Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 | 5:30 p.m.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered a feel-good presentation for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce today in a question-and-answer session with chamber Chairman Jay Barrett.
Here’s a summary of the questions and Reid’s answers:
What’s in store for health care in the future?
We’re a great nation and can’t have upwards of 40 million to 50 million people with no way to go to a hospital or see a doctor. Throughout our history, we’ve had presidents wrestle with how to provide better health care. Obamacare is anything but socialized medicine. It’s more about access to insurance — and a lot of people didn’t like that. What we’re trying to do is enable everybody to have the same health insurance as I have. But the problem we’ve had is that insurance companies spend more on themselves than they do on patients, and we’ve spent 70 years trying to find a solution. Is it a perfect bill? Of course not. But it’s a good one. If there are things we can change, we’ll make it better.
What are your thoughts on the recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling on Yucca Mountain?
As a result of a political compromise, we put some really bad judges on the (Washington) D.C. circuit court and they produced a 2-1 decision requiring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license Yucca Mountain. Their opinion means nothing. Yucca Mountain is dead. It’s padlocked. There’s nothing going on there.
How can Southern Nevada capitalize more on tourism and what’s being done to increase our share?
The future of the state of Nevada is tourism. We’re getting some high-tech industries in Northern and Southern Nevada, but the lifeblood is always going to be tourism. I filed for closure on filibusters seven times to get the Travel Promotion Act passed. It’s a wonderful bill. After 9/11, we were hammered. But that bill produced Brand USA and is funded by travelers to America who pay a small fee that we use to advertise our country. Las Vegas is a big beneficiary because it’s the destination of choice in America.
What are the chances of success for immigration reform?
I’m very encouraged, especially over the last few days. We’re working to try to push for a full House vote. I think we can get bipartisan support because approval would reduce the deficit and produce lots and lots of jobs — 3 million over a 10-year period. It also provides a pathway to citizenship for people living in the shadows and provides new opportunities for people who want an education or who want to join the military.
How can the federal government assist in creating more jobs?
President Obama has had some tremendous obstacles in this area. The private sector is doing better, but it’s time for the public sector to step up. One of the problems is sequestration. It’s mindless. We need to stop sequestration and start spending some money. Why not work on the highway system? Right now, in America today, we have 70,000 bridges in disrepair, some of them right here in Nevada. For every billion dollars that we spend, we can provide 47,500 high-paying jobs. What about getting to work on Interstate 11? We also need to do some work on our dams and on our water systems.
Any suggestions on how to boost renewable energy?
Renewable energy — solar, wind and geothermal — is important to our state because it means jobs. There’s a 3 1/2-mile stretch on the highway to Searchlight, and you’ll see solar panels the whole way, about 4 million of them. How many thousands of jobs do you think that’s created? And it’s not just about that. We’re going to have some big problems in the world. The sea level is rising. Ice caps are melting. The snows of Kilimanjaro are disappearing. There are cities in the world that are going to have trouble in the next 15 years. Miami, Fla., is going to be one of them to be hit hardest. Right now, solar, wind and geothermal are competitive with coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants. We have to understand the consequences of using fossil fuels. I’m glad America is doing so well with natural gas. We have more natural gas than any country in the world. It’s better than coal and it’s better than diesel fuel, but it’s only about 40 percent better. But we have to realize what it does to our health. We have enough sun to electrify most of America, but we have the problem of transmission that needs to be solved.
Would you share with us what you shared with your grandchildren about the future?
I try not to scare them to death. My children went to bed every night worried about a nuclear holocaust. But President Ronald Reagan was able to work something out with the Soviet Union. Relations have gone up and down with the Russians, but Reagan wanted to find a way to improve relations. We have something called the Tahoe-Baikal Exchange, an environment exchange with residents near Lake Baikal in Siberia, which holds 20 percent of the fresh water in the world. But I worry about the future. I’m doing everything I can to tamp down problems. The Arab Spring is a difficult situation. Syria. Libya is trying to hang on to democracy. Egypt is another difficult situation. But we have to work with these countries and work with people we’d rather not work with. Pakistan. Bangladesh and India. We’ve seen great things with many of our leaders who have been unsuccessful in their runs for president but have stayed committed to public service. Ted Kennedy became a great senator. John McCain, too. And I have that same feeling for John Kerry as our secretary of state. How do you settle all the bad news? I have great confidence in our country. Billions of people would like to come live here. We have the best form of government ever devised with a great Constitution and a judicial system that is above reproach. I try to tell my children and my grandchildren to be aware of all this stuff that’s going on around the world because it’s not all good. But I also tell them the glass is half full, not half empty.