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Public Statements

Farewell to the Senate

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BAYH. Mr. President, if I could be permitted a few moments of personal privilege before I begin my formal remarks, there are so many people I need to express my heartfelt gratitude to today, starting with, of course, my wonderful wife Susan. I know we are not supposed to recognize people in the gallery, but I am going to break the rules for one of the first times here to thank my wife. We have been married for 25 wonderful years, and frankly, Mr. President, I wouldn't have been elected dog catcher without Susan's love and support.

I often remember a story during my first campaign where I met an elderly woman who took my hand, looked up into my eyes, and said: Young man, I am going to vote for you.

I was curious and asked her why.

She said, with a twinkle in her eye: Well, I have met your wife. It seems to me you did all right with the most important decision you will ever make. I will trust you with all the other ones too.

It is not uncommon in our State, as Senator Lugar could attest, that people say they really vote for Susan's husband.

Darling, I can't thank you enough.

She was a wonderful first lady, is a phenomenal mother, and is the partner for my life.

Next, I would like to express my gratitude to my parents. Even though they were very busy, I never doubted for a moment that I was the most important thing in their lives. There is no question that my devotion to public service stems from their commitment--something, Mr. President, I think you can relate to as well. I have always admired my father's selfless commitment to helping our State and Nation. I am proud to follow in his footsteps here in the Senate and to share his name. My mother taught me that even from the depths of adversity can come hope. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 38, passed from us at age 46--an age I now recognize to be much, much too young. I miss her, but I suspect, as so often in my life, she is watching from on high today.

Next, to my wonderful sons, Nick and Beau. They came into our lives when I was still Governor and were barely 3 when I was sworn in to the Senate. They are the joys of my life. I hope that one day they will draw inspiration, as I did, from their upbringing in public service and will choose to devote themselves in some way to making our country and State better places.

I am so proud of you, my sons.

Next, to my devoted staff and to the staff who serves us here in the Senate. My personal staff has had the thankless task for 12 years of making me look better than I deserve, and in that, they have performed heroic service. They have never let me down. To the extent I have accomplished anything on behalf of the public, it is thanks to their tireless efforts and devotion. Each could have worked fewer hours and made more money doing something else, but they chose public service.

It has been an honor to work with you. I will miss each of you and can only hope we will remain in touch throughout the years. No one has been privileged to have better support than I have.

To the men and women who work in the Senate and make it possible for us to do our jobs, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude. You have always been unfailingly courteous and professional. The public is fortunate to have the benefits of your devotion. And on behalf of a grateful nation and a thankful Senator, let me express my appreciation.

Next, to my colleagues. More about each of us later, but let me simply say it has been my privilege, the privilege of my lifetime, to get to know each of you. There is not one of you who is not exceptional in some way or about whom I do not have a fond recollection. Each of you occupies a special place in my heart.

I am especially fortunate to have served my career in the Senate with Senator RICHARD LUGAR. I have often thought Congress would function better if all Members could have the kind of relationship we have been blessed to enjoy. He has been unfailingly thoughtful and supportive. Even though we occasionally have differed on specific issues, we have never differed on our commitment to the people of our State or to the strength of our friendship.

Dick, thanks to you and Char for so much. You are the definition of a statesman.

Finally, to the wonderful people of Indiana, for whom I have been privileged to work almost an entire adult life. Hoosiers are hard working, patriotic, devout, and full of common sense. We are Middle America and embrace middle-class values. The more of Indiana we can have in Washington, frankly, the better Washington will be.

To my fellow Hoosiers, let me say that while my time in the Senate is drawing to a close, my love for you and devotion to our State will remain everlasting.

As I begin my final formal remarks on this floor, my mind goes back to my first speech as a U.S. Senator. It was an unusual beginning. I was the 94th Senator to deliver remarks in the first impeachment trial of a President since 1868. The session was closed to the public; emotions ran high; partisan divisions were deep. It was a constitutional crisis, and the eyes of the Nation and the world looked to the Senate.

My first day as Senator, I was sworn in as a juror in that trial. There were no rules. All 100 of us gathered in the Old Senate Chamber. The debate was hot, but we listened to each other. We all knew that the fate of the Nation and the judgment of history--things far more important than party loyalty or ideological purity--were in our hands.

Consensus was elusive. Finally, we appointed Ted Kennedy--JOHN KERRY's esteemed colleague--a liberal Democrat, and Phil Gramm, a conservative Republican, to hammer out a compromise. And they did. Their proposal was adopted unanimously.

The trial of our chief magistrate, even in the midst of a political crucible, was conducted in accordance with the highest principles of due process and the rule of law. The constitutional balance of powers was preserved and the Presidency saved. The Senate rose above the passions of the moment and did its duty.

Three years later, the Senate was once more summoned to respond in a moment of crisis. The country had been attacked and thousands killed in an act of suicidal terror. This building had been targeted for destruction and death, and that would have occurred but for the uncommon heroism of ordinary citizens. I was told not to return to my home for fear assassins might be lying in wait. So I picked up my sons from their school, and we spent the night with a neighbor.

Two days later, those Senators who could make it back to Washington gathered in the Senate Dining Room. There were no Democrats or Republicans there, just Americans. Without exception, we resolved to defend the Nation and to bring to justice the perpetrators of that horrible crime. The feeling of unity and common purpose was palpable.

Fast-forward another 7 years. In October 2008, I was summoned, along with others, late at night to a meeting just off this floor. The financial panic that had been gathering force for several months had attained critical mass.

The Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, spoke first. He turned to the new head of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, and said: Ben, give the Senators a status report.

Bernanke, in his low-key, professorial manner, said: The global economy is in a free fall. Within 48 to 72 hours, we will experience an economic collapse that could rival the Great Depression. It will take millions of jobs and thousands of businesses with it. Companies with which all of you are familiar will fail. Trillions of dollars in savings will be wiped out.

There was silence. We looked at each other, Democrats and Republicans, and asked only one question: What can be done?

The actions that emanated from that evening helped to

avoid an economic catastrophe. The jobs of millions and millions of people were saved, businesses endured. But the measures required were unpopular. My calls were running 15,000 to 20,000 opposed and only about 100 to 200 in favor of acting. The House initially voted down the measures. The economy teetered on the edge of the precipice, but Senators did our duty. Some sacrificed their careers that evening. The economy was saved.

I recount these moments of my tenure to remind us of what this body is capable of at its best. When the chips are down and the stakes are high, Senators, regardless of party, regardless of ideology, regardless of personal cost, doing their duty and selflessly serving the Nation we love are capable of great things.

On my office wall hangs a famous print--the Senate in 1850. There is Henry Clay; there is Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, John C. Calhoun, William Seward, Stephen Douglas, James Mason, and Sam Houston. Giants walked the Senate in those days. My colleagues, they still do.

In ``Profiles in Courage,'' John Kennedy tells the stories of eight U.S. Senators whose actions of selflessness and fortitude rescued the Republic in times of trial. Serving in this body today are men and women capable of equal patriotism if given a chance--new profiles in courage waiting to be written. It shouldn't take a constitutional crisis, a terrorist attack, or a financial calamity to summon from each of us and from this body collectively the greatness of which we are capable, nor can America afford to wait.

We are surrounded today by gathering challenges that, if unaddressed, will threaten our Republic--our growing debt and deficits, our unsustainable energy dependence, increasing global economic competition, asymmetric national security challenges, an aging population, and much, much more. Each of these challenges is difficult, each complex. The solutions will not be universally popular, but all can be surmounted, and I am confident they will be with the right leadership from us and the right ideas. I am confident because I know our history and I know our people. I know all of the challenges we have overcome--the wars, the economic hardships, the social turmoil. I know the character of the American people--our resiliency, our innate goodness, and our courage--and I know we can succeed. But it will not be easy, and it will not happen by itself. It is up to us.

America is an exceptional nation because each generation has been willing to make the difficult decisions and, yes, the occasional sacrifices required by their times. America is a great nation not because it is preordained but because our forebears, both here in the Senate and across the Nation, made it so. For 10 generations, the American people have been dedicated to the self-evident truth that all of us are created equal and have been endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.

From the beginning, it is freedom that has been the touchstone of our democracy--freedom not from the benevolence of a king, not by the forbearance of the majority, not by the magnanimity of the State, but from the hand of Almighty God; the freedom to enjoy the fruits of our labors, the freedom to speak our minds and worship God as we see fit, the freedom to associate with those of our own choosing and to select those who would govern us.

From the hillsides of ancient Athens to the fields of Runnymede, to the village greens of Lexington and Concord, to the Halls of this great Senate, it has always been the same: The innate human longing for independence now finds its truest expression in the American experiment. We are the guardians of that dream.

Each generation of Americans has been called to renew our commitment to that ideal, often in blood, always with sacrifice. Now is our time. Now is the time for us to keep faith with those who have come before and to do right by those who will follow, to lift high the cause of freedom in all of its manifestations within its surest sanctuary--this U.S. Senate.

All of this was put into perspective for me one day on a visit to Walter Reed Army hospital. I was visiting wounded soldiers. There was a young sergeant from Georgia. He had been married 3 weeks before deploying to Iraq. He was missing his left arm and both legs. His wife sat by his side. A look of dignified calm was upon his face. I asked if he was receiving the care he needed. Yes, he said, he was. I asked if there was anything I could do. No. No, there was not. Anything he needed? No.

I had never felt so helpless or so insignificant.

I left his room and made my way to the hospital front door and walked outside into the bright sunshine, sat upon the curb, and cried.

All I could think of was what can I do--what can I do to be worthy of him? What can each of us do? Look at what he sacrificed for America. What are we prepared to give? Is it too much to think that while soldiers are sacrificing limbs on our behalf, that we can look across the aisle and see not enemies but friends, not adversaries but fellow citizens?

With service men and women laying down their lives, can we not lay down our partisanship and rancor but for a while? Can we not remember we are but ``one nation under God,'' with a common heritage and common destiny? Let us no longer be divided into red States and blue States but be united once more into 50 red, white, and blue States. As the civil rights leader once reminded us: ``We may have arrived on these shores in different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.''

My friends, the time has come for the sons and daughters of Lincoln and the heirs of Jefferson and Jackson to no longer wage war upon each other but to instead renew the struggle against the ancient enemies of man: ignorance, poverty, and disease. That is why we are here. That is why. If I have been able to contribute even a little to reconciliation among us, then I have done my duty.

My prayer is that in the finest traditions of this Senate--both in my time and my father's time and in days before--we may once again serve to resolve our differences, meet the challenges that await us, and in so doing forge an American future that is worthy of our great past. So that when our children's children write the history of our time, they may truly say of us: Here were Americans and Senators worthy of the name.

I thank you.

I yield the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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