congress.
The 113th Congress convened at noon on Thursday, the constitutionally mandated time. Pomp and pageantry began simultaneously on either side of the Capitol.
In the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden joined his former colleagues. He was swearing in the newest members as well as those who won another term in November.
In the House, they were electing the speaker, with John Boehner poised to win another term. The speaker will then swear in the members in the afternoon.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today marking the beginning of the 113th Congress. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
It is my pleasure to convene the 113th Congress and welcome my colleagues back to the place we love, the United States Senate.
In particular, I would like to welcome Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who has been away for a year recovering from an illness. We are all grateful for his recovery. He's an inspiration to us. Senator Kirk, you have been missed.
I also offer a special welcome to the 13 new members of the United States Senate. I am confident they will treasure their memories in this historic legislative body, and that they will serve their states and our nation with distinction.
All of the members of this freshman class are accomplished in their own right. But I trust that serving in the United States Senate will be the most rewarding experience of their lives.
In this Chamber, in the 113th Congress, they will face the most significant challenges of their careers. To turn those challenges into triumphs, I urge all Senators – new and experienced – to draw not only on their varied experience at every level of government and public service, but also on each other's experience – regardless of political party. As Senator Daniel Webster said, "We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people."
Today, as we begin a new Congress, we are afforded the opportunity to reflect upon the successes and failures of the past Congress. It has been said that the 112th Congress was characterized by some of the sharpest political divisions in recent memory. But during the last Congress, there were also many commendable examples of compromise.
The recent effort to avert the fiscal cliff was an example of both the divisions and the collaborations that mark this moment in history. Although the process of resolving some of the fiscal issues facing this country was a difficult and protracted one, in the end our two parties came together to protect America's middle class. That is something of which we can all be proud.
As we advance the debate over the best way to strengthen our economy and reduce our deficit during the 113th Congress, Democrats will continue to stand strong for the principle of balance. Any future budget agreements must balance the need for thoughtful spending reductions with revenue from the wealthiest among us and closing wasteful tax loopholes.
Unfortunately, our political differences prevented us from accomplishing as much as we all hoped during the 112th Congress.
But we also passed very important legislation, such as a transportation jobs bill to keep 2 million people working and begin the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure. We made strides to reduce the nation's deficit and prevented a tax increase for 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small businesses. We reformed our patent system for the first time in six decades, gave small businesses owners access to the capital they need to compete and reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration – keeping 300,000 workers employed.
And not a single piece of that legislation became law without the votes of both Democrats and Republicans. All those legislative initiatives were bipartisan. Unfortunately, many other worthy measures that passed the Senate with strong, bipartisan support then languished, awaiting action by the House of Representatives.
In the 113th Congress, it will be incumbent upon the House Republican leadership to allow bipartisan bills passed by the Senate to come to a vote before the full House of Representatives –not before the Republican members only, but before Democrats and Republicans, all 435 of them. Too many good pieces of legislation have died over the last two years because House Republican leaders insist on passing legislation with a majority of the Majority, that is, only Republicans. Democrats were ignored.
For example, postal reform, the Violence Against Women Act, the farm bill and relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy all passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis after extensive deliberation and debate. Yet the House failed to act on all four of these measures.
As Speaker Boehner saw on New Year's Day, when he allows every member of the House to vote – and not only the Republican members of the House to vote – Congress can enact bills into laws. No major legislation can pass the Senate without the votes of both Democrats and Republicans. During the 113th Congress, the Speaker should strive to make that the rule in the House of Representatives, as well.
Still, it is true that the 112th Congress left much undone. That is why I am resolved to pick up where we left off in a few short weeks. The first crucial matter we'll address long-overdue aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
But striving to be more productive will do little if we do not address the major reason for our inefficiency. The Senate is simply not working as it should. That is why, in the last Congress, I made plain that Democrats would do something to fix these issues.
The beginning of a new Congress is customarily a time that the Senate addresses changes to its rules. In the last Congress, Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, Tom Harkin and Sheldon Whitehouse made the majority's case for change. I commend these passionate leaders. They have made compelling arguments for reform.
In recent months, Senators on both sides of the aisle set about trying to broker a compromise. This group was led by Democratic Senator Levin and Republican Senator McCain. I thank them for their many hours of work and negotiation.
But in the waning weeks of the last Congress, Senators were justifiably occupied with other matters, including a resolution of the fiscal cliff. And I believe this matter warrants additional debate during the 113th Congress. Senators deserve additional notice before voting to change Senate rules.
So today I will follow the precedents set in 2005 and again in 2011. We will reserve the right of all Senators to propose changes to the Senate rules. And we will explicitly not acquiesce in the carrying over of all the rules from the last Congress. It is my intention that the Senate will recess today, rather than adjourn, to continue the same legislative day, and allow this important rules discussion to continue later this month.
I am confident the Republican leader and I can come to an agreement that allows the Senate to work more efficiently.
Sunday, May 19 2013 7:02 PM EDT2013-05-19 23:02:30 GMT
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