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Public Statements

Farewell to the Senate

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. VOINOVICH. Mr. President, I rise today to say farewell to the Senate after 12 years. I would like to take time to convey my heartfelt thanks to all of those who have helped me during my time in the Senate and to reflect briefly on the work we were able to get done, work that I think made a difference for the people of my State and our Nation.

I also will share a few observations with my colleagues, both those who are staying as the 112th, as well as Senators yet to come. At this stage in my life, I look back on my 44 years in public service and I cannot help but thank God for the immeasurable blessings he has bestowed upon me. Each time I walk the steps of the Senate, I look up at the Statue of Freedom on the top of our Capitol dome, and I think of my grandparents who came to America with nothing but the clothes on their back. They could not read or write and spoke only a few words of English.

I have to pinch myself as a reminder that this has not been just a wonderful dream. The grandson of Serbian and Slovenian immigrants who grew up on the east side of Cleveland is a U.S. Senator. Only in America.

Truly none of us should take for granted the economic and political freedoms we have. My dad used to say the reason we have more of the world's bounty is because we get more out of our people because of our free enterprise and educational systems. Mr. Gudikuntz, my social studies teacher, said: A democracy is where everyone has an equal opportunity to become unequal.

So during my final days in the Senate, I think of the people in my life who have gotten me up the steps to this hallowed Chamber: My wife of 48 years Janet is God's greatest blessing to me. She has never pulled or pushed me, but she has always been at my side; my three children on Earth, George, Betsy and Peter, and my angel in Heaven, Molly, and my eight grandchildren, my siblings and their extended families. It is not easy to have a father, brother, or uncle in this business. The people of Ohio who have facilitated my election to seven different offices, who have stuck with me even though on occasion they have not agreed with me, have my deep appreciation. I can never thank them enough. I hope they know that every decision I have made and every policy I have crafted, although not always the easiest or most popular at the time, was aimed to improve and make a positive difference in our lives. I am very humbled to have been given the privilege to serve them through the years.

Here in the Senate, my wonderful staff, both in Ohio and in Washington, I am so proud of what they have done for me and the people of Ohio. I take fatherly pride in having had the chance to touch their lives and see them grow. I also think of our colleagues in the other Senate offices who have helped and cooperated with them as we worked together to solve our Nation's problems, meet challenges, and seize opportunities. My colleagues and I should be most humble; for all we are is a reflection of these wonderful, loyal, hard-working individuals.

I also thank all of you in this Chamber for your courtesies you have extended to me. I miss my first 2 years when I presided over the Senate, the first one to get to 100 hours in the chair. It was a wonderful time, and thank you all for what you have done for me over the years.

The folks in the Attending Physician's Office have taken care of me physically. Our two great Chaplains, Lloyd Ogilvie and Barry Black, along with the wonderful priests at St. Joseph's on the Hill have helped me grow spiritually. I have to mention JIM INHOFE, hosting our Bible study each week. He honored me by inviting me to a codel to Africa this year. There is no one in this Senate who has done more for public diplomacy for the United States in Africa than JIM INHOFE.

I have learned in my life that you cannot do anything alone. So, of course, I think of my colleagues in the Senate whom I have learned to know and respect. I have been blessed to call them friends. The American people have made it clear that they are not happy with partisanship in Washington. But the fact is, there are some great partnerships here, and those partnerships and relationships result in action.

I do not think many people outside Washington understand that a lot gets done here on a bipartisan basis. Many Americans think the only action in the Senate is on the floor of the Senate. But much of the action in the Senate is in the committees and meetings with other Members off the floor, as well as through unanimous consent.

Once a bill gets through committee, perhaps one or two people might have a problem with it, but we work it out, call them, go see them, it gets done. But it is never reported in the paper about how we are working together on so many pieces of legislation.

I am proud of the contribution I have made to the country in the area of human capital and government management. The fact is, though, without my brother, DAN AKAKA--and he is my brother--the changes never would have occurred. There is nobody who has done more to reform the way we treat our Federal workers, to make us more competitive and work harder and smarter and do more with less than what DAN and I have tried to do over the years, 12 years of working at it. It is an area that is neglected by most legislators because they do not appreciate how important the people are that work in government. I call them the A-Team. Any successful organization has to have good finances and good people.

I am also proud of my work in helping to relaunch the nuclear renaissance, which will help deliver baseload energy for America, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and reignite our manufacturing base in Ohio and in our country. I could not have done this without Senator TOM CARPER, who has been both a friend and a colleague since our days as Governor. TOM's leadership was key to organizing our recent successful Nuclear Summit in Washington, and TOM has taken the baton from me and will carry nuclear energy to the finish line as part of the future of America's energy supply, along with MIKE CRAPO, JIM RISCH, LAMAR ALEXANDER, and others.

