Mr. LeMIEUX. Madam President, I rise to pay tribute to the body with which I have had the privilege of serving for the past 15 months. Being a U.S. Senator, representing 18 1/2 million Floridians, has been the privilege of my lifetime, and now that privilege is coming to an end. As I stand on the floor of the Senate to address my colleagues this one last time, I am both humbled and grateful, humbled by this tremendous institution, by its work, and by the statesmen I have had the opportunity to serve with, who I knew only from afar but now am grateful that I can call those same men and women my colleagues.
No endeavor worth doing is done alone. And my time here is no exception. In the past 16 months, I have asked the folks who worked with me to try to get 6 years of service out of that time, and they have worked tirelessly to achieve that goal.
My chief of staff Kerry Feehery, my deputy chief of staff Vivian Myrtetus, my State director Carlos Curbelo, Ben Moncrief, Michael Zehy, Ken Lundberg, Melissa Hernandez, Maureen Jaeger, Danielle Joos, Brian Walsh, Frank Walker, Spencer Wayne, Vennia Francois, Victor Cervino, Taylor Booth, and many, many others have made our time here worthwhile, and I thank all of them. I specially thank Vivian and Maureen who left their families and gave up precious time with their children to come to Washington to support me in these efforts.
I am also thankful to the people who work in our State office. Time and time again when I travel around Florida I am encountered by people who have received such a warm reception from the men and women who serve us in Florida and help people deal with problems with the Federal Government. I am grateful for their work.
Senator McConnell has provided me with opportunities beyond my expectations. He is a great leader, and I am grateful to him. Senators ALEXANDER, BURR, CORNYN, KYL, MCCAIN, CORKER, and many others have taken me under their wings and mentored me, and I am appreciative of them.
Chairmen ROCKEFELLER and LEVIN, we have had the opportunity to do great work together in your committees. I thank you for that. Senators CANTWELL, KLOBUCHAR, LANDRIEU, WHITEHOUSE, and BAUCUS, we have worked together in a commonsense way to pass legislation that is good for the American people, and I am appreciative of your efforts.
Senator Mel Martinez, who ably held the seat before me, has been generous in his advice and counsel. Senator Nelson and his wife Grace have been warm and welcomed Meike and I to Washington. I am thankful for your courtesy. I thank Governor Crist. He has afforded me tremendous opportunities for public service, and I am grateful.
I want to say a special thank you to my parents. My grandfather, in 1951, drove his 1949 Pontiac from Waterbury, CT, to Fort Lauderdale, FL, with his wife and five kids piled in the back. He didn't know anybody. He didn't have a job. But he went there to make a better life for his family. He worked in the trades, in construction. He built houses and he taught my father the same thing. And as my father worked in the hot Florida Sun, his ambition for his son was that he would one day get to work in air-conditioning. I have achieved that goal and so much more because of their sacrifice. Mom and Dad didn't go to college but they sent me to college and law school, and I will be forever grateful for what they have done for me.
My most heartfelt appreciation goes to my wife Meike. When I learned of this appointment, I met her at the door of our home in Tallahassee and she was crying. She was not just crying because she was happy; she was crying because she was worried. We at the time had three small sons--Max, Taylor and Chase, 6, 4, and 2. She knew something that others didn't know--that we were going to have another baby and that baby was born here in Washington, our daughter Madeleine.
Throughout all of my travels, she has been an unfailing support for me, I love her dearly, and I am appreciative to her.
It has been the privilege of my life to serve here, but I would not be fulfilling my charge in my final speech if I did not tell you what weighs on my mind and lays upon my heart about the direction of this country. So what I say to you now is with all due respect, but it is with the candor that it deserves.
The single greatest threat to the future of our Republic and the prosperity of our people is this Congress's failure to control spending. In my maiden speech, I lamented a world where my children would one day come to me and say they would find an opportunity in another country instead of staying here in America because those opportunities were better there. In 1 year's time that lament has proven to be too optimistic, because the challenge that confronts us will not wait until my children grow up.
When I came to Congress just 15 months ago, our national debt was $11.7 trillion. Today, it stands at $13.7 trillion. It has gone up $2 trillion in 15 months. It took this country 200 years to go $1 trillion in debt. Our interest payment on our debt service is nearly $200 billion now. At the end of the decade, when our debt will be nearly $26 trillion, that interest payment will be $900 billion.
When that interest payment is $900 billion, this government will fail. And long before that time the world markets will anticipate that and our markets will crash. This is not hyperbole; it is the truth. Not since World War II has this country faced a greater threat. Not since the Civil War has this threat come from within.
How has Congress arrived at this moment? For the past 40 years, Congress has spent more than it could afford. It has borrowed from Social Security and foreign governments, delaying making honest choices and prioritizing on what it should spend. Budgeting in Washington seems to be nothing
more than adding to last year's budget. We are funding the priorities of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s without any real evaluation of whether those are still good priorities and certainly not to see whether they are being done efficiently and effectively: It is as if a teenage child received not only all the gifts on their Christmas list this year but the gifts on all their Christmas lists going back to when they were three.
It is clear Congress is capable of solving this problem with business as usual. What is needed is across-the-board spending caps to right the ship. An across-the-board spending cap will necessitate oversight and require prioritization. Congress will finally have to do what businesses and families do all across this country: Make tough choices, make ends meet.
I have proposed such a cap. I have proposed going back to the 2007 level spending across the board. Was our spending in 2007 so austere that we could not live with it just 3 years later? If we did, we would balance the budget in 2013 and we would cut the national debt in half by 2020 and you would save America.
Unlike most problems that Congress addresses, this problem is uniquely solvable by Congress. Congress can't win wars. Only the brave men and women in our military, who we especially remember on this day, December 7, of all those who have served for our country in all of our wars to keep us safe and free, only those men and women can win a war. Congress cannot lead us out of recession. Only job creators and businesses can create jobs. But this problem is solely of Congress's making and uniquely solvable by this body.
What Congress should do is strengthen its oversight. The lack of oversight in Washington is breathtaking. Evaluate all Federal programs. Keep what works; fix what you should; get rid of the rest. Return the money to the people and use the rest to pay down this cataclysmic debt.
The recent work of the Debt Commission is a good start, and I commend my Senate colleagues who voted for this measure. It was courageous for them to do so.
But out-of-control spending is not just a threat because it is unsustainable; it is also changing who we are as Americans. Remember, our Founders told us that the powers delegated to the Federal Government were ``few and defined,'' the powers to the State ``numerous and indefinite,'' extending to ``all the objects which in the course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people.''
The current size and scope of the Federal Government is corrosive to the American spirit. The good intentions of Members of Congress to solve every real or perceived problem with a new Federal program, and the false light of praise that attaches to the giving away of the people's money, endangers our Republic. Every new program chips away at what it means to be an American, harms our spirit, and replaces our self-reliance with dependency, supplants an opportunity ethic with an entitlement culture. It is at its base un-American.
It is not the Government's role to deliver happiness. Rather, it is its role to stay clear of that path to allow our people to pursue that God-given right.
What has created our prosperity, after all, is not our government, it is our free market system of capitalism. It is through the healthy cut and thrust of the marketplace that new technologies, new jobs, and new wealth are created. Through that dynamic process some win and some lose, but it allows all of our people, regardless of their race, gender, creed, color, or background the opportunity to succeed or fail. And it ensures for us that unique expression ``only in America'' is not just a refrain from the past but an anthem for the future.
Can you imagine the tragedy if the downfall of the American experiment was caused by a failure of this Congress to control its spending? The challenge of this generation is before you and it is not beyond your grasp. There is nothing we as Americans cannot do. We have fought imperial Japan and Nazi Germany at the same time and beaten both. We have put a man on the Moon. We have mapped the human genome. And in the spare bedrooms and garages and dorm rooms of our people, our citizens have created the greatest inventions and the greatest businesses the world has ever known, which have employed millions of people and allowed them to pursue their dreams, all in the freest and most open society in the history of man.
We are that shining city on the hill. We are that beacon of freedom. We are that last best hope for mankind upon which God has shed his grace.
President Theodore Roosevelt said that one of the greatest gifts that life has to offer is the opportunity to do work that is worth doing. I can't think of a greater gift than the work that lies before you: righteous in its cause, noble in its purpose, and essential for the prosperity of our people.
I will always cherish the relationships I have gained here and the work we have done together. God bless you, God bless the U.S. Senate, and God bless our great country.
I yield the floor.