Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on January 22, 2008
I, too, welcome Roger Wicker to the Senate. I have known him a long time. He has been a leader for the Tennessee Valley Authority. He is one of Congress's most knowledgeable Members, and he has been a leader in helping to put American history back in its rightful place in our classrooms so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American. He was the lead sponsor in the House of Representatives on legislation that I introduced in the Senate that created summer academies for outstanding teachers and students of American history. I would also like to congratulate Marty Paone on his service here. We all admire him and will miss him. I thank the majority leader for his remarks at the beginning of the year, and I especially wanted to echo the remarks the Republican leader, Senator McConnell of Kentucky, made. He pointed out that we have had a Presidential election in this country every 4 years since 1788. Senator McConnell pointed that out, and he said we would not use this year’s election as an excuse to put off the people's business for another day. In other words, it is a Presidential year, and some around town are writing and saying: Well, they will not get much done in Congress this year. We are saying on the Republican side of the aisle, and I hope it is being said on both sides of the aisle, that there is no excuse for Congress to take a year off, given the serious issues facing our country. A number of politicians are campaigning for change, we have all heard. Republican Senators are ready to help, working with our colleagues, to give the Senate an opportunity to vote for real change. We wish to change the way Washington does business by going to work on big issues facing our country. And not just go to work on them but to get principled solutions this year. And because this is the Senate, where it often takes 60 votes to get a meaningful result,that means we invite the Democrats to work with us in a bipartisan way to get those results. Republicans didn't seek our offices to do bad things to Democrats. We are here to do good things for our country, and there is plenty to do. We see what is happening in the housing market, with oil prices, with rising health care costs. We know we need to move quickly with a bipartisan approach to help get the economy back on track. Our preference is to let businesses and people keep and spend more of their own money to boost the economy. We want to grow the economy, not the Government. We know we need, as Senator Kyl was saying, to intercept communications among terrorists to protect our country. We saw the Rockefeller-Bond bipartisan proposal passed by 13 to 2 in the Intelligence Committee. Our solution is to make sure companies aren't penalized for helping us protect ourselves, while at the same time securing individual rights. We want a strong national defense. We see there are 40 million or so Americans uninsured, and we want to change that. We don't want to take a year off in dealing with health insurance. We want to start this year. As the Republican leader said, our goal is that every American have health insurance, starting with small business health insurance plans, moving on to reforming the Tax Code so Americans can afford to buy private insurance. There are a number of Democratic and Republican proposals on reaching the goal we have in helping every American to have health insurance. We can start this year. There is no need to wait to deal with Medicaid and Medicare spending another year. We all know, at their present pace of growth, those two accounts will bankrupt our Government. It is irresponsible to wait. That is a bipartisan conclusion. There are a number of proposals from both sides of the aisle to begin to deal with that, from Senator Gregg and Senator Conrad, to Senator Feinstein and Senator Domenici and Senator Voinovich as well. We should get started. These are the principles of fiscal responsibility and limited Government. Last year, we took some important steps to keep jobs from going overseas by growing more jobs at home. We see the problem of competition with China and India. We worked together to pass a bill -- the American COMPETES Act -- authorizing $34 billion to keep our brainpower advantage. Now let us implement it. Senator Hutchison of Texas, Senators Bingaman and Domenici of New Mexico, and many others have worked hard on this. So let us implement more advanced placement courses for low-income students, a million and a half more; more highly trained scientists and engineers coming in to help grow jobs in the United States; and 10,000 more math and science teachers. That we can do. We know we have to be bipartisan to get a result. Some things are bipartisan, and I have mentioned many of them, but some things should be bipartisan that aren't. For example, the Federal Government is saying the Salvation Army can't require its employees to speak English on the job. Well, Americans, by 80 to 17 percent, believe employers should be able to require their employees to speak America's common language on the job. We have legislation to make that clear. It is bipartisan to some degree, but not as bipartisan as it ought to be. The principle is right there above the Senate Presiding Officer's desk. It says: One from many -- "e pluribus unum." Another challenge that should be more bipartisan, because most Americans see the wisdom of it, is addressing a shortage of medical care in rural America caused by lawsuit abuse. OB-GYN doctors are abandoning rural areas across America and mothers are driving too far for prenatal health care and to have their babies. We should work across party lines to change that. The solution we have offered is to stop runaway lawsuits that make doctors pay $100,000 or more a year for malpractice insurance. That is why they leave the rural areas. This is the principle of equal opportunity. There is plenty of work to do. Thirty years ago, I began my service as the Governor of Tennessee. I was a young Republican Governor and the State was very Democratic, thank you. So the media ran up to the big Democratic speaker of the house, Ned McWherter, and said: Mr. Speaker, what are you going to do with this new young Republican Governor? And to their surprise, the speaker said: I am going to help him. Because if he succeeds, our State succeeds. And that is the way we worked for 8 years. Now, we are not naive about politics in Tennessee. We had, and have, our fights. We argued about our principles. If I had a better schools program, they had an even better schools program on the other side. But we kept our eye on the ball. In the end, we worked together. In the end, we got results. That is why we brought in the auto industry and created the best four-lane highway system and created chairs and centers of excellence at our universities that still exist, and we began to pay teachers more for teaching well. I would like nothing more than to move that kind of cooperation from Tennessee to DC. I sense that from Democrats and Republicans all through this body. Of course, we will argue. We were elected because we have differences. This is a debating society. But we don't stop with our disagreements, we should finish with our results. So we are here to change the way Washington does business, as the Republican leader said, and I look forward to a constructive year of helping our country move ahead with a steady stream of specific solutions to big problems that get results because they either are bipartisan or because they should be bipartisan.