I also recall the passage of the landmark PRO-IP bill, a bill to protect our intellectual property, by the way, the last bastion of our global competitiveness. It was a multiyear process that would not have succeeded without the work of the business community and my friend, EVAN BAYH, whom I first met when we were Governors of neighboring States.

As many of you know, I have been an ardent champion for my brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, and the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

As such, I am proud to have led the effort to expand NATO and increase membership in the Visa Waiver Program. These two accomplishments would not have happened without the bipartisan leadership of DICK LUGAR and JOE BIDEN on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the help of JOE LIEBERMAN and SUSAN COLLINS on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

I pray that the bipartisanship that I have witnessed and enjoyed in both foreign relations and homeland security will continue. I must also acknowledge Senator JEANNE SHAHEEN for her keen interest in southeast Europe. We traveled together to the region in February of this year, and I am heartened that she has picked up the mantle on our mission to ensure the door of NATO and European Union membership remains open to all states in the Western Balkans, which is key, I believe, to our national security.

I have also championed the cause of monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism, making it a priority within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and our State Department. The progress that has been made over the years could not have happened without the leadership of Senator BEN CARDIN, Congressman CHRIS SMITH, and the late Congressman Tom Lantos.

One of the highlights of my career was the passage of the global anti-Semitism bill, which created a special envoy at the State Department to monitor and combat global anti-Semitism. These are just a few examples of great bipartisan work going on in the Senate. But much of the time this is blurred because of the media's addiction to conflict.

Even though I do not agree with the bipartisan resolution on extending the Bush tax cuts, I compliment the President and leaders in Congress for sitting down and working together to find a compromise.

One of my frustrations after working so hard to find common ground on significant issues over the past 12 years has been that it does not happen often enough. The American people know that even when members of a family get along, it is difficult to get things done. So they most certainly know that when we are laser focused on fighting politicking and messaging, their concerns and plight are forgotten, and nothing controversial gets done.

There is a growing frustration that Congress is oblivious to their problems, anxieties, and fears. Frankly, I think one action leaders could take at the beginning of each Congress is to assess the issues at hand. What are the items that Republicans and Democrats agree should get done to make our Nation more competitive and make a difference in people's lives, and set a common agenda. By setting collective goals, by an agreement from leadership, I believe that will set the environment for committee chairmen and ranking members for the year.

Think about it. What kind of planning do we do? Most successful corporations have 5-year plans: Where are we going? What are our priorities? What are the things we agree upon? Let's not spend time on those things where we disagree.

Additionally, an unacceptable amount of time is spent on fundraising. It is my estimate that 20 to 25 percent of a Senator's time is spent on raising millions of dollars, and with it comes the negative fallout in terms of the public view of Congress, bowing to contributions from special interests. In addition to this negative impression, the time spent raising money too often interferes with the time we need for our families, our colleagues, and, most importantly, doing the job the people elected us to do. My last 2 years have been my most productive and enjoyable because I have not had to chase money at home and around the country. None of us like it, but nothing seems to get done about it--nothing seems to get done about it.

Ideological differences aside, it is necessary for us to have good working relationships if we are going to get anything done for the people who elected us. I know it is possible from my personal experience. As mayor of Cleveland, I worked side by side with George Forbes, the most powerful Democratic city councilman in Cleveland's history. My entire city council was Democrats. George and I first met when our children attended the Mayor Works Program in the Cleveland Public Schools System. Who would have guessed that we would become the tag team that turned Cleveland around after it became the first major city to go into bankruptcy?

I was pummeled by the media on occasion in regard to who was actually running city hall. My answer was, both of us. Forbes and I worked together as friends and partners. One of the great satisfactions when I left the job of mayor was that USA Today highlighted both of us: The tall African-American Democrat, Big George, and the short White Republican, Little George, working together to bring about Cleveland's renaissance.

In Columbus, I found a worthy adversary when I was Governor in Democrat Vern Riffe, who was speaker of the house for my first 4 years as Ohio Governor. My office was on the 30th floor of the building named after Riffe while he was still alive and serving an unprecedented 22 years as speaker.

Well, every day when I went over to the Riffe Tower, I had to genuflect before his bust. But, somehow, Vern and I decided we were going to figure out how we could work together and move Ohio forward and become good friends.

Needless to say, folks, I was dismayed when I learned this year that President Obama had held only a single one-on-one meeting with MITCH MCCONNELL. One meeting. When I was Governor, I met with Vern Riffe and Stan Aranoff, who was president of the senate, every 2 weeks, developing good interpersonal relationships and a trust which allowed us to move Ohio forward, from the Rust Belt to the Jobs Belt.

I am hoping we have entered a new era in the relationship between the President and leadership in Congress. Our situation today is more critical--more critical--than at any time in my 44 years in government. How we work together will determine the future of our country. We must also recognize that if we diminish the President in the eyes of the world, it is to the detriment of our Nation's international influence and will impact our national security. We are on thin ice, and we need the help of our allies. They need our help as well.

For example, the START treaty. Although I have had some reservations about it, they have been satisfied. It is vitally important to get done this year or, alternatively, we must make it clear the Senate will ratify the treaty as soon as the 112th Congress convenes. To not do so will do irreparable harm to America's standing with our NATO allies and would be exploited by our enemies, particularly those factions in Russia that would like to break off communication and revert back to our Cold War relationship. There are plenty of them over there still smarting from the fact that the wall went down, NATO expanded, and we encroached on their area of influence.

Two weeks ago Janet and I attended a farewell dinner hosted by MITCH MCCONNELL. Although I have had differences with MITCH, I have to credit him with keeping the Republican team together. There is no one more strategic than MITCH, JON KYL, and LAMAR ALEXANDER. Still, I share the concern of many of my colleagues that too often the herd mentality has taken over our respective conferences. At the dinner MITCH hosted, I shared with my Republican colleagues what Ohio State University coach Jim Tressel defines as success in his book ``The Winners Manual.''

Success is the inner satisfaction and peace of mind that come from knowing I did the best I was capable of doing for the group.

Success is a team sport. Hopefully, this will become the Senate's definition of success, because finding common ground and teamwork is what it will take to confront the problems facing our Nation.

My colleague Senator CHRIS DODD hit the nail on the head when he said:

It is whether each one of the 100 Senators can work together--living up to the incredible honor that comes with the title, and the awesome responsibility that comes with the office.

We do have a symbiotic relationship, and I am encouraged that more and more of my colleagues understand that. I was quite impressed with the fact that 60 percent of the Senate representation on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform supported the recommendations of the chairmen, including TOM COBURN, MIKE CRAPO, JUDD GREGG, KENT CONRAD, and DICK DURBIN. As far as I am concerned, they are true patriots.

As our colleague TOM COBURN said just before the commission vote:

The time for action is now. We can't afford to wait until the next election to begin this process. Long before the skyrocketing cost of entitlements cause our national debt to triple and tax rates to double, our economy may collapse under the weight of this burden. We are already near a precipice. In the near future, we could experience a collapse in the value of our dollar, hyperinflation or other consequences that would force Congress to face a set of choices far more painful than those proposed in this plan.

Here we are, in a situation where we are on an unsustainable fiscal course caused by explosive and unchecked growth in spending and entitlement obligations without funding. We have an outdated Tax Code that does not sufficiently encourage savings and economic growth, a skyrocketing national debt that puts our credit rating in serious jeopardy and should give all of us great pause.

For Fareed Zakaria posed questions that should haunt all of us in Monday's Washington Post.

So when will we get serious about our fiscal mess? In 2020 or 2030, when the needed spending cuts and tax hikes get much larger? If we cannot inflict a little pain now, who will impose a lot of pain later? Does anyone believe that Washington will one day develop the political courage it now lacks? And what if, while we are getting around to doing something, countries get nervous about lending us money and our interest rates rise?

I believe the American people get it. They recognize that our fiscal situation is in the intensive care unit on life support.

As I walk down the steps of the U.S. Capitol for the last time, I pray the Holy Spirit will inspire my colleagues to make the right decision for our country's future and work together to tackle our fiscal crisis. You have the future of our Nation and the future of our children and grandchildren in your hands.

I have already spoken too long. If my wife Janet were here, she would be scratching her head. That is the signal she always gives me. I got your signal, dear.

But I would like to finish with a reading from ``One Quiet Moment,'' a book of daily readings from the former Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie which I read every day for inspiration and proper perspective. Perhaps some of my colleagues are familiar with his writings. This was his election day admonition:

..... May the immense responsibilities they assume, and the vows they make when sworn into office, bring them to their knees with profound humility and unprecedented openness to You. Save them from the seduction of power, the addiction of popularity, and the aggrandizement of pride. Lord, keep their priorities straight: You and their families first; the good of the Nation second; consensus around truth third; party loyalties fourth; and personal success last of all. May they never forget they have been elected to serve and not to be served.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